Tuesday, November 12, 2013

10 Easy Steps to Housetraining

10 Easy Steps to Housetraining

Very young puppies have absolutely no control over their bodily functions. It truly amazes me when I get told that someone's puppy is still having problems going where it should and the pup is all of 8 weeks old! Or 10 or 12 weeks for that matter. Puppies who are supposedly trained at that time have well trained owners – the pups themselves are still developing physically and lack long time control.

Since this is a major issue in most households I am delighted to offer 10 Easy Steps to Housetraining written by Sue Mathews, Echo Bouviers, Hillsboro , Oregon and reprinted here with her permission.

•  Snap a 6 foot leash to your puppy's collar.

•  Put your belt through the loop on the leash.

•  Where you goeth, so goeth the puppy.

•  Supervise the puppy at all times.

•  Roll up a newspaper and keep it with you at all times.

•  Take the puppy outside on a leash first thing in the morning, after eating, after playing, after napping, anytime you see the puppy prowling, sniffing, or scratching...and about every hour in between. Encourage her to “Go potty!”

•  When the puppy pees or dumps, praise her BIG TIME (until the neighbors come to take you away) and then play ball or some other fun game for a little bit. (The message to the puppy...First I go potty, then I get to PLAY!)

•  If the puppy doesn't do anything productive in 15 minutes or so take her inside and crate her for an hour in the same room you're in, then take her outside again. Take her outside sooner if you hear her whining.

•  The ONLY time your puppy should be in a crate is at night, if you bring her inside after a non productive potty run, or if you just cannot supervise her personally (i.e. you need to take a shower!)

•  If at any time you find a surprise puddle or poop on the floor, get your rolled up newspaper. Hit yourself over the head 3 times and say “Baaaaaaad Owner...I forgot to watch my dog!”

Follow this program and I can guarantee that the puppy will be housetrained. It won't be this week, or probably for several weeks more, and yes, the burden is on you...This works with puppies, or with older dogs...you just have to take the time to help the dog learn good habits.

The WORD is out!

The WORD is out!

While the WORD is out it still requires listening to it and reading it.  What word?  Positive.  Actually, there are many words involved and NO! is not one of them.  BAD DOG! doesn’t qualify either.  Saying:  Did you do THAT? can backfire big time so toss that from your selection of words.  Using “the” word means that one doesn’t scold pups for defecating on the Oriental rug, destroying the chair leg, and eating things that are not good for it.  It means that you start using words like:  Good dog!  But you have to be on the alert for all the good things every dog does!

Do I hear moans and groans and even louder sounds suggesting such a program is nuts?  Oh, to be sure I am hearing those sounds – I hear them regularly.  And always from people who are absolutely certain their dog knows exactly what it is supposed to do and refuses to do it.   What is usually stated that justifies the person’s scolding and punishment is that the dog has been told over and over and should understand it by now.  And, the all time biggee is:  He knows he did the wrong thing because he runs off as soon as I come in the room.  Hmmm.  Well, if the dog did understand  and was rewarded for the proper behavior I can guarantee that the dog would be doing what you want.  And, if you are interested in changing your mind I can give you a way to prove that your dog is not associating its (“bad”)  behavior with what you are observing.  Honest.

The people from whom I never hear those words are people who have begun to understand just how animals really do learn.  Those animals, incidentally, include humans.  Possibly I need to add – people who do not say those words “understand” how animals really do learn in the best possible way.

In order to apply the methods of positive training it is important to learn alternatives to all the training methods you may have been using.  We teach the proper behavior rather than punish what is not wanted.  Ignoring what is undesirable is probably the most difficult concept for people to grasp.  That means that it will be a challenge to stop saying NO! to a pup that is jumping on your guests.  It means that you have to stop pushing the dog off of you as you say NO!  It means you have to stop hollering, spraying your dog in the face with water, it means not shoving your dog’s face in excrement left on your rug and it most certainly means not using your hands for anything except good stuff.  Incidentally – only your dog can tell you what the good stuff things are.  Observe your dog!!!  If you are big into pats and even thumps on her rump you are most assuredly NOT praising your dog.

