Ask The Expert - Dogs in bed

Ask the expert: Dogs in bed — good or bad?

Whether or not to let your dog sleep in your bed is a much more common concern than most people think. The old ‘a dog stays outside’ approach seems to be making way for a more intimate bond between dogs and their owners. But are there any health risks involved with allowing your dogs in bed? Is it good for your dog? And are there any psychological benefits to you? JOCK’s expert team did some research in order to get a look under the covers.


A US study found that 61% of small dogs, 41% of medium dogs and 47% of big dogs sleep in or on the beds of their human besties. A surprising number, considering the traditional wisdom that dogs are dirty and should sleep outside or in their own beds. Several studies have been done on the topic and the results might be somewhat unexpected.


Keeping it clean

Apart from people suffering from dog allergies or asthma, there seems to be very little evidence that a dog in your bed poses any health risk. It might seem like common sense, but let’s state it anyway: a dog in your bed is only as dirty as you allow your dog to be. If you allow your dog to rummage through the dustbin, then well, he’s going to bring whatever he picks up into your bed.


Some bed-sharing dog owners won’t allow their dogs into their beds unless they’ve been given a bath, wet wipe of strategic parts, brushing or tooth brushing. Others simply don’t mind a bit of dust or mud on the covers. It really does come down to personal preference. Having your dog dewormed, take its flea medication regularly and keeping its teeth healthy will take care of basic health issues. Needless to say, the length of a dog’s coat and amount of drooling will play its part in how clean your bed will be.


Puppies and potty-training

There’s nothing more comforting than having the sweet breath of a puppy in bed. Yet it’s important to know that young puppies may not be potty-trained yet, resulting in messy accidents in bed. A good guide is to let a puppy sleep in its own bed or crate until it’s old enough to be able to control his bodily functions and let you know when he wants to go outside.


Sleep disturbance

Interestingly, studies found that dog owners who let their dogs sleep in bed tend to fall asleep with more ease, but might have their sleep disturbed more. Dogs sleep in cycles of 3 or 4 hours, so tend to wake up and move around more, while people naturally sleep in longer cycles.


Issues of dominance

Some dogs will see their sleeping in your bed as a sign that they’re in control. If you experience any aggression or domination issues with a dog, especially around children, it’s best to make the boundaries very clear and not let the dog into your bed. Also be aware that having your dog in bed might lead to more separation anxiety, depending on you and your dog’s lifestyle.


Psychological benefits

A lot has been written about the positive influence that dogs can have on the mental well-being of their owners. Sleeping next to your dog can decrease stress levels and make one feel safe — especially because dogs are much more alert to any threatening sounds than us. Not to mention the presence of a living, breathing warm-water bottle! In people going through a difficult break-up or battling with depression, having a dog close to you at night can also contribute to a feeling of belonging and peacefulness.


Sweet dreams!

JOCK - Ask The Expert - Dogs in bed

Ask The Expert - Cataracts in dogs

Ask the expert: Cataracts: what to look out for

Cataracts in dogs are, unfortunately, quite common in dogs as they get older. This eye condition, that prevents your dog from seeing clearly, tends to affect some breeds more than others. The good news is that it does not necessarily lead to blindness and can be treated surgically in serious cases. We chatted to our in-house vet to find out how to identify cataracts and the options available in treating them.



What are cataracts?

Cataracts are a term to describe the thickening of the eye lens, resulting in a cloudiness and loss of transparency of the lens. This causes blurry vision and can, in extreme cases, cause complete blindness.


Cataracts can be identified by a cloudy, bluish-grey appearance of the eyes. However, in its initial stages, no visible changes are present. Owners often notice that a normally fleet-footed dog becomes a bit more clumsy, especially in dim-lit areas, or is no longer eager to climb stairs or jump onto furniture. An affected dog may also start to rub and scratch at the eyes as if to remove an obstacle in the eye.


The difference between cataracts and nuclear sclerosis

Changes in the appearance of your dog’s eyes are not necessarily the result of cataracts. A cloudy, blue-grey appearance is more often the natural ageing or greying of the eye — called nuclear sclerosis. This condition does not affect eyesight. However, just to be sure, any change in the appearance of the eyes of your dog should be checked out by a qualified vet who will be able to diagnose cataracts easily.


