DEAR DR. FOX: I have a dog, Gizmo, who is almost 4 years old. We believe he’s a pug-Chihuahua mix. He’s a good guy and wants to please me. But about a year ago, he had some sudden and strange behaviors that had a manic quality.
I came into the room and he knocked over a flower vase on a table and began to gobble up the flowers. I told him “no.” Then he ran to the carpet and started trying to pull up pieces and eat it. When I told him no again, he ran over to some string curtains and tried to devour those. It was totally out of character, and a bit alarming. He was trying to mind me, but it was obvious he couldn’t control himself.
I called our veterinarian, who asked if Gizmo could have got hold of any medicines or poisons. He hadn’t had access to anything, so our vet didn’t have any idea of what was going on.
After about two hours, Gizmo stopped this behavior and was normal again. A couple days later, he had the same behavior for about 15 minutes. It’s never happened again, but I remain somewhat concerned. Do you know what it could be, or what I should do if it comes up again?
My second question is about my 15-month-old mini dachshund, Pippin. He’s a good guy, too ... he just has dachshund traits. You have to love them!
The issue is barking. He barks long and loud if he hears anything outside. I don’t want to hurt him (as with a shock collar), but I need to alter this behavior so as not to disturb my neighbors. He doesn’t respond to verbal correction, positive reinforcement or redirection.
I’ve had a citronella no-bark collar for about five months. At first it quieted him, but only when it was on all the time. Now he’s decided he’d rather bark and just put up with the sprays of citronella. My last dachshund died the summer before last, and he did the same thing when he was young. I tried a sonic sound collar, which wasn’t effective. Eventually I took him to a specialist and had him “de-barked.” He still barked, but it was much quieter. We lived in a condo with close neighbors, so I had to do something. I always had mixed feelings about it, though.
Ethically, I’m not sure elective surgery is great to do to people or our furry friends. On the other hand, the specialist I used said she started specializing in the surgery that she did by going down through the throat and scraping the vocal cords because so many dogs were losing their homes or even being killed because of their barking.
Do you have ideas to stop the barking in a kind way? What are your thoughts about altering the vocal cords? -- D.G., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR D.G.: One of our dogs, Tanza, whom we rescued as a pup while working in Tanzania, startled us one day by bizarrely walking stiff-legged across the room with eyes fixed and a worried expression on her face. Then she grabbed and tried to swallow anything she could get into her mouth: an edge of carpet, a corner of a pillow. So I immediately took her outside, where she ate some grass and leaves and eventually vomited.
Clearly, her bizarre behavior, which on occasion she subsequently repeated, was an indication of acute nausea and an urgent need to empty her stomach. This is what your dog was most probably experiencing. Dogs have an almost automatic response to vomit when anything irritates their stomachs, which is probably a survival mechanism after generations of living as scavengers and garbage-eaters.
Your other problem dog is another issue indeed, for which, as you have discovered, there is sometimes no easy solution. Some anti-bark collars emit a high-frequency sound or vibration, and can work well to stop some dogs from constantly barking. But I have concerns about their long-term safety. For many dogs, the simple solution is to leave a talk-show radio or TV channel on to act as a sound barrier to outside noises that can trigger indoor dogs to bark. Having the vocal cords snipped is a last resort, and should never become a routine procedure for noisy dogs.
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