Care and management or living together in harmony
The ASPCA has a poster titled, The Five Freedoms, which they describe as, “internationally accepted standards of care that assert a living being’s right to humane treatment.” They are standards which apply not only to dogs, but to every animal in our care, whether they are pets, farm animals, or working animals. The Five Freedoms are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
- Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting place.
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Freedom #1 is so self evident that comment almost seems redundant, except, for the word vigor, which emphasizes the importance of providing nutrition that promotes mental and physical vitality so your dog lives longer, healthier, and happier. Not only are we to maintain the health of our animals, we need to help them thrive.
“A comfortable resting place” is the phrase that grabbed me in Freedom number 2. Shelter is only the beginning, some place that is cool in the heat, warm in the winter, comfortable to lie on, and free from disturbances is important for the mental health of all creatures. Does your pet have a safe haven that she can go to and know she will not be troubled?
Freedom number three can be a bit tricky as our dogs can be very stoic about pain. Doing a monthly health check can help you to recognize changes in your dog’s health that may require attention, and help you to establish what your dog’s baseline of good health looks like. For those of you with older dogs, Dr. Alicia Karas of Tufts University has a Comfort Diary that is an easy way to chart your dog’s health on a daily basis. You can learn more about this at Your Family Dog Podcast, Giving Older Dogs the Good Life.
Freedom to express normal behavior is one of the reasons that I am a positive reinforcement trainer. With forced based methods (such as shock collars) many dogs learn not to do try new things as it hurts to do so, so they don’t do anything. This lack of behavior is not the same as good behavior, nor is it normal behavior for canines. I want you to have a dog that is well behaved, but is a curious, funny, playful, and engaged member of your family and who is not afraid to be himself or to express his enthusiasm for life and for you.*
Freedom from fear and distress. This is the freedom that makes sure all of the above happens. If your dog is fearful and distressed by the world and feeling unsafe, then she is unlikely to eat, play, engage with people or other animals, or rest comfortably. Behavioral symptoms of stress include: destructiveness, aggression, withdrawal, persistent barking or whining, restlessness and an inability to concentrate. Chronic fear and distress can also cause physical ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, skin issues, weight loss, frequent urination, and shaking or shivering, among other things. Everyone deserves to feel safe in one’s world, and to provide this for our animals is our duty and obligation as their caregivers.
But, there is another reason why we should provide humane, compassionate treatment to the animals who populate our lives. Not only is it an obligation of our stewardship, but it is something we owe to ourselves, as it makes us more fully human, ennobles us, and challenges us to treat everything and everyone we encounter with grace and dignity.
*For more on positive reinforcement training see: http://apositiveconnection.com/category/philosophy-of-training-or-why-be-positive/
Another part of Freedom #4 is the company of other animal. If you take your dog to dog parks for social opportunities, I recommend that you listen to our podcast on dog parks to provide you with some tools that will make it a great time for all involved.
Pinch or prong collars, choke chains, and shock collars are not tools that I use or advocate to train your dog.* But, what about electronic fences to keep your dog in the yard? Aren’t those humane, easy to use, and give your dog the freedom he desires to romp and play safely in the yard? Maybe, maybe not…
Let me say at the onset that I do understand why owners put in electronic containment systems. They are less expensive than regular fencing, promise to keep your dog in the yard and safe, and some neighborhoods will not allow regular fencing. If you live on a busy road, you may feel an even stronger need to keep your dog in the yard. I get it. But, the problem with electric fences is that there are unintended consequences that can affect the health and well being of your best friend.
Eileen Anderson is a dog trainer and author. She has a blog called eileenanddogs, where she has written extensively about electronic collars and fences, including this one: Electronic Pet Fences: What you need to know. In this particular blog, she details some of the risks and consequences owners should be aware of when considering this form of containment.**
The first thing she discusses is the “warm and fuzzy language” that manufacturers tend to use to describe the system and how it works. She quotes this from one of the manuals:
[The] wireless fence pet containment system is a revolutionary concept that provides the safest, simplest form of pet containment ever. Plug in the transmitter somewhere inconspicuous in your home. The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal around your home. Your pet wears a lightweight receiver collar that “listens” for the signal. While the collar is receiving the signal your dog is free to run and play in your yard. When he approaches the boundary of the signal area he receives a warning beep. If your dog does not return he receives a static correction which is startling but not harmful. With a little simple training your dog will quickly learn his boundaries.