What causes cataracts and at what age does it occur?

In the majority of cases, cataracts are hereditary, although trauma to the eye and some diseases can also cause cataracts. Diabetes has been linked to the occurrence of cataracts, so if your dog suffers from diabetes, pay special attention to his eyes. Cataracts are most common in older-aged dogs, but can occur from as young as 6 months. Although cataracts can appear in both eyes, one eye is normally affected more.


Which breeds are more likely to develop it?

Cataracts can occur in any breed or mixed breed. Certain breeds do seem to be more likely to develop it. Boston Terriers, Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, French Bulldogs, Australian Shepherds, Smooth Fox Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers do tend to suffer more than other breeds.


How to prevent and treat cataracts

As the condition is mostly inherited, little can be done to prevent cataracts. In the unfortunate case that your dog is diagnosed with it, you will have to decide whether the seriousness of the condition warrants performing surgery on your dog. Because cataracts mostly affect one eye more than the other, most dogs compensate pretty well and get by with only one eye functioning properly.


If your dog goes blind completely, your vet might recommend surgery in which the lens is replaced with an artificial lens. The success rate of this surgery is very high. However, in consultation with your vet, you will have to decide if your dog is healthy enough to handle surgery and if its age and general health justifies the operation. The surgery is generally quite expensive (running into thousands of Rands), and the recovery process is long as it requires extensive post-operative care that involves your dog wearing a protective neck collar.


To sum up: keep a regular eye on your dog’s eyes and watch out for any changes in appearance or behaviour. For the rest, don’t stress about it and make the most of every day you have with your healthy dog!

Ask The Expert - Cataracts in dogs

Ask the Expert - Barking Dogs

Ask the expert: Turning the volume down on a barking dog

Excessive barking is one of the most challenging things a dog owner can face. Apart from seriously jeopardizing your relationship with your neighbours, a dog that barks all the time can add to your own anxiety levels which, in turn, affects your relationship with your dog. Our in-house dog experts give some advice on how to deal with a constantly barking dog.


In essence, there are two ways to go about dealing with this challenge. The first, more superficial one is to look at doing damage control. The second is to actually look at the reasons dogs bark and to minimise factors that might aggravate excessive barking.


Why all the barking?

Let’s start at number 2. So, yes, all dogs bark, except the Basenji, and even that eccentric character yodels and screams. Why? Well, barking is a dog’s most effective form of communication. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons: 1) To say hello to people and other dogs. 2) To warn a person or dog that they are encroaching on their territory. 3) Raising alarm in response to sight and sounds — this includes that typical scenario where one dog’s barking can set off a whole choir of dogs throughout the neighbourhood.


But then there are also some reasons that might be a cause for concern. Often, dogs bark because they are frustrated and seek attention. Barking to signal that it’s time for a walk is, of course, not a problem, but excessive, continuous barking normally has to do with the frustration of being confined or being left alone for too long without company. Dogs are, after all, social animals.

Sometimes the barking can even lead to obsessive-compulsive barking — a habit that might be a little tricky to break.


How to put a stop to it

The most responsible way to deal with the problem is to address the factors that might lead to a dog feeling alone or frustrated. The old saying, ‘a tired dog is a quiet dog’, is definitely true. Regular exercise and stimulation will make a dog calmer, more relaxed, and less prone to barking. You might also want to consider doggy daycare. In most cities, there are many good daycare facilities that will provide a safe, stimulating environment to chill and play with friends.


However, if you’ve addressed the issue of boredom and frustration, there are some other tricks you can also employ to stop the barking habit. The first is to remove stimulation that might excite your dog. Creating a sight barrier to prevent your dog seeing out of your yard is one solution. Another is to remove audio stimulation. This can be done by creating a comfortable ‘quiet’ zone that is sheltered from excessive noise. Make it comfortable and fun, and make sure your dog has chew toys to keep him busy. You can even install a white noise machine that masks other sounds and creates soothing soundscapes.


