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My Pet World: Shelter Dog's Odd Behavior Could Indicate Health Problems

By Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services on

WARWICK, RI -- These reader questions were answered at the conference of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) held April 20-22. IAABC members are consultants in dog, cat, parrot and horse behavior, who are available to help owners whose animals have behavior problems. Find a consultant near you at

Q: I just got my dog from a rescue shelter, and he needs some help. He's somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, and was at a puppy mill before landing in the shelter. He freezes whenever someone picks him up, and he runs around in circles a lot. Any suggestions? -- A.S., Grayslake, IL

A: Begin by capturing both the behaviors you describe on video (you can use a smart phone or a camera). It's unlikely your dog would re-enact the behaviors you describe at a veterinary clinic, so filming them will let your veterinarian see exactly what's going on.

Dr. Sophia Yin, based in San Francisco, an applied animal behaviorist and author of "Perfect Puppy in 7 Days" (CattleDog Publishing, Davis, CA, 2011; $9.99), says to have your veterinarian rule out possible medical explanations, including ear infection or vestibular syndrome. The video may help your veterinarian rule out seizures to explain either or both behaviors. Freezing in place might be a result of pain. Also, pain, parasites, or anal gland issues might explain the spinning.

Assuming your dog checks out physically, Yin, says that freezing in place is likely related to fear. So, instead of reaching over your dog to pick him up, reach over him simply to drop treats. He'll quickly realize that someone leaning over him is nothing to worry about, but instead, a reason to celebrate.

As for those bursts of energy, Yin says the potential explanations are varied.


"It might be that your dog is excited and receives attention (or at least once did) for running in circles because family members thought it was funny, or that your dog is truly not receiving enough exercise and has developed that pattern as an outlet for pent-up energy."

If the running in circles might be described as tail chasing, there's no medical explanation, and the behavior can't easily be interrupted, the problem may be a true compulsive behavior, which calls for a visit to your veterinarian.


Q: I'm the loving owner of five cats. My question is about one named Jordan; she drags items around the house, howling at the top of her lungs. She'll haul out whatever interesting things she finds -- dental floss packages, toothbrushes and socks are favorites -- and deliver them to me as gifts. Please don't suggest that I stow all these items. Jordan is clever and can open cabinets and drawers. Why does she do this, and how can I curtail this activity? -- J.H., St. Petersburg, FL


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