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Some popular Questions About Dogs

Not sure why your furry friend is always sniffing everything? Azula answers all of your burning pet questions.

Why can’t dogs eat chocolate?


Dogs can’t eat chocolate for the same reason parrots like me can’t eat chocolate, Hannah—our bodies don’t know how to digest it. (Bummer, huh?) Chocolate contains something called Theobromine. Humans can digest it no problem, but not dogs. Theobromine can make them puke, get diarrhea, have seizures or worse. Eek!

Your dog doesn’t know that, though, and might still think chocolate looks pretty tasty, so make sure to keep it out of his reach. And next time you indulge in chocolaty goodness, don’t share with your pet—no matter how much he begs!

Oh, and before I forget: If you think your pet is sick from eating chocolate (or eating something else), ask a parent to call your veterinarian, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

I heard that when dogs wag their tails, it doesn't always mean they are happy. For example, if a dog is feeling aggressive, does the wagging look different than when he’s happy?


What you heard is right, Bethany! Dogs wag their tails to express many feelings. An aggressive dog might hold his tail high and stiffly wag it back and forth, which is called “flagging,” while a happy dog might just gently wag his tail from side to side.

But it’s important to look at the whole dog to figure out what he’s trying to tell you. What are his ears saying? What about his face? Instead of talking, dogs use their whole bodies to communicate.

Do dogs really sweat through their paws?


I see you know your dogs, Troy! Most people think dogs can’t sweat at all, but man’s best friend really does sweat through his footpads. Paw sweating is one of the ways dogs keep cool on a hot summer day, but it’s not the most important. Dogs can also pant to cool down, and they have some other tools in their bodies to beat the heat as well.

Just like you, your dog needs help to stay cool sometimes. Dogs like sitting in the air conditioning when the mercury hits 100, too, and I bet you’d both enjoy ice cubes in your summertime beverages—even though you probably wouldn’t want to drinkyours from a bowl on the floor.

Can dogs control when they wag their tails, or does it happen automatically?


Wow, Lisa, I’m impressed! That’s a very smart question to ask. It proved too hard for this humble parrot, so I got some help from ASPCA expert Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. (You can call him “Dr. Z”—we do!) Here’s what he had to say:

“Think of tail wagging like a smile. Sometimes you smile without knowing, and sometimes you can make yourself smile. I think dogs are the same with their tails. Sometimes it just happens, and other times it seems like they ‘think’ about it.”

That’s the word from the expert. Keep asking questions, and you could be an animal expert one day, too!

Do I need to brush my dog’s teeth?


That depends, Richard—does he have dog breath?? But seriously, your dog can get tooth and gum disease just like you can, and brushing his teeth will help keep him healthy. But instead of toothpaste you buy at the drugstore, dogs need special dog toothpaste, in flavors like peanut butter and meat. (Gross to us, delicious to them!) And you can't just get a brush and start scrubbing—you need a special technique to brush your dog's teeth.

So next time you take your pet for a check-up, have the vet show you and your parents how to brush your dog's teeth. He'll have gleaming chompers in no time!

My dog is a breed—sighthound—that chases. I know it was bred into this breed so long ago that it is definitely hardwired in. When she tries to chase humans (e.g., bikers, joggers or cross-country skiers) WHY is she doing it? Is it out of fear, aggression, protection, her take on her job, or some kind of combination?


Great question, Rebecca! It’s hard to say what’s going on in the minds of our dogs sometimes! But your fourth guess was right—your dog isn’t scared or angry, she’s just been bred to think that chasing things is her job. The drive to chase ANYTHING moving quickly is so much part of her doggie brain that she just can’t help herself. She does it because that’s what sighthounds—like Greyhounds, Whippets, Borzois and Basenjis—do best!

As you know, Rebecca, sighthounds have been around for thousands of years (they even lived with the people who invented the wheel—not kidding). They were bred to use their vision to hunt fast-moving things…and then to chase those things as fast as possible. So celebrate your pup’s special skill, and keep her on a leash when you’re on a walk!

