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Some new favorites, canine-wise.

by lana Reisner, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVB

Dr. Ilana Reisner is a veterinary animal behaviorist and an expert on canine behavior. I frequently link to her facebook page (Reisner Veterinary Behavioral Services) and when I was trolling for blog ideas I came across this article by her about dominance theory and moving past the idea that you have to be leader of the pack in order to get along with your dog. It has a good overview of where this mistaken notion came from, as well as why this can harm your relationship with your dog. 

The idea that canine behavior problems all stem from an innate canine drive to wrench control of us, leads to a gross misunderstanding of what is actually happening with a behaviorally challenged dog. It also blinds us to the body language that will give accurate cues as to the nature of the problem. 

The behavior problems most often seen in dogs—aggression, fearfulness, destructiveness, inappropriate elimination, excessive vocalization, and inappropriate attention-seeking—are associated more frequently with anxiety or frustration than with confidence and social assertiveness.

Observation of the “badly behaved” dog will frequently reveal conflict signals, such as yawning or lip licking, along with anxious or ambivalent posturing. Responding harshly to these signals increases the dog’s fear and reactivity, which, along with genetics, can lead to worsened impulsivity and aggression. In fact, fear is not voluntary and cannot be changed using operant methods, such as reinforcement or punishment. (Emphasis mine, Reisner)

This article is well written, referenced, and definitely worth reading. Your dog will thank you.

 

Kurgo Kibble Carrier

We have been traveling with Zuzu a fair amount and I decided that I needed a better way to transport her kibble than a ziploc bag.In my search for a kibble transport system, I found the Kibble Carrier at Kurgo. There are several features that I like, but the main ones are: it holds 5 lbs of kibble and keeps it fresh; and it is easy to use and carry. I like the roll top feature which creates a comfortable handle, and it opens wide enough to use a scoop. It packs easily into a small space in the car and Zuzu is not tempted to try and open it. The bottom opens so that you can add their collapsible bowl,**  there is a side pocket for treats, and a sturdy loop to attach your keys. After just one road trip, I am completely sold on it!

 

 

St. Roch by Tim Campbell

One last thing… Most people associate St. Francis of Assisi with animals, and indeed he is the patron saint of animals, merchants & ecology. The patron saint of dogs (and dog lovers), however, is St. Roch (c. 1295-1327). He was born the only son of a nobleman from Montpelier, France. According to his biography on Catholic Company.com, he was:

born with an unusual and deep red mark on his chest in the shape of a cross, a sign that the Blessed Virgin Mary had heard and answered his mother’s prayers for her barrenness to be healed. As a child St. Roch was deeply religious, fasting twice a week after the example of his pious mother. His parents died when he was twenty years of age, after which he gave his inheritance to the poor, handed the government of the city over to his uncle, and began a new life as a poor mendicant pilgrim.

St. Roch set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, but when he came to the town of  Acquapendente, he found it had been struck by the Black Plague. He diligently cared for the sick without regard for his own health, and cured many people “by simply making the Sign of the Cross over them.” He continued his healing work as he proceeded on his pilgrimage.

However, when he got to Piacenza, he realized that he had contracted the plague and it was manifesting in his leg. Refusing to burden anyone with his illness, he found an abandoned hut in the woods and waited to die. Fortunately, a local count’s hunting dog befriended him, brought him food every day and licked his wounds. A spring arose near the hut providing fresh water for St. Roch. One day, the count followed his dog into the woods, found Roch, and helped him. After his recovery, Roch “received divine inspiration that he should return to his native Montpellier.”

Once there he found the city at war. He refused to disclose his identity to the soldiers so that he could remain poor and unknown, having renounced his former life as the son of the governor. But his obfuscation aroused suspicion, and he was accused of being a spy disguised as a pilgrim. St. Roch did not defend himself against these charges…and was cast into prison by his own uncle, who failed to recognize his nephew’s altered appearance. According to legend, St. Roch was forgotten and abandoned in prison, but not by God, who sent angels to minister to him while he was held in captivity. He died there five years later.