Hey, you might say, this sounds great and how harmful can a small “static” correction be? Well, here is the same passage without the euphemisms and “using complete descriptions of the processes involved” :
[The] electronic fence system uses a shock collar connected to a radio transmitter with the goal of keeping your dog inside a chosen area. Electric shock has been used in laboratory experiments for decades for behavioral studies to put animals in a state of stress or fear and is also linked to increased aggression. Plug in the transmitter in your house. The transmitter emits a 17.5 kHz radio signal. Your pet wears a shock collar that will be triggered by a change in the signal. The collar must be fastened tightly on the dog’s neck so that the probes will poke through the dog’s fur and press firmly into his skin. Even when not generating a shock, the collar is likely to be quite uncomfortable. While the collar is receiving the standard signal your dog is safe from shock. When he approaches the boundary of the signal area he receives a warning beep. If your dog does not return, or goes through the boundary, he receives a shock to his neck that can range from a tingle to very painful, depending on the setting you choose.
That is not quite as innocuous as the manufacturer wants you to believe. Moreover, it is important to understand exactly what a shock is and how it is likely perceived by your dog. Shocks are sudden, painful, likely scary, and probably unlike anything your dog has ever experienced. They have been the industry standard in psychology studies as the means to produce fear and pain in an animal and put it under stress. The shocks received from an electronic fence collar may also be a factor in increasing aggression in dogs. (See: Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems? by Richard Polsky.) In the conclusion to this article in which he looks closely at 5 individual cases of aggression towards humans from dogs being contained by electronic systems, Mr. Polsky states:
…manufacturers need to acknowledge the ricks involved and make consumers aware that the systems are not foolproof and that some dogs could attack a person as a result of receiving electric shock.
Even if your dog does not become aggressive towards people, there is no guarantee that your dog is learning what you think he is! He may be learning that the shock is associated, not with the boundary of the yard, but with whatever was holding his attention when he was shocked. For example, if your dog was trying to greet another dog when he received a shock, he might well associate the presence of dogs with shocks. As a result Fido is now leary of dogs, barks more when they approach, and/or becomes fearful or aggressive towards them as they now signify pain and discomfort. Or alternatively, if you have multiple dogs on the system, they might associate their yard mate with the shock and become aggressive towards one another. Or your children, the mailman, UPS person, meter reader, etc., may be the object of your dog’s aversion if he has paired their presence with pain and distress.
Another concern is that the system may keep your dog on your property, but it does nothing to protect your dog from anything coming into the yard, including other dogs, kids, balls, or coyotes. As Ms. Anderson states, “The electronic fence offers your dog zero protection over being teased, harassed, or stolen by humans, attacked by other animals, or ingesting or interacting with anything inappropriate that someone tosses into your yard.”
Once more, what happens if a distraction (think squirrel) is so great that your dog blasts through the electronic fence? It is unlikely that he will go back through the fence, or that he will sit quietly by the side of it, waiting patiently for your return. What if he panics and keeps running? What if someone wants to help and tries to drag your dog back through the shock? Your dog has no way to come home and may well protest being exposed to another shock. What if your dog is hit by a car when he bolts or panics?
Ms. Anderson describes other equally disquieting, but not uncommon, scenarios associated with electronic fences, such as malfunctioning collars, your liability, and will your dog really have the freedom of movement as promised, or will he be too afraid of being shocked to even move around the yard? Her article is well worth a read, especially if you are considering this sort of containment system. Be aware not only of the promises, but the risks and unintended consequences of using force and pain to keep your dog “safely” at home.
*See: Choke, Prong, and Shock Collars Can Irreversibly Damage Your Dog, by Dr. Peter Tobias, DVM
**Other articles detailing the problems with shock collars and electronic containment systems:
The Problem with Shock, by Angelica Skeinker, Dog Sport Magazine
The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars, Green Acres Kennel
Electronic training collars present welfare risk to pet dogs, University of Lincoln, Science Daily
And on a more positive note: Here is an article about boundary training that may be of interest to those who do not want to use an electronic system but need to keep the dog in the yard: How to Clicker Train Your Dog to Stay in the Yard.
The best thing about knowing a variety of trainers and reading blogs and posts by other dog people, is that it gives me ideas and sources for my blog, usually much better ideas than I can dream up!