Why do dogs have tails? 


Lots of us animals have tails—dogs, cats, iguanas, monkeys, parrots—so the better question, Jonathan, is why don’t you??

Dogs use tails for lots of different stuff, like for balance and to change direction when they’re swimming (like a rudder on a boat). Some bushy-tailed dogs, like Huskies and Samoyeds, curl up into a ball to sleep and use their tails to keep their noses warm!

But the coolest thing dogs’ tails do is help them communicate, both with other dogs and people. Dogs wag their tails and hold them high or low to express their mood. If you knew your dog was happy to see you because he wagged his tail quickly, then your dog communicated with you using his tail!

Ew!!!! My dog rolled in something nasty! It is disgusting!! Why do dogs roll around in dead stuff? 


Because it’s easier to roll around in dead stuff than alive stuff?

Just kidding! Actually, Olivia, rolling around in stuff that makes people want to barf—be it dead squirrels, poop or rotting garbage—is an instinct that comes from dogs’ wolf ancestors. Scientists don’t know for sure why dogs have that instinct, but they have a few ideas.

The most popular theory is that dogs roll around in the yucky stuff to cover up their natural smell, giving them camouflage and helping them be sneakier hunters. Another idea is that dogs are putting the funky smell on their bodies so they can alert other dogs to what they found. (When other dogs sniff your dog, they’ll get the exciting news that there’s a dead animal nearby.) Still a third idea is that dogs love to shimmy on gross things to claim them as their own—they don’t want any other dogs getting in on that prime piece of grossness.

So there you have it. Now, go give your dog a bath! He smells terrible!

I want to become an animal cop when I grow up. What college should I go to? 

—Cameron, 11

An animal cop!? That’s awesome, Cameron. We love hearing from peeps of all ages who want to help fight animal cruelty. I got the answer to your question straight from the horse’s mouth. Well, actually, I got it straight from the animal cop’s mouth!

ASPCA Special Agent Kristi Adams told me that it’s less about what college you go to and more about what courses you take. Says Agent Adams, “If you really want to get involved in humane law enforcement, it is good to take a few criminal justice classes or animal behavior classes.”

She also recommends that you volunteer or work at a veterinary office, animal shelter or law enforcement establishment. “But most importantly,” says Agent Adams, “you must have compassion and respect for animals.”

Why do dogs eat so fast? 


Let me just wolf down my breakfast so I can begin researching your question. Just kidding, Jasmine—but that expression is no joke!

You know how sometimes you’re stuffed at dinner and you just can’t eat those last few French fries? Well, it’s not like that for most dogs. Dogs are evolved from wolves, who live in the wild and eat as much as they can, whenever they can. If they don’t gobble their food quickly, other animals might take it—and who knows when they’ll get a chance to eat again?

Nowadays, some pet dogs take their time when they eat—they know there’s no threat lurking, and they know they get regular food and treats. Still, many dogs take after their wild ancestors, and chow down big time at mealtime.

What should I do if I see an animal being abused? 

—La’Tayra, 10

Great question, La’Tayra. If you see someone hurting an animal, it's important to get help fast! Don't try to help the animal yourself, but be sure to tell an adult you trust. Together, you and an adult can call the police or your local animal shelter. As the ASPCA animal cops know, good back-up is essential!

It’s also a smart idea to write down everything you see happen, who was involved, the date of the incident and where it took place.

If your dog runs away, should you spank him on the bottom? 


Ouch! The answer is no way, Adrian. No one likes to get spanked, not even dogs. Besides, we know that hitting animals is wrong, and that they feel pain just like you humans do. Some people will try to punish their dogs by using cruel types of discipline, like hitting. But this never works. Dogs need kindness and patience to learn. But more importantly, dogs need their human families to keep them safe. That includes keeping dogs safe inside with the front door closed, or safe in the backyard. It's important for a dog to be loved and protected by his family. Being hurt by someone you love or trust is just no fun.

Why do cats and dogs fight whenever they see each other? 