Another method that’s been employed more and more, is the use of anti-bark collars or ‘bird-houses’. Basically, these devices emit an ultrasonic, high-pitched sound every time a dog barks. The sound startles them, causing them to stop barking. Over time, these can even condition them to let their habit go completely. Evidence suggests that it works very well with more thick-skinned dogs, while it might be too much for sensitive dogs.


When the neighbours complain

A question that is often asked is whether there is a legal framework within which neighbours of noisy dogs can take action. The answer is yes: a case of noise disturbing can be laid with your local municipality in accordance with Noise Disturbance Regulations under the Environmental Conservation Act. However, to prove noise disturbance is a tricky thing. In a Cape Town bylaw, a 6-minute per hour barking threshold has been set in order to have some guideline as to what constitutes noise pollution. However, communication and finding an amicable solution is a much more pleasant and constructive approach. After all, it’s your dog’s wellbeing that should come first.

Ask the Expert - Barking Dogs

Ask the expert: Preventing your dog from eating anything in his path

Dogs will be dogs. And eating everything he can get his paws on is pretty much part of your dog’s nature. But there are some tips and tricks to minimise the damage and prevent your dog from eating random stuff. JOCK’s in-house vet gave us some advice on curbing your dog’s outdoor eating habits.


The good, the bad, and the ugly

There are many things that dogs will find and eat in the big, exciting world outside your yard. It can range from innocent things like scraps of food dropped at sidewalk cafés to possibly the worse thing that can happen to any dog owner: the excited devouring of human faeces. In-between there are less horrifying objects like old chicken bones and the exotic cuisine in garbage bags. Apart from the unpleasantness of your dog’s breath afterwards, eating things like hard chicken bones and food that’s gone off can also be dangerous to your dog’s health.


But before you get too scared to ever take your dog for a walk again, let’s have a look at some tried and tested precautionary measures one can take to at least minimise the chances of your dog chowing gross things.


A dog-friendly environment

Perhaps an obvious solution, but one that is often overlooked. If your dog continues finding something he fancies at a particular place, avoid that place. There are many well-looked-after dog parks with relatively few harmful objects lying around in most towns and cities in this country. Speaking of well-looked-after — do what you expect other dog owners to do: pick up your dog’s mess and don’t leave old food or litter where someone else’s dog can find it.


Take the lead

If your dog has a knack for venturing off into the dodgy corners of the park, don’t allow him. Keep him on a leash. Show your dog that you are in charge of where he is allowed to go. Over time, you can allow your dog more freedom. The help of a so-called long leash can also help you and your dog gradually negotiate the boundaries of his freedom.


An offer he can’t refuse

Make sure you always have treats on you. This way you can entice him to leave the thing he discovered by offering something better. Remember, dogs respond best to positive re-enforcement. Read up as much as you can about basic dog training tips — it will definitely benefit both you and your dog in the long run.


Be pro-active

One cannot over-emphasise the importance of teaching your dog a reliable ‘leave’ command. Keep it simple and remember to reinforce it not with punishment but with positive rewards. Learn to read your dog’s body language. If he looks like he’s about to swallow something in front of him or makes his way to something dodgy, react in time and give the command BEFORE he does the deed. Once a dog has gotten hold of something, it’s awfully hard to persuade him to drop it. Also remember to entice him a treat or activity that is even more fun, like chasing a ball.


The muzzle

For dogs that are especially stubborn and prone to eating unwanted things, the solution of a muzzle is also an option. Muzzles are less cruel than they seem, and can actually protect your dog, and there are many different kinds available. Just remember that a persistent dog will try to get the goodies regardless, even if it means making a big mess by sticking his mouth  (muzzle and all) into whatever he finds appealing.


We hope you find these tips helpful. And remember, a happy, well-exercised dog is also a better-behaved dog!

Ask The Expert with JOCK about ear infections in dogs

Ask the expert: What you need to know about ear infections in dogs

Ear infection in dogs is a common problem, especially in the hot summer months when they simply can’t resist a muddy farm dam or cool pond in the park. Luckily, the risk of ear infection can be minimised quite easily and treated effectively.


Causes of ear infection

Most ear infections in dogs are caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast which occur naturally on the skin on and inside dogs’ ears. Several things can lead to the over-presence of these micro-organisms. In puppies, ear mites can cause inflammation, which makes the ear more susceptible to the growth of yeast and bacteria. Another cause is foreign objects like tiny seeds or insects getting stuck somewhere in the ear or allergies that cause the ear to be inflamed.