This week, The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), my bible for all things canine, blogged about dental care for your dog and why keeping his teeth clean and tartar free is important for Fido’s overall health. Dental care is not just about preventing bad breath.* Like humans, dogs can develop gingivitis (swollen, red, inflamed gums due to infection) that can lead to more severe health issues as the infection moves into the bones and ligaments surrounding the teeth. Moreover:
Because of the rich blood supply to the mouth, the infection can also spread systemically, making your dog quite ill and/or affecting his heart, kidneys, and liver. This chronic condition can prematurely age your dog. (WDJ)
Yikes! Considering how short our dogs’ lives are, we certainly do not want to risk anything that potentially decreases their life spans.** So, here are some things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth healthy:
- Regularly check your dog’s teeth for signs of tarter build up. “Tartar builds up on the teeth, forming a concrete-like crust on the teeth at the gum line. It also forms under the gums, which helps [the] bacteria get under the gums and proliferate.” (WDJ) If your dog’s teeth are discolored and show signs of plaque build-up, you will need to schedule a professional cleaning with your vet. Unfortunately this is the only way to get rid of the tartar and will require that your dog be under full sedation.
- Brush your dog’s teeth. Once your dog’s teeth are pearly white again, you can maintain them with regular (i.e.: daily) brushing. Use a soft brush and canine toothpaste as human toothpaste containing fluoride is toxic to dogs. Start slowly, allowing the dog to sniff and lick at the toothbrush, and become comfortable with the process. Here is a video from ClickerTraining.com with instructions for teaching your dog to accept having his teeth brushed.
- Raw marrow bones. This is a bit controversial as some dogs might chip or break a tooth on a marrow bone, but my experience has been that it does help to keep my dog’s teeth cleaner and they have not had any problems with chipped or broken teeth. I do, however, have a couple of rules for bones:
a) Supervise your dog chewing on the bone and if it gets too small, trade your dog for something else, lest she choke on it and;
b) Be careful about the diameter of the opening of the marrow bone. Marrow bones are cut from the leg bones of cows and if you get one that has the flanged opening at the top of the bone (i.e.: the socket part of a ball and socket joint) the opening may be large enough for your dog to get his lower jaw through it and get stuck! This happened to my dog Bingley and it required a trip to MedVet to have it removed.*** In the photo with the bones, the one at the bottom has a wide opening on one side and is the type of bone which attached itself to Bingers (external diameter of 3 1/2″). The one on the top is narrower in both internal and external diameter (2″ external diameter) and is also longer, which helps to prevent it from slipping over the jaw. This is the type of bone my dogs now get, and so far, it has not produced deleterious results.
Your dog only has one set of teeth, and proper care of them will help to keep him happy and healthy longer! And, look on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss them!
*Bad breath may be an indication of more severe health problems such as kidney disease, diabetes, or injested toxins. If your dog has chronic bad breath, or suddenly develops bad breath, please see your vet.
***MedVet assured me that they see this at least once a week. Most dogs are taken in the back, have their jaws lubricated and the bone slides right off. Bingley, not being most dogs, required sedation as well as lubrication. Luckily they did not have to pull out the Stryker oscillating saw to remove it, but that was the next step.
Reisner Veterinary Services posted this article from Silent Conversations, a website dedicated to “Insights into Canine Communication,” about sniffing the ground and what it might indicate about doggie discourse.
Although I have paid attention to sniffing in dogs, I have been watching it more closely lately as I recently read The Education of Will, by Dr Patricia McConnell. At one point she talks about noticing the constancy and intensity of Will’s sniffing and how it concerned her in such a young dog. So, I was delighted to see the article from Silent Conversations which explained and reinforced my own observations about something that all dogs do, but may do differently at different times. Knowing when your dog is just checking the pee-mail and when he is sniffing as a way to diffuse a potentially tense situation can help you keep Fido relaxed and manageable.
Martha Knowes, the author of the blog says this by way of introduction:
Sniffing can be used as a calming signal when an interaction is too intense. One dog may start to walk away, slowly sniffing the ground; the other dog may mirror him by also sniffing the ground. This is a good way to defuse an interaction.
Sniffing can be used as negotiation as two dogs approach each other; a deliberate slower approach is polite when greeting. Sniffing the ground is commonly used as part of the body language signals offered at the beginning stages of an approach.
