An inevitable part of being a pet parent is having questions. Since our pets can’t talk, there are lots of things we have to figure out on our own. Thankfully, for the stuff we can’t figure out on our own, Google is there to help us with our most pressing inquiries.
Using Google’s auto-complete feature, in which you type in the first few words of a question and then allow Google to suggest the most common next few words, we found the five most commonly Googled questions about dogs. Here they are, with our best attempts to provide answers.
Why does my dog…
… Eat poop?
Yes, it sounds nasty, but it is actually a very common behavior among dogs. Poop-eating – or, technically, coprophagia – is sometimes thought to be a result of poor nutrition or a lack of certain nutrients, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Many well-fed dogs with good diets will eat poop. Additionally, many female dogs with new litters will adopt the practice to keep the “nest” clean.
If your dog is of a good weight, has normal stools, and is overall healthy, there is no need to worry about eating stool – though you may want to try to stop it for the sake of exposure to parasites. However, if your dog is underweight, it could be a sign that they have a medical problem, such as malabsorption of nutrients, and they are trying to supplement their diet in the only way they know how.
Some dogs can be deterred from stool-eating by adding pineapple, Brussels sprouts or cabbage to their diet, because these foods make the poop taste bad (as if poop didn’t taste bad enough to begin with – but that’s beside the point). There are also commercially-available deterrents like For-Bid and Deter. Overall, however, one of the best ways to keep your dog from eating poop is to keep it on a leash when outside, so you can easily monitor what your dog is doing at all times. If your dog wanders in your yard, keep an eye on it and clean up feces immediately, and keep an eye out for other animals’ poop (whether other dogs or deer, rabbit or coyote) and clean that up as well. The best way to keep your dog out of trouble is to never give it the chance to get in trouble in the first place.
Some dogs eat feces so much that it’s practically compulsive. In these cases, as with any compulsive behavior, it’s important to provide your dog with enrichment like games, toys, walks, exercise and training to occupy their minds with something other than eating poop.
… Eat grass?
The common belief on this one is that dogs eat grass when they have an upset stomach, and they are trying to make themselves vomit to relieve the pain. It’s considered a normal behavior in dogs and shouldn’t be a cause for concern, if your dog is otherwise healthy and only does it on occasion.
The nausea idea is debated, however. Some people suggest that dogs that eat grass are actually looking to fulfill an unmet need for fiber in their diet. If your dog is a frequent grass-eater, try adding a fiber supplement to your dog’s food and see if the behavior stops.
Some dogs, however, seem to just really like the taste of grass, and practically graze like cattle when given the opportunity. Other dogs eat grass because they’re bored. In these cases, if their body weight and stools are normal, and if nothing else seems amiss, grass-eating shouldn’t harm your pup.
If you want to try to stop the behavior, enrichment like games, toys, walks, exercise and training to occupy their minds can help distract them from grass. Keep your dog on a leash and monitor their behavior when you’re around grass, and, if it really seems to be a problem, don’t even let your dog into the yard alone.
… Stare at me?
This one is a little more philosophical than the other common questions. Sometimes, a dog’s stare is a sign of their loving adoration of you, their wonderful owner. Other times, it’s just because they want a treat. Most of the time, it’s a little bit of both.
You are the provider of all good things for your dog, so it’s fitting that when they are in the mood for a treat, they would look to you for that treat. When they sit politely and stare at you, it’s as if they’re saying, “Look at me! Look how good I’m being! Can I have something for it?”
This is a perfect opportunity to practice “Catch Your Dog Doing Something Good.” We are always on top of telling our dogs to stop something bad, but how often do we praise them for doing something good – even if it’s something as simple as sitting quietly for a treat? Teaching our dogs when they have done something right is an important part of having a happy companion.
It’s important to remember, however, that staring right back at a dog can be perceived as a threat, and – especially with a dog you don’t know well – you should divert eye contact if the dog is showing aggressive behaviors (hackles raised, baring its teeth, growling menacingly, and the like).
So, if your dog is sitting politely and staring at you adoringly as you read this, throw him or her a treat. Besides, if you wait too long to notice their happy gaze, they may start whining or barking – which is something worthy of saying “no” about – so catch your dog doing something good instead.
