Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker



By Kim Campbell Thornton

When my dog Harper was a puppy, she wanted up in my lap one day. The problem was, my lap was already occupied by Twyla, our black-and-tan cavalier. Harper knew that Twyla would "give her what for" if she dared to jump up there, too. Harper paced back and forth, watching us. You could practically see the wheels spinning in her head.

Suddenly, Harper sprinted for the stairs, barking loudly. Twyla immediately jumped out of my lap and ran down the stairs to lead the charge against whatever danger threatened us. Harper, still at the top of the stairs, stopped barking, trotted back to my chair and hopped in my lap. Problem solved.

I never cease to be entertained and impressed by dogs' thought processes. In her book "Inside of a Dog," Alexandra Horwitz writes that "dogs are quite capable of concealing behavior, acting to deflect attention from their true motives." In other words, they practice deception.

In a 2009 address to the American Psychological Association, canine researcher Stanley Coren, author of "The Intelligence of Dogs," said, "During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards."

My husband has experienced this in nosework class with Gemma, our Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix. Inside her tiny head is a brain worthy of Machiavelli -- or at least Machiavelli's dog. Gemma knows that she is rewarded with treats when she finds a particular odor, and at first she wasn't above giving a false alert in the hope that she might get rewarded anyway. She has learned, though, that it doesn't work, and last time she rocked all her searches, including sweeping by the boxes containing tasty distractors such as pasta, popcorn and Cheetos.

Anna McDole, a veterinarian in San Jose, California, says her dog pretends to walk away from the cat food. When McDole thinks it's safe to drop her guard, he sneaks behind her to get back to it.

Glenye Oakford of Lexington, Kentucky, says her beagle, Eider, knows how to lie when the pressure's on.

"He will sometimes find a forbidden object, like one of our baseball caps, and grab it. In his excitement, he'll fly around at top speed carrying the item in his mouth. When we spot him and yell 'Eider!' he runs behind a piece of furniture and emerges on the other side with nothing in his mouth and keeps on running, as if to say, 'You must have been mistaken because I'm just running around here having fun.'"

Dogs don't always trick other dogs (or people) with the intent of getting something out of it. Sometimes they do it just for fun. Kim Schive of Carlisle, Massachusetts, still laughs when she remembers this story about two of her Shetland sheepdogs.

Kia lived to keep the yard free of squirrels. Whenever she saw one, she ran at the fence, jumped at it, hitting it with all four feet, did a quick half-turn in the air and another quick half-turn on landing. Then she stamped her feet five times, all the while barking furiously with hackles raised.

Penny could mimic Kia's routine perfectly, right down to the number of foot stamps and barks. During the dead of winter, while all the squirrels were hibernating, Penny would periodically launch into Kia's squirrel dance.

"I think she did it just to get a rise out of Kia, because when she saw it, Kia would dash around the yard madly for 15 or 20 minutes, looking for the nonexistent rodent while Penny watched her with clear amusement," Schive says.

In Native American folklore, coyote has the reputation of a trickster, but clearly he is not the only canid who plays tricks on his friends.


What to know about

storing pet food

Q: What's the best way to store pet food, and how can I know if it has gone bad? -- via Twitter

A: Pet foods contain preservatives to help ensure that food stays fresh, but once you open a can or a bag, the freshness level starts to decrease. You can take several steps to help food stay fresh and to know if it's time to replace it.

-- Check the "best by" date before buying. Don't buy the food if you don't think you'll be able to use it all before the date given.

-- Once you open a bag of dry food, use it all within 4 to 6 weeks.

-- If you feed dry food, keep it in the original bag instead of pouring it into another container. The fat in the food forms a film on the container, and you'll need to clean it regularly with soap and water to prevent the food from becoming rancid. It's better to place the original bag inside an airtight container to help it stay fresh and prevent raids by bugs or mice.

-- Store dry food in a cool, dry place under 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat can cause fat in food to go rancid more quickly.

-- If your pet doesn't eat an entire can of food at one meal, refrigerate the remainder in a glass or plastic container with a tight lid. The food will keep better that way than if you leave it in the can covered with a plastic lid or aluminum foil.

-- Use your nose. Give dry food a good sniff to make sure it doesn't smell stale. And even if it smells all right to you, trust your pet's sniffer. If he turns up his nose at the food or eats with less enthusiasm, it may be time to replace it. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

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Pets and electronics

aren't a good mix

-- If your dog has swallowed your remote or your cat has thrown up a hairball on your smartphone, you're not alone. A survey released last month by Square Trade found that 28 million pet owners have had a pet damage an electronic device, with smartphones accounting for almost 30 percent of the damaged items. Electronics are most at risk from male dogs (86 percent more likely than females to damage devices) or puppies (three times more likely to damage a device than older pets). It could be worse. At least they're not ordering stuff online. Yet.

-- You may have recently seen a story about ice water causing bloat making the rounds on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet. We're here to tell you that ice and ice water won't cause stomach cramps or bloat. It is true that if your dog is overheated, you shouldn't cool him off with ice or ice water, but throwing some ice cubes in his water dish on a hot day won't do any harm. Chewing ice cubes can cause him to break a tooth, though, so don't give them as treats.

-- How are new cat breeds created? According to the Cat Fanciers Association, some are developed after kittens with natural, or spontaneous, mutations appear in litters, while others are the result of crossing two already established breeds. Mutations can occur as skeletal changes, such as the stumpy tail of the manx or the folded ears of the Scottish fold; new coat types, such as the waves of the Cornish rex or the wiry fur of the American wirehair; or new colors, such as the red Abyssinian. Examples of breeds created through crossing two or more breeds -- known as hybridization -- include the Havana brown, Oriental shorthair, and Tonkinese. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: Many types of dogs have been known to employ distractions and deception to get what they want. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: The short, wavy coat of the Cornish rex is the result of a spontaneous mutation. New cat breeds are sometimes developed after a cat with a natural mutation appears in a litter. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3