As you change your approach – and I most certainly hope you do so – keep in mind just how difficult it is to make those changes.  Then, think of your dog.  How much more difficult it probably is for her to change behavior:  such as to trust you not to punish her.  Or to trust that you will use your hands only to touch gently and in places that SHE likes.

So, your assignment is to come up with all the things that you like about your dog and find ways to let her know that.  Best ways include “marking” that behavior (saying Yes!, for example or, as I teach, proper use of a “clicker”) so that she knows exactly what is correct, and offering a tasty treat.  Once she sees there is a  positive way of life, learn how to apply this to any and all things you really want her to do.  Those things include using a specific area for elimination, resting in appropriate places compared to your favorite chair, chewing on appropriate bones and toys, greeting guests with “4 on the floor”, and much, much more.

Seeing those Aha! moments are rewards enough for those who really want to learn “the word”.


*If there is a sudden behavior change it is always necessary to investigate a health issue.  Sudden house soiling for example can result from bladder infections, parasites and even from stress if there have been major changes in the household.

Look Ma! NO Hands!

Look Ma!  NO Hands!

When I was a youngster and finally managed to ride a bicycle my next goal was to do what the really good bike riders did – ride with no hands.  When that day came it was a wonderful experience indeed.

Well, that isn’t the only place where a no-hands technique is wonderful.  It applies to dog (and cat!) training as well.*  Dog’s can learn to walk at one’s side without using the hands to yank on a leash.  Dog’s can learn to sit, lie down, and a myriad of other activities without the use of a leash.  Of course, we all realize that we do not have to teach dogs to sit or lie down – they know perfectly well how to perform those behaviors.  We want the behaviors to be on cue.  Notice I did not say “command”.  That is just another example of the changes that take place with positive reinforcement based training.  We are not commanding our companion animals anymore than the killer whale trainer is “commanding” his charge to perform a behavior.  Fat chance anyone could “command” such a creature!

One of the reasons people do yank on choke chains to get dogs to perform is that they CAN do it.  Of course, some people get bitten when a dog decides he has had enough but that is for another article.

Understanding what motivates animals to learn takes some effort.  Just like learning to ride that bike.  Dogs do what works.  If they can drag their person down the street they’ll surely do so.  If being in position is rewarded, guess where you’ll find the little rascal?  Or that big hunk of a dog, for that matter?  Right where you want her.

Instead of the choke chain (or prong collar or electric collar!) punishing the dog for doing the undesirable behavior, dogs are rewarded for being in the right place at the right time.  For dogs with a long history of pulling there are alternatives to help change their behavior and get those wonderful moments worth rewarding.  Those alternatives include head halters and wonderful new harnesses that are designed to stop the pulling.

Something really important to know and remember is:  Prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If people start their young pups out correctly the chances are slim they are going to have problems in the future.  People usually wait, unfortunately, until the pulling has reached the point where their shoulders are getting weekly chiropractic treatments before seeking help.  In all fairness it is important to acknowledge that there are MANY people who still believe one should not begin training until a pup is at least 6 months of age!  With punishment based training that is most certainly the case.  With positive based training methods puppies of 8 weeks have a ball with the “games” and learn everything they need to know!  The only thing one must remember is to not ask something of the little one that it physically cannot do.  Training begins the day the pup enters your life.  You are always training - best it be a plan or you end up with a lot of behaviors that will require modification.

So while that leash is a safety line that should always be used in situations where the dog may escape,  do investigate the No hands! training methods.

*No hands training works successfully with elephants, California sea lions, rhinos, African Wild Dogs, etc., etc., etc.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Goldens are Good – Pit Bulls are Bad!

Goldens are Good - Pit Bulls are Bad!

In the U.S. and some countries in Europe there is an increasing effort to have various breeds of dogs banned completely.  Considering that the number one behavioral problem that owners seek help for or claim as an excuse for dumping the dog at a shelter is aggression this is an issue that definitely requires attention. And, there definitely appears to be an increase in the problem.   But – what about the breeds involved?

