The Animal Doctor

DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 4-year-old dog, and she has always had problems with short-term memory.

When friends come over, she greets them, but if they get out of her line of sight and then appear a few minutes later, she barks and acts startled. It is like her brain is wondering, "How did this nice human friend get in the house without moving through the front door?"

She does not do this with me or with her canine buddies. She is a standard poodle and otherwise is quite smart. I have had other dogs of the same breed who have not had this issue.

Is there a training method to improve her short-term memory and recognition skills? -- L.N., Seattle

DEAR L.N.: Short-term memory deficit probably has a genetic basis and may be related to attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), seen in both humans and various breeds of dogs.

An underlying anxiety may be at the core of the problem, which you may address by giving the dog a tryptophan or L-theanine supplement, which have been shown to help reduce anxiety, aggression and depression and lower blood cortisol levels. Extract of green tea is one source. Petzlife's @-Eaze calming gel would be worth trying. Natural food sources of tryptophan (which is a precursor for brain serotonin to help calm your dog) include turkey, eggs, pineapple, brown rice, flax and chia seeds. The other brain neurochemical called dopamine, low levels of which are associated with ADHD, is supplied by foods such as organic oats, dairy products, blueberries and spirulina, any of which you can add to your dog's food.

One calming essential oil is lavender. You can put a few drops on a bandanna around your dog's neck before company arrives. One pharmaceutical solution is a prescription of Prozac to help elevate brain serotonin; a short course of treatment under veterinary supervision may help your dog reach a better point of equanimity.

Because of the poor quality of ingredients in many manufactured dog foods and various additives that may cause oxidative stress and release of free radicals affecting brain, behavior and immune function, I would strongly advise you feed your dog an organically certified diet or try my home-prepared recipe, which is rich in both serotonin and dopamine as well as antioxidants that deal with the free radical problem. Find it at


"Connecticut tests legal advocates for animals." This is the title of an Associated Press article by Pat Eaton-Robb, describing a program initiated by a group of lawyers and University of Connecticut law professor Jessica Rubin to serve as legal advocates for animals in animal cruelty trials. If accepted by judges, this initiative may be adopted by other states, especially since there is wider recognition of the connections between animal abuse and human abuse.

Yet according to Eaton-Robb, the new law in Connecticut establishing the legitimacy of legal advocates for animals is opposed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which says the law “could create confusion over responsibility for an animal.” Clearly, the AKC is not confused about whose vested interests they are seeking to protect.


Subscribers to Nationwide's pet insurance plans spent more than $81 million last year on 10 common conditions, including their dogs' skin allergies and cats' dental problems, which were the most common conditions by species. Canine skin allergy claims averaged $233 per dog, while feline dental disease claims averaged $376 per cat.

(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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