In other contexts, sniffing could also be interpreted as displacement behaviour or a stress response. A dog may feel conflicted about something he sees ahead of him; he may slow down and stop to sniff the environment. Sniffing may help displace the anxiety, and it gives the opportunity to assess things further from a safe distance by stalling the approach.
She continues by giving several examples of where you might see unusual sniffing and clearly describes not only the situation, but the body language that might accompany the sniffing. I really appreciated the use of common scenarios as well as the straight-forward, precise language used to describe canine body language. Even without accompanying pictures, I could clearly envision the dog she was describing.**
Ms. Knowles also adds a good section on what she means by stress. The paragraph is worth repeating in its entirety:
When I mention stress, this does not necessarily imply negative emotion. I mean stress in the physiological sense. So certain body language signals can mean the dog is feeling some sort of emotional discourse. This discourse could range from positive to negative emotion. Both excitement and fear could have similar effects on the body, with various hormones being released and activating the sympathetic nervous system. The dog may be feeling uncomfortable/fearful or it could also be excited about something. When analyzing stress in body language, it is worth noting the frequency and intensity of the various body language signals.
The last part of the article is a good reminder that when you are looking at body language it is important to describe what you see the animal doing, the immediate surroundings, and if there is anything that has changed in the environment (did something make a noise, is there a stranger dog approaching, or a person jogging?), rather than immediately interpreting the meaning of the behavior. For example, if you see a dog stop, close his mouth, look away, lower his tail, and squint his eyes, it could be that he saw a dog that he didn’t know, or a car backfired, or there was a strange smell. He might be slowing his approach to a strange dog, startled by a sound, or repelled by the smell. These are descriptions of the behavior and not emotional interpretations of the dog’s inner workings.
In Ms Knowles words:
To offer an unbiased interpretation of the body language, observe and take note of the situation, taking into account the dog’s whole body, the body language signals, and environment first before offering an interpretation. List all the body language you see in the order that it occurs; try to be as descriptive as possible without adding any emotional language. For instance, saying a dog looks happy is not descriptive and would be seen as an interpretation rather than an observation.
The more you know about your dog and her individual signals, including the more subtle ones such as sniffing, the better you will be able to protect and serve your best dog friend.
**Note: she does include links to other articles which describe the dog’s perspective on things, or elucidate a particular aspect of canine body language, such as the head turn. All of her links are worth reading.
My dog is a felon. So to speak. I think she views the backyard as a prison yard with the wide world beyond her pond, toys, sandbox, children, and best friend Little Bear, beckoning like a siren song promising unimaginable pleasures. Her escape attempts started as an occasional leap over the back fence to retrieve her ball, and were reinforced by the gate being left open accidentally. For the most part though, she seemed content to be with Bear in the yard.
However, the sultry voice of freedom gradually seduced her into a life of crime. We draped the backyard fence with plastic chairs to prevent her escape. This helped for a microsecond. So we added a long line that allows her to explore most of the yard (and to get tangled in a variety of Gordian Knot like configurations). That seemed to solve the problem and I contacted contractors for estimates for a new! better! secure! fence/prison wall.
It was on Sunday, that the great escape occurred. Zuzu and Bear had a good morning of play and were out in the back yard sleeping in the sun. Zuzu was on her line, and our daughter was home to check on her periodically. I adjusted her collar so it was a bit tighter, or so I thought… and my husband, Brad, and I headed out to Home Depot to look at fence options.
After finding some promising possibilities, he dropped me at a friend’s house and headed home to find Little Bear greeting him at the gate. Zuzu, however, was no where to be found, her collar still attached to the end of the long line. Apparently, in a canine impression of Houdini, Zuzu had escaped her manacles. Brad grabbed a leash and headed out to find her, only to encounter the dog warden next door with our little felon in the paddy wagon. The warden was very kind and no fines or prison sentences were levied.
Meanwhile, a dear friend texted me with Zuzu’s wanted poster that that Granville Fire Department had released, causing me to nearly leap out of my friend’s car in a total panic. Apparently Zuzu was apprehended just a few blocks from home, but without her collar she had no ID, so they took her to the fire department, who sent out the alert and called the dog warden.
