Someone once told me, “Junk food in, junk behavior out.” I don’t remember who told me this, nor if it was in reference to my children or my dogs. Nevertheless, I have found, in general, that this maxim is true for both species. If, for example, my younger daughter, Emma, has saccharin, then she goes from active to manic. The same thing would happen to Bingley* when he ate ground yellow corn. Moreover, food can have profound effects on health and behavior issues as far ranging as ear infections and dandruff to attention issues and separation problems.
For example, my grand-dog Tex has some sort of seizure disorder. We think it might be linked to having Rocky Mountain Spotted fever as a puppy (since no other dogs in his litter have this issue), but we don’t know for certain the origin. His first owner wanted him as a hunting dog and seizures disqualified him from active duty, so he became available for adoption. We jumped at the chance to have another flattie in our family, so Tex** came to live with Emma and her husband.
Tex’s seizures have been well managed in part because he has a very specific diet. Tex is grain free, and does not get any beef, poultry, venison, or fowl. His kibble is fish based (or other exotic proteins such as kangaroo) as are his treats! (It does no good to control your dog’s basic food if you allow him to eat junk treats. Therefore, I keep a handy supply of Tex approved treats for his visits.) He also gets regular chiropractic treatments, plenty of exercise, and regular naps on comfy couches. Due to his well managed diet and lifestyle, Tex has not had a seizure in over 7 months, and is being weaned from his seizure meds.
Food can influence behavior in other ways by helping your dog to maintain a calmer demeanor. The Whole Dog Journal recently sent an email with this excerpt from Nicole Wilde’s book Don’t Leave Me! that talks about the relationship between diet and anxious behavior:
You’re probably wondering what on earth your dog’s diet has to do with his stress levels when left alone. The answer is, plenty. Have you ever drank one cup of coffee too many and gotten that jittery, wired feeling? You might have snapped at your co-workers, been more impatient than usual when waiting in line, or reacted with vitriol when someone cut you off in traffic. Likewise, have you noticed the way kids act when they’ve eaten too much sugar? They can become cranky and hyperactive. What we ingest has a direct effect on our nervous system. A long-term diet of sweets and processed foods will surely impact our health, but it may also cause us to feel less emotionally balanced, and even depressed, anxious, or angry. By the same token, eating a healthful diet contributes to a state of well being both physically and emotionally. It’s no different for dogs.
Dog food that is built on inferior protein sources and laden with unhealthy chemicals, preservatives, and excess sugars can contribute to issues such as hyperactivity, restlessness and nervousness. A healthful diet will go a long way toward allowing your dog to feel physically calmer, which will set the stage for a tranquil emotional state. Making wise nutritional choices will also result in better overall health for your dog, which will be especially beneficial as he ages.
My objective with food is to build the best dog possible from the ground up. We cannot eliminate all health or behavior problems with a good diet, but we can maximize our dogs’ ability to cope with the challenges they encounter when we support them nutritionally. I firmly believe that one reason why both Bingley and Buckley, got cancer relatively later in life (for their breeds), tolerated chemo as well as they did and remained active until the very end is because underneath the cancer they were strong, healthy dogs.***
If you are interested in learning more about high quality foods and what makes them different from what you find in the grocery store, check out last week’s blog, “Bone” appetit 1 for links to The Whole Dog Journal’s standards for food, their 2016 List of Recommended foods and more. For those of you who live in Granville, we have two terrific pet food stores: Bath and Biscuits, and the Village Pet Market, both of which are fully stocked with foods recommended by the WDJ.
*Mr. Bingley, my flat-coated retriever, was a picky eater, so we tried a lot of different foods and had the opportunity to see how various ingredients could affect behavior as well as health issues such as dry skin and ear infections. Unfortunately, his cancer came back and on July 6, he crossed the Rainbow bridge.
**For more on Tex and his introduction to our family see: Bringing Home Your New Best Friend
*** Bing and Buck both had histyocytic sarcoma, a cancer that, unfortunately, is common to both their breeds. For more on facing health challenges see: The Big “C”: Weighing the costs of medical treatment.
