Your dog, from A to Z |

Your dog, from A to Z

Joan Merriam
Special to The Union

OK, "A to Z" may be an overstatement, since it would be impossible to list absolutely everything related to dogs in a single column.

But this month I thought I'd spin the proverbial dial and take a look at several things that people often have to deal with in the course of living with dogs.

Let's start with B, for Bad Breath. Also known as dog breath. Even the most zealously devoted dog-tooth-brusher knows what it's like to be hit with what smells like something that crawled from the depths of a putrid swamp when your dog breathes in your face.

We often assume that bad breath is just a fact of life with dogs. But aside from the possibility that he just devoured a dead frog or — uhh — another creature's waste (yeah, it's disgusting, but extremely common in dogs) your dog's persistent foul breath can point to some heath concerns.

First is a dental problem or gum disease. Hopefully, your vet's annual exam includes checking your dog's teeth and, if need be, doing a thorough cleaning. (Unlike humans who will generally lie still for a teeth cleaning, even the most laid-back pup will fight the process, which is why canine teeth cleaning is usually done under general anesthesia.)

You can also look for signs of a tooth problem like bleeding gums, difficulty chewing, a broken tooth, or blood on a chew toy.

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Bad breath can also be caused by internal problems. Diabetes, for instance, can cause a dog's breath to have a sweet, fruity odor.

Other types of kidney disease can make her breath smell like urine. And if his breath has the distinctive odor of stomach acid, there's something going on in his digestive tract.

The bottom line is that long-lasting dog breath isn't normal, and you need to contact your vet for a checkup.

Now let's move on to C: Counter-Surfing (and its close cousin, Garbage Raiding).

This is a problem I've had to face with my own Casey, who has an unwavering propensity for snatching things from anywhere he can reach.

Just a few days ago, I caught him carrying a huge block of Styrofoam up the driveway — for what, I can only imagine.

Over the years, he's grabbed a 2-pound box of gourmet dog treats, entire loaves of bread, bags of CornNuts, and even inedibles like empty plastic bags, a tile coaster (chewed around the edges when I discovered it), a remote control, kitchen knives (I found the butcher knife in his dog bed!), and several pairs of underwear. And that's just for starters.

If your dog is anything like Casey, the most important thing you can do is prevent the problem in the first place. Make sure all food is put away or stored in containers with dog-proof lids.

If you catch your dog jumping on or reaching up onto counters or raiding your garbage can, you need to respond immediately. Clap your hands and say "Off!" or "Stop!" very loudly, then remove your dog from the area.

If the bad behavior happens while you're gone, there's really nothing you can do. Do NOT yell or punish your dog when you discover the malfeasance, since he won't understand why he's being punished. He associates punishment with what he's doing at the moment he's being corrected.

Dogs simply can't connect your reaction with anything that happened more than a few seconds before. What your dog does understand is that you came home and yelled at him, which merely teaches him to be afraid of you.

Keep in mind that it's your responsibility as a dog parent to keep temptation away from your dog's reach. It's not his fault if he snoops in an open garbage can that contains Chinese food containers from last night's dinner; he's just doing what comes naturally.

Another "C" is Chewing, and I'm not talking about food. Some dogs are chewers of just about anything —s ocks, shoes, laundry baskets — and some aren't, while some only chew when they're puppies and then stop.

Again, the most important thing you can do is remove temptation, and substitute an "approved" chew item for one you don't want chewed.

For instance, if Fido regularly chews up your shoes, make sure they're always put away where he can't get them. and then make sure he has plenty of chew-toys.

So, why do adult dogs chew? Sometimes it's simple boredom.

Sometimes it's fear or panic, as in a dog with severe separation anxiety.

Sometimes it's smell. While you might not be enticed by the soles of your shoes, to your dog they're the olfactory equivalent of a banquet table heaped with food from every corner of the world.

Gnawing on your shoes may be your dog's way of discovering and "sharing" all the wonderful places you've been all day.

I mentioned separation anxiety, which is a topic that, along with the general topic of fear, deserves its own column because it's an issue that plagues so many dog parents.

Let's tackle that next month.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, "Casey's Corner"). You can reach Joan at And if you're looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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