Dear Dr. Fox:

Recently, my daughter called late at night, sobbing as she told me that she had brought her small border collie to an emergency veterinary hospital. The collie was found lying in a field adjacent to her home, bloodied and unconscious. Her four German shepherds were running about, seemingly unaware of the small dog. (She has raised German shepherds and loves them dearly, as they do her.)

The four shepherds include a young male, two young females and adult female named "B" -- my daughter's personal shepherd who acts as the alpha female and is quite bossy. The collie, an older female named Stinky, has challenged B several times, but my daughter has always intervened and blood was never drawn. My daughter had left her home that evening with all five dogs loose in the yard (a very large yard of several acres). The only dog with blood on its fur was B. The collie died at the vet's.

I believe the dogs should have been reprimanded, perhaps while holding an item of Stinky's that had her smell on it. My daughter believes that since a whole day had passed, the dogs would not understand the disciplining. She was angry and very disappointed with the shepherds, but would not discipline them.

I'd appreciate your opinion on this matter.

D.S., Burke

Your daughter addresses the one behavior of dogs that I find despicable (I can count many more for my own species), namely ganging up on a smaller dog.

Both you and your daughter are half-right on this issue. It is important to discipline dogs as soon as possible after they have done something wrong, because they tend to live in the here and now and won't understand why they're being punished later on.

This is not to imply that dogs have no conscience or moral sensibility. But sometimes they act impulsively and lose self-control. This is especially true in a pack situation, where a group of dogs gangs up on another dog, who becomes the group's prey or victim.

I would have carried Stinky's remains home, called the four shepherds over, and made them feel my grief, pain and rage. They would most likely understand and mourn.

Dear Dr. Fox:

You have had many letters praising acupuncture treatment for dogs -- what about the same treatment for cats? Is it advisable? Helpful? I would appreciate hearing your advice and comments regarding this.

M.L.B., Virginia Beach

Acupuncture treatment is effective in cats for a number of conditions, especially arthritis. One might think that animals, cats especially, would be frightened at having acupuncture needles stuck into them at designated places. But on the contrary, they quickly relax and often purr and seem to be sleepy or tranquilized. Horses react similarly.

Acupuncture can be used on many different species when the right meridians and key points are identified by an experienced therapist. It is a valuable adjunctive and complementary therapy for a variety of ailments.

Dear Dr. Fox:

This regards the Maltese dog, Dixie, mentioned in a previous column who licks and bites on her paws.

We have a bichon frise, Judley, who did the same thing, as well as scratch himself until he would bleed. We, too, had medicated him, until one day I had a conversation with a neighbor who owned a Maltese. She mentioned that she took her dog off of any kind of rice and that this cleared up her dog's problem. She said that white-haired dogs often are sensitive to certain foods, rice being one of them.

Having nothing to lose, we tried it -- and it worked! If you look at the ingredients label on canned dog food (as well as dry dog food), you will see that rice is frequently used as a filler. Until rice is out of the dog's diet for two or three weeks, you won't notice much change. I hope this helps.

M.M.J., Ocean Pines, Md.

Thanks for the information. I hope readers will take it to heart, because the most frequently raised health issue by my readers is dogs who are scratching, itching, licking and chewing themselves to pieces.

Veterinarians who simply treat these symptoms of food allergy/hypersensitivity (often compounded by other problems) with a prescription of cortisone/prednisone should go back to school, or at least read the veterinary literature.

Not all dogs (or cats) are allergic to rice or other processed pet food ingredients like corn, soy, beef and dairy products; one of my animals gets sick from eggs. Nor are all itchy skin problems in dogs caused by an allergic reaction to certain foods. Good diagnostic detective work is called for when addressing skin disorders in animals, in addition to a holistic approach to their treatment.

Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

(c) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.