Dog bite fatality statistics for a 15 year period in the U.S. show that Rottweilers and Pit Bulls were responsible for about half the cases but little is mentioned about the fact that the list included Great Danes, Huskies, Malamutes and Akitas. (All of these breeds of dogs are powerful, and with the exception of Pits, all are big.  Clearly any aggressive behavior on their part will cause far greater damage than is likely from the smaller breeds of dogs but size is not the only issue, to be sure. (A Pomeranian was responsible for the death of an infant!)

Blame for what causes good dogs to “go bad” range from lack of concern for breeding practices by the AKC (American Kennel Club) to poor management by owners, lack of socialization and education of the basics by breeders and owners, and back yard breeders,  who haven’t a clue how to breed with care and concern for the animals and the people who will come in contact with them – and furthermore don’t give a hoot!  Many so called professional or seemingly responsible breeders need to be included in that lot since they produce a lot of pups with problems.  

The current popularity of tough dogs adds lots of fuel to the fire but that is not the fault of the dogs!  To ban a breed of dog simply sends the creeps out to fire up some other likely breed and so the pattern continues. Dogs that have been bred to fight do present a serious problem when in the wrong hands because they can direct that behavior towards humans and most especially towards children.  And, there is an arousal level with Pits, for example, that almost defies description.  People whose dogs cause havoc need to pay and pay dearly for it. And, NO - not all Pits can or would hurt anyone or any other creature!

According to Stephen Budiansky in his book The Truth About Dogs a veterinarian did a survey of 2,249 dogs, corrected for the differing popularity of different breeds and topping the list of reported aggressiveness of biting with 14% were – Dachshunds! They were followed by Great Danes, Lhasas, German shepherds, St. Bernards and Malamutes.  If one did not adjust for breed popularity one would surely see Goldens in that list since the sheer number of them mean lots of people get bitten by Golden Retrievers.

While I have no doubt that breeding practices and management issues contribute enormously to the behavior problems people encounter with dogs (behaviors not limited to aggression) I believe that our urbanization has eliminated so many of the ways that dogs used to be able to live.  I do not nor would I ever advocate turning dogs loose on the streets so they can have “fun” and a social life but the reality is – there were lots fewer problems in those days of old.  And – for the most part – the dogs we refer to as “street dogs” are less likely to bite than the pampered, never-leaves-the-house-never-went-to-school dearly loved pet.  This is true everywhere – not just here.  Dogs, all too often, lead dreadfully boring lives and that is a horrible thing to do to dogs bred for work and there is no work to do!  That pent-up energy will out one day and all too often what one hears is – “It happened out of the blue!!  He never did X before!!!”

Another major problem is what I call the “Lassie Syndrome”.  People seem to believe that dogs should simply come to us housetrained, desiring to please our every wish, have total bite inhibition, love kids, know what is expected of them, and just “do it” with no efforts on our part.  Well – ya know, folks?  There is no Lassie!

Dogs bite.  That is one of their major ways to communicate.  We can channel their natural behaviors towards suitable directions and acceptable items but that does take time, energy, understanding how and when or we can simply hand them over to a shelter and go get another dog and make the same mistakes all over again.  The choice is ours and sad to say those dogs paying the price with their lives don’t have that same advantage.


Isn't She Cute?

Isn't She Cute?

Several times during our short conversation Skippy came up to her owner, nudged her arm and awaited the oncoming pats and scratches.  Her owner very absentmindedly, it seemed to me, reached over to Skippy, never missing a beat in the conversation, and performed as commanded.  With great restraint, unusual for me, I might add, I said nothing.

When the owner said, Isn’t she cute?, more a statement than a question, I bit my lip.

A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from Skippy’s mom and all of a sudden the “cute” behavior had caused a very expensive problem and what could I do about it.  It seems that while sitting and reviewing something on the monitor, cup of hot coffee in hand, Skippy came for her ration of pats and scratches.  Nudge, over goes the coffee, and now say goodbye to what had been a perfectly good keyboard.