There are many dog foods on the market, with a variety of price points, ingredients, and nutritional levels. I am a big advocate of choosing your dog’s food wisely to insure high quality ingredients that help to build the best dog possible. People often ask me what I recommend, and my standard reply is that I recommend anything that the Whole Dog Journal (WDJ) recommends. Each year they do a comprehensive survey of both dry and wet dog foods, and they have exacting standards for what they consider to be good enough to included in their list of recommended foods. To get a copy of their list of recommended foods, you need to be a paid subscriber, but it is worth the price for this information alone, not to mention the many wonderful articles they offer.
Though I could write several columns about the importance of high quality nutrition for your dog, I actually wanted to write about two other aspects of dog food: 1) Meals vs Free-feeding your dog; and 2) the effects of poor nutrition on behavior. This column is about the advantages of designated meal times. Next week we will look at food and behavior.
Pat Miller is a wonderful trainer and has written many books that are worth checking out. In a recent email from the WDJ, they had an excerpt from her book, Positive Perspectives 2*, discussing meals versus free-feeding your dog. I couldn’t agree with her more, or state it better (my comments in italics):
I cringe internally when a client tells me she free-feeds her dog – that is, keeps the bowl on the floor filled with kibble all the time. I’m a strong believer in feeding meals for a number of reasons, in addition to the medical fact that a dog’s digestive system is designed more to gorge than to graze. There are numerous advantages to feeding your dog specific amounts of food at specific times:
• You can monitor intake. If you feed meals, you’ll know the instant Buster goes off his feed – sometimes the first sign that he’s not feeling well.
• You minimize your dog’s opportunities to guard his food.
• You can utilize feeding time as training time.
• You can take advantage of feeding time to reinforce your role as the higher-ranking member of your social group. You can’t be the “alpha dog” – your dog knows you’re not a dog – but you are a member of his social group. (To this end, I recommend to all my new owners that they feed their dog by hand 2-3 meals a week so that Fido learns that all good things come from his people, not the magic circle on the floor!)
• You know when he’s full, and when he’s empty. Your training sessions are more likely to be successful if you train when Buster’s stomach is empty rather than full.
• You can use his meals as training treats. (Have fun when feeding his meals by hand. Go through his repertoire of tricks: sit, lie down, shake, spin, etc. Toss a couple of treats across the kitchen floor, then call him back and give him 5-6 from your hand.)
• You can control your dog’s weight.
• You may spark his appetite. People with fussy eaters often make the mistake of leaving food out constantly. The dog grazes all day, never gets hungry, thus never gets eager for food. (And having a food motivated dog makes training so much easier!).
Make the most of mealtime for both you and your dog. Consider it an opportunity to improve your training (and your relationship, who doesn’t like the person who buys you dinner?). And, if you want to make meals that don’t come from your hand more interesting check out these blogs on intelligence toys: http://apositiveconnection.com/?s=intelligence+toys.
*Positive Perspectives 2 can be found at The Whole Dog Journal (http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/subscribe/main3.html?s=p_Blog042116&st=email&t=article1&v=&), Dogwise.com (http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB984); or on Amazon.com.
I opened the July issue of Whole Dog Journal (WDJ) and the first article to catch my attention was: Essential Knowledge, The 10 most important things to teach your puppy, by Pat Miller.* Luckily, this article is one that is accessible online without a subscription to the WDJ. In addition to an overview of the 10 essentials, she includes links to additional articles that expand on each topic. Her 10 essentials** are as follows (please note that anything in quotes is from the article by Pat Miller, and where applicable, I have added links to some of my blogs which go into detail about the particular item):
Pat Miller’s 10 most important things:
- The world is a safe and happy place. I emphasize in my puppy classes that the single most important thing you can do for your young pup is to socialize him to a wide variety of people, places, substrates, animals, etc in a positive way. One thing to keep in mind is that the socialization window is very small, “from three to four weeks to about 13-14 weeks.” There is nothing better for your puppy than a well run puppy class for socialization and early training. Be sure to find one with a positive reinforcement trainer.
