Who's the top dog? owners must understand how canines react to one another

7/24/94

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

We have a 4 1/2 year old female mixed breed who has been the baby of our house since she was small. We recently got a puppy (male, mixed breed, two months old when we got him; now seven months old), and the two haven't been separated since he arrived. She has been very good with him but let's him know who's the boss.

We are planning a week vacation and my mother wants to keep our female, although we have a friend coming to dog/house sit while we're away. My question is, will our female lose dominance/control when she returns if he is top dog while she's away. He is now larger than she is, but continues to let her rule the roost.

Sincerely,

L.M., Wilmington


Dear L.M.,

This is a very good question. Most people would not even consider the possibility of such a scenario leading to problems, but it can. In your case however, you probably don't have to worry. At seven months your male is probably still very much of a pup (like an 8-10 year old kid). If you are likely to face any dominance struggles or challenges, it would not likely occur till he is older and more self confident. Besides, dominance struggles and challenges between dogs in a household are much more common between dogs of the same sex, and between dogs that are closer in age.

In these situations it is important to understand the relationship between the animals. How does she let him know that she's the boss? And how does he respond? She may be very "dominant-minded" and feel a need to keep him in line, but is this because she senses some strength of character or predisposition towards dominance in him, or is it just her way of acting, independent of any of his character traits.

Do you think he has a desire to be top dog. Do you think he'll sleep in her spots when she is gone, and is this because he's trying to usurp her position or is it because he misses her and wants to be close to her scent? These are all things that need to be considered, and this is where being able to see the animals together as they typically interact is so essential.

If your young male is submitting to her domineering behaviors without challenging them, and he's otherwise enjoying her company, then he will most likely be only thrilled at the return of you and his pushy big sister. After all, when everyone's away he will not have an opportunity to be top dog over anyone but himself (and potentially the sitter). If possible have her with you when you return home to him. Have a great vacation and if you're still worried (though there's probably no need to), I'd be happy to see them.

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

I have a 10-year old Shih Tzu and she's never been tested for heartworm. She's never out of my sight. We do not stay outdoors for any length of time.

I give her yeast tablets and garlic gelcaps. My daughter insists that's not enough. She wants to give her those heartworm pills, but that dog has not been sick a day in her life. Have you ever had a bad reaction from those pills?

Thank You,

J.P., Wilmington


Dear J.P.,

Your daughter is right. Heartworm disease is very prevalent in our area. It is transmitted by mosquitos, so if your dog is outside at all, she is at risk. Heartworm medication, is a safe and effective way to prevent your dog from contracting this common and potentially fatal disease.

Take her in to your veterinarian, have her tested and, if negative, get her started on either a daily (diethylcarbamazine) or monthly (ivermectin or milbemycin oxime) preventative to insure her good health.

A note of thanks to all my readers. Florence, whose father passed away leaving eight year old "Lady" was grateful for receiving "a wonderful response," and Lady has already been adopted by a "lovely couple." Congratulations all around.