Moisture from swimming or giving your pooch a well-deserved bath can also lead to the creation of conditions that are ideal for these little organisms to flourish. Excessive licking of the ears by your dog’s best friend… now that’s also a recipe for warm, moist conditions and the resulting overgrowth of bacteria.



A dog with an ear infection is like a man with flu — he’ll struggle to hide it. Most dogs scratch their head and ears from time to time, but when it seems more than usual or over-the-top, he or she might be struggling with discomfort in their ears. Head shaking or holding the head to one side is also a cause for concern. If you smell something dodgy in the ears, notice visible skin rash or inflammation, or see a discharge, well, then the infection is already quite serious. If the infection has spread to the middle or inner ear, a dog might also start having difficulty to keep a steady gait or walk around in circles.



Prevention and treatment

If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s always best to take your dog to a qualified vet to check it out and suggest treatment. Never try using home remedies like diluted vinegar or alcohol to self-medicate your dog. Vinegar will further aggravate irritation, be extremely painful and can even damage the dog’s hearing permanently. You don’t mess around with an ear infection, plain and simple.


The best way to prevent ear infections, especially in dogs with big, hairy ears is to dry the ears properly if they get wet and to keep them clean. Cotton balls and a veterinary ear cleanser work best. Human ear buds can also be used but be careful not to go too deep as this can hurt the dog’s ears and cause irritation. Excess hair in and around the ears can also be trimmed (preferably by your dog groomer) in dogs with long hair.


Obviously, if a food or other allergy leads to ear skin inflammation, these root causes should be addressed in the long run. The same goes for habitual ear licking by other dogs — dogs naturally groom each other to show submission and affection, but it can happen that a dog becomes obsessed with the taste of ear wax (yum!) or does it obsessive-compulsively because of anxiety or simply out of boredom. It’s obviously best to unlearn this behaviour at an early age, but if you can’t stop it, you might have to use an Elizabethan cone collar or call in the help of your vet or a dog behaviouralist.


So whether it’s the droopy ears of your Spaniel, the alert bat-like ears of a French Bull Dog or the pliable, expressive ears of a Jack Russell: make sure your dog’s ears are in tip-top shape. After all, they can hear noises four times further away than we can.


Okay, now is it time for a swim yet?

Ask The Expert - Ear infections in dogs

Ask the expert: Diabetes and dogs

Yes, dogs also suffer from diabetes, and no, if your dog has it, you can’t just ignore it and hope that it will go away. We had a quick chat to our in-house vet, Louis Boag, to find out what to look out for and how to ensure that your diabetic dog can live a normal, happy life.


Diabetes 101

What exactly is diabetes? Well, let’s break it down really simply. When a dog or human eats, the food is broken down into various smaller components — one of the components being glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose is absorbed into the blood but needs to enter cells to be stored and converted into energy.

In order to get into cells, glucose needs the help of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. When no insulin is produced by the pancreas or the cells do not react to insulin, the glucose remains in the bloodstream, but cannot be converted into energy. This over-presence of glucose or sugar in the bloodstream is known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Prolonged high blood sugar is called diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes.


Type 1 and type 2

Like humans, dogs also suffer from two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when your pancreas simply does not produce insulin. This disease normally has its onset quite early in a dog’s life and is more common in dogs than type 2, especially in some breeds like Golden Retrievers, Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Australian Shepherds, Keeshonds and Samoyeds. Type 1 diabetes is not curable but a dog with type 1 diabetes can live a normal, happy life as long as it gets insulin injections after every meal for the rest of their lives.

Type 2 diabetes is when insulin is produced, but not enough, or when the cells don’t respond to insulin the way they should. Type 2 diabetes is actually more common in cats, but certain dogs are prone to suffer from this type of diabetes later in their life — normally from 6 years onwards and are mostly caused by obesity and a lack of exercise. The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be treated and often cured through the correct diet, weight loss and adequate exercise.


How do I know my dog has diabetes?