Zuzu has a collar full of tags, a loving home and, theoretically, a functioning containment system, but management is never 100% and she found a way to game the system. I know that this did not have to have a happy ending, that I am very lucky she wasn’t hit by a car, and that we have wonderful neighbors in Granville who did the right thing and took her to the fire department. Those things aside however, it was her microchip that enabled the warden to find out who she was and where she belonged. Sadly, dogs without tags or microchips are not likely to find their way home. According to an article on Petfinder the statistics for lost pets are grim:
• The American Humane Association estimates over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year.
• One in three pets will become lost at some point during their life.
A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, including 53 animal shelters across the U.S., confirmed the high rate of return of microchipped dogs and cats to their families, and the importance of microchip registration. From the study:
• Only about 22 percent of lost dogs that entered the animal shelters were reunited with their families. However, the return-to-owner rate for microchipped dogs was over 52 percent (a 238 percent increase).
• Only 58 percent of the microchipped animals’ microchips had been registered in a database with their pet parent’s contact information.
Collar ID tags are the primary way that pets are identified and find their way home, but having a backup system for when the collar is lost (or slipped) is critical. Microchipping is the best way to give you and your pet an effective insurance plan, but it is imperative that you not only chip the dog, but register it as well! It really, truly, takes just a moment and it could be the most important 10 minutes you invest in the welfare of your most beloved pet.
*HomeAgain, the microchip company, had this slogan at the top of the email they sent to inform me that Zuzu had been found by the “authorities.”
My new dog Zuzu is a special individual. She can be a bit nervous, insecure and unfocused, but always sweet and very loving. In an attempt to increase her focus, boost her confidence and strengthen our bond, I enrolled us in Beginning Agility 1 at Agility and Rally for Fun (A.R.F).* We learned table, tunnel, tire, jumps, the dog walk, the incline, and we began weave poles and teeter.
The instruction was very good, clear and positive, as well as offering a lot of suggestions about how you can practice at home. One suggestion was to get a bunch of cheap plungers and line them up 2 feet apart from one another as an intro to weave poles. I put them in a hallway with hula hoops along the wall to keep her going through the gauntlet rather than around it. Then I stood at one end of the hallway and tossed a toy down the hall. She would go through the plungers get the toy and then I called her back to me. She trotted happily through the plungers to restart the game.
I also used the hula hoops as practice for the tire. I would place them in doorways for her to go through or I would hold them 2 to 8 inches off the ground. Then I would interest her in a treat or a toy and toss it through the hoop for her to follow.
Dogs, believe it or not, are rather oblivious to the existence of their hindquarters. But it is imperative, for safety reasons, that your dog be aware of the position of all body parts and know how to place each paw where it’s suppose to be.** One way to get your dog to be aware of his rear end is to have him walk slowly through a ladder on the ground so that he places each paw between the rungs of the ladder. Keep a treat right at his nose, close to the ladder so that he is looking at the ladder and moving deliberately through it. I will also toss the hula hoops in a random pattern (overlapping) in the lawn and lure her carefully through those, keeping the treat near her nose and close to the ground.
To teach Zuzu to keep all four paws on a 12″ wide surface (mimicking the dog walk) I found a 12″ x 10′ x 1″ piece of wood and placed it on the extension ladder I’d used to teach Zuzu she has a rear end. The plank fits nicely on the ladder as it is about 3-4 inches narrower than the ladder. Zuzu had to step up about 4 inches to walk on the plank and the sides of the ladder (along with the ~2″ gap on each side of the plank) helped to keep her on the board. I could also move it to different spots along the ladder so that she was walking partway between the rungs and partway on the board, thus working two skills and keeping her thinking about where she was going and what she needed to do.
Zuzu, being the deliberate soul that she is, is unlikely to win any agility titles, and it is also unlikely that we will even enter any competitions (but I never say never anymore!). We are taking Beginning Agility 2 so that we can improve our basic skills, learn to work together better, and increase Zuzu’s confidence and focus. But, mostly we are doing it because life is short, and it’s fun to play with your dog.
*To learn more about Agility (and lure coursing), be sure to check out our podcast with Dr. Suzanne Terrant, airing May 5, 2017. Go to: Your Family Dog, episode 31.
**The dog walk is only 12 inches wide. If the dog is unaware of where his back legs are (or even that he possesses such a thing as a rear end), then he is more likely to mis-step and fall off the dog walk, risking injury. He may also be unaware of how to move himself up the incline if he doesn’t have awareness of his rear end and that can also result in him falling off the equipment.