Could it be that your dog just needs a bath? Depending on the breed and your activities (mud running, anyone?), your dog could need a bath as often as every few weeks. Other dogs can go a few months without a scrub-down. But if your dog has just been bathed and still smells funky, there could be a few things to consider.
First off, dog breath could contribute to the olfactory nature of your beast. Some vets recommend an oral exam and teeth cleaning once a year, and weekly brushings with a canine-friendly toothpaste in between. If a horrible smell is emanating from your dog’s mouth, it could be something as simple as teeth in need of brushing, or it could be something more serious – like rotten teeth that need to be pulled. Especially in small dogs, dental extractions get more and more necessary as dogs get older.
More serious issues that can affect your dog’s breath are liver, kidney and lung issues, so if the bad breath is accompanied by lethargy, a lack of appetite, yellowing of the eyes, or other worrisome symptoms, you may have to visit an internist to rule out organ issues.
A change of food could also freshen up your dog’s breath. Sometimes, however, dogs just have smelly breath, and that’s just the way it is. If a veterinary exam comes back clean and brushings do nothing to alleviate the issue, you could just have a bad-breathed dog.
If the smell seems to be coming from the “other end” of your dog, however, you have a whole different problem on your hands. Bad gas in dogs seems inherent in some breeds (“bully breeds” like pit bulls, bulldogs and mastiff breeds are known for their uncanny ability to clear a room), but it can certainly be reduced by feeding a higher-quality diet and cutting down on human food and rich treats. If your dog seems to have a bad gas issue, try switching foods until you find something that “burns clean.”
Another rear-end issue could be full anal glands. Many dogs never need their anal glands expressed, because their own bowel movements do it for them. Others dogs, however, need them emptied regularly (sometimes as often as once a month). Vets can do this for you, and many groomers also include it as part of their bathing process. Anal glands can smell like anything from feces to smelly fish – however, if the smell really bothers you, if they express at inopportune times, or if it smells like metal (aka, like blood), it’s best to get to the vet and have them checked out, as they may be impacted or infected.
… Lick so much?
Depending on what your dog is licking, there are many reasons why it could be happening.
If your dog won’t stop licking you, it’s probably either a sign of affection or entreaty for some goodies. In the wild, dogs that are fond of each other lick one another, and when puppies or lower-ranking dogs want food from their parents or other pack members, they will often lick them in order to be invited to the feast. Other times, a dog realizes that you pet it when it licks you – so why not lick again? As an attention-seeking behavior, there are few things more effective than a sloppy dog tongue.
Some dogs seem to obsessively lick other dogs when in social situations. This is a submissive gesture. Sometimes the licking dog will actually lick another dog so much that the other dog gets irritated and snaps at the licker, which then makes the licker lick even more in apology. This socially awkward behavior can take up all your dog’s social time, so if it seems to be a problem, it’s important to intervene and try to distract the licker. Call the licker to you, throw a ball, encourage a game of tug – and, in your spare time, work on obedience training and fun games to build the licker’s confidence.
Some dogs tend to lick fabric, whether it’s couch cushions, carpet or bedsheets. This is not only kind of strange, but it also leaves massive wet spots on your furniture and floor, which are never fun to find with bare feet. This is believed to be either an obsessive-compulsive behavior, or a behavior born out of boredom. Either way, it’s best to entertain your dog and distract him when he starts his fabric-licking. Play with a toy, pet your dog, go for a walk – anything that can distract him from licking.
If your dog won’t stop licking itself, this could be a sign of anxiety or pain. If a dog’s joint hurts, it will often lick the joint area to try and relieve the pain – and since this obviously won’t work, the dog will keep licking, perhaps until the area is red and raw. If your dog concentrates on one particular area, it’s best to visit your vet for a check-up to look for arthritis or other inflammatory issues.
Another thing that can cause any type of licking is if a dog is weaned from its mother too early. It’s recommended that dogs spend at least 8 weeks with their mother, but sometimes a hard puppyhood or an irresponsible breeder can cut that time short. These dogs sometimes develop attachment issues, and can lick things obsessively for comfort that they were denied as babies. This is another situation in which building your dog’s confidence can greatly help, so obedience classes, games, sports, and walks can be a big help in reducing comfort-licking.
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