I first discovered St. Roch when we were traveling in France and visited a church in a small village in Brittany. There was a series of carvings around the pulpit of the life of St. Roch. It was a delightful retelling of his rescue by a dog and I was hooked! There isn’t a lot of art for St. Roch, but here are two of my favorites: Icon of St. Roch by Tim Campbell, and In the Company of Saints has a statue of St. Roche in two sizes.

And finally, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and all your wonderful dogs.

 

 

 

*Not that I don’t love ziplocs! But, I have found that they last only so long. They rip, the zip stops working, or pulls out, and it is very easy for even a casually interested dog to open and indulge in an impromptu snack. 

**I do not know how well their collapsable bowl works as I have a travel bowl set for Zuzu, so I cannot advise pro or con on this item. But, I do know her bowls, which collapse and zip together into the approximate size of a CD case, fit nicely in the top of the kibble carrier, and that’s a nice feature! Her bowl is similar to this bowl by DogBuddy.

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Not every person wants to meet your dog!

Keeping your dog happy and safe is your primary focus when you are out and about. Knowing his or her individual body language is especially important as this is how your dog tells you that everything is great, just ok, or that help is needed to cope with that particular moment. Moreover, knowing dog body language will help you to recognize when other dogs may be fearful or unfriendly and when to keep an appropriate distance from them.
 
What many people don’t think about is that you can use your knowledge of body language to read people as well as dogs!* It is important to understand and respect the fact that not everyone wants to meet your dog. Cuing into a person’s body language will help you to avoid a potentially awkward situation. Moreover, from your dog’s point of view, avoiding those who don’t enjoy canines is as vital as having dog lovers greet him correctly.
 

With that in mind, here are my hints:

Watch for flight from people. Like dogs it could be very subtle (looking away, turning their head, taking a step backwards). Have treats at the ready to distract your dog from greeting  someone who doesn’t want to meet him. A fistful of treats at his nose may be all you need to keep him with you.

Watch for subtle signs of fight in people. The vast majority of people will not lash out at your dog, but fight can be the first response for someone afraid of a situation. Some signs of fight could be: furrowed brow, frowning or grimacing, clenched teeth, direct stare, stiff body posture, crossed arms, clenched fists.

Watch for freezing in people. Slowing their movements, not moving at all, trying to make themselves smaller, or going very stiff as your dog approaches are all signs that canines make this person uncomfortable.

Children can be tricky for dogs and vice versa. If your dog is backing away, do not let the child pet your dog. If the child is backing away, do not allow your dog to pursue her! If both are relaxed and comfortable, encourage the child to pet your pup softly between the shoulder blades or to stroke the dog’s back. 

Do a 3 second greeting with people as well as dogs! Maybe it will be longer than 3 seconds, but keep the meeting short and successful if you think your dog is becoming uncomfortable, or the person you are visiting is uncomfortable

Keep your leash loose so your dog has options to move. A person may startle at your dog and you want him to have the ability to move away as quickly as possible. If the leash is taut, he may lose that option.

And lastly: If either the person or the dog starts to move away from a situation, take that as a cue that it’s time to go. The bottom line here is to trust yourself. If you are uncomfortable with a person, situation, or moment, or detect that someone else is uncomfortable, then simply move along. Often times I just smile, say hi, and give my dog a treat as we pass by a person or group of people. I try to remember that I am an ambassador for the next dog who comes along. If I am sensitive to the people and dogs we encounter, and remember that my dog doesn’t have to greet everyone we meet, then I am probably doing a good job of keeping everyone safe and happy…not to mention promoting good will towards dogs.

 
 
 
*Dr. Patricia McConnell has some wonderful photos in her book For The Love Of A Dog, that show the similarity between human and canine body language and facial expressions. And, one of my blogs on body language which might be helpful: https://apositiveconnection.com/2016/01/can-you-hear-me-now-or-learning-to-effectively-communicate-with-fido/

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Take your medicine…all of it!

