Submitted 10/30/07:
I have a 13-month old male chessie. He stayed at a vet clinic for a week being boarded. Since he has been back he has had a taste for his own feces. How do I stop this?

This is one of the most unpleasant habits our canine friends can develop. It is almost always a behavioral issue. The times we see it most are in the winter when the stool becomes frozen; the dog begins to play with it and one thing leads to another. The other times are either related to boredom or in group housing situations where it is learned from other dogs.

There are products on the market, (i.e. Forbid) that are added to the food to make the stool less appealing (I know that should be the case from the get-go). The other big component to success is keeping stool picked up and not allowing the dog access to stool.

Submitted 10/22/2007:
I have a seven month old black lab that destroys everything we put in his kennel for him to sleep on. We have run out of options. We do not want him ingesting something that will harm him. Do you have any suggestions for bedding that he can not destroy or that will harm him?

This is a tough one that I’ve had to deal with in my own dogs. As puppies I just do not put anything in their kennels. I really do not think they are uncomfortable in most crates, and I just don’t think the risk of ingesting something is worth it. It is more than a regular occurrence to remove bedding or kennel coverings from dogs than you would think. If someone has a suggestion on an indestructible option please let me know and I will post the response.

My personal recommendation would be to forego bedding with a chewer while left at home during the day. Now, I haven’t had the same experience while out hunting or on hunting trips. When in the crate in the truck I’ve never had a problem with bedding chewing.

Submitted 2/5/06:
We have a problem with our three-year old spaniel rolling in other dogs’ feces. She gets it all over her. Is this a sign of “self-marking?” It sounds complex from a behavioral standpoint. Can you explain this, or steer us to a web address that can? Thanks for taking this question.

Thankfully this is a situation that I have not had to deal with personally. I have had a number of dogs that will occasionally roll in foul-smelling items; however, I can think of none that sought out other dogs’ feces in particular.

My answers to a problem like this would be to not give the dog the opportunity. This likely will mean more diligent cleaning of the yard and no off-leash freedom. While that may sound like a tall order, correcting many of these odd, in-grained behaviors takes a lot of work and dedication on the part of the owner.

As far as getting to the bottom of the behavior and actually determining the root of the problem, there are two sources that I would recommend either your vet or you consulting with. There likely are others available closer to you but these are two I am somewhat familiar with. The resources are:

Dr. Wayne Hunthausen (http://www.westwoodanimalhospital.com/)

University of Penn Behavior Clinic (http://www.vet.upenn.edu/departments/csp/behavior/)

Submitted 2/17/05:
We have an 11-year old Chesapeake who in the span of her life has gone from being number one in the house to being number five, meaning first a wife and then two twins. She fell in love with my wife, but now the kids seem to make her nervous to the point that she paws and she is pawing so aggressively she is ruining the carpet. The louder the kids get the more nervous she becomes and seeks solitude on the porch or in the garage. One of her daughters is already blind at age eight.

We have tried a medication for Alzheimer's, separation anxiety and now even doggy Prozac. Nothing has seemed to help. Any ideas on what gives?

Since the kids seem to be the source of the problem, and we are dealing with a great breed I'd suggest getting rid of the kids. My guess is that probably isn't an option….so I'll take a stab.

Dogs' brains definitely undergo an aging process, and we can see some dementia or anxiety disorders develop as a dog ages. This definitely sounds like an anxiety disorder, as I'm guessing she is ok as long as the kids are not around. Typically we'd like to give a pill and have the problem resolved, but unfortunately with behavior disorders this doesn't work and we need to incorporate behavior modification exercises at the same time as we start the medication. This is somewhat drawn out for an email explanation, but basically you'll want to reward the dog for not getting anxious as you test her bounds. Find acceptable levels of having the kids around (i.e. she's fine when they are across the room but not when she's next to them) gradually bridge this gap and at each step, as long as she's still calm, reward her for being calm. There are some good handouts from several veterinary behaviorists that deal with situations like this. It will take some work on your part, but it will allow you to treat the problem as opposed to attempt to mask it with medication.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't use the medication, as it too will help. But, it takes some of these medications 4-6 weeks to become effective and often times do not work without any other help.

Submitted 1/21/05:
I have a six-month old lab. She is a very smart lab but she is very, very hyper. Is there any way that I can correct this, or will she eventually grow out of it?

The most important point right now is that she is still just a puppy. As far as starting her on the right path towards better behavior, two things come to mind. The first is controlled exercise; these dogs are athletes, and as such, need physical exercise. With a young dog you want to make sure it is not too strenuous and not on hard surfaces. The second issue I would address would to begin training the dog, first with obedience and then with advanced work. These are very intelligent dogs and need mental stimulation. Don’t push things too fast at this stage of the game, but realize these working dogs need a job, even if it’s just parlor tricks. If kids are bored they will often create their own mischief, the same is true of a bored dog.

One note on labs, and my hope is not to offend anyone. I have noticed in the last couple of years more and more labs that have a tendency towards hyperactivity well into adulthood. I don’t have a solution, just one of the unfortunate side-effects of a lot of breeding to maintain the dog as the number one registered dog in the country.

Submitted 1/2/05:
I heard that removing the dewclaw would stop a dog from digging. Is this true, and if so can you remove the dewclaw from a one-year old?

This would fall into the category of old wives’ tale and couldn’t be further from the truth. Digging is a difficult behavior to correct, and definitely not one that requires surgical intervention.

If a dog’s dewclaws were not removed as a young puppy (days old), then I’m usually reluctant to put them through this surgery unless there is a medical reason to do so, as it is an area that requires fairly aggressive post-op management.

Submitted 7/29/04:
More of a behavioral question than health: I have a 3-year old male lab. He is typical of the breed, friendly, playful and never aggressive towards people or dogs. However, there is one female rottweiler that an acquaintance owns. The moment they see each other, even at a distance, they both react with instant and severe aggression towards one another. The reaction is very fast and very vicious. Very uncharacteristic of my dog and from what I understand it’s not normal behavior for the other dog. Any idea what causes this or how to correct it?

I have a special interest in canine behavior, but unfortunately it can be very difficult to deal with, as change often takes a lot of commitment from the owner and a lot of time working with the dog. It also takes a lot of probing and questions on the part of the veterinarian…which is difficult in this type of format.

That being said I’ll take a stab at some suggestions. You indicate that you have a male, so I’m going to assume he is non-neutered. Interdog aggression can sometimes be mediated by testosterone and it is one of the few forms of aggression that truly seems to be relaxed with neutering. I recommend neutering dogs showing all forms of aggression, but for various reasons, with inter-dog problems though, it seems to be a form of treatment all to its own. You don’t give much history of the interaction of these two dogs and maybe it has been like this from day one. I feel that some dogs develop an association with certain places, people or animals, and this may be the case with these two dogs. They associate something bad with the appearance of the other dog and respond in an aggressive way.

If this is the only time either dog is aggressive, and they don’t ever have to live together, I would just try to avoid the confrontations, as nothing will be resolved by bringing the two dogs together if they react this way immediately. Basically, not triggering the episodes may be your best and only course of action…now if this behavior begins to manifest itself with other dogs you may need to get more aggressive with "treatment" but I’ll go into that at some other time.