Dear Doctor

Letters to the Tufts Veterinarians


Escape artist dog

Q My six-year-old Basset hound, Bubbles, runs away every chance she gets. I got her as a rescue dog when she was two, and running away has always been part of her behavior. I treat her very well, give her treats and high-quality food, and also loads of cuddling. However, she still dashes out as soon as I open the door and takes off. I have learned not to chase after her because it just makes her run faster and faster. Sometimes I can lure her back with a treat, but other times she just seems to laugh at me, and I have to wait until she comes back or until someone finds her. (My address and cell phone number are on her tags.) Do you have any suggestions for dealing with my escape artist dog?

Susan Santo,

Vermillion, South Dakota

Dear Ms. Santo,

A”You are not alone in your frustration,” says the head of our Animal Behavior Clinic, Nicholas Dodman, BVMS. “The single most common cry I hear from most dog owners is, ‘I only want her to come when she’s called. I don’t care about anything else.'”

But the real question is: Why should she come? “For a dog to leave what she’s doing, out there having fun and being independent, running free, it’s a lot to ask of her to come back to you,” Dr. Dodman says. “For an olfactory dog like a Basset hound, it’s particularly difficult,” he adds. “Those dogs read by sniffing, and it’s like a sea of magazines out there; she’s reading all these articles, reading the track of a small varmint. Being out there smelling is the most wonderful part of her day, and you want her to stay in the house where she’s just going to sit.

“Think of a kid playing in the street at 6 o’clock,” comments Dr. Dodman. “You call, ‘Johnny, it’s time for dinner,’ and all of a sudden he can’t hear. For the child, or the dog, it’s, ‘What’s in it for me there versus what’s in it for me if I stay out here?'”

The other thing to consider, Dr. Dodman says, is that getting a dog to come back to you when she’s off the leash is “a very sophisticated level of training, right up there with having German shepherds learn police work. If you haven’t yet helped your dog master training basics—Sit, Stay, Down—expecting her to ‘come’ when off the leash is like wanting her to play the guitar like Eric Clapton without her first having learned basic chords.

“Start further back,” Dr. Dodman advises. Get Bubbles to come to you in the living room. How? By bending down on one knee to show how much you want her by your side, enthusiastically saying her name and calling ‘Come,’ then praising her to the hilt and with lots of energy when she reaches you. Make her ‘return’ a joyous occasion. You can’t ask her to come like a limp fish, or with exasperation or anger or the promise of punishment with a harsh voice,” Dr. Dodman says. “That will not entice a dog.” You might sweeten the deal by giving her a delectable morsel of her favorite food when she complies.

Once Bubbles has the hang of coming to you in the house, “go outside with your dog on an 80-foot washing line,” Dr, Dodman says, “and, every time you say the word ‘Come,’ reel her in like a salmon. Even though you’re the one who’s making it happen, when she reaches you, give her all the same warm praise and rewards you gave her in the house. She’ll begin to make the connection that what’s in it for her by coming back to you is better than what’s in it for her by staying outside.”

From reeling in the dog on a line, move to keeping the line on her but asking her to come without your holding onto it, and so on. “It’s a process,” Dr. Dodman says. “It doesn’t happen in a nano-second. And even if she comes in tardy fashion, turn it into a celebration, a Prodigal Son thing,” he says. A dog will have no motivation to ‘come’ if you’re just going to be angry with her.

Dr. Dodman notes that a dog is considered trained when she responds appropriately to your cue 85 percent of the time, which is to say that she will not “come” every single time. It’s the same with his own dogs, who, he says, also “run out the door like a shot from a gun.” Dr. Dodman has been working with his younger dog, Jasper, on “come” for over a year, but only recently Jasper was found three streets over, chasing a coyote. The lure was just too compelling for him to listen to “Come.”

The fatty tumors keep coming

QI have a five-year-old Labradoodle who has been getting fatty tumors since he was three. Why do some dogs get them other than genetics, and is there a way to prevent them, say, with diet, or dissolve them, other than having to resort to remove them with surgery?

Mary Ann Bianchi

Irving, Texas

Dear Ms. Bianchi,

AIt is not surprising that your dog keeps developing new fatty tumors. Once a pet develops one, he is prone to develop additional ones. Even though you have already been through this more than once, you should see your vet any time your dog develops a bump or mass in or beneath the skin. She will likely pass a needle into it (a non-painful procedure) to withdraw some cells to examine under a microscope. If she sees fat, the tumor is most likely a lipoma—a benign fatty tumor that is not at all life-threatening. At this point in time there is no known way to prevent or dissolve lipomas. They are not related to any identified cause or environmental factor and even a dog in ideal body condition can develop one.

On the plus side, you don’t usually have to bother with having it removed. Only if a lipoma is in a spot that makes it difficult for a dog to walk or move about freely and without pain or discomfort—say, the “arm pit”—do you need to consider (a simple) surgical excision. Don’t bother removing a lipoma for cosmetic reasons. (The dog certainly doesn’t care.)

Note that most lipomas feel fairly soft and move easily under the skin. There is a sub-classification of lipomas, though, that occurs deeper in the musculature and feels harder. Called infiltrative lipomas, these rare tumors can invade muscles and around nerves and blood vessels. Infiltrative lipomas do need to be removed, and possibly treated with radiation therapy afterwards. Another rare variant of lipoma is liposarcoma, a malignant tumor that can spread to distant sites and therefore may require systemic (whole body) therapy such as chemotherapy in addition to surgery and radiation.

Although it sounds like your dog is prone to garden-variety benign lipomas, remember, never diagnose on your own. Each new lump should be checked out in the doctor’s office to insure that you’re not dealing with a time-sensitive medical situation — good for your piece of mind as well as for your dog’s health.

Canine osteoporosis, menopause?

QOsteoporosis is one of the most talked about diseases of aging people, particularly women, but how come you never hear about treating osteoporosis in dogs? Has the research not been conducted? Is there something different about a dog’s menopause that doesn’t set the stage for bone loss?

Dear Dog Owner,

AFirst, there is no menopause in the canine world. Female dogs never lose their ability to bear puppies, although fertility does decrease with age, resulting in smaller — and fewer — litters and more of a chance for the pups to be born with congenital defects. Whelping (labor) is also more difficult for older dogs, too.

But, like people, dogs do in fact undergo a decrease in bone density as they age. Because dogs have a shorter lifespan than people, however, they tend not to lose enough bone mass to develop osteoporosis. And their loss of bone density is rarely great enough to cause problems such as a fracture upon falling. (They also don’t have as far to fall as a person, so there’s less impact on a bone if a dog hits the ground.) If a dog does break a bone, it usually means there’s disease of the bone at that location rather than decreased bone density throughout the dog’s body. We call it a pathologic fracture. n


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