—Mary Jane, 10

Well, Mary Jane, have you ever heard the phrase “fighting like cats and dogs?” That’s a well-known expression for a reason! The truth is, cats and dogs fight simply because they don’t speak the same language. For example, cats tend to lash their tails when they’re mad, but dogs growl. And while cats purr when they’re happy, dogs wag their tails. So, there are really a lot of mixed signals going on!

The good news is, once they’re familiar with each other, cats and dogs can learn to talk to each other—especially if they’re introduced when they’re young. And dogs and cats can even become the best of friends—playing together, greeting each other nose-to-nose and even sharing the same water bowl!

Hey ho! Ho hey! I have a special tweet for you this week! That's right, ASPCA Special Agent Kristi Adams is in the house—the bird house, that is—and she's here to answer a few of your questions about what it's like to be an ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement agent. 

Thanks, Agent Adams, for all you to do rescue animals from abuse—and for taking the time to answer all our questions!

We really love our small dog, but the problem we are having is his HAIR. He is the worst shedder ever! What can I do? 


Talk about having bad hair day, Mary! Seriously, I’m glad you have such a great little dog! Some dogs were built to shed, and that’s just the way they are—but sometimes, dogs can shed a lot more than they should if they’re sick or if something is wrong with their skin.

So first, please make sure your little guy is healthy by taking him to see his veterinarian. If the vet says your furball is fine, you are going to have to stock up on lint rollers and find ways to cope with his major shedding.

One thing that will help is for you to brush him a lot—every day, if you can. A lot of his dead hair, which was going to come out anyway all over your house, will come out in the brush instead! If you want even less of a mess, have your daily brushing sessions outside. Your dog will look great and you’ll get some extra exercise—and lots of dogs loooove being brushed, so it’s a fun way for you to bond with your doggie. Good luck, and we hope the situation doesn’t get too hairy!

How do dogs learn to swim? 

—Rebecca, 12

It totally depends on the dog, Rebecca. Some pooches just run into the water and instinctively know how to kick their legs in order to stay afloat. Other dogs are scared of the water, but they may learn to like if it they are introduced gently to warm, comfortable water in a bathtub. But most dogs do what most human beings do when they first hit the water—the doggie paddle! P.S. If you ever see a dog doing the butterfly stroke, let us know!

Why do beagles bark so much more than other breeds? 

- Carrie, 12

Woof! Yap! Bow wow! Arooooo! Well, it’s true that beagles certainly aren’t shy, Carrie. They’re a friendly and alert breed of dog, and because they were bred to hunt, they like a lot of stimulation. We’ve heard about beagles who will bark if they’re left alone for too long and get bored. Like many other dogs, they may also bark at strangers in the house and at other animals passing by.

To find out more, let’s explore the boisterous world of beagle barks. Beagles have different barks, and some can get very loud. Some beagles are big on howling, because their ancestors would howl loudly to let hunters know they had caught their prey. Beagles will also bay—a kind of half-howl—when they catch the scent of something that interests them.

If you have a beagle and you’d like to teach him not to express himself quite so loudly, you can train him. Just make sure to be patient, and don’t give up. It might take him a few months for a beagle to understand what it means when you say “Quiet!” 

Why do dogs poop worms? It’s GROSS!!! 

- Evelyn, 8

Well, Evelyn, it is pretty yucky when you see worms in a dog’s poop. But it actually is a very important clue that either a dog needs medicine to get rid of the worms (also called internal parasites, if you want to get technical) or that he is already taking medicine to get rid of worms, and it is working.

There are different kinds of worms, and they all look different. Some are long, and some are very short—but none of them are healthy for dogs or humans! You should never touch a dog’s poop, especially if there are worms in it, because they can get you sick. 
We hope that answers your question, Evelyn. And we hope that all of the dogs you meet are happy and healthy!

P.S. How about a joke to lighten things up?

Q. Is there anything worse than finding a worm in an apple?

A. Finding half a worm!

Do dogs poop every day and every night? 


Great question, Eleanor! No one loves pooping more than dogs―except maybe us parrots!