In my last blog, I discussed the subject of stress and whether all stress is a bad thing. I was aided tremendously by Dr. Michael Morales, professor of endocrinology (among other things) at the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo. This week Mike helps me explain why your dog needs to take all of his medicine, even when he is feeling better. While all meds should be finished, this particular discussion is about steroids, such as prednisone, used to treat inflammation and pain in people and animals.

As Mike explains:

Pain control is tricky in dogs. One reason is that many of the safe and inexpensive medications humans rely on, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen are not well tolerated or even dangerous to our canine friends. That means often the best choice to treat inflammatory pain (and other conditions) are with drugs that mimic the action of cortisol, often referred to as corticosteroids. Probably the most commonly prescirbed is Prednisone, which is structurally similar to cortisol, but much more potent.

One of the first things most people notice about steroids is the prescription is almost always a “step-down” dosage. This means that you gradually decrease the dosage over a period of time. For example, you might start with 5 tablets a day for 1 day, then 4 tablets for a day, 3 tablets…etc. Often times we see our animal friends respond quickly to the medication and we may stop giving it to them earlier than prescribe. Since they seem so much better, what’s the point in continuing? 

Mike continues: 

This is a bad idea. 

Why, you might ask? Mike goes on:

To understand why, it is necessary to know a little about how dogs (and humans) regulate their production of cortisol. It starts in the brain where stresses are initially sensed.  This information is transmitted to a brain region called the hypothalamus where the neurons increase their production of corticotropic releasing hormone (CRH).  CRH travels to the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, signaling the pituitary to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). That hormone travels through the blood stream to the adrenal gland which increases its production of cortisol.  In addition to its other functions, cortisol signals the hypothalamus and pituitary to reduce the amount of CRH and ACTH, respectively, keeping the production of cortisol at the correct level.  The technical term for this is negative feedback, and it is one of the most important ideas in biology. (See Figures 1 and 2).

What does this have to with your dog’s pain pills? Mike elaborates:

When the dog cannot produce sufficient cortisol to control its pain, inflammation, or suffering, your vet may prescribe a corticosteroid such as Prednisone. These powerful drugs do most of what cortisol does, including reducing CRH and ACTH production dramatically. That in turn turns off the production of cortisol almost completely, and the adrenal gland will actually start to atrophy. This is not a big deal, as cortisol synthesis can be restarted, but the problem is that it will take a few days (exactly how long depends on your dog’s age and overall health). Cortisol is necessary for normal health.* Quick withdrawal of corticosteroids can leave your dog without the ability make his own, opening it up to problems that might include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, anxiety and many other issues.  Slowly reducing corticosteroid dosage gives the adrenal gland a chance to recover and start producing cortisol normally.

So the bottom line here is: take your medicine, all of it. Your dog will be healthier and happier if you follow your vet’s instructions and give him the medicine he needs to be the best dog ever. 

 

 

 

*For more on the importance of cortisol in regulating stress see: Is all stress bad?

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Is all stress bad?

Me stressed? Who says I’m stressed?

My husband and I have a good friend from college, Dr. Michael Morales, who has a Doctorate in Biochemistry and teaches at the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo. He was a recent guest on Your Family Dog to talk about the immune and endocrine systems in dogs. (See: The Inside of Your Dog). We had a wide ranging discussion and touched on two topics that I asked him to write a bit more about. This week I am tackling the subject of stress and whether or not there is such a thing as optimal stress.

First of all, Mike gave a terrific definition of stress:

Stress is any stimuli that disrupts normal physiologic equilibria. Stresses can be divided into two broad categories.  Neurogenic stresses are those perceived by the nervous system, like the mailman coming to your door every single day.  Systemic stresses include injuries, excessive thirst, or starvation.