The onset of diabetes (especially type 2) can be quite slow, so it’s important to note changes in your dog over time. If your pooch can’t seem to drink enough water, loses weight even though it seems to be eating more, or urinates like crazy, diabetes might be the cause.

Diabetes can also cause lethargy and dehydration, which in turn can cause urinary tract infection. If your dog seems to experience pain when relieving itself and licks its genitals more than usual, you should be concerned. In some cases, diabetes might also lead to cataracts in the eyes. Another common symptom is sweet-smelling urine or a fruity breath.

However, the only person that can diagnose your dog with diabetes is a qualified veterinarian. He or she will listen to what you have to say about any warning signs you may have noted, but will also perform blood tests and collect a urine sample.


Can my dog live with diabetes?

Of course, it can — provided that it receives the right treatment. In serious cases, your dog might have to be hospitalised to stabilise its condition. In others, some oral medication and a specialised diet will be introduced to stabilise glucose levels in the blood. The owners of dogs with diet will be introduced to stabilise glucose levels in the blood. The owners of dogs with type 1 diabetes will be educated on how to do home insulin injections after every meal, while type 2 diabetic dogs will often respond well to a healthier eating plan and increased exercise. It’s a fact that overweight dogs are more at risk to develop a range of health risks, including diabetes.

Unfortunately, the global occurrence of obesity in dogs is on the increase, with owners often not aware of the obesity their cute four-legged friends are suffering from.  If you suspect your dog might be suffering from obesity, it’s always a good idea to read up about it.

However, with a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise and a nutritional, balanced diet that contains the right amount of protein, you will not only decrease the risk of your dog developing diabetes, you will also greatly improve your dog’s quality of life, allowing him or her to be his happy, tail-wagging self.


Ask the expert: Early signs of cancer

When we think of our beloved dogs, the last thing we want to imagine is them suffering from a potentially fatal disease like cancer. Yet, as in humans, it’s a reality that’s becoming more and more prevalent. The biggest reason is that because we take better care of our dogs and keep them in protected environments, they tend to live longer and longer. Fifty years ago, a dog would stand a much better chance of getting run over by a car or dying of a common illness before reaching the age where the risk of cancer is higher.

Simply put, cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Research has shown that about 50% of dogs over the age of 10 develop some form of cancer. The good news is that cancer is treatable and curable if it’s diagnosed early. Our in-house vet, Louis Boag identifies some early cancer warning signs to look out for.

1. Lumps or bumps

Stroking and touching your dog on a regular basis is not only good for the psychological health of both you and your dog, it also helps to identify any irregularities in your dog’s skin and lymph nodes. Not all growths are malignant, but spotting it early and getting your vet’s expert opinion will either set your mind at ease or help you to start treatment early if it is indeed cancer in its early stages.

2. Weight loss

A radical change in weight or appearance is a tell-tale sign that something is wrong. It might be due to a number of reasons, but cancer should definitely not be left out of the equation.

3. Wounds that don’t heal

It sounds quite obvious but any wound that does not heal is not a good sign, and might be an indication of skin cancer.

4. Lethargy

As dogs get older, they’re bound to have less energy. Yet it should not be confused with levels of enthusiasm. If your sidekick suddenly fails to greet you when you get home, loses interest in his favourite toy or sleeps for days on end, something’s up and it’s best to take him to the vet to get checked out.

5. Offensive odour

We’ve written before about dog’s amazing ability to sniff out cancer in humans, and although our sense of smell is not a patch on dogs’, a noticeable offensive odour from your pooch’s body is a sure sign that all’s not well. Mouth cancers are quite common in dogs, and a bad breath could be an early warning sign. And even if it’s not cancer, you’ll save big on vet bills later if you take a pro-active approach to your dog’s dental health.

6. Bleeding and unusual discharge

A bleeding nose or weird eye discharge should be something to be concerned about and are often early warning signs of eye or skin cancer. Similarly, any other bloody or unusual discharge from any other body opening should be treated with circumspection as it could be a symptom of a various ailments or diseases, including cancer.