But seriously, the average healthy dog poops between one and three times a day. How often a dog poops depends on his age, his lifestyle, and the amount of food he eats and how good the food is. High-quality food contains less “filler” than low-quality food, so less food is wasted...or should we say, pooped?!

However, it’s more important for pup parents to pay attention to the “state” of the poop than how many poops are pooped. Unhealthy-looking poop can be a sign of a sick pup!

Wow, I’m totally pooped from answering this question!

Why do dogs eat poop? 

―Lizzy, 11

Well, we'll just have to dig right into this one, huh?

Gross as it sounds (and smells!), it's not unusual for companion canines to eat poop—their own, the family cat's, or even another dog's. Scientists used to think that dogs who ate poop were lacking an important nutrient in their diet, but now experts believe that poop munching is just a normal doggie thing to do.

Before they were domesticated, or bred to live in homes with humans, companion canines were scavengers. They never knew where their next meal was coming from, so they'd eat whenever they found food—and whatever they found (and boy, do we mean whatever). So if you see a dog wolfing down something unsavory (something unsavory like poop, that is), he's just acting like his wild ancestors would.

But the debate on poop eating in pooches hasn't been completely settled. Some animal behaviorists think it could be a way to get attention, or even something that a dog might do if he's bored or anxious. If your dog is a poop eater, the whole family should make an effort to prevent him from doing so—he could get sick from parasites or other diseases that could be found in his favorite snack!

How many babies can a dog have? 

―Asmine, 8

An average-sized dog will give birth to 5 to 7 puppies at a time. Smaller dogs, such as miniature poodles or Pekingese, have smaller litters of 2 to 4 puppies. And some breeds, especially Labrador retrievers, can have 15 or more offspring in a litter.

How’s that for an answer to your “pup” quiz?!

Is it true that dogs see only in black and white? 


Nope—we think! Scientists believe that canines can see part of the range of colors in the visible spectrum. Humans like you can see all the colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet—but dogs probably see mostly in shades of yellow and blue. But remember, this is only a THEORY, since we can't really find out if a color appears the same way to dogs as it does to people.

Why do dogs bark? 


They don't call them BOW WOWS for nothing, Miguel! Dogs bark for many reasons. It's their way of saying, "Hey, I'm here! Come over and see me!" to their human families and other pooch pals. Dogs also bark to warn their owners about intruders on their turf--and to scare these intruders away.

Canines bark to get attention, too. When you are watching your favorite TV show, has your dog ever parked himself in front of you and went "WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!" until you threw his tennis ball?

Why does my dog always sniff everything—even people’s butts? 

—Alexis, 11

Great question, Alexis! And the answer is simple—your dog is simply trying to catch up on the news!

You can surf the Web or watch TV for the latest information, but dogs find out what’s going on with the world through their noses. They have 25 times more smell receptors than human beings do, and with special supersonic sniffing cells hidden deep in their noses, they can pretty much out-smell you in any situation. (Don’t feel bad, though--when it comes to some smells, that’s not always a good thing! Case in point: a pair of socks worn last week in gym class…)

Seriously, a dog can sniff out one drop of blood in five quarts of water. And if you see a dog sniffing a clean sidewalk, he’s probably figuring out what other pooches have been in the neighborhood recently, or what kind of sandwich someone dropped a few days earlier.

What's the most popular dog in the world? 


No contest here! The title goes to the mixed-breed dog—otherwise known as the mutt. If you have a mixed-breed dog, you're lucky—you've got a real one-of-a-kind pet. There can be no other dog who looks exactly like her!

If you were wondering about specific breeds, the most popular (or should we say PUPular?!) canine in the United States is the Labrador retriever. 

My dog is three. How old is that in people's years? 

Dogs grow a lot in their first 2 years—so much that each year equals 12 people years! A dog of 12 months is just entering the teen scene, and by the end of the second year he's a young adult at 24. Starting with the third year, every dog year equals 4 people years. Your pooch is 28 in human years. Do you know how old you are in dog years?

