with Lisa Peterson
Dear Lisa: My 2-year old Belgian Tervuren is traumatized by thunderstorms. I know this is a common problem, but this particular dog remains fearful of the outdoors for days or even weeks after hearing thunder. I'd prefer to treat this problem through behavior therapy rather than drugs. Do you recommend for desensitizing her, and is this something a dog owner could try? – Terrorized by Thunderstorms in Tacoma
Dear Terrorized: Fear of loud noises, including thunderstorms, is a common complaint I hear from dog owners. Pets can develop sound sensitivities usually between the ages of two and four. And they tend to get worse with age, sometimes not even showing up until very late.
Dogs who behave in this way are usually triggered by some external force. They may know that the impending storm is approaching by sensing such things as the increasing wind, darkening sky and the drop in barometric pressure as the weather front approaches. They know it's coming and anticipate “impending doom” which makes them nervous to all sounds.
Some behaviorists will tell you to try a desensitization program where you gradually introduce the “fear” noise at a very low volume and then increase the volume and praise when they behave appropriately. This takes a long time to implement and a lot of patience on the part of the owner. You won’t know it worked until someday your dog isn’t afraid anymore.
Others may suggest trying to divert your dog’s attention to the “impending doom” by playing a fun game with her at the right moments to turn the bad triggers into good triggers.
Your veterinarian may suggest you treat the dog with some kind of tranquilizer or go the more natural route with herbal mixtures. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t.
But the best “cure” I have found I learned at a seminar by Pat Hastings, a respected AKC dog show judge, breeder and handler. She swears by this and I have seen it work on one of my friend’s dog who used to jump into the bathtub during a thunderstorm and quiver. Get yourself a bottle of peppermint oil from the health food store. When the storm is approaching put a drop or two of oil on the bottom of each foot, right on the pad. While no one knows why this works, once the oil is on for a bit, the dog no longer cares about the thunderstorm. And she’ll smell very nice!
Dear Lisa: I have a 14-month old pug who eats earthworms every chance he gets. He eats the same amount dry dog food as his brother but eats the earthworms as snacks during his outside time. His brother does not eat earthworms. I'm sure hunger isn't the issue. Is he missing something in his diet? Can the earthworms be harmful to his health? Should I prevent him from eating them? – Unearthed Delights in Delaware
Dear Unearthed: Dogs will eat the craziest things. Many times experts don’t know why or have conflicting opinions. For example, there is no solid evidence as to why so many dogs eat grass. Some say they must be missing a nutrient, others claim dogs do it to ease gastrointestinal troubles or some say it simply means dogs like greens!
As for earthworms, I’ve heard some dog owners report that their dogs devour these segmented hors d’ouevres with no ill effect. However, there are a few reasons why you should not let your pup scarf up this garden garnish.
Earthworms are great for soil because they move it around, clean it up and deposit nutrients. They do this by swallowing the soil. Some of the things that an earthworm might run across on his errands include bacteria and other parasites that are harmful to dogs.
While bacteria could cause stomach upset in your pet your biggest worry should be roundworms. The eggs of the roundworm (Toxocara larvae) can be left behind in soil by other dogs or wildlife and then ingested by the earthworms. Then once the earthworms are eaten by your dog, he runs the risk of getting the common parasite. Puppies are quite susceptible to getting roundworms, especially from their mothers. But adults can get them too.
Check your dog’s stool for spaghetti-shaped worms for the main telltale sign of roundworm infection. If your dog does get roundworms, don’t despair, working with your vet on a de-worming protocol will usually take care of the problem. It is estimated that a medium-sized garden can contain more than 20,000 earthworms. Worse yet, if your dog gets roundworms he could spread them to you. So don’t let your dog eat the earthworms and keep him and you parasite free.Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Club Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at email@example.com and she may select it to be answered here in Ask AKC.
© 2006 The American Kennel Club, Inc.