7. Vomiting and diarrhoea 

We witness our dogs’ rare output on a daily basis and for this reason, it’s quite a handy way of interpreting our dogs’ general wealth. Any change that continues for a long period of time, is something to definitely be concerned about. Even if it’s not a symptom of intestinal or other forms of cancer, unhealthy poop (whether it’s diarrhoea or bloody, hard stool accompanied with straining), or regular vomiting are things that should be treated by your vet in any case.

Not a death sentence

In the worst-case scenario of your dog being diagnosed with cancer, chances are good that the cancer will be cured completely, especially if it is detected early. According to American veterinary oncologist, Dr Dave Ruslander, more than 60 percent of malignancies in the USA is treated successfully. Most canine cancers can be removed surgically and most of the cancer treatments available to humans, like radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also available as last resorts to help save and prolong a dog’s life.

It’s a fact of life that all dogs die at some stage, but being aware of the warning signs can greatly increase the happy days you spend with your loyal, loving friend. Enjoy every moment!

ATX Your dog's body Language - JOCK Dog FOOD

Your dog’s body language from head to tail: a quick overview

So there’s this amazing new app that’s able to read a dog’s body language! All you do is you open it on your smartphone and take a snapshot of your dog and voila! Results within seconds.


Okay, maybe not quite yet. But with a few handy key indicators to look out for, you can take the guessing out of what your dog, or any other dog, is trying to say to you without words. As with people’s body language, it’s never only about a single visual cue, but about interpreting a combination of signs as a whole. A wagging tail, for instance, can mean friendliness or playfulness, but a high, stiff moving tail is actually a sign that a dog is ‘flagging’ another dog or person and is ready to attack if necessary.


The first rule of reading a dog’s body language is to actually pay attention to what you’re seeing. This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in your interactions with people too. It’s amazing how much meaning people actually convey in their body language and tone of voice. The famous study by Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in the 1970s actually concluded that only 7% of human communication is actually about what’s being said. Body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%) are the most important conveyors of meaning. I guess we’re not so different from dogs after all.


But let’s get back to our little crash course in canine body language. The first thing to distinguish is whether a dog looks relaxed or stressed. If it’s stressed, it’s guaranteed to show one of three responses: fight, flight or avoidance. But how does one tell? One of the most basic things to look for is the height of the dog’s head and tail. If they’re raised high, the dog’s feeling confident and dominant. If it’s lower than the rest of the body, it’s feeling submissive or uncertain, and possibly afraid.


The dog behavioural guru, Cesar Milan, talks about analysing this in combination with the tension in a dog’s hind legs. Take a dog in the well-known playful bow pose, for instance. Its head is lower than its body, but its back legs and tail are high — therefore, it’s submissive but relaxed, and inviting you or another dog to engage with it. An aggressive dog will have the opposite balance of energy: hind legs down and tense and ready to release energy, and its head higher or in line with its body.


The tales the tail tells

The other, and perhaps most obvious, things to look at are your dog’s tail movement and the position of its ears. Tail up = excited. Tail in natural position = relaxed. Tail tucked between its legs = uncertain and submissive. A tail wagging in a wide motion indicates playfulness and affection. The smaller the movement, the less certain and relaxed a dog is. If the tail is held stiff and high or quivering, it’s a dead give-way that the dog is aggressive and warning the perceived threat to back off.


Interestingly, dogs with docked tails like Bulldogs tend to sometimes be treated with distrust by other dogs in the park at first because they can’t ‘read’ their tail language. Similarly, dogs that tend to carry their tails upright or curled on their back tend to get more hostile reactions from dominant dogs as it’s perceived as dominant body language.


Hey, listen, I’m telling you something with my ears!

Interpreting ‘ear’ language is not all that hard at all. Of course, dogs’ ears differ greatly. But the general cues are as follows: naturally positioned ears = dog is relaxed. Upright ears = dog is attentive and tuning in. Ears held higher or more forward = dog is feeling aggressive. Ears back and flat or sticking straight out to the side = dog is nervous or scared.


