1. Why do dogs eat grass?


The short answer is we don’t know. Most veterinarians agree that grass eating seems to be a way for dogs to relieve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, parasites or possibly infections. Another theory is that dogs are craving micronutrients found in leafy plants. Finally, dogs may eat grass simply because they like it. If your dog is eating grass every day or large amounts, ask your veterinarian to check out your dog immediately. —Ernie Ward, DVM

2. Do dogs dream?


Probably. Based on brain wave studies of sleeping dogs, we’ve discovered that dogs and humans share many similar characteristics when sleeping and possibly dreaming. For most dogs, dreaming should occur about 20 minutes after they begin to doze. You’ll notice shallow, irregular breathing followed by muscle twitching and eye movements behind closed eyelids. These eye movements are consistent with REM sleep, when humans dream. The real question is, what do dogs dream about? —Ernie Ward, DVM

3. Why do dogs howl?


Dogs howl for many reasons. It is a nonspecific behavior, sort of like a baby’s cry. A mother knows when a cry means hunger, discomfort or need for attention. Similarly in dogs, howling can occur when a dog is distressed (for example, when alone and having a problem with separation anxiety), feeling territorial, stressed in a situation that it cannot get out of (such as when a dog is fearful of guests in the home and the guests are not leaving), or responding to persistent noises such as the sound of a siren. Finally, I imagine it is a fun activity for some dogs—kind of like singing in the shower. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

If your dog howls, you may at least partly blame an ancient ancestor, the wolf. Wolves howl primarily to alert an enemy pack they’re ready to rumble or guide a lost member home. Dogs howling and hooting when you leave may be an attempt to get you to return. Howling at other dogs may signal, “Get lost!” or “I’m over here!” —Ernie Ward, DVM

4. Why do dogs have whiskers?


Whiskers function as sensory organs. Touch, air currents and vibrations can stimulate the whiskers. They also can function as a form of communication in that dogs that are emotionally aroused move their whiskers forward or backward to signal to another dog either fear or confidence during encounters. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

Whiskers are known in the veterinary anatomy world as vibrissae. Most dogs have these long, stiff hairs projecting from their jaw, muzzle and above their eyes. Whiskers are highly sensitive and help inform the dog about surrounding objects, air movements and more. You can also tell a dog is nervous or scared if the whiskers are pointing forward at a potential threat. Whatever you do, don’t trim or pluck whiskers because they serve an important information source for dogs. —Ernie Ward, DVM

5. Why do dogs chase their tails?


Other than for grooming reasons (injury to tail or anal area as well as managing external parasites), it is abnormal for dogs to consistently chase their tails. It can occur as an attention-getting activity or can escalate to a compulsive behavior, in that the dog engages in the behavior with reduced ability to discontinue to the point where it interferes with normal activities. Compulsive behaviors are similar to obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs) in people; one theory is that it results in increased endorphins in the brain, thus acting to reinforce pleasure for the behavior. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

6. How do you clean dogs’ ears?


Cleaning ears regularly can help minimize infection since dry, clean ears are less likely to become infected. Place a small amount of a quality cleaning agent in the ear (enough to where you can hear a slight “squishing” sound) and massage the ear canal by rubbing at the base of the ear. Allow your pet to shake its head, then wipe out the discharge from the ear canal using cotton or tissue on your finger. Do not place anything into the ear unless directed by your veterinarian. I recommend cleaning a normal ear (not complicated by allergies or resistant infections) about one to two times per week or after baths, where water may have gotten introduced. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

Cleaning a dog’s ears is an important part of routine grooming. A dog’s ear canal is shaped like an “L,” making thorough cleaning and drying a challenge. If you have any reservations about cleaning your dog’s ears, ask your veterinarian to teach you how to do it safely and effectively. Start by gently cleaning the outer ear with a clean cotton ball and veterinary-approved ear cleaning solution. Be sure to remove any debris and dead skin from crevices and folds. Using a clean cotton ball, push as far into the ear canal as you can comfortably reach with your small finger. Be sure not to stuff the cotton ball so deep you can’t retrieve it. Remove the cotton ball and repeat until there is no more dirt or debris observed. —Ernie Ward, DVM

7. Why are dogs’ noses wet?


Dogs’ noses act as sweat glands and can become wet as a means of discharging heat (air movement across a wet surface results in greater heat loss). In addition, discharges from the nasal cavity will accumulate on the nose. Clear discharge can occur with temperature changes (cool weather) and also with some allergies. Discolored discharges usually indicate some pathological process in the nasal cavity (infection, neoplasia, foreign body, bleeding disorder) and should be evaluated as soon as possible. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

Wet noses increase a dog’s ability to smell. Scientists believe the thin layer of mucous on a “wet nose” helps trap scent chemicals that are then licked off and processed by a dog’s special olfactory (smelling) glands located in the roof of its mouth. Wet noses are also the result of specialized sweat glands. Dogs can only perspire from the pads of their feet and noses, further contributing to a “wet nose.” —Ernie Ward, DVM

8. How do you stop dogs from digging?


Dogs dig because it’s fun (dirt plays back) or for exploration reasons. This is a normal behavior and if dogs are allowed to engage in the behavior unsupervised, it will persist and escalate because the behavior is reinforced (remember … it is fun). Management includes not allowing dogs in areas unsupervised where they have dug before, block off problem areas to prevent access, always be in the yard with your dog to prevent digging and engage your dog with other activities (play, training). Also, you can create an acceptable digging area by providing a digging box or area with sand or dirt that your dog and easily dig in. You can encourage its use by burying favorite toys (first shallow then more deeply) in the box. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

9. How do you introduce dogs to … (babies, cats, etc.)?


Gradually and carefully are key concepts to introducing dogs to babies or new pets. The first rule of introduction is supervision. Any time two new pets meet or a new child enters the home, close control of the interaction is required. Next, take it slow. Keep the parties separated and allow them to see, hear and smell the visitor. Back off at any sign of anxiety, fear or threats. If a new baby is at the hospital, try bringing home a blanket with the newborn’s smell for your pet. Make sure to keep food and prized possessions away during introduction. Once everyone is acclimated to each other, carefully allow direct contact. After a short period, take a break and start over in five to 15 minutes.

Regardless of how long you’ve had your pet or how nice it is, never allow unsupervised interaction between an animal and baby. Injuries can occur in a flash and leave a lifetime of physical and emotional damage. If you’re thinking of bringing a new pet into your home or expecting a baby, talk to your veterinarian about strategies and tactics to ease the introduction. —Ernie Ward, DVM

10. Why do dogs bury bones?


Animals frequently create food caches (hiding spots for valuables that the animal can later access when they are safe or when normal food supplies are no longer available). Even though you may supply all the food your dog may want, it is difficult to break a natural, instinctual behavior. —John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

When dogs bury bones, they’re making an instinctual deposit to protect a future meal or prized possession. Thousands of years ago, scavenging dogs weren’t certain where or when their next meal would be. If they scored a big find, they’d hide leftovers for leaner times. Burying food kept it dark and cool, an early version of refrigeration. —Ernie Ward, DVM