- Being alone is sometimes is fine. Dogs are social creatures and don’t think to themselves, Great, she’s gone for a few hours so now I can get some work done on the great American novel. Dogs would much rather be with us at all times, so it is important to teach them that being alone is really ok. “Include crate or exercise-pen training during this process [of introducing her to alone time] so she can be left safely confined while you are away.”
- Go to the bathroom in designated places and/or times. As I have mentioned in other posts house training is the bane of many puppy owners. Consistency and using crates, tethers, leashes, gates and constant supervision are the key to success in potty training. Be sure to reward well for success and clean up mistakes without punishing your dog.
- Chew only on designated chew objects. Dogs will “develop preference for certain things to chew on. If you manage your pup’s environment…so she has opportunity to chew on only ‘legal’ chew objects, you will be able to give her house freedom much sooner, with much more confidence that your valuables are safe.” Click here for intelligence toys for your dog that will help with chewing and/or provide mental stimulation (which will help him to be happy alone!)
- Dogs get lots of treats when they do what their humans want them to do. Positive reinforcement for a job well done will insure your pup will do more of the desired behavior. Studies “indicate that force-free training is faster and more effective than old-fashioned force-based methods.” So don’t be stingy with the rewards and consider having some treats on you at all times so you can take advantage of your dog behaving well.
- It’s fun to learn new things. Your dog should be eager to learn. Clicker training is a great way to bond with your dog and for both of you to learn new things. When my dog Bingley was young he would hold a clicker in his mouth and poke his head around the corner into my office. Then he’d click it and take off running with me in pursuit. He loved training when I had the clicker, and apparently when he had it as well! If you need help using any force-free method, find a local positive reinforcement trainer, take a class, and gain a lifetime of learning.
- It’s super rewarding to come running fast when your human calls you. “Recalls (coming when called) may just be the single most important behavior you can teach your dog.” As I mention in my blog on recalls: Know what he loves and use it in abundance to reward this V.I.B. (Very Important Behavior), as this is no time to skimp on reinforcement! Reward him as if his life depends on it, because it might someday. Using the best you’ve got, in quantity, and with lots of praise, lets your dog know, without a doubt, that coming to you is the best thing ever!
Human touch, all over, is really great. Over the course of his life, your dog will have to endure a lot of humans touching her, some of which (think Vet’s office) she is likely to find unpleasant, if not constraining and painful. “You can make life a lot easier for your dog if you teach her as a pup that human touch makes good stuff happen…and minimizing restraint to that which is only absolutely necessary.” Pairing treats with touching your dog in a variety of places will help her to accept everything “from nail trimming to grooming to treating injuries.”
Riding in the car is fun! For many dogs the car is a wonderful adventure and they are eager to go “bye-bye.” Some dogs, however find the car terrifying and nausea inducing. This, understandably, limits the places you can take your dog. If your puppy is one of these, there are some things you can do to help her learn to love modern transportation, but it does require some patience on your part to slowly re-condition her.
- Your human will always protect you. “After her puppy socialization, this could be the most important thing you teach and affirm to your dog throughout her life.” It is your responsibility to be your dog’s best advocate and to not allow anyone to treat her in a way that goes against your best instincts about what is right and good for her. Do not let anyone insist that a force-based or painful training method is the only way to handle your dog. “There are plenty of professionals out there who will support and respect your wishes…She cannot speak for herself; she is counting on you to speak for her.”
Puppyhood does not last terribly long, so doing all this seems like a lot of work in a remarkably short period of time, and it is. But, if you follow these guidelines, your puppy will most likely become the wonderful, happy, well adjusted adult dog you know is in there, and can enjoy for many years to come.
