The Animal Doctor

Not Reading Body Language

DEAR READERS: We no longer take our gentle, playful 40-pound dog, Kota, to our local enclosed dog park after an altercation with a young woman regarding her 60- or 70-pound young neutered male dog, who was an intimidating bully. He would engage in playful, high-speed chasing with other dogs, body slam the dog at the head of the pack with his tail up and hackles raised, and then he and the other dogs would pile on top of whichever dog went down. This dog displayed this dominance behavior, which could result in injury and over-excited dogs turning the melee into an aggressive altercation, while a dozen other dog owners stood by as though they were watching a football game.

There was a sign in the enclosure that dog owners should have their dogs under control at all times, but this assertive dog was clearly out of control. When I asked the owner to leash her dog and let the others run and play without her dog constantly interfering and turning it into a violent scrum, she turned on me, proclaiming that I knew nothing about dog behavior and that this was a dog park for dogs to be dogs. She threatened to call the police if I caused her further harassment.

So we left, and Kota was very sore that night from her two body slams by this assertive young dog. What also disturbed me was that the other dog owners standing around said nothing to support my concerns and seemed oblivious to the body language and sequences of behavior this dog was manifesting. In my professional opinion as someone with a doctoral degree in animal behavior, this dog should have been under more control or not allowed into the dog park.

This event has left me wondering how illiterate many dog owners and keepers of other animals are about body language, the signals of emotion, intention, temperament and character displayed in various social situations. This may in part account for the high incidence of people, including uninstructed children, being harmed by animals in their own homes.

I also wonder, given so much exposure on television, how certain individuals whose body language does not lie about their temperaments and character -- but which many people evidently are incapable of reading -- have been recently elected to political office.

DEAR DR. FOX: I am a new pet owner of a 7-month-old Shih Tzu named Oreo. She is smart, energetic and very entertaining. However, I have two problems.

The first problem: As soon as she sees a person, she starts nipping them.

And the other problem: After she had her last shot -- about four months ago -- I started trying to walk her. She refuses to walk on a leash. She runs around anywhere and everywhere so long as there is no leash, but as soon as I put on the leash, she lies down and won’t budge.

Any advice you may have on either of these issues would be greatly appreciated. -- D.C., Brooklyn, New York

DEAR D.C.: Your dog is young, playful and attention-seeking, which is what all the nipping is most probably about. Set up regular play sessions -- chasing a ball or stuffed toy and pulling on a rubber or rope tug-of-war toy -- to give her the attention she desires.

Teach her self-control by learning to sit and stay on command. This can easily be done with patience and tasty food rewards. When visitors come, have her sit and stay, and give her lots of verbal praise and treats. She may also respond well to a squeaky toy that you squeeze to distract and re-motivate her whenever she starts getting nippy.


Evanger’s Pet Food is recalling additional lots of pet food. Here are excerpts from the statement sent to retailers on Feb. 28:

"We are aware that these recalls have caused a great deal of justified concern, mistrust and anger among pet owners and pet food retailers. The Evanger’s family, like many families, is also incredibly angry and upset by these recalls. We’re angry not only because we let you down; but we’re furious that we allowed ourselves to be lied to and deceived by the supplier responsible for introducing pentobarbital into our meat supply. Sadly, this company was once one of our most trusted meat suppliers. But they are solely responsible for the pentobarbital-tainted meat found in some cans of Evanger’s Hunk of Beef and Against the Grain Pulled Beef. We of course immediately fired this unscrupulous supplier, and have undertaken steps to address this matter in a lawsuit on behalf of our customers and retailers. ... Out of an abundance of caution we have decided to issue an immediate recall of the products in which this supplier’s meat may have been used."

Suppliers of the various ingredients that go into manufactured cat and dog foods are ultimately the responsibility of the manufacturers, since it is unrealistic and costly to expect the government to effectively monitor the quality and safety of the byproducts from the human food and beverage industries that are used in most pet foods and livestock and poultry feed. This includes a significant quantity of imported from abroad, including countries like India, where I have worked with my wife and where the humane and sanitary treatment of animals in slaughterhouses are generally extremely deficient. For further details, see our recent book, "India’s Animals: Helping the Sacred and the Suffering."

Since corruption and malfeasance are commonplace in the global marketplace, I urge pet owners to either make their own pet food or seek those brands using human-quality food ingredients, ideally certified organic and produced in the U.S. For more details, visit

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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