By John Mikesell
Five things to do when your dog chews, licks, or scratches:
1) Bring your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup. Nothing you do to address the dog’s behavior will be of much use if your dog itches as a result of environmental allergies or some other medical condition. If you treat the medical condition, the licking and chewing may stop. If not, it’s become a behavioral issue.
2) Identify your dog’s stressors. The behavioral cause of self-licking and chewing is stress. The stress from a medical condition may persist even after treatment, and learned licking/chewing behavior may persist even after medical stress is gone. Refer to the last column on stress, for more ideas.
Many other stressors can also cause licking and chewing, especially in dogs who
are genetically predisposed to compulsive oral behaviors. Large breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Irish Setter are most commonly affected.
3) Remove stressors. There are several strategies you can use to remove stressors from your dog’s list:
● Get rid of it. Throw away the shock collar – in fact, avoid using aversive actions as much as possible.
● Treat medical conditions: alleviate chronic pain medications, provide dental care, and address anything else that might be physically troubling your dog.
● Live with it. We all live with some stress. Identify the most minimal stressors and just let them be.
4) Increase your dog’s exercise. Aerobic exercise not only burns energy your dog would use to fret (and lick), but also causes the release of feel good endorphins that help alleviate stress. Mental exercise – shaping, interactive toys – can also help.
5) Utilize stress-reduction products. There are many good products on the market that purport to alleviate stress.
● “Through a Dog’s Ear.” Calming classical music selected and clinically tested to reduce a dog’s heart rate, available on CD or mp3.
● Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap that holds the dog tightly, similar to swaddling. You can also use an old T-shirt as long as it has a tight fit.
● Comfort Zone /Dog Appeasing Pheromone. Synthetic substance that supposedly mimics the pheromones emitted by a mother dog while she is nursing puppies, with the biological effect of calming the puppies.
If it is a food-related allergy, it takes from two to four weeks before you would see a difference. It is definitely a trial-and-error method, but in the long run easier for the dog.
The dog’s largest organ, just like humans, is their skin. Scratching and digging are signs of either airborne or flea-related allergies. This has been a particular bad year for fleas, and they are hard to find on long-haired dogs, so be watchful for those little buggers.