Q We have two Westies that are brothers and now 6 years old. Whenever a siren goes off or an airplane flies overhead or even when we play certain music, one of the dogs will howl over and over until the noise stops. The other dog just ignores the noise or else will actually bark at his brother as if to tell him to be quiet. We thought that perhaps it was a problem with the one dog's ears. The vet said that the dog was fine and that "some dogs just do this." What's your opinion?
A This fascinates me as it shows how the domestication process in pets from wolf to dog is not quite finished in some individual animals no matter how un-wolflike they look or act. Wolves can bark like a dog, but usually only once or twice. Repetitive barking is unique to dogs and most likely was unknowingly selectively bred into the dog thousands of generations ago because it provided a method of signaling an alarm. A wolf's primary form of communication is the howl, but most likely early dog keepers did not find this trait useful to them so any dog that howled excessively was not bred and thus did not get to pass this trait on to future generations. However, it is obvious that some dogs still possess the instinct to howl and others do not. Nobody quite knows why.
You have two brothers there and the one dog seems as puzzled by his sibling's howling as you do. Usually dogs that still have the howling instinct will not howl as a form of communication as wolves do but only in response to certain environmental sounds. This behavior, though not thoroughly understood, shows how dogs perceive frequencies of sound that are out of our auditory range.
At the end of the day, your vet's statement of "some dogs just do this" is about all that there is to say about this behavior.Post-power loss
Q We finally got our power back and my two parakeets seemed to have gotten through it OK. Since we had no heat in our house for a week, do I have to be worried that they may have gotten a cold or some other illness? We kept them wrapped up in a blanket and they seem just fine, but I always thought pet birds needed to be kept warm to keep them from getting sick.
A Bacterial infections and different viruses make birds sick -- not low temperatures. Being exposed to cool temps for a long period can lower a bird's resistance to fighting off different types of bacteria, thus the bird can get sick this way, but it has nothing to do with the temp itself. This is why it is so important that birds have a spotless cage to live in and drinking and feeding dishes that are clean to prevent the birds from coming in contact with the bacteria in the first place.
It looks like you did a fine job in this stressful time.For the love of pets
Pet keepers who lost their homes due to superstorm Sandy went to great lengths to be sure that their pets were well taken care of, and so many did whatever was in their power to find alternate housing for them.
I overheard many people who do not keep pets mutter that people like us were a bit odd for going out of our way for an animal in such a time of crisis. They have no idea how these animals could be so important to some people.
We humans crave consistency in our lives and will do whatever we can to find it. A relationship with an animal is one of the few consistencies we can provide to ourselves. When you get home, your dog will always be wagging its tail, your cat will rub against you, your bird will chirp for attention -- even your goldfish will rush to the front of its tank in anticipation of your feeding it. So the separation from pets in this anxiety-ridden time only added to our misery. As day by day I return the pets I've been boarding at my store to their owners, the looks of relief on their faces confirm my opinion.
Send questions to pet expert Marc Morrone at firstname.lastname@example.org.