In two new books, "Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet" and "Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker answers some of the most embarrassing questions about he's been asked about pets.
October is National Pet Wellness Month. If you want more information about caring for your pet, visit www.petconnection.com.
"Good Morning America" also featured two animals up for adoption -- Toby, a terrier, and Morrissey, a 7-week-old orange tabby cat. Both are available for adoption through the Humane Society of New York.
Read an excerpt from "Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?", by Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori, below:
Q. Is the whole Rockettes leg-lift thing really necessary?
A. It is to a dog. Better to put your scent mark at nose level, where other dogs can smell it and the breeze can more easily disseminate it. That's why dogs (mostly male, but even some females) contort themselves into precariously balanced tripods to get their urine-squirters into position to splash their pee as high as possible.
Of course, some males never really do get into it, especially if they're neutered. But the most precocious males start lifting a leg at four months of age.
For the most dedicated leg-lifters, the act can get pretty amusing when the dog is one of those small ones with a big attitude. While your average Irish Wolfhound can land the highest squirt with very little effort, if you're a bossy little Irish Terrier, you're going to have to try harder-a lot harder. Some small dogs get that hose up so high in an effort to top some taller dog's mark that they're practically doing a front-paw stand.
Q. When dogs yawn, are they sleepy or bored?
A. Neither, really. Think of yawning as a kind of switching gears. A yawn increases the flow of oxygen and boosts the heart rate-actions that give the brain a good goosing. A yawn can prepare the body for action-as in the yawning of a keynote speaker waiting for her introduction or a quarterback waiting to get back onto the field. Yawning can also be a way to relax.
Dogs yawn both to charge themselves up and to calm themselves down. It depends on the situation. If you go to a canine agility competition, you'll often spot dogs yawning at the starting line while waiting for the signal to explode across the line to the first obstacle. They're ready to run, and the yawn expresses that stress and excitement. In the waiting room of a veterinary hospital, you'll often see dogs yawning, too-a sure sign that they're stressed and trying to calm themselves.
In training classes, dog will often yawn-and owners will often interpret this as a sign that the dog is bored. Not so. The dog who's yawning in obedience class is more likely stressed than bored, either from nervousness or from wanting to please you but not yet understanding how.
Just as in humans, yawning can be contagious in dogs. If you catch your dog's attention and yawn, you may well get a yawn back. Some experienced dog handlers actually use this to their advantage, encouraging their dogs to yawn as a way to get them either focused or relaxed.
Q. Why do dogs love to roll in stinky stuff?
A. You know those sprays and plug-ins you use to make the house smell fresh? Your dog is not impressed. If your dog were choosing a scent to make the house smell perfect, she might pick Old Dead Squirrel or Pile o' Cat Poop.
As much as we love our dogs, we have a difference of opinion when it comes to defining what smells "good." Considering that our dogs' sense of smell is hundreds of times better than ours, who's to say which species is right about what smells the best?
Now, about that rolling in those malodorous messes. It's pretty simple, actually: People like to put on nice scents, and so do dogs.
One theory on stink-rolling is that it represents a canine celebration of abundance. Now and then a dog will encounter a rewarding tidbit with a pungent smell; it's like a person finding a $20 bill on the ground. Sweet! It's certainly a good reason to stick a canine nose as close to the scent source as possible and inhale all that wonderful aroma. But to discover an entire rotting fish or other large pile of nastiness often triggers the urge to celebrate with a hearty roll; like a person who won the lottery throwing $100 bills all over the bed and "rolling in dough." You've noticed how silly-happy they look doing this, haven't you?
There's a survival element, too. For a hunting animal, there's a tactical advantage to not smelling like a predator: The prey don't know you're coming. Rolling in strong odors -- feces and even dead animals -- is thought to provide scent cover, to help predators land their lunch a little more easily.
Of course, none of our pet dogs have to hunt for their supper, but old instincts never really go away. That's why if there's a bad smell available, there's a good dog happy to roll in it. And not long after, a spoil-sport human with warm water and soap ready to ruin it all -- from the dog's point of view.
Just about the worst thing any dog can smell like is skunk. In the interests of domestic bliss, we're going to share the best recipe ever for eliminating skunk smell.
Take 1 quart of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, for you scientific types), and 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Rinse thoroughly with tap water.
You can double or triple the recipe if you have a big dog, but always get the solution on your pet as quickly as you can after you combine the ingredients. The chemical reaction is what eliminates the skunk smell, and it doesn't last long.
Don't mix up the solution in advance, and don't try to store it in a closed bottle -- it'll burst any closed container you put it in. But do keep the ingredients on hand ... just in case.
Commercial products are available that do pretty good job, as well. And what about that old stand-by, tomato juice? Use it and what you'll end up with is a pink dog who still stinks -- maybe just not quite as much.