When I suggested that some basic training was in order I was advised that she didn’t give a ?&%$# if Skippy ever sat, stayed, or any other ?&%$# thing.  All she wanted was to put a stop to the nudging.  I told her I was sorry but that I couldn’t help her, in that case.  It is not my job to punish a dog for doing something  her person has so carefully nurtured!  Skippy needed some basics in her behavior program.

So, what is the problem?  Respect!  Respect on the part of Skippy’s owner for Skippy and the other way around.  It is not appropriate for a dog to control everyone’s life.  It is not appropriate for Skippy to just be around so her owner can give strokes when it is convenient.  Skippy needs manners, “work” to do in the form of various obedience exercises such as sitting before being pet and waiting rather than demanding that petting!  Those basic exercises create a life for the dog.  Teaching them (to the owner) creates awareness in the mind of the owner just how dogs think and what their (the dogs’!) needs are and that becomes the beginning of a real connection between them.

There is another behavior that people think is so “cute” and that is when their dog is sitting or standing next to them and rests a foot on top of the person’s shoe.  That, my good readers, is a bit of control and management of the scene.  Leaning on the person is very similar and both actions should be discouraged so that the dog must watch the person for what may take place rather than feel the person and be able to observe any interesting things going on around the scene.

Teaching a dog good manners so it  learns to earn the important things in life has a lot of benefits - including a happier dog!   Being unruly, even demanding can extend beyond just bothersome - it can result in that damaged keyboard, a ruined skirt from the coffee spilling on it, maybe even a burn from very hot coffee.  And, sad to say, all too often the dog may pay with her life!

 If you have a dog you have the responsibility to understand how to treat them appropriately. Become partners! Then everyone comes out a winner.

And, no!  I am not advocating that you not continue to pet and stroke your dog!  That is important for both of you. 


Alpha is Out!

Alpha is out!

Many of us grew up with the idea that it was mandatory to be “alpha” to our dogs and two moves were particularly important in order to maintain that role:  scruff shakes and alpha rolls.  In the process many a gentle canine friend was frightened beyond words and a whole lot of people got bitten by dogs that felt things had gotten out of control and the dog needed to fight for its life.

A scruff shake, for those who never learned such heinous training procedures, means to grab a dog on either side of the neck, lift her until her front feet are barely (if at all!) touching the ground, lean over her and read her the riot act.  Alpha rolls meant to slam a dog down on his side or back and pin him there.  People were misguided in believing that these procedures mimicked how canines maintain order in the pack.  Wrong!  It doesn’t happen that way at all.

Dogs often demonstrate submissiveness and maybe even respect to a higher ranking individual by putting themselves on their side, tails often tucked between the legs and they may even urinate.  A higher ranking dog will often stand over the dog with an attitude of:  You got THAT right!  And that ends it.

The kinds of things that people believed  (And most trainers still teach this way!) justified such abusive treatments included not obeying a command, resource guarding, food stealing, etc.  Complete obedience and total compliance was the way to go.

New, humane methods include changing how we think about the dogs.  Rather than saying we want them to obey a command we give cues for the behaviors we have carefully taught and reward their successes.  We are leaders – not dictators.  Dogs are truly social creatures but not true pack animals - they do not work together to get food nor do they work together to care for young.  So if we are to lead that puts some responsibility on us to understand how the dogs see the world.  For example, a dog that has only been taught to sit, lie down, and stay on cue in the house is not likely to understand the cues for those exercises outside of the house!  True.

So, if you have only worked in the house or garden, step out onto the street and say: Rover, sit!, and Rover does not do it that is not insubordination.  We learn a bit  differently than dogs do.  We could pull that off because we generalize more easily.  Dogs have to be taught to sit under different conditions and the more distracting the situation the longer it takes to get the behavior on cue.  The bright side is that the more you teach and the more varied the conditions the better the dog gets at generalizing.  Never will be at our level but it can get pretty good.

Punishing a dog for something it has not learned how to do is cruel, to say the least.
Be a teacher.  Be a leader.  Learn how to understand your dog and forget the alpha nonsense.


