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Q: My 7-year-old Brittany has periodic spells where she seems to be gasping for air; it's sort of an inhaling/snorting action. One night, this went on all night; other times, it lasts only a few minutes. There's no set pattern as to when this gasping occurs. The vet is puzzled. Can you solve the puzzle?

A: Dr. Philip Padrid of Chicago, a respiratory medicine specialist, serves as adjunct associate professor of molecular medicine at University of Chicago School of Medicine, as well as adjunct professor at Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Based on your description, his best guess is that your dog is doing what's called a reverse sneeze.

"It looks more horrible than it is," he says. "If you feel the roof of your mouth all the way back, there's a flat film of tissue. Either there's a viral or bacterial infection there, or allergies are responsible."

You can determine if allergies are an issue by treating your pup with an antihistamine (as prescribed by your vet) for five days, and seeing if that helps. Prednisone might also be tried to reduce inflammation. If the "spells" stop, you can continue treating your dog in this manner as needed, or an inhaled form of prednisone may be prescribed.

If the antihistamine and prednisone don't have an impact, your dog might require a rhinoscopy, a simple procedure to examine nasal passages, for which your dog must be anesthetized.

Padrid cautions that he's not making a diagnosis based on your letter. A vet can best tell what's going on by actually seeing the gasping you describe. Since dogs rarely wheeze on cue, videotape your pet. Padrid says if your vet has any questions, he'll be happy to watch the video too.

The possessive pup

Q: Four months ago, we adopted an 18-month-old American cocker spaniel. TJ is adorable, except when he's lying on the couch with my husband and I approach. Or when my husband and I are being a couple; the dog will growl and lunge at me in a menacing way. I'm clear in my stern voice that he's a "bad boy," but this hasn't helped, and frankly I'm concerned. I dread the thought of giving up on him. Can you help?

A: Applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, of Madison, Wis., author of For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend (Ballantine Books, New York, N.Y., 2006; $24.95), says, "It's likely the dog is possessive of your husband. For starters, teach the dog that whenever you sit down, great things happen. So, whenever you appear, offer the dog a special yummy. And it's not a bad idea if you take over feeding TJ. For at least a few weeks, you should become the only person who plays with TJ, and you decide when play time begins and when it ends. If you can take the dog to a fun training class, TJ will learn that you're fun!"

Of course, it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep the dog off the sofa, and perhaps even out of the room, when you and your husband are in a snuggling mood. What you don't want is for TJ to continue practicing that behavior or the growl that could escalate to a bite.

As with all cases of aggression, seeking out help to see what's really going on is a good plan.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. He will answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to