Special to the Star-Telegram
we treat them like family but often understand them like aliens. Read our need-to-know Dog Guide if you’re thinking about adding a dog to your family or need a better understanding of your pooch and how to help him be a healthier, happier man’s-best-friend.1. Sibling pups make poor housemates.while it’s often tempting to adopt or buy a pair of sibling puppies, experts advise against it. Tony Okrongly, owner of DFW Calm Dog in-home training and author of two books on obedience, calls it littermate syndrome, a problem he runs across often in his training sessions. “There is a higher propensity for them to fight each other,” he says, explaining that it is in dogs’ nature to leave their families to avoid cross breeding and over-population. “There’s a point at which they start to repel each other, and when they’re stuck in a house together, neither one can leave and go form another pack.”Bob Deeds, owner of Canine Connection in Fort Worth and a member of the Texas Task Force that assists FEMA with K-9 search and rescue, says he has seen the same issues when owners opt for littermates but explains the behavioral problems differently. “One of the things you want the dog to do is to bond with you and not with the other dog, especially if they come along at the same time,” Deeds says. “Get a single dog, and form a relationship with that single dog.” He says multi-dog houses are perfectly fine, but that each dog should have its personal relationship with the owner before it bonds with the other animals in the house.2. Dogs can suffer from separation anxiety.there are two types of separation anxiety in dogs, Okrongly says. The first type stems from an owner not being a good leader and usually results in a short spurt of bad behavior, whether it’s a dog going through the trash or chewing on a pillow. there are several ways to explain this type of anxiety, but Okrongly attributes it to an owner’s poor leadership, as dogs take the lead when not led but are not meant to be leaders of humans. “If you’re a follower and you leave to go to work, it makes the dog nervous because you shouldn’t leave,” he says. that will lead to the fit of poor behavior.The second type of separation anxiety is more true to form — it’s a dog truly feeling that if it’s left alone it is going to die. “It’s going to do anything to get with another creature again,” Okrongly said, explaining that behavior typical with this type of separation anxiety would be digging, scratching at the door and trying to escape. Okrongly said the best way to diagnose and treat separation anxiety is by video-taping your dog while you’re gone. Dogs with the first type will need stronger leadership, and dogs with the second type may need a companion. “If you take a second dog who doesn’t have problems when people leave and put it in a crate with the dog that suffers from separation anxiety, it has a high success rate,” he said. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go immediately and adopt another dog. Often, if you can borrow a neighbor’s or a relative’s dog for a trial period, your dog can be cured without bringing in a permanent companion.Dr. Derrick Nelson at Town and Country Veterinary Clinic in River Oaks stressed the need for crate training early. He said you should have a crate or kennel and use it without feeling guilty — especially when the owners are out of the house. “It helps speed house training,” he said. “It’s not punishment, and it’s not bad for them.5. Dogs take most of their cues from your body language and tone, not from your words.It’s natural to talk to your dog, but while it takes cues from your voice, it is learning a whole lot more from your posture. “Dogs communicate with body language,” Deeds says. He advised owners to think about traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language — rather than listening to a person’s words, you’re observing their hand motions and searching for meaning through the tone of their voice. “I would love to talk to a dog sometimes,” he said. “And if I did, I’d ask, ‘When I did this, what did you think?’” Deeds says when teaching a dog commands, try to incorporate a body movement. “How do you tell your dog to sit?” he asked. “Should you use the word sit, down? Because it doesn’t matter. You could say hamburger.”3. three dogs are one too many or one too few.three dogs can be a dangerous combination, though it’s not attributed to middle child syndrome. Okrongly says that any mixture of three can spell trouble, whether it’s two males and a female or two females and a male. “The most common dog fighting issue inside a house is where you have one male and two females or one female and two males,” he says, adding that he’s not talking about friendly rough-housing, he’s talking about fights with blood and stitches. He attributes the problem to dogs having something to fight over that makes spats a little more heated than when they’re fighting over a chew toy. “Even if they’re fixed, you have different dynamics,” Okrongly said. “It can work, but only if they’re in the right situation.”Both Okrongly and Deeds cautioned that having two females is definitely the more volatile situation. “Female to female, when they get in fights it seems to be a lot more serious than when males do,” Deeds says. “Males declare a winner when one says uncle and they’ll separate. Females will continue to fight.” Okrongly says the same. “Females fight more viciously.”6. Yawning is a calming signal.just as it is important to think about how a dog perceives your actions, it’s also important to watch the actions and behaviors of your dog. Licking lips, swatting and yawning are all primal behaviors that often signal that dogs are trying to communicate with their owners. Deeds singled out yawning as a prime example of communication. while there are many debated meanings of a dog yawn, it’s generally assumed that it’s a relaxation signal, or a de-stresser, Deeds says. A dog is saying one of two things: I am relaxed, or I am stressed, is it OK to relax? Deeds says owners should observe their dog’s primal behaviors to try to better understand their companions. if they are really asking for confirmation that it’s OK to relax, owners should respond properly with soothing words and touches.4. Teaching a puppy to shake hands can lead to problems later.Teaching a puppy to shake hands or give a high five is one of the easiest tricks for them to learn. They often raise their paws naturally, so owners tend to grab the paw, reward the pup and praise its intelligence. But deeds says what owners are actually doing is reinforcing a negative behavior that they will regret when that puppy paw weighs 10 pounds. when puppies are raising their paws, they’re testing primal behaviors — they’re experimenting to see what reactions moving their limbs elicit. “When you did touch the paw, then pet the dog or talked in a momma voice, it got excited and it reinforced that behavior,” Deeds says. so as the puppy grows up, it associates using its paw with praise — when you point to something, it will tend to reach with its paw rather than with its nose as it should. that can turn into a dangerous “swatting” habit when the dog is trying to get your attention. In small dogs, it may be cute, but big dogs’ paws can be heavy, and their claws can be sharp. “I try to discourage a shake until dogs are older,” Deeds says. “Wait until they have more training and know how to sit and lie down.”7. Dogs need their teeth professionally cleaned.just like humans, dogs’ teeth need attention — and not just an occasional brush will do. Nelson said he frequently sees older dogs in his practice with a range of health problems that lead back to poor care of teeth and gums. “Dental disease in animals causes heart problems, kidney and liver failure,” he says. while owners should brush their dog’s teeth with an at-home kit — they can be purchased at pet supply stores — they also need professional cleanings. Dr. Steve Hotchkiss, veterinarian and owner of Hulen Hills Animal Hospital and Metro West Emergency Veterinary Center, says the timeline is different for every dog. “The answer is, when it needs it,” Hotchkiss said. some don’t need them until they are 2 or 3, and can go a year or more between treatments, but others build plaque quickly and need to be treated more often. Have your vet regularly check your dog’s teeth for signs of decay and have him or her advise you on teeth cleaning. “Cleaning dogs’ and cats’ teeth can add two or three years to their life,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s one of the biggest things I do to increase the quality and quantity of their life.” Professional teeth cleaning requires anesthesia and isn’t cheap — it can range from $200 to $400.
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