*Pat Miller is a wonderful trainer, author, and regular contributor to WDJ. I have cited her work several times, and consider her advice to be some of the best around. Click here to learn more about her.
**See also: 10 Principles for a well behaved dog, my blog on Emma Parson’s book Click to Calm. These principles are a good idea for all dogs, puppies or adults, and are particularly important for behaviorally challenged dogs.
Ever since Bingley was a puppy he has reminded me, at times, of a Springbok. When we are out for a hike in a meadow and the grass is especially tall, he will spring straight up in the air, presumably to survey his surroundings. He usually does it near the beginning of a walk, when he is at his utmost enthusiastic self, full of Flattie energy, and ready to run. I have always thought it was something he enjoyed, but that it was costly (energy-wise), so best used when one really needs it to see the lay of the land. I never knew there was a name for it until my daughter Emma sent me this link to a video of Springboks pronking (I have since learned that this vertical leap is also known as stotting or pronging). Thus, I now feel certain that Bingers is indeed part Springbok and that his imitation of a Harrier Jump Jet is probably as much for joy as it is for terrestrial surveillance!
So, without further ado, here is the video of the Springboks:
And, for even more pronking fun, here is one that Emma recently sent to me from the Facebook page of Tails and Trails of a group of dogs prancing (no music, but great pronking action!):
Rhodesian Ridgeback stotting for joy: (set to music!)
*This blog was originally posted in 2014, but do to some technical difficulties, I had to pull it down. But, those are resolved and I am re-posting it. Enjoy the joy!
Summer is here and that means fun in the sun and water for dogs and owners alike. In order for you and your dog to have a grand time, I recommend that you keep a few safety tips in mind:
- Dogs cannot sweat through their skin so they regulate their temperature by panting and by sweating through their paw pads. Panting is how dogs “circulate the necessary air through their bodies to cool down. If you’re near a body of water (like the beach), your dog can also regain her ‘cool’ by jumping in.” (Why do Dogs Pant?) While panting can also be sign of arousal or stress, pay close attention to your dog when he plays in hot weather. Make sure he takes plenty of breaks, has a cool place to relax, and plenty of water to rehydrate. Continued heavy panting can be a sign of Heatstroke which is an emergency situation. Familiarize yourself with the signs of heatstroke and what to do if you suspect your dog has it: Heatstroke.
- Hot pavement can burn paw pads. A quick way to decide if it’s too hot to walk is to place the back of your hand on the pavement or sidewalk. If you cannot hold your hand there for 5 seconds it is too hot for canine paws.
- Take a water bottle for you and one for Fido. I found a water bottle from In the Company of Dogs that fits easily into the cup holder of your car and has a bowl on the top. When you squeeze the bottle the bowl fills with water. Then, when you release the bottle, the water goes back into the bottle. What an easy, spill proof way to keep your dog hydrated!
Wet Dogs Rule!
- Water is a great way for dogs to have fun and stay cool in the summer. An inexpensive plastic wading pool can provide instant relief from the heat for your water loving pooch.*
- Be careful of water intoxication, a rare but deadly condition whereby a dog (or person) takes in more water than it can handle. When excessive amounts of water are ingested the sodium levels outside cells are depleted and the body responds by increasing fluid intake in the cells. This causes organs, including the brain to swell. As the pressure in the brain increases, cells die off and “the dog may have difficulty breathing, develop seizures, and lose consciousness” (Whole Dog Journal, June 2014). Dogs can develop and die from water intoxication in the span of just a few hours. When playing with your dog in lakes, ponds, (or even with the hose), make sure he gets breaks from being in the water, pees frequently to get rid of excess water, and when your dog begins to tire, keep him out of the water for awhile as tired dogs tend to swim lower in the water and are at a higher risk of water ingestion.
- Most dogs enjoy frozen treats as much as we do. One easy treat is beef or chicken ice cubes. Freeze bouillon (onion and salt free) in ice cube trays and then serve up the frozen treat singly or throw several in your dog’s bowl as a treat while you take a moment to enjoy a book and a glass of lemonade.
