Something for Everybody

Question:
My nephew and I both have large male dogs. I told him that when I take our 100# black Labrador for a walk, he sniffs, browses and ‘marks’ his territory. My nephew indicated that letting males do so ‘shortens’ their lifespan since they are under duress while doing it. I would think that holding them back, fighting the urge to ‘go’ would be more of a negative effect than the natural urge to go, to sniff and mark things.

Dr. Nichol:
There is plenty of misinformation on canine behavior, often involving the frustration people feel with their male dogs’ incessant sniffing, urine tagging, and dilly dallying. This is emblematic of the many of the ridiculous struggles in today’s world. All of us have quirks that might be annoying but could instead be regarded as just interesting.

Your point is well taken. Dogs are highly social creatures who absolutely must get off-territory at least a couple of times a day to read the bulletin boards and post a few messages. More than just marking and leaving a scent research has made us aware of specialized glands between their foot pads that secrete a pheromone-like substance. These “semiochemicals” communicate messages for the next dog who comes along, sort of a canine underground. Who knows what evil lurks? Revolution? I don’t think so.

The human on the other end of the leash has legitimate needs too, like enjoying an uninterrupted brisk walk. I advise devoting the first portion of each stroll to your dog’s needs and the second half to yours. Make it predictable by switching from canine to human priority at the same spot each time. After many repetitions your dog will associate this waypoint with his requirement to defer to you and simply follow. This would be good time for the “Heel” command.

By allowing your Lab to have his needs met first he’ll be more relaxed and compliant during your portion of the outing. Don’t forget that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Catch him doing something right. Tell him he’s good when he behaves well and give him a pat on the head often.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.