The displacement tactic

If you’ve ever had a mischievous dog that demanded a stern voice, you might have noticed some peculiar behaviour as soon as you start reprimanding it. It might start scratching its head in earnest or suddenly feel the need to yawn. This is a sign that it’s trying to divert attention away from itself and get out of harm’s way. The good old dog shake could mean that he’s just woken up, but it’s also a way of naturally getting rid of tension and you’ll often notice this when your dog picks up on your anxiety or anger. Interestingly, that sulky, guilty look your pooch gets when you’ve just caught him destroying your slipper, is not guilt at all (dogs don’t experience guilt) but pure fear in reaction to your anger. Which is why punishment rarely works with dogs, but positive reinforcement works wonders.


Eye contact

A last note is about eye contact in dogs. The golden rule is that, in the dog world, direct eye contact is seen as a challenge. Dogs rarely look each other straight in the eyes, although they might be more willing to engage in eye contact with people, especially their owners. Squinted or narrowed eyes might indicate that your dog is not feeling well or is experiencing pain. Larger than normal eyes with lots of white showing is a good indication that it’s anxious and feels threatened. A direct stare from a dog means that it is challenging you and if it’s a strange, aggressive dog, it’s best to look away to indicate that you’re not challenging it.


A calm, loving direct gaze from your best friend, however, simply means that he’s interested in you and expressing curiosity in your strange human behaviour. After all, your dog is probably trying to figure out your body language just as hard as you’re trying to figure out his.

ATX - Your dog's body language - JOCK

Ask The Expert: The incredible truth about medical dog detectives

“Write a story about dogs that can detect illnesses”.

“Write a story about WHAT?”

For me, a natural sceptic, this was on more or less the same level as that debunked theory about water molecules reacting to human emotions and tarot cards. I mean, yes, I know dogs are acute observers. (In the morning, Lord Charles, my whippet, lies under the duvet with his nose sticking out and doesn’t move until the exact moment when he knows I’m finally ready to take him for his walk. Like a sixth sense almost.) But dogs detecting illnesses? Come on now…


But I’m willing to do anything legal for cash so I spoke to Jock’s in-house vet Louis Boag about the subject and, low and behold, there seems to be real scientific evidence out there that dogs’ acute sense of smell helps them to detect several health conditions.


One such case, documented by the BBC, was Maureen Burns and Max, her 9 and a half-year-old red Border Collie cross. Max started acting funny around Maureen and refused to go near her and show her the affection he used to — around the same time she discovered a lump in her breast. Initial mammograms and scans came back negative. Yet Max kept touching her breast with this paw and backing away as if to tell her something. Eventually, a surgical biopsy revealed that the lump was indeed cancerous. After it was successfully removed, Max became his old self again.

Although this may seem like a mere coincidence at first, several studies show that dogs can detect cancerous cells with their smell. One controlled study conducted by Italian researchers even found that trained dogs can detect prostate cancer cells in urine with 98% accuracy. Not surprising if you consider that they have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses and can detect the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in a mass of water the size of two Olympian swimming pools.


Currently, the challenge is to find more effective ways to utilise this amazing skill to combine with technology to help detect cancer earlier than we currently can.


Another medical condition for which dogs’ sniffing habits have a use is serious (type 1) diabetes. People suffering from this form of diabetes experience sudden dangerous drops in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) which can be life threatening. Amazingly enough, medical detection dogs, or bio detection dogs as they are sometimes called, are trained to help these people, much like guide dogs are already helping blind people.


How does it work? Well, a severe drop in blood sugar levels can easily be smelt in the breath and sweat by these dogs who can then alert their owners even before they themselves know their blood sugar levels have dropped. Additionally, these dogs are also trained to raise alarm by barking and can even be trained to fetch glucose tablets or an emergency phone if their owners pass out.


Another related field is the use of dogs to help people who suffer from epilepsy. The dogs, called seizure dogs, are trained to alert other people or even to activate an alarm when the adult or child in their care has a seizure.


So, there you have it. Medical detection dogs do exist! And I’m more than happy that I have been proven wrong on this subject. Now I just need to train Lord Charles to alert me when I am about to overdose on caffeine while writing interesting stories about strange dog behaviour…



Written by: Eckhard Cloete





Ask The Expert - Dog training for dummies - JOCK Dog Food

Ask the expert: Dog training for dummies

Okay, so you’ve decided to take the big step and get a puppy or adopt a rescue dog. Now how do you make it do those doggy tricks that all dogs do?