- Frozen Kongs are another delight for most dogs, and the possibilities for stuffing them are endless! (See www.kongcompany.com/recipes for Kong filler ideas). If you plug the small hole with peanut butter, then you can fill the kong with liquid, such as bouillon, to have a long lasting beefscicle. (Note: A handy trick for freezing Kongs filled with liquid: stand them upright in a Solo cup! And, have your dog enjoy them outside so when they melt, your carpet doesn’t look and smell like bouilon!)
- Dr. Karen Becker has several frozen treat ideas and this one is my favorite (and judging by the look on the dogs’ faces, it’s theirs too!): https://www.facebook.com/doctor.karen.becker/videos/10154243112342748/?pnref=story. I have just ordered my popsicle mold on Amazon (they have many styles to choose from) and plan on making doggie popsicles for Bingley and our guest dog who is arriving next week with his people. Not sure what I am serving the humans, but the dogs will be all set!
Here’s hoping you and your dog have as much fun this summer as my grand-dog Tex. His enthusiasm for balls, water, and life in general is boundless.
*From experience, I have found that the larger wading pools with a plug in the bottom are much easier to drain and refill than the smaller ones which require that you lift one side to drain. They also last longer as the sides do not bend and crack from being lifted. Also, if you have multiple dogs, they can all fit in the larger pool!
It’s time, once again, for a hodgepodge of items that I have recently encountered. These tidbits are related by four components: 1) I like them, 2) they are all about positive approaches to training and interacting with your dog, 3) Reisner Vet likes them and, 4) I was not smart enough to write them first.
The first is the Freedom Harness Exchange Program.
The Harness Exchange Program is an advocacy program of Biggies Bullies that promotes the use of force-free pet equipment. We are asking pet guardians o swap out their choke, prong, and shock collars for a free harness! We want all pets and their parents to experience the huge advantages and long-lasting effectiveness of force-free training and pet care. When you mail us your choke, prong, or shock collar we will send you a free Freedom No Pull Harness. -Biggies Bullies Website.
The page is filled with pictures of adorable “bully” breed dogs happily ensconced in their bright colored freedom harnesses. The beauty of any no-pull harness is that it works with your dog to stop pulling, rather than punish or hurt your dog for pulling. Choke chain collars can damage your dog’s thyroid, increase the pressure in his eyes (putting him at greater risk for glaucoma), and can cause damage to the trachea or esophagus. “Dogs walked on prongs are also constantly subjected to pain and discomfort, which creates fear, anxiety and aggression on walks.” (Biggies Bullies Website). Dogs corrected with shock collars may associate the pain and fear they experience with their owners and may respond by avoiding their owners, shutting down, or acting out aggressively.*
I have used the Freedom harness as well as other front buckling no pull harnesses and I highly recommend them. They are the most effective, however, when used in conjunction with positive reinforcement training to teach a dog loose leash walking. I think this is a great program and if you want to support it, click here to donate.
Another article that I came across came from my old standard Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services is dated June 6th and has a wonderful graphic by Lili Chin, titled Calm and Relaxed? or Shut Down? What I love about this is that it points out how important it is to understand dog body language so you know what your dog is actually telling you! Dogs who are subdued when meeting new people, places, things, or other dogs, may not be calm and relaxed, but rather shut down and scared. Understanding how your dog is interpreting the situation will give you the information you need to best help him.**
While scrolling through Lili Chin’s website I found some graphics that she produced for the Vet Behavior Team about stress signals in dogs. Going to their website, I found several handouts that clearly and precisely illustrate the signals that dogs use to communicate to us that they are upset, stressed, hyper-vigilante, or just plain scared. Even if you know your dog’s stress signals, I recommend that you take a look at these handouts as they will help you recognize stress signals in other dogs. Knowing what other dogs are “feeling” will help you to keep your dog safe. I plan on using these handouts with all my clients!
