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Archive for July, 2009

Dogs and Dreaming: Why Does My Dog Growl In Her Sleep?

July 31st, 2009 16 comments

Lucy Growled in her Sleep Last Night

Not just once.  Lucy, our one-year-old Labrador Retriever mix dog, growled about four different times in her sleep.  And it was loud enough to awaken other members of the household.  But Lucy just kept on dreaming.

Do Dogs Dream?

Most animal behaviorists believe that dogs do indeed dream, although no one is really sure what they dream about. After all, they can’t just wake up and tell you about the rabbit they chased or the hole they dug or that great belly flop into the lake they took in their dreams.  But judging by their movements and actions during sleep, it is pretty easy to guess that dogs dream about their favorite activities.

Animal Behaviorists Believe Dogs Dream

Animal Behaviorists Believe Dogs Dream

If you watch your dog while she’s sleeping, you might see her running in place, legs and feet moving furiously back and forth for several minutes before she relaxes again.  She may move her face around and inhale sharply several times as though sniffing something.  She might let out a yelp or two, or even a howl.

Although I’ve seen both my dogs run in place and sleep-sniff, and have heard them “woof” and even howl in their sleep, I had never heard such persistent and repeated sleep-growling before.  What did it mean?

Why Dogs Growl

If dogs dream about their favorite activities, then maybe that means that growling is high on Lucy’s list of things to do.  Most people understandably associate a growling dog with an aggressive dog.  According to the writers of Dogspeak:  How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You, growling can be an “unmistakable warning sign” that tells humans and other dogs to “back off.”  Dogs may also growl when they’re frightened or defensive.

So why would the pooch I’ve dubbed Miss Happy-Pants because of her playful and loving disposition be growling so much in her dreams?  It seems there are other, less ominous reasons why dogs growl.  In fact, dogs often engage in play-growling.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Play-Growling

You can tell if your dog is play-growling largely by observing her body language.  If she is growling while she is playing, that is a pretty good indication that her growling is not aggressive.  An alert expression, a wagging tail, a play-bow stance, and a relaxed mouth are all indications that a dog is not growling to threaten or intimidate, but as an indication that she just wants to play.

Lucy and Frankie spend a great deal of time in the yard and in the house either tumbling all over each other or playing tug o’ war with tug toys or palm fronds or anything else they can get their mouths on.  When they’re really engaged in a game, they are also usually play-growling.

So I guess it only makes sense that, after a long day of play-fighting and the play-growling that goes with it,  little Miss Happy-Pants would spend her sleeping hours reliving those good times and growling her little happy pants off, so to speak.

Resource:  Matthew Hoffman (ed.), Dogspeak:  How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You.  Rodale 1999.

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Is Your Puppy Chewing Everything In Sight? How To Cope With Chewing Behaviors

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Puppies love to chew. Just like children, puppies go through a teething process, and during that time, chewing just feels good.  Even older dogs occasionally chew.  Authors Jack and Wendy Volhard in Dog Training for Dummies suggest that dogs that keep chewing after they’ve passed the teething stage do so out of anxiety, boredom or loneliness.

Any Puppy Will Tell You:  Chewing Just Feels Good

Any Puppy Will Tell You: Chewing Just Feels Good

Dealing With a Teething Puppy’s Need to Chew

If your puppy is exhibiting chewing behavior, this is perfectly normal.  Dogs are born without teeth.  Their baby teeth come in between three and eight weeks of age.  Then at approximately four months, puppies shed the baby teeth and the adult teeth come in.

Chewing eases some of the discomfort your puppy feels during this process.  Here are some tips for dealing with your puppy’s chewing behaviors during teething:

  • Give Puppy Lots of Toys. Provide your puppy with plenty of chew toys, both hard and soft.  A hard rubber toy such as a Kong with some peanut butter stuffed inside will keep your puppy amused for a long time.  Additionally, there are toys that can be frozen or refrigerated.  Chewing on something cold can relieve your puppy’s gum discomfort.  Just be sure to promptly throw away any toy that cannot handle your puppy’s chewing.  Otherwise, you puppy may ingest or choke on the pieces.
  • Don’t Be a Chew Toy. If your puppy tries to use you as a chew toy, correct this behavior by holding your flat palm a few inches in front of his mouth and then ignore him.  He won’t be able to chew your flat palm.  He will learn this hand signal as a sign for “stop doing that.”  And he will associate chewing on you with not getting any attention.
  • Don’t Yell At or Hit Your Puppy. Avoid yelling at your puppy, and never, ever hit your puppy.  Yelling is completely ineffective and will only give you a headache.  It is especially important not to yell at your puppy after the fact.  Your puppy won’t be able to associate your yelling at him with the shoe he destroyed two hours earlier.  At worst, he will associate your yelling with your homecoming and will begin to dread having you return home.  And hitting your puppy can injure him and can lead to aggressive tendencies down the road.
  • Don’t Chase Your Puppy. Don’t chase your puppy to try and take away something he is chewing.  To your puppy, this is a game and it reinforces the behavior.  If your puppy has grabbed a dirty sock out of the laundry basket, get one of his toys and make an exchange.
  • Remove Temptations. Keep loose items picked up and doors closed.  If your puppy doesn’t have access to tempting contraband, he cannot chew it.  You might consider making use of a crate or a baby gate until your puppy gets through the teething stage.

Dog with TeethYour puppy is going through a phase that, in some dogs, might last for six months to a year.  His sharp teeth can be destructive if you’re not diligent.  The good news is that his need to chew will lessen as he gains maturity.  In the meantime, provide your puppy with plenty of chew toys in a variety of chewy textures.  This will keep him busy and alleviate his discomfort and anxiety.

