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Q All of my dogs have shown affection and love by giving "licks" to my family and me. But whenever I've tried to get Lucy to give "kisses," she has been very apprehensive. We adopted her when she was three years old (she is now a five-year-old Cocker Spaniel). Is there something I need to understand regarding the lick response as affection?

A You have a very nice relationship with your dogs. The "kissing" behavior shows that they treat you like their mother. Puppies lick their mother's mouth when she returns from a hunting trip, and she will feed them by regurgitating food. This is a behavior left over from the wild, but a large percentage of bitches still regurgitate food for their month-old puppies.

Adult dogs also lick at the faces of familiar pack mates. The reason Lucy doesn't "kiss" is the age at which you adopted her. At three, she had forgotten puppy behavior and, because she is fearful, she is now less likely to approach you in that way. She probably shows you her affection in other ways: by lying next to you, by following you, by asking to be petted, etc. She may even make licking intention movements; that is, she sticks her tongue out, but licks her nose instead of you. Some dogs--like some people--are not naturally demonstrative, but we still love them and they love us.

Q I have owned my male miniature Dachshund, Spencer, for three years. He is very sweet and loves our family. He plays with my niece and nephew and has even taken well to my boyfriend and my boyfriend's four-year-old Cocker Spaniel. However, when company arrives, he is a different dog. He may lick the guests' faces or hands, but if they get up, he will attack their shoes and bark constantly. Reprimanding him doesn't help. I do not want someone to get hurt and I don't want a lawsuit. How can I stop this?

A Spencer is certainly a bold little dog. Licking one's face is a greeting behavior usually done by a puppy toward its parent. It is a signal to the parent to "please vomit for me (feed me)" It is a demand, but a friendly one. When your company moves, Spencer attacks their shoes because he is either frightened or challenged by them. You can tell which he is feeling by the position of his tail. If it is up, this means the dog is feeling challenged. If it's down, he is frightened. In either case, this is unacceptable aggressive behavior.

Keep him physically away from your visitors. If he licks their faces, he must be on their laps or furniture to reach them. If you keep him on a leash at your side, or tethered to your chair, he should not be able to reach far enough to lick or bite your guests. Your guests can toss him a treat for sitting quietly. This may change his mind about company.

In the meantime, teach him to sit and stay quietly. When he is obedient with you when you have company, ask your guests to give him a command and make him do something instead of giving him attention for free.

Q My 11-month-old yellow Labrador I Retriever, Boone, is afraid to descend the stairs leading to the downstairs of our house. He also refuses to go down the steps that lead to the basement at the library, where we sometimes have puppy classes. But he has gone up and down stairs at other locations. Boone is going to have to learn to go down all staircases because he is a guide pup. What should I do?

A You are right to be concerned about Boone's specific stair phobia. For a dog, going down the stairs is more difficult than going up. Other than that, it is difficult to determine why one particular set of stairs frightens him. Try these approaches to help him overcome his fear:

(1) Ask him to ascend only one step at a time. Have him repeatedly go up one step, then back down the same step. Next, try asking him to go up two steps and back down them. Repeat this process, adding more steps over time.

(2) Change the characteristics of the stairs. Try to reduce the height of the riser by putting a brick on each step. Tack rubber matting with horizontal ribs to the stairs to increase traction.

(3) Make going down a step worthwhile. Delay dinner and provide a delicious treat for descending the stairs.

William H. Miller, VMD, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Dermatology


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Author:Miller, William H.
Publication:Dog Watch
Article Type:Interview
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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