Q. Does tug-of-war teach a dog to be mean?
A. A few years ago, many dog trainers put tug-of-war on the list of games you should never play with your dog. The idea was that if you play tug-of-war and end it by giving the tug toy to your dog, you are letting the dog win a contest of strength against you. And that, the theory went, leads to dominant behavior.
While some trainers still aren't comfortable recommending the game, others believe you have to take it on a dog-by-dog basis. For a dog with aggression issues, it's probably not a good idea. But for a good-natured, well-socialized, well-trained family dog who knows the game is just . . . well, a game, it's probably fine. In fact, some trainers use tug-of-war as a reward or motivator after a strong performance in canine competitions.
Q. Do dogs really hate cats?
A. Dogs chasing cats were a staple of the cartoons we all watched when we were growing up. But one of the reasons we like dogs so much is that hate just doesn't seem to be part of their makeup. Do some dogs chase cats? Do some dogs kill cats? The answer is, unfortunately, "yes" in both cases. But the reason isn't because of some deep-seated cross-species animosity.
Cats occupy a fairly interesting ecological niche, right in the middle of the food chain: They are both predators and prey. Their skills as a predator are obvious, but to many bigger predators-especially urban coyotes and some dogs-a cat pretty much looks like a tricky to catch but still tasty lunch. Some dogs are more into the prey thing than others, but for dogs who like to hunt for themselves, a cat is just another item on the menu. As the saying goes, "It's strictly business, nothing personal."
Behaviorists say that dogs who kill smaller animals or act aggressively toward other dogs are not necessarily a danger to humans. In fact, many are very reliable family pets. But they do need to be kept away from other animals. That means not just cats but also gerbils, ferrets, rabbits, birds, squirrels, and anything else you don't want to find dangling from their mouths.
There are also dogs who will naturally chase anything that moves, from an animal to a bicyclist to a plastic bag blowing in the wind. These dogs will happily chase a cat and may even bite if they catch one, but would probably back off if the cat unsheathed her razor-sharp claws and promised to use them.
Finally, there are plenty of dogs who don't mind cats at all, and who even love the cats they know well.
While you can't say for certain which category any particular dog will fall into, you can make some general assumptions. Terriers, for example, were developed to be vermin killers, and many of these dogs have the detached professionalism of a gangland hit man when it comes to dispatching rodents such as mice, rats, and hamsters, and sometimes even smaller pets such as cats. Herding dogs, and sighthounds (dogs who hunt by visually sighting their prey) such as Greyhounds, probably are more interested in chasing than they are in killing a cat, but accidents do happen. Many sporting dogs, such as retrievers and spaniels, on the other hand, just don't see it as their job to pester the cat.
While some dogs can never be trusted around cats -- their instincts and prey drive are just too strong --others can be socialized from a young age to at least tolerate cats and trained to leave them alone. If you have a cat and are thinking of adopting an adult dog from a shelter or rescue group, be sure to choose one who shows no signs of prey drive toward smaller animals.
Many animal shelters and rescue groups have a "test cat" who is relaxed enough to accept the short-term annoyance of being introduced to dogs, in the interest of gauging the canine's level of interest in cats.
Q. Why are some dogs terrified of thunderstorms?
A. Some breeds and types of dogs seem to be more high-strung and sensitive to noise, but the truth is that any dog can become terrified of storms. After all, a storm is more than just thunder: The atmospheric pressure changes, the sky lights up, static electricity builds, and rain pounds on the roof. The smells in the air are so different that even we scent-challenged humans say, "Smells like rain." Imagine what an incoming storm smells like to our dogs!
For some dogs, fear of thunderstorms increases because their people mishandle the early signs of fear-either by soothing the dog or by punishing her. Soothing ("Poor baby! Don't be afraid. Come here and get a hug.") rewards the behavior; punishing makes a scary event even more frightening. Some dogs get so wound up that their fearful behavior becomes a reliable weather predictor for their owners, because dogs can sense a storm approaching long before we can.
Sensitivity to thunder is easier to prevent than to cure. When puppies and young dogs show concern, one strategy is to distract them. Give them something positive to do, such as starting a training session with lots of treats, or playing a favorite game. In other words, ignore the storm, distract the dog, and set the tone by acting unconcerned. With a new dog, the first time there is a storm pretend it is an invitation to a "storm party." With every crack of thunder, respond, "Whoopee! That was a fun one, here's your storm cookie!" Couple this with happy requests for simple obedience commands, and the dog will soon look forward to storms.
Once a dog has developed a full-blown phobia, though, the fear of storms is quite dramatic-and can be dangerous. Some dogs may tremble, others may destroy their surroundings, and still others may bite out of fear.
If your dog is afraid of loud noises that you can predict-fireworks on holidays, for example-ask your veterinarian to prescribe a sedative for your pet just for those days.