With patience and planning, you can cope with puppy’s chewing behaviors and you, your puppy and your possessions will all be better off.

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Categories: Dog Behavior

Gidget the Taco Bell SpokesDog Dies at 15

July 23rd, 2009 3 comments

Gidget the Taco Bell Chihuahua has Died

It has been a rough couple of months for celebrities.  In just the past few weeks we’ve lost Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Karl Malden, Michael Jackson, and Walter Cronkite.  Now, we learn that the Chihuahua famous for proclaiming “Yo quiero Taco Bell” has passed away.  The St. Petersburg Times reports that Gidget the Chihuahua suffered a massive stroke on Tuesday night and had to be euthanized.

Gidget’s Career in Show Business

Gidget was discovered at a kennel.  She did not appear to be star material, with her under bite and her enormous ears.  But Gidget knew she had “it.”  According to Karin McElhatton, owner of Studio Animal Services, Gidget the Chihuahua knew she was a star.  “She was a prima donna, basically.  She absolutely knew when she was on camera.”

In 1997, Gidget starred in a Taco Bell advertisement in which a male actor’s voice proclaimed the now-famous line, “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” Spanish for “I want Taco Bell.”  What was supposed to be a single ad turned into a campaign that ran from 1997 to 2000.

While other Chihuahuas had bit parts in the campaign, it was Gidget who got the closeups and the quips (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui), which included “Drop the Chalupa,” and “Viva Gorditas.”

According to McElhatton, Gidget traveled first-class, opened the New York Stock Exchange and made an appearance at Madison Square Garden.  Her acting career included a 2002 commercial for insurance firm GEICO and a role in the 2003 movie “Legally Blonde 2:  Red, White & Blonde.”

After her retirement from show business, Gidget enjoyed going on hikes and beach visits with her dog trainer, Sue Chipperton.  Although she had grown hard of hearing, Gidget enjoyed good health up to the day of her death, eating well and playing with her favorite squeaky toys at the home of her dog trainer, said McElhatton.

Controversy and Lawsuits Clouded the Taco Bell Chihuahua Ad Campaign

Although her role as the Taco Bell Chihuahua brought Gidget the Chihuahua fame and a loyal and loving following, the ad campaign that made her famous was the object of controversy and the subject of a lawsuit against the fast food chain, according to the Seattle Times.  Because the commercials often portrayed the Chihuahua as a bandit in a sombrero or a revolutionary in a beret, they were criticized by activists as a derogatory depiction of Mexicans.

And in January, 2009, a federal appeals court ruled that Taco Bell was liable for a $42 million breach-of-contract award to two Michigan men who created the idea behind the fast food company’s $500 million advertising campaign.

Taco Bell:  Gidget the Chihuahua will be Missed

Taco Bell Corporation issued a statement acknowledging that Gidget the Chihuahua will be missed.  The company said, “Our deepest sympathies go out to her owners and fans.”

Dying at age 15, Gidget had a normal life span for a Chihuahua.  According to chihuahuafanatics.com, Chihuahuas are one of the most long lived of dog breeds, with life spans of 15-plus years being fairly common.

Gidget will be cremated, and her owners will decide on a final disposition of her remains.

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Senator Al Franken Proposes Legislation that would Provide Service Dogs for Wounded Veterans

July 22nd, 2009 1 comment

Senator Franken’s First Proposed Piece of Legislation Would Pair Service Dogs with Veterans

Inspired by a meeting with a wounded Iraq war veteran and his Golden Retriever service dog, Senator Franken wants to introduce legislation that would help train service dogs for use by wounded veterans.  This would be the newly-minted senator’s first piece of legislation.

What Service Dogs could do for Wounded Veterans

Golden Retrievers Make Great Service Dogs

Golden Retrievers Make Great Service Dogs

Senator Franken met Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog Tuesday at an inaugural event in Washington.  As Sen. Franken explains in a Minnesota Star-Tribune op-ed, Capt. Montalvan was an intelligence officer who was wounded in Anbar Province in an assassination attempt.  He now walks with a cane and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.  Capt. Montalvan told Franken he could not have attended the inauguration without his service dog Tuesday’s assistance.

After I met Luis, I did some research.  Service dogs like Tuesday can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds.  Yes, they provide companionship.  But they can also detect changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling.  They are trained to let their masters know when it’s time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares.

Service dogs raise their masters’ sense of well-being.  There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.

The Costs involved in Service Dog Training

Unfortunately, there aren’t many service dogs available to veterans, and the cost involved in service dog training is a major obstacle.  According to Sen. Franken, it costs an average of $20,000 to train a service dog and another $5,000 to place the trained service dog with the veteran.

The Investment could Save Money in the Long Run

Nevertheless, Sen. Franken believes that a service dog will more than pay for itself over its life, and his proposed bill would test the return on investment with a pilot program that would provide service dogs to hundreds of veterans.

My bill will help train a statistically significant number of dogs to measure the benefits to veterans with physical and emotional wounds.  The program would be monitored and refined over a three-year period to optimize its effectiveness.

Frankly, I believe it is enough simply to improve the lives of those of whom we asked so much.  But this program isn’t just the right thing to do.  It’s the smart thing to do.  This is win, win, win, win.

Al Franken is a U.S. Senator from Minnesota.  He can be contacted at info@franken.senate.gov or by telephone at (202) 224-5641.

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