Whenever it rains, my dog gets scared and goes into the tub. Why does she do that? 


Your dog’s not the only scaredy cat, Lauren! A lot of pooches don’t like rain, especially when it comes with strong wind, lightning and thunder.

I checked with the ASPCA's Carmen Buitrago, a certified dog trainer who studies why dogs do the things they do, and she says it’s not all that uncommon for dogs to jump in the tub during storms. “We actually don’t know why they do that, but some people think that it’s because there’s static build-up in the air during a storm—and dogs try to ground themselves near the pipes in toilets or bathtubs,” says Buitrago. It could also just be that the tub is small and snug, and makes your dog feel more comfortable!

Whatever the reason, our doggie expert says you should make sure your pup can get to the tub to comfort herself during storms. You could also play the radio or TV at a loud volume to mask the noise of the storm.

Why do dogs have black lips? 

―Nathan, 10

As you have noticed, Nathan, some breeds of dog have black skin around their mouths, on their noses and on their eye rims. Skin gets its color from something the body produces called pigment—which has nothing to do with pigs!

Darker skin is one way that evolution protects animals from the sun, because darker noses don’t sunburn as easily as lighter ones. So in the beginning, certain dogs simply evolved to have black lips—probably dogs who lived in really sunny places.

So that’s how it started, but in the last hundred years or so, doggy features—including black lips and noses—have probably been influenced more by people than by nature. Humans have taken a big interest in breeding dogs for beauty. Certain breeds of dogs who look good with black lips will be more likely to be chosen by humans to have puppies, thereby passing their black lips on to future generations.

Why does my dog drool? 


Well, Stefanie, it's not because he has bad table manners. Your pooch uses his saliva to make his food wet and mushy and easier to swallow; it also aids in digestion, too. He's so good at making the ooey-gooey stuff that he can whip up a bunch even when he's just thinking about eating, like if he sees you opening a can or bag of dog food.

Sometimes, though, he produces so much saliva that he can't keep it all in his mouth—and he's no fool, he's gotta drool! Dogs with shortened faces, like bulldogs, tend to drool more 'cause there's less room in their mouths to hold it all. And bow-wows with big lips are big drippers, too.

What kind of toys do dogs like? 

—Sandul, 11

When it comes to toys, Sandul, dogs are like people—everybody has a favorite! Some dogs love stuffed animals, while others prefer to toss around a tennis ball all day, every day. Size matters, too—some dogs prefer teeny, tiny toys and really enjoy batting them like a cat would, while other dogs feel that bigger is better, and get very excited about toys they can’t even fit in their mouths. Ever seen a doggie carrying around a basketball?!

A lot of dogs like to run around like crazy while they play. These dogs love balls, Frisbees and anything you can throw far for them. Then there there are dogs who go bonkers for noisy, squeaky toys, rope toys, puzzle toys and bouncy toys—and then others who turn up their noses at toys entirely!

You just never know what a dog is going to like to play with. Some are crazy about chewing, so the best toys for these pups are safe, hard toys made especially for dogs like them. In fact, it’s important to make sure that all the toys you give your pets are made specifically for them. Since dogs play with their mouths, their toys need to be made extra strong so they don’t get hurt or swallow little pieces that might splinter off. Keep an eye on your dog’s toys and throw them away when they get worn out. Your dog won’t mind, because that just means he gets a new one!

Why do dogs throw up and then eat it? 


Great question, Brittany, but I’m glad I got your email before lunch! Most veterinarians aren’t sure why dogs eat their own throw up, but scientists do have one theory. When dogs lived in the wild, long before they started living with human families in houses, they didn’t like to leave any traces behind that would allow predators or hunters to find them. So they made sure not to leave any trace behind. They covered up their pee and poop with dirt. And if they threw up, they had to hide it somehow—so they ate it.

This is only one theory, Brittany. There may be another answer out there that we don’t know about, but because so many dogs do this, many people just accept it as doggie behavior.

How old is the oldest dog? 