He goes on to add that despite the variability of the types of stress we (or our dogs) encounter, the body has “just one integrated stress response mediated by the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands.” The adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which is always present in the blood stream, lasts a long time, and there is much more of it during times of stress. It is often thought of as the stress hormone but, “in reality, it is an anti-stress hormone” whose function is to help one cope with stress. Epinephrine is the other major adrenal hormone. Non-epinephrine from the sympathetic nervous systems pairs with epinephrine and, 

These are the famous “fight or flight” hormones. They cause your puppy’s arousal when that mail man appears. Epinephrine doesn’t last long in the blood stream, just a minute or two compared to hours for cortisol. Interestingly, one of the functions of cortisol is to increase the amount of epinephrine.  It doesn’t cause its release, but it allows more to be released at an increased frequency.

The important take away here is that there are both short response and long response hormones that are released to help us manage stress. So, if we have the internal mechanism to manage stress, why do we all instinctively know that chronically high stress is not good and can have some serious consequences? As Mike explains:

Exposure to high levels of cortisol in a puppy or even prenatally in the womb can cause psychological damage that can last long into adulthood. Cortisol influences genome function in a way that can be permanent and can potentially be transmitted across generations.  Added to this is the revolution in our understanding of brain development, and one could conclude that the responsible puppy owner avoids stress at all costs, right?  Of course, it’s not so simple. Remember, cortisol is always present, and in fact, we can’t live without it.  So it turns out that there is a correct amount of stress.

Who knew? Well, many of us knew that a bit of arousal enhances learning, but we didn’t know how the hormones worked to enhance that learning. Mike continues:

The effects of cortisol can be thought of something like a bell curve. At the top of the curve is where you are likely to find a happy well-adjusted dog.  Too much cortisol is associated with aggression and overly defensive behavior. Too little cortisol will leave your precious little bundle unable to cope with the normal stresses that invade the life of all living creatures.

 

So now it’s not your puppy’s stress you’re worried about, but you own, trying to figure out how to properly raise the little guy.  Neurobiology has provided some good news as well.  Throughout life, neurons are born and die, synapses are formed and disappear, axons and dendrites grow and are pruned. This suggests that there is considerable potential for reversing the effects of a stressful puppyhood than had been previously imagined. But it is important to understand that the longer intervention is delayed, the harder it will be to undo the consequences of excessive stress early in life. So do the best you can, and trust that a supportive environment will undo any of your inevitable mistakes.

So, when you are headed out the door with your puppy, keep in mind that some stress is necessary for your dog to grow into the well-adjusted adult dog that you can trust to handle the ups and downs of a dog’s life. Be sure to have a lot of wonderful treats on hand while you are exposing your puppy to the world, and use positive reinforcement training to build a happy, trusting dog, eager to learn new things. Be smart about where you take him before his puppy shots are finished, and don’t try to do too much at one time. A happy half hour walk to the play ground to meet a few children will likely do more for your pup than a 2 hour forced march through town!*

A final thought from Mike:

We’ve all heard of or know dogs who overcome the cruelest of circumstances to become a well-behaved and cherished family dog. The flip side is the dog raised in a loving secure home who ends up nasty and aggressive. Researchers have noticed this individual variation as well, and have seen it even in strains of mice in-bred to be genetically nearly identical.  It used to be chalked up to the dreaded “experimental variation.” It is now understood that this extraordinary variability of outcome in the face of chronic stress is not some experimental artifact but a feature of complex organisms.  Considerable effort continues to be expended to understand this effect.

In other words, do your best to help your puppy his best. And, remember, that we cannot control every situation, genetics are complex, environmental factors influence behavior, and unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen that will have long term effects.

But, on the other hand, sometimes we win the lottery. 

 

 

*For more information on socializing your puppy please see:

Blogs: 

Why your puppy should be a social butterfly

Puppy Class: Why your baby dog needs to go!

Podcasts: 

Puppy Development: What you need to know about your growing puppy

Warning Signs in Puppies: Recognizing Behavioral Problems

Puppy Socialization with Dr. Christopher Pachel, Episode 1: Trauma and Your Puppy, 

Puppy Socialization with Dr. Christopher Pachel, Episode 2: Over Stimulation

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Supervising your child and dog requires more than being in the same room!

