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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2007

Puppy thinks he s leader of the pack

Dear Dr. Thompson: I have a 14 week-old puppy who has started growling and snapping when I try to trim his nails and brush his teeth. He has been a good puppy except for these incidents. We have been to puppy classes and he did fine. What has changed?

ANSWER: You have the beginnings of trouble with this young puppy. The behavior you are describing is typical of a dog who is starting to view himself as the pack leader. Anytime you do anything he is not in favor of, he responds with a growl or snap as a way of letting you know he is the boss. Developmentally your puppy is sorting out where he stands in the pecking order and is keying on cues that you send as to what his place should be. Many dogs, in the absence of a strong pack leader, will begin to assume that role. His reaction is informing you of the new hierarchy in your house.

As he ages this behavior will become entrenched, and many people tip-toe around hoping to never raise the ire of the pack leader, also known as the four-pound bully named Fluffy. I kid, but this can be a dangerous situation. Dog bites are no laughing matter, and unfortunately children are often the biggest victims. However, at this young age your puppy can start to understand who wears the proverbial pants in the house.

Many people inadvertently give a puppy mixed signals. Rough play, sharing beds and couches, and a lack of discipline are all signs to a dog that there is no strong pack leader in the house, and some dogs abhor a leadership vacuum. This is not to say you can t enjoy puppy moments and play with him, but some guidelines need to be instituted immediately.

A nothing-for-free scenario will help you establish your role as leader and develop boundaries for this young upstart. Any time he seeks anything he wants, he needs to follow your commands. This involves a sit and stay. After completing your task, he is allowed access to fun things like love, play, and food. However, this is predicated on your puppy having mastered basic commands like sit and stay. If not, you have to go to square one and establish basic obedience. Over time your puppy will begin to respect your leadership and the dominant behavior should abate. Your veterinarian can also help you find someone who specializes in difficult behavior cases.

Dear Dr. Thompson: My dog has recently started urinating in her sleep. She doesn t seem to be drinking or going outside more often. Does she have an infection?

ANSWER: What you are describing sounds like urinary incontinence. It is a common condition in older spayed female dogs.

Low levels of estrogen can create an abnormally relaxed urinary sphincter that allows urine to leak out when the dog is sleeping or relaxed. However, your veterinarian may need to run tests to eliminate the possibility of increased urine output leading to the problem.

These dogs can also be more susceptible to bladder infections. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed incontinence, a few effective treatment options are available for managing urinary incontinence. Often you will notice a difference immediately.

Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to askthevet@theblade.com or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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