Dear Dr. Fox:
We have two West Highland white terriers. The problem is that Sammy and Rosie keep barking. My neighbors have erected a guillotine for my husband and me.
I will admit it is our fault — the dogs came to us with papers and the assurance that they were partly potty-trained. Ha! Potty training was as easy as it could be with me in the hospital and my husband working and trying to train the dogs.
They bark because they have had little training. I will be able to walk them in about a month, and I will use a Gentle Leader. But how do I train them to not bark?
The other dogs in the neighborhood don’t bark. I am retired and love my Westies dearly, but even I cannot stand the barking.
S.B., Columbia, Md.
DF: Barking dogs are a nuisance in many neighborhoods, including mine.
You must first note when and what triggers your dogs to bark, and work from there. Your dogs bark when they are let out into the yard, so take them for a walk instead, especially when it is early in the morning, and barking will wake the neighbors.
External sounds, such as delivery vehicles, can be a trigger. Buy a clicker from the pet store to train your dogs. Give a few clicks as soon as they bark, and redirect their attention with a favorite toy or nutritious treat.
When they are quiet, use the clicker to get their attention. Tell them to sit and stay, and then give them another treat. Once they are conditioned, try cross- conditioning: calling out sit and stay when they bark and giving them a treat or a toy. This will keep them guessing and distracted.
There are some well-designed anti-barking collars you might try — not the jolting, electric-shock types, but those that make an irritating buzz or squirt a mildly irritating botanical essence to deter the dog.
If these measures, along with long walks, lots of exercise, drawing the curtains and leaving a radio on when they are alone, do not work, ask your veterinarian for a referral to an animal behavior therapist.
Terriers such as yours can be tough to teach when to bark and when not to, but a good behavioral therapist might be your best solution.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a behavioral question concerning my 81 / 2-year-old male West Highland white terrier. He is our only pet. He has never been neutered but he is confined to our house and property.
We have him on Royal Canin dog food. We treat him every so often to real meat — leftover steak, hamburger, turkey, chicken, etc. — that he loves. However, after eating meat, he will find one of his stuffed animal toys and pick it up very gently in his mouth. He then walks around slowly and whines or whimpers and will not put the toy down.
He seems reluctant to let go of it, and he treats it as though it were his puppy. This ritual occurs every time he eats meat, but only meat. Is this normal?
G. and M.M., Jessup, Md.
DF: In my opinion, your Westie is exhibiting a unique behavioral ritual, the interpretation of which calls for some contemplation and conjecture.
He seems to feel such contentment after having a treat of meat, rather than highly processed manufactured food, that his paternal instincts are aroused. Some male dogs, like their wolf ancestors, will regurgitate food for their pups. His toy that he gently carries around is a partial acting out of this ritualistic food-sharing behavior.
As a test, see how he responds when given a raw, meaty beef shank bone to chew on. You might consider including more whole-food ingredients in your dog’s daily diet, such as corn- and soy-free manufactured dog foods and my home-prepared recipe, posted on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a beloved 14-year-old dog that will be 15 in December. I feed him your brown rice diet, and he does very well on it. He has some hearing loss because of his age, but overall he is healthy.
I have one concern: He licks the carpet a lot. I wonder whether he might need something else in his diet or whether it could be an emotional issue. How do I correct it?
L.S., Cresaptown, Md.
DF: You are right about your old dog’s obsessive licking possibly having an emotional basis or another cause.
Physical discomfort — for reasons that could include cancer, arthritis, dental problems or chronic digestive problems — can lead to comfort-seeking and stress-relieving licking and chewing — sometimes a paw and other times the edge of a carpet.
I would advise a full veterinary examination, and take it from there. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, safe chew toys or a piece of raw beef shank bone might be beneficial, depending on the outcome of the examination and what conditions are suspected of causing his obsessive behavior.
Don’t rule out boredom and the need for more activity and stimulation, which might be facilitated by seeing to his comfort. He might be less active because of arthritis pain or from being overweight, conditions that could be at the root of his discomfort.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.