For fearful dogs who live in areas that get a lot of thunderstorms, your best bet is asking your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist. A veterinary behaviorist will work with you on a treatment plan that may include medications, counter-conditioning, pheromones, and even anti-static jackets in an effort to help a dog to relax during storms.
Q. Do dogs get depressed?
A. The emotional range of a dog is not all that wide or deep, to be honest. That's one reason why a dog who seems to show what, in humans, might be signs of depression -- lethargy, loss of appetite, changes in normal sleep patterns -- is more likely to have a physical problem than a mental one.
Still, there's no denying that many dog lovers have observed what looks a lot like grief in pets who have lost a family member, either four-legged or two-legged. Perhaps the most well-known example of canine grief is that of Greyfriars Bobby, the terrier who visited his owner's grave in Scotland every day for 14 years, until the dog's own death in 1872. The fact that people noticed and rewarded the dog with food and shelter for his loyalty might have played a factor in his behavior, but we'd hate to ruin such a good story.
So, yes, it seems some dogs do have an emotional response to the loss of a beloved human or pet companion. But dogs are also amazingly resilient when it comes to joining a new family. Think of shelter dogs. Can you imagine how much time people would have to spend in therapy if they were suddenly removed from one family and placed with another-in some cases, again and again? Although some newly adopted dogs go through an adjustment period that may include being anxious and destructive when left alone, most bounce back and become happy-go-lucky new family members.
"Love the one you're with," seems to be the motto of many a dog.
For people suffering from depression, studies show that one of the best treatment plans is to get a dog. The companionship, the responsibility, and even the increase in activity required -- because a dog must be walked -- are all good for lifting people out of depression, or preventing it in the first place.
Q. When I leave my dog alone, he destroys things and makes a mess. Is he doing this out of spite?
A. Spite and guilt are not part of a dog's emotional repertoire. Dogs live in the here and now, and revenge is not in their gene pool.
As for barking, chewing, and digging, well, they are natural, normal behaviors, part of every dog's DNA. Dogs who do that stuff are just being dogs. The fact that we'd rather these "job skills" never be trotted out in our homes is just a compatibility issue between canines and humans.
The motives people often attribute to dog behavior just aren't possible. Dogs have no idea a behavior is "bad" until you teach them in terms a canine can clearly understand. So they definitely don't chew because they're mad at you for leaving them; they chew because they're stressed about being alone and chewing is a canine stress reliever. As for the mess . . . well, sometimes a dog just can't hold it any longer. And the stress of separation can make that physical process more urgent.
"Aha!" you say (if you're the sort of person who says "aha!"). "If what you say is true, how come when I come home and find a mess, my dog looks guilty and tries to find a place to hide?" Why indeed?
But look at this situation again, through the dog's eyes. You're a dog, your owner comes home, and you're trotting happily down the hall to meet him when you hear . . . swearing. You pause, uncertain. Then . . . yelling, and you hear your name in the middle of that rant. And you realize: He's angry at me! You have no idea why -- you've long forgotten that you chewed up all his underwear or peed on the rug -- but you're fairly certain the most prudent plan of action would be to take off.
When the guy finds you, he's so angry it scares you, and so you do your best to appease him, dog style. You roll over and show your belly, or maybe you squirt a little urine. A dog would see both efforts as a clear way of saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what's making you angry but I apologize, anyway." But instead . . . more yelling, and maybe a smack.
A display like this from you, even one time, doesn't teach your dog anything except that you're an unpredictable lunatic who cannot be appeased. Therefore, if you're a dog it's probably best to look humble and hide whenever the boss comes home.
Spite? Guilt? These are just too complicated for dogs, who tend to have a more simple range of emotions, like fear . . . and joy. Dogs are not drama queens. Their ability to live so simply and so joyfully is, after all, one of the reasons we love sharing our lives with them.
If your dog is making a mess of your home while you're gone, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can help diagnose the symptoms of the problem and walk you through to a solution.
Q. Why is my dog so interested in airing my dirty laundry?
A. Because it smells like you, of course! What could be better than taking every piece of dirty laundry, the more intimate the better, and making a nice little nest out of it? Or chewing it up to release all those wonderful smells? Or bringing it out when your mother-in-law, minister, or boss is over for dinner?
Some dogs love to share, after all, and the exciting chase games that often ensue are lots of fun, too. You don't agree? What a spoilsport!
The list of things dogs have chewed up because they've got their humans' scent on them would be longer than this book. Veterinarians, behaviorists, and dog trainers have heard it all: Clothes (especially women's "been worn" undies with that "not so fresh smell" being the lotto winner), shoes (mmmm . . . leather!), remote controls, and even Barbie dolls seem to be among the more popular items.
Easy solution: Put your things away! And offer your dog chewing alternatives, safe toys that will satiate that all-important desire to gnaw -- especially among puppies who are teething and young adults who are still exploring the world with their mouths.