Jennifer Shryock, founder of Family Paws Parent Education* is an expert on kids and dogs and has dedicated herself to helping families with babies or toddlers have a safe and happy life with the family dog. She is passionate about Creating Dog Aware (TM) Generations so that kids grow up understanding dog body language and how to interact safely and successfully with dogs. Jen has been a guest on Your Family Dog Podcast twice, once to talk about preparing for baby, and once to talk about the challenges of puppyhood. We plan on having her back a lot more as her knowledge of dogs and children is extensive, insightful, and practical. 

On the website for Family Paws is a resources page with free downloadable PDFs. These great graphics illustrate important points for keeping kids and dogs safe. One that I use a lot, not only with parents of babies, but with any one who wants to understand what supervision really means when it comes to dogs, is called “The 5 Types of Supervision.” I have found that most people are very well intentioned when it comes to supervising their dogs. The problem is, they do not realize what real supervision entails. It is not enough to just be in the room with the dog. You have to be actively engaged if you want any realistic chance of preventing an unpleasant incident.

If you are not paying attention to the actions of both dog and child and watching for stress signals in the dog, you are likely to miss the opportunity to prevent a situation from escalating from uncomfortable to difficult to possibly dangerous. I like the graphic from Family Paws, because it clearly illustrates what is and is not supervision  and what you need to do to make sure everyone is safe. 

A good companion graphic to this one is called Success Stations. “A success station is any designated spot that a dog is limited to so that they have no options but to succeed.” Gates, crates, and tethers are all useful for providing your dog with a place he or she feels safe. I have used success stations with kids as well as with other dogs. In the Your Family Dog episode on Challenging puppies, we discussed how kids can help with making success stations by decorating a trifold presentation screen and putting that in front of the crate of a resting dog, This provides a visual barrier for the dog as well as a visual reminder for the kids that the dog is resting and cannot be disturbed.

 My own dog Zuzu sometimes needs a break from the grandkids in my house so we have a sign on the gate to my office that reads: “Zuzu’s Alone Zone.” When she is in the office and the gate is closed, the kids have to ask if they can come in. Knowing she has a safe and quiet place to not be disturbed has really helped Zuzu to cope with the happy chaos of 4 children. 

Helping your child and dog learn to love each other by having a plan that provides a safe and comfortable environment will set everyone: dogs, kids, and parents up for success.

 

 

 

From the Family Paws Parent Eduction Website:

 “Jennifer Shryock is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), owner of Family Paws™ LLC in Cary, NC and holds a degree in Special Education…As a Mother, dog behavior consultant and teacher, Jennifer recognized a need for support and education for these families and began building resources for new and expecting families through her own business Family Paws. A consistent need for this specialized service led to the creation of the highly endorsed international program Dogs & Storks® for expecting and adopting families and then years later Dogs & Toddlers™, for families with babies 3 months of age and up. All of these passions and ideas have led to the creation of Family Paws™ Parent Education now offering programs all of the United States, Canada and beyond!”

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Moving and Your Pet.

Moving is a stressful time for everyone, your pet included. We have recently moved, though only for the academic year, so we simply packed clothes and books for the time we will be gone. That alone was stressful for Zuzu, who could not understand why the suitcases were out, my office was suddenly filled with boxes, and her toys were being washed. She is a sensitive individual to begin with, so I tried to be extra attentive to keeping her stress low and her routine as normal as possible, and I made sure that her most favorite bed went with us to New Jersey as well as her most important toys, particularly her beloved blobby. 

Having moved several times with an assortment of dogs, I have found that the best way to help your dog cope with the stress of moving, is to: 1) try and keep things as normal as possible; 2) be sure to take time to play with and walk your dog every day and; 3) keep her with you as much as possible.  