Reviews.com, a company that reviews all sorts of things, from deodorant, to mattresses, to yoga mats, to dog food, recently contacted me about their review of dog foods. I initially did not pay any attention to the email as I get a lot of people wanting me (or, more specifically, “the person in charge of …”) to include their products/opinions/ideas/thoughts-on-aliens on my website. Besides, I thought, The Whole Dog Journal has it’s yearly review of dog foods that I think is the best of the best, so why bother?
But, they contacted me a second time, actually addressing me by name in the email! So I thought, “Why not? If it’s worthless I will have wasted 10-15 minutes of my life, but gained a brief respite from vacuuming. If it’s any good, I have yet another resource to share that will help people to better provide for their dog.”
So, I have to say that I was impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the standards they used to include foods in their recommended list. They had ten people working full-time (over 1400 hours) to produce this report. Here is how they conducted the research:
— We built a list of over 11,00 people with connections to the dog food industry and narrowed it down to the best.
— Over 20 experts contributed their valuable time to our work, including veterinarians, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, university researchers, and authors.
— We surveyed 300 dog owners and asked them if they knew what was in their dog’s food.
— We gathered a list of over 8,000 search queries to find out what matters most to dog owners.
— We read and analyzed 72 of the most popular articles and studies on dog food.
— We compiled a list of 2,223 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
Their research led them to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that safe, quality ingredients are the key to good food and good health (physically and mentally) for your favorite canine. The use of inferior food products can lead to obesity, ear infections, liver or kidney issues, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps much worse.
Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among trainers and behaviorists we talked to that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus. Marc Abraham elaborates: “Certain popular pet food brands on the market contain extra colorings, additives, and E numbers that, in my opinion, can affect behavior, leading to hyperactivity and difficulty with training.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Abraham that poor diet can lead to poor behavior and training issues. A dog who doesn’t feel well cannot perform well. Ask any parent of a child the day after Halloween if their child is cranky, unable to focus, distracted, amped up, or lethargic…
Included in the review are two handy charts: A Quick Guide to Dog Food Ingredients and A Quick Dog Food Type Comparison. Both give a handy overview of their subject matter with pros and cons. I especially liked the Food Type Comparison chart as it is hard to find information about the various types of food (dry, wet, dehydrated, raw and homemade) in one place.
And their conclusions?
After putting in 1,400 hours of research and analyzing over 2,223 formulas, we discovered even some of the most popular brands still make food with unhealthy or unsafe ingredients. Of the 2,223 formulas we looked at, only 134 met our standard of approval — about 6 percent overall.
Why so few? They eliminated 2,089 foods because of the following reasons*:
1) We removed products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind. 194 disqualified
2) We removed products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour. 578 disqualified.
3) We removed products containing beet pulp or sugar. 146 disqualified.
4) We removed products that contained by-products or sauces. 44 disqualified.
5) We removed brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer satisfaction. 956 disqualified.
6) We reviewed the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein. 171 disqualified.
Near the end of the article is the complete list of approved dry dog foods as well as links to their lists of preferred canned, puppy, and grain free foods. It is well worth your time to peruse the review and the list of acceptable foods. It was a definite eye opener for me! I had already decided to switch my dogs from Taste of the Wild and Blue Wilderness Puppy to Origen and Origen Large Breed Puppy before I read this article. After reading it, not only was I glad I switched, but I went to the local pet store to get some Origen to tide us over until my auto-ship arrives.**
I was staring at my computer trying to come up with an idea for a blog post when, in an attempt to circumvent writer’s bloc, find an inspiration, and just plain procrastinate, I checked my email for anything that might require immediate attention. Lo and behold, there in my inbox sat an email from The Whole Dog Journal with this opening line:
Looking for an idea for a blog post, I just looked through my oldest posts, wondering just how long I have been doing this. The answer stunned me: since mid-2010. I got lost for a bit, reading through musings from years past.
I came across one written at precisely this time of year in 2011, about making new year’s resolutions for our dogs.
“Great” I thought, “this is just what I need!” So I read the article and, disappointingly, it did not give me a wonderful (and of course totally achievable) list of New Year’s resolutions for canines. She did, however, say this:
I made a couple of resolutions at that time, and here’s another stunner (sarcasm alert): In the past six years, I absolutely haven’t done the two things I said I was going to try to do.
It’s probably smart to make small, achievable goals, instead of the big ones like “I’m going to make my dog’s food and compete in a new sport.”