Bite Carefully, Please!

Bite Carefully, Please!

When puppies play together they do a lot of biting.  They may lie next to one another, mouths in constant action with each other.    Usually there is a lot of growling and lip curling and they appear to be ready to kill one another.  What is going on?

Those puppies are learning bite inhibition and it is a very, very important lesson indeed.  Those needle sharp puppy teeth can quickly cause pain but most of the time the game goes on for minutes at a time.  Clearly the pups are maintaining control of those teeth.  If the bite control machinery fails there will be a sharp yelp and that could well end the game.  The pup without control finds herself playing alone and that isn’t nearly as much fun.

When pups are given a proper start in life they get to practice that same behavior with mom or another adult dog as well as litter mates.  Mom or the tolerant adult allows the pup the chance to play so long as there is self control on the part of Mouthy Mable.  Biting too hard, not responding to a well spoken Yipe!, ends the game.

We need to learn from that behavior.  There are people that severely punish a pup for practicing on human flesh but, unfortunately, that system can backfire big time. Most of the time, in fact, the pup leaps right back into the game biting harder than before!   No, I am not advocating allowing M. M. to scrape, puncture and leave you with blood running down your arm!  What I am suggesting is to teach your pup proper use of those needle sharp puppy teeth.

Allow – no, encourage! – puppy mouthing of your hand.  Just your hand!  At the moment that the biting gets too rough let out a really high pitched yelp.  A puppy that has had the opportunity (and ALL puppies should have that opportunity!) to learn from litter mates and mom will back off for a moment and may well lick your hand or otherwise indicate a Oops!  Sorry.  I didn’t really mean to be so rough.  If Jaws does not respond appropriately give him one more chance, really yelp for all you are worth and leave the pup alone for a couple of minutes.  Return and repeat the performance until the light goes on:  Hmmm.  I bite, hear that yelp and I find myself alone.* That’s no fun.  Enter bite control!

It is not only inadvisable to punish a pup for puppy mouthing but it may end up in a serious bite later because the warning signs have been punished.  Many people will state that a dog bit “with no warnings” – usually because the growl or other advisory signal was punished – not the bite that followed!

Puppies that learn bite inhibition are most unlikely to bite hard should they be pushed too much in some future situation as an adult.  And, all dogs can be pushed over threshold!

When this program is clearly working it is time to introduce a Leave it! cue.** After all, there are definitely times when you do not feel like playing the game and a turn-off switch is needed.  Teach Leave it! with food tidbits and toys before using it with the biting game.  The reason is that M.M. needs to learn the lesson when she isn’t aroused and focused on playing.  Once she understands the game present the Leave it! once in awhile when the pup starts the play biting game and then once every 3 or 4 times that play biting is started by the pup.  Gradually build up to being able to say Leave it! any time that you do not want to play the game.  But, do not totally discontinue the play biting game because for a dog to maintain a soft mouth occasional practice is imperative. Pups over 6 months of age should never make contact with human flesh if properly socialized and trained.

One important tip:  Difficult as it is do not grab your hand away from the pup when the biting gets too rough because the pup is certain to reflexively grab for your hand and you are most likely to suffer scrapes from those puppy teeth.

*Occasionally a pup will actually get more excited about the yelp.  In that case simply say something like Oops! and leave the scene.

**Short course to teach Leave it!  Place a piece of food in one hand and a tastier piece of food in the opposite hand.  Let the pup see/smell the first piece of food, close the hand as you say Leave it!  You will get sniffing, licking, nibbling, pawing, etc., as the pup makes an effort to get to that tidbit.  The INSTANT the pup looks away say YES! and give the food from the other hand.  Repeat a dozen times or whatever it takes for the pup to instantly look away from the hand when you say Leave it!  Then switch hands.

Biting - For Fun or For Real?

Biting - For Fun or For Real?

“Look at my arms!”, she said as she showed me the scrapes and tears.  None were serious but there definitely was quite a selection and the woman wondered if she had a dangerous puppy in her house.