  1. Keeping things normal. If you feed your dog twice a day in the kitchen, continue to do so, making sure the area around her bowls is kept as clutter free as possible. If her breakfast comes in an intelligence toy, or as a game you play, continue to do that even if it seems to takes up time you need for packing. Keep beds and toys in their normal places, and try to make sure they are packed last of all.
  2. Play with your dog! You may feel as if there are way too many things to do and way too little time to do them, but playing with or walking your dog will give her a sense of normalcy and it might even lower your stress as well as hers when you take a moment to breathe and focus on something other than the next box. Be sure to do this on moving day as well as when you get to your new home.
  3. Keep your dog with you as much as possible. This becomes especially important during the actual move. On the day the movers come, designate a family member to be pet supervisor for the day. An article at I Heart Dogs about moving says this,

A lot of people think it’s better to leave their dog at a boarding facility while they move, but this can cause even more stress. Your dog knew something was up prior to the moving day, and now you are dropping them off somewhere and driving away. This can make the situation much worse, so make your plans to allow your dog to stay with you.

 

This is also important to keep in mind if you are stopping over night along the way. On the way to our new destination, we went to visit my husband’s cousin for a couple of days, and I was sure that she was not left alone in a new place until we had been there for a few hours and we’d had a chance to play ball outside, and she was calm, tired and ready for a nap. We also stayed away less than 2 hours.

Other things that I have found to be helpful in keeping my dog’s stress lower during times of flux:

a) Lactium (most commonly known as Zylkene) is a milk based product that can be helpful with anxiety. It is slow acting (like prozac, it takes awhile to build up to full dosage), but appears to have no side effects and can be used with most prescription anti anxiety drugs. L-theanine (most commonly known as Composure) can also be effective in reducing anxiousness. There are two varieties of Composure, regular and Pro. The difference is that the pro also has tryptophan in it and I have found it to be more effective. Unfortunately, that also makes it more expensive.
 
 
b) D.A.P collar, diffuser, or spray. This pheromone imitates the smell of a lactating female dog and is very comforting to most dogs. It aids in helping a dog to relax and be more comfortable. The spray can be put on a bandana, as well as sprayed onto the dog’s bed. The collar lasts for 30 days and gives a steady supply of DAP which can be useful especially during the prolonged period of packing and moving. Be careful not to get it wet and be sure to get the Adaptil or Comfort zone brand as that is the only one which has the patented pheremone. The diffuser is great to put next to his crate and is most effective in small rooms. I have one in my office over my dog’s bed as part of her safe haven. Bring it along to put next to his bed in a hotel room.
 
Here is a link for DAP:
c) Through a Dog’s Ear music. This music is designed to be relaxing to dogs and it should be played for him at various times so that he learns to relax under a variety of circumstances, and so that he doesn’t just associate it with you leaving or some other stressful event. I have Volume 1, Senior and the driving edition, all of which are available on Amazon. Another option for calming dogs is audio books. Some dogs really respond well to the voice of someone reading and find it very relaxing, even more so than music. I like audio books because they are useful on a long car trip to keep the dog calm and me entertained! 
 
c) Lavendar. This can be very relaxing for dogs. I recommend sprinkling it on her bedding or putting a few drops between the shoulder blades. Some dogs also find peppermint oil relaxing and that can be dapped onto her paw pads with a cotton ball.
 

With a bit of effort on your part moving does not need to be overly stressful for your dog. Besides, keeping his stress level lower, may help to make moving a bit easier for you as well!

Zuzu waiting to play ball in her new back yard.

 

*For more information on visiting with your dog see our podcast on Your Family Dog: New Places, Happy Facesand here is an article from the Whole Dog Journal, Moving with Dogs: Everything you need to know

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Seasonal mindfulness.

