These reader questions were answered by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Melissa Bain, associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Bain is a contributing author to “Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones,” authored by various members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and edited by myself, Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, $27).
The book explains why dogs think as they do and answers some common, and very uncommon, behavioral questions. (To learn more about veterinary behaviorists, or to find a specialist near you, check www.dacvb.org.)
Q: Jack Russell terriers are crazy, and mine even watches television. Not all shows, mind you – only things like fast-moving football games. He also barks at dogs on TV. He must know they’re not real, or does he?
– H.J., Chicago
A: If he’s watching the Chicago Bears play, he’s not currently watching fast-moving football, but that’s another issue!
“I had a dog who did this (barked at the TV) and I don’t believe he was crazy, just likely having fun,” Bain says. “I believe dogs know that what’s on TV isn’t real. They realize that TV shows don’t respond to the dog’s barking, or smell like anything that’s real.”
Some people think that pets watch more TV now because screens tend to be large and high-definition, but Bain isn’t so sure.
If the behavior bothers you, offer your dog an alternative form of entertainment, such as a chew, or a toy stuffed with low-fat, low-salt peanut butter or dog treats. Or you could even turn off the TV and open a book!
Q: My dog, Molly, snaps at nothing. She’ll be in the backyard and see something (or not), then snap and snap at the air. She does this many times every day, mostly outdoors. What’s going on? – J.P., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A: “Snapping at the air might be a compulsive behavior in dogs, particularly those who may not be so easily distracted or redirected to do something else,” Bain explains.
However, first rule out medical ophthalmological possibilities. Just as people can develop “floaters” in their eyes, so can dogs. The only difference is, no one can explain to dogs what the “floaters” are, so in trying to make the pesky things go away, dogs snap at them.
“I also wonder if the dog is indeed seeing something, or at least part of the time, (is plagued by) those little bugs we can no-see-ums,” Bain says.
Bain contributed to the chapter in “Decoding Your Dog” called “Tail Chasing, Leg Licking: Can’t You Stop!” on compulsive behaviors. To determine if Molly has a compulsive disorder, and how to treat the condition, it’s best to consult a veterinary behaviorist.
Q: At times during play, our Labrador/greyhound mix abruptly stops and looks around, as if someone or something has bitten her. Then, she darts around and chases her tail. There’s actually a visible bulge that appears and then goes away. What’s this behavior all about?
– P.J.E., Woodbury, Minn.
A: Bain says this doesn’t sound like a behavior problem as much as a medical one. Ask your veterinarian about a condition called stud tail, or supracaudal gland infection. If no underlying cause (such as a flea bite flare-up) is found, the treatment may involve special dog shampoo, antibiotic therapy and/or short-term use of steroids.
Videotaping the behavior might help your veterinarian diagnose the problem.
If the problem isn’t rectified, Bain suggests consulting a veterinary dermatologist.