Keeping in mind that it is hard to change old habits and that big changes like making your dog’s food* are hard to start (much less consistently maintain), I have come up with some “more likely to be achieved” goals for Zuzu and me. Maybe some of them will work for you too.
- Get outside with Zuzu everyday to walk, play or hike up the hill next door.
- Make sure she has mental stimulation every day in the form of intelligence toys, training, or problem solving games. (Note, I didn’t promise to do all three, though that would be ideal…).
- Clean her ears 1-2 times per month. (I have put this on my calendar for the 1st and 15th of every month. Not sure this will do anything other than cause anxiety and guilt twice a month, but it’s worth a try!).
- Learn a new trick or skill every month. (You’d think this would be easy for a trainer, but alas, I am a lazy owner. I’m hoping that by publicly declaring my intentions I will be forced to live up to them. First trick starts today. Hey, maybe this could be double duty with #2! That’s not cheating, right?)
These are specific goals for my dog and me, but there are many things you could try to add to your routine that would enhance the quality of life for you and your dog. Here are some ideas that come to mind, but let me know what you want to achieve this year with your dog.
- Take a class other than obedience, perhaps a tricks class, beginning agility or Rally-O.
- Add an extra walk every week.
- Take your dog for a canine massage.
- Sign up for Barkbox or another pet toy/treat delivery service.
- Change out your dog’s toys. Gather up all of Bowser’s toys and throw out the ones he no longer plays with, are decaying or old, or unused (or gift the unused to another dog). Wash the soft ones, and put half of them aside to bring out later. (When I have washed the dog toys, my guys have responded as if they are brand new! I will put the toys in a laundry basket and let them pick out several, then put the other ones in a cupboard to bring out when a dog is bored or needs a special reward.)
- Look at his diet and see if there is something you can improve about it. Perhaps your dog needs a change of pace, or reduced fat, grain free, or higher protein. Chat with your vet about your dog’s nutritional needs for her particular stage of life.
- Spend 5 minutes each day utterly and completely focused on your dog: Give her a good ear or belly rub; play chase, tug, or fetch; hand feed her a meal; play hide and seek. It doesn’t matter what you do, just be all in when you do it.
When I read these resolutions to Zuzu she nodded in agreement (except for the ear cleaning one, where she put her ears back and looked at me as if I had totally betrayed her). I asked her if she had any of her own resolutions. She replied, “Just one.”
“And, what is that?” I queried.
“Spend more time with you.”
I think she summed up nicely what all of us really desire: more time with the ones who matter most to us.
*I did, for a time, make my dogs’ food and I too want to get back to that. As an interim step, I have added some raw food to Zuzu’s diet. Time alone will tell whether I get back to this ambitious goal..
This week Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services had a Facebook post about choosing a dog trainer, which links to an article in Companion Animal Psychology titled, How to Choose a Dog Trainer. It is a great article, clearly written, with good advice as to what to look for in a trainer, and what questions you should ask the trainer. Remember, this is your dog and you get to decide how it will be treated and to require that your trainer be committed to humane, dog-friendly training techniques.
When choosing a dog trainer, the most important thing is to find a trainer who uses reward-based dog training methods, which they might call positive reinforcement, force-free, or humane training methods.
You want to look for someone who uses a reward based method of training, meaning that the trainer uses rewards (primarily food) to make a behavior more likely to reoccur, and withholding a reward to lessen a behavior. For example, when your dog’s bottom hits the ground after you say “Sit,” reward with a tasty treat. If your dog jumps, turn your back on him (withholding the attention he seeks) and wait for his bottom to touch the ground. When it does, reward with affection and food!
In practice, the reward that works best is food. It is possible to use other types of reward, such as play, but food is more efficient because it’s faster to deliver; it’s better for most dog training scenarios (for example, if you’re teaching a dog to sit-stay, play will encourage your dog to jump out of the sit); and all dogs love food.
So in other words, you want a dog trainer who will use food to train your dog.
Many people fear that if they use food to train their dog, the dog will only listen when the food is present. A good trainer will also teach you how to: 1) use your dog’s food (so you are not always dependent on treats); 2) reduce the amount of food as training progresses and; 3) add in other rewards for desired behaviors.
The article goes on to talk about certification for trainers, professional memberships, and continuing education. Most professional organizations require continuing education, so check and see if the trainer you are considering pursues further education, and with whom!