I have written about dogs and kids before, but recently I came across this website: Family Paws Family Education which I really like. It has a lot of useful information for parents, parents-to-be, trainers, and veterinarians to help kids and dogs live together in harmony. The resource page has plenty of links to other valuable resources (such as Living with Kids and Dogs , Colleen Pelar’s website) as well as some terrific handouts with nice graphics about Dog and Baby safety, Dog and Toddler safety, what is supervision (and isn’t! This is a particularly eye-opening handout). I recommend to parents that they post the relevant ones on the frig so they are a ready reminder of how to have your expanding household live together positively and safely.
**The article to which this graphic is attached is a detailed look at Cesar Milan and his television program concerning a Boston Terrier who attacked and killed pigs, and Mr. Milan’s approach to changing this behavior. I am no fan of Mr. Milan and the methods he employed here just about made me pass out and/or vomit. His outdated approach caused egregious harm to the health and mental well being of the dog as well as the pigs he employed. I cannot emphasize loud or long enough that bullying, hurting, or punishing your dog is not the humane, responsible way to change behavior, no matter how abhorrant that behavior may be. Every animal deserves to be cared for and handled with compassion and dignity. Period.
Behavior or "What the heck?" Care and management or living together in harmony Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. General General Stress: signals, management, & warning signsJun 10th, 20160 comments
AVSAB: good vets doing great things!
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. – AVSAB website
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. – AVSAB website
“An understanding of animal behavior…” One of the frustrations of every positive reinforcement trainer, vet, or behaviorist, is the lack of understanding about animal behavior that guides and mis-informs animal professionals as well as the general public. Additionally, many people do not understand the many differences between positive reinforcement and punishment based training methods and their respective consequences. I have written about the repercussions of punishment/aggressive training methods, but it bears repeating that punishment will, in the vast majority of cases, make the situation worse, not better, and will likely add another layer of issues to the existing problem.
According to the AVSAB’s position paper, Guidelines on the Use of Punishment for Dealing with Behavior Problems in Animals:
The adverse effects of punishment and the difficulties in administering punishment effectively have been well documented…For instance, electronic anti-bark collars can cause burn marks on dogs. Choke chains can damage the trachea, increase intraocular pressure in dogs thus potentially worsening or contributing to glaucoma in susceptible breeds, cause sudden collapse from non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema (water in the lungs) due to temporary upper airway obstruction, and cause nerve damage. The risk of damage is greater when the choke chain sits high on the dog’s neck.
Problems can arise behaviorally as well when punishment is used to curb or correct an undesirable behavior:
Punishment can suppress aggressive and fearful behavior when used effectively, but it may not change the underlying cause of the behavior…As a result, if the animal faces a situation where it is extremely fearful, it may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs. In other words, it may now attack more aggressively or with no warning, making it much more dangerous.
This position paper on punishment based methods not only clarifies the consequences associated with punishment but provides clear definitions of terms, cites several studies, and provides further reading. It is only one of several well written and informative position papers. The other papers are:
All of these position statements serve to explain and inform the reader about the issue in understandable terms. Where needed, they also provide clear explanations of terms and resources for further reading. The AVSAB website also has a search for “Behavior Consults Near You” so you can find an AVSAB member who is “an AVSAB member veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or PhD behaviorist who accepts animal behavior cases in your area.”
The purpose of AVSAB is to educate animal professionals and lay people alike, to provide the resources necessary to promote humane treatment, as well as being “committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” (AVSAB website).
Blog Posts by Category
- Training or “Why, Why, WHY?”
- Behavior or “What the heck?”
- Informational or Doggie Demographics
- Care and management or living together in harmony
- Philosophy of training or “Why be positive?”
- Toy Box or stuff that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere
- Ouch! That really hurt! November 7, 2017
- Just for fun! October 24, 2017
- The Five Freedoms October 10, 2017
- Why do dogs eat grass? September 16, 2017
- Electronic Fences, What the Manufacturers Don’t Tell You. August 29, 2017