According to a friend, summer has officially ended. It’s not because she has tucked away her white shoes until next Memorial Day, nor because OSU football has taken over central Ohio like a crimson and grey hurricane. It’s because the season for allowing her dogs to be off leash on their 4 acre property has ended. Acorns have littered the woods around their house and the deer arrived to gorge on them. Like so many places, the Bambis of the world have learned that they have little to fear from suburbanites and are quite bold in their pursuit of these carb laden nuts. Since the deer are not fazed at the sight of people within 30 feet or so, their dogs now have to be on lead so that they do not engage in a 5K deer run. 

So why do deer love acorns? Are there some types they prefer over others? And can people and dogs eat them? These are the questions that came to my mind when she told me about the all you can eat Quercus* buffet. According to the Whitetail Journal on Grand View Outdoors.com, ” Deer love these nuts because they’re large in size allowing deer to consume them quickly, and they’re packed with nutrition. It’s like a protein bar for wildlife.” The author goes on to add that 100 grams of acorns (3.5 ounces) contains “40 grams of carbs, 23 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein. (For comparison, a boiled egg and a half cup of black beans each have 6 grams of protein also, but zero carbs).” Pretty good stuff if you are trying to fatten up for winter!

Deer also have preferences for certain acorns, based primarily on the tannin content of the acorn. Tannins make the acorns bitter and at higher levels can make the protein harder to metabolize** Acorns with lower tannin levels are preferred. Here the “Recognized Acorn Priority Preferences” according to Realtree.com (listed from most (1) to least (5) favorite):

  1. White Oak: Low tannic acid level makes this the sweetest of all acorns. Generally, they produce a heavy mast crop every third year and a decent crop every year.
  2. Pin Oak: Low to medium tannic acid level. Typically produces a crop every other year.
  3. Water Oak: Low to medium tannic acid level. Typically produce a crop every year.
  4. Red Oak: Medium tannic acid level. Deer usually won’t feed entirely on red oak acorns because of their bitterness.
  5. Black Oak: Produces a crop every other year. Medium to high tannic acid level. Usually a good spring food after winter thaw.
  6. Bur Oak: This is a very large acorn with medium to high tannic acid level. The large size makes them more attractive for consumption.
  7. Live Oak: Typically produces a crop every year. Lower in preference due to high tannic acid levels

Can people eat acorns? Yes. But tannins are not tasty for people either and can also cause kidney problems in humans. “Native Americans depended on acorns as part of their diet, particularly the Yurok and Karuk tribes of California. The shelf-life of an acorn – which Native Americans would store up to two years to compensate for off years when the mast crop wasn’t abundant – made these nuts useful as an insurance food staple.” (Whitetail Journal).

Tannins can be removed from acorns. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac you can do it one of two ways: repeatedly boiling the acorns in pots of water until the water runs clear. “This may take an hour or more, depending on the variety of acorn.” Or, alternatively, “you can soak the raw acorns in cold water to leach the tannins out. Change the water when it turns a darker color. This process may take several days, depending on how long it takes for all the tannins to leach out of the acorn meat.” Obviously this is not a project for the “need something in a hurry ’cause the kids are starving” crowd. But, once you make the flour, it seems to me that you are one step away from acorn bread, acorn encrusted chicken fingers, acorn coffeecake (served with chicory coffee), but I digress…*** 

The final question is: Is it okay for my dog to eat acorns? The answer is (as you have probably guessed): no, not really. According to Banfield Pet Hospital: “Acorns can be toxic to pets if ingested. They contain tannins, which can cause stomach upset and diarrhea in some pets, and in particularly bad cases acorn ingestion can cause abdominal obstruction, internal damage, and kidney disease. Keep your dog from eating them if at all possible.”  Yet another reason to keep your dog on a leash in the fall!

Squirrels have many uses for acorns besides making acorn potpies…

 

 

*Quercus is the genus for oak trees.

** This why you should not feed acorns to cows! The tannin levels can cause ulceration and kidney failure. 

***I do remember that in the book, My Side of the Mountain, (which I last read in the 4th grade, some 100 years ago) the hero made acorn pancakes. I don’t remember if he leached the tannins out, but I think not, so he probably needed a lot of syrup…

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