There are certain names that are a very good sign. For example, if someone has attended training with the likes of Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao, Chirag Patel, Ken Ramirez, Ian Dunbar, or Bob Bailey, that’s very promising, because these are all important names in science-based dog training.
Check out the trainer’s website and Facebook page to get an idea of what they do when they train and the methods they employ. Do they blog or podcast? Looking at their writings or listening to them talk about dogs will give you a clearer idea of how they approach training. Also, look for customer reviews (not only on their websites, but other forums such as Angie’s list or Thumbtack), and ask for references. And, to really get a good idea of what training will look like with a particular trainer, ask the following three questions:
What, exactly, will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
What, exactly, will happen to her if she gets it wrong?
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, keep looking.
The article also discusses the advantage of group versus private lessons, what to do if there isn’t a trainer in your area, and who to call if your dog has a behavior problem. This comprehensive article is well worth reading and will help you to make the right decision concerning the training and well being of your dog. Remember, you are your dog’s best and only advocate, do not settle for less than the best for your best friend.
This year has been a challenge for me and my family as we lost 2 dogs to cancer and one dog to a seizure disorder. I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more sorrow and I was a bit hesitant to risk it on another dog, as Bingley was my canine soulmate. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that loving a dog with everything you have makes it nearly impossible to live without one, and it is that love of a great dog which propels you forward into another canine experiment.
So meet Zuzu, my newest pooch. She, like Bingley, is a flat-coated retriever, and true to her breed, is one of the happiest dogs on the planet. At 16 months she is a teenager who is unlikely to grow out of her teenage enthusiasm anytime soon. Channeling her inexhaustible energy into constructive activities and teaching her to focus on the task at hand are my immediate goals for her. To do this, I have decided to enlist the aid of a book I recently discovered: Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, 50 Great Brain Games to Engage your Dog, by Sophie Collins.
This book is great on so many levels beginning with the introduction and a part on playing safely with your dog which includes a very important section on playing with children.* Take the time to read the section on play and training before you plunge into the individual games, as it will set you up to better use the games to your particular dog’s advantage and is a wonderful reminder that training and play can happily overlap. After all, “there’s no reason you can’t teach your dog by playing with him.” She also has sections on dog personalities, toys, and clicker training.** And, be sure to read the “About You, What You Need To Do” as it reminds us that we can be part of the problem when our dogs are not “getting it.” Subsequent chapters divide the games into categories: Basic Games, Bonding Games, Brain Games, Fitness Games, Figuring it out, and Getting Along.
She starts with the basics of Sit, Down, Wait, and Let’s Go (which you have likely taught your dog already, but perhaps used different names for these behaviors). She makes the point that, “It is better to make sure that your pet stays responsible and reacts promptly to key commands instead of moving on to other exercises at the expense of the basics.” So, she goes over these core behaviors in detail so that you can be sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog, and he clearly understands what is expected of him. This section is a good place to begin as it really does help you to pay attention to your words and your body language so you can more effectively communicate with your dog. Moreover, the rest of the games will be easier for you and your dog if you have figured out how to work with one another.
As you work through the various exercises in the book (and you can easily pick and choose those that are most appealing to you and your dog) she continues to provide clear instructions as well as explaining what he is learning and why this behavior is useful. Almost every game has a note that will enhance the learning experience or give you an extra challenge. When playing Hide-and-Seek with your dog she suggests that you, “Try hiding at different levels: going up a level, for example, perching on a bunk bed because dogs don’t automatically look above eye level when they’re searching for something but instead rely on their noses.”
In addition to Clicker Training, she also has sections explaining positive reinforcement training and the Dominance myth. Her easy to read and understand instructions, coupled with her explanations of the science of learning and play, will broaden and enhance your understanding of how dogs think and learn. But mostly, this wonderfully accessible book will convince you that playing with your dog is a great way to live, learn, and love together for a lifetime.
Above: Zuzu and I practice some fetch, sit, and give, 3 days after picking her up. Playing games is a great way to establish a strong bond with your new dog.
*Having kids play with dogs is great, but should never be done without the direct supervision of an adult. Colleen Pelar and I talk about Simple Games for Kids and Dogs in our podcast airing 12/20/16, and see my other blogs on kids and dogs: Forced Friendship and And Baby Makes Four.
** See also our podcast, Why Be Positive?