—Shelby, 10

Great timing, Shelby—because, Chanel, the world’s oldest living dog, just celebrated her 21st birthday in May 2009! Officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, Chanel is a cream-colored dachshund mix who lives on Long Island, NY, and wears special goggles to protect her eyes from the sun.

Now, 21 may not seem that old to you, but dogs age differently than humans do. Dogs grow a lot in their first 2 years—so much that each year equals 12 people years! Starting with the third year, every dog year equals 4 people years. When you do the math, Chanel’s age is equal to 100 people years!

P.S. Wondering how Chanel celebrated her big day? She took a trip to the doggy spa with her best buddies, of course!

Why do dogs always lick their noses? 

—Sarah, 12

Because they never remember to carry tissues?!

OK, well, maybe not! That’s actually a great question, Sarah. Dogs use body language to tell us how they are feeling, just like you humans do. You may see a person scratching his head and know that he is confused. Or you may see someone biting her fingernails and know that she is nervous. When a dog licks his nose, it may mean he is feeling a little stressed out.

Scientists who study why dogs act the way they do call this kind of behavior a calming signal. It’s a dog’s way of telling other dogs and people that he may be feeling a bit anxious, but he doesn’t want to take any other action, like growling or fighting. He might lick his nose when he’s deciding whether or not to go up to a dog or person he doesn’t know, or he might lick his nose if he’s getting used to a new place or situation. He’s feeling stressed, but he’s working it out calmly.

Of course, if this happens just after he’s eaten, he may just be trying to get that last bit of lunch off his nose!

Why do dogs eat so fast? 


Let me just wolf down my breakfast so I can begin researching your question. Just kidding, Jasmine—but that expression is no joke!

You know how sometimes you’re stuffed at dinner and you just can’t eat those last few French fries? Well, it’s not like that for most dogs. Dogs are evolved from wolves, who live in the wild and eat as much as they can, whenever they can. If they don’t gobble their food quickly, other animals might take it—and who knows when they’ll get a chance to eat again?

Nowadays, some pet dogs take their time when they eat—they know there’s no threat lurking, and they know they get regular food and treats. Still, many dogs take after their wild ancestors, and chow down big time at mealtime.

Can dogs smell odors better than people? 


Great question, TooBusyB! To answer it, let me put it this way…don’t even think about winning the “Ewww…What’s That Smell?” contest if pooches are allowed to enter!

Some scientists say that dogs can identify smells anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times better than you humans can. You have 5 million scent-detecting cells in your nose. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, a bloodhound has…ahem..300 million of these supersonic sniffing cells!

Dogs don’t use just their noses to detect odors. Every canine has a tiny duct in his mouth that leads to a special gland called the Jacobson’s organ. This organ allows him to “taste” certain odors.

If you see your dog scrunching up his face, lifting his upper lip and opening his mouth (and maybe even drooling!) he is probably using his Jacobson’s organ to get more info about a particular smell. (Unfortunately, a lot of times the smell turns out to be stinky garbage and/

or another dog’s poop!)

Believe it or not, Christin, I'm not going to make any silly comments about how your pooch probably just needs a new pair (make that 2!) of shoes. I'm sorry she's being destructive. I talked to one of our certified pet dog trainers at the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center, and she told me some things you can try to change your dog's behavior:

1. Make sure your dog has plenty of her own things to chew on. Dogs like yours often enjoy getting their meals served in special toys made to hold food. They have to work to get their dinner, and that's good exercise for their bodies AND brains!

2. It can really help to give your dog at least 20 minutes of running exercise every day. Twice a day would be even better! We're not talking just walking-you'll need to have her play fetch, take her to the dog park or teach her to go jogging!

3. You can spray the things you don't want your dog to chew with a product like Bitter Apple, which you can find at pet stores. There are other things you can do to help prevent destructive chewing, and you can 

4. Go to school! (We know you're already in school-we mean your dog!) You and your family could take your dog to an obedience class, where she'd learn good manners. (And it's kinda fun, too, even if I do say so myself!)

Good luck! And just think, with all this experience, you may be a shoe-in for a career as a dog trainer!
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