Unfortunately I couldn’t really assure her of a perfect future with this pup because its early history is unknown.  The pup was found on the street and very much in need of care and love.  Time and a lesson plan with the puppy is our only answer now.

Those needle sharp puppy teeth seem to be part of a program to teach puppies bite inhibition.  But, that plan only works well if the pup is allowed to remain with the bitch and litter mates until at least 7 or 8 weeks of age.  Puppies need to also test those teeth on humans to learn their thresholds of pain and to control their bites with people.  We really are more sensitive than most dogs to puppy teeth games.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs have a naturally “softer” mouth but that doesn’t mean that  Golden Retrievers and other “bird” dogs, considered to have “soft bites”, cannot and do not cause very serious damage if they bite.  All dogs and all breeds need to learn the important lessons of bite inhibition.

It was clear right away that this pup became aroused with even minor physical contact. What would be pleasurable stroking to another pup very quickly escalated to “mouthing” and then pressure with those needle sharp teeth.  She had growled a few times and snarled when she was pressured with a bit of restraint.  My guess is that she lacked litter mate time as well as appropriate handling by humans.

It is essential to begin a program of positive reinforcement for any and all behavior that is desirable and avoidance of anything that will arouse this pup and give further reinforcement to the undesirable behavior.  The more the pup “practices” biting the better she’ll get at it!

Any time the pup is handled food and some toys must be on hand.  If the mouth aims for human skin a toy is offered as an alternative.  When stroking her food is being made available in tiny pieces the entire time. If the pup gets aroused and totally refuses food or a toy she is put in her pen or otherwise separated from social contact for a minute or two.  Not for an hour!  Then the process begins again – and again and again, if necessary – until the light bulb goes on –Aha! X behavior results in removal from the people, the toys and the food.  That’s no fun.  The pup learns to offer the correct and rewarding behavior instead of being forced to do anything.

It is very possible she’ll never totally enjoy being pet and handled but hope for a good life requires being safe to handle for health reasons.  Puppies and dogs must accept complete examinations.  Complete in this case means each and every toe, the belly, under the arms, in the ears, and in the mouth.  There should be a build up (as the pup’s tolerance improves!) of pressure on her body such as throat and belly just as the vet will have to do in order to complete a proper examination.   And, she needs to be quiet and under control for periods long enough to groom and bathe.  Proper handling and her proper response is essential.

If a handler decides to overpower the pup with the totally out of date approach of YOU WILL DO THIS attitude there is an accident waiting to happen.  The same is true if the growling and biting is punished.  It may well stop at that time because of fear but the cause of those behaviors has not been addressed.  Often when one hears the comment that a dog bit with no warning it is because the warning signs had been punished in the past and then – BAM! – one day there is the long suppressed bite.

If we teach alternative behaviors and make those behaviors really rewarding to the pup we can develop acceptable default behaviors.  Only time will tell in this case.

Incidentally, there is a flip side to the issue of separating pups too early from litters and that is leaving them too long with litter mates!  Never take on a dog that has spent its entire life whether that is 6 months or 6 years living in a kennel environment.

Level 1:  Growls, shows teeth, barks, stares, snaps, no contact (Human equivalent;       
argument or warning)
Level 2:  Single bite, saliva, no punctures, ½ as deep or less as dog’s canine
(Human equivalent; push/shove)
Level 3:  Single bite, 1 to 4 punctures, ½ as deep or less as dog’s canine
(Human equivalent; assault, punch)
Level 4:  Single bite, 1 to 4 punctures, greater than ½ as deep as dog’s canine or shakes, there will be bruising evident within 2 days for very hard bites
(Human equivalent; assault with bodily harm)
Level 5:  Multiple bites, greater than ½ as deep as dog’s canine or shakes. Mauling.
(Human equivalent; same)
Level 6:  Fatality (Human equivalent; same)

Dogs labeled 4 or higher are very dangerous animals.  Even behaviorists with extensive experience working with aggression are not likely to attempt rehabilitation with these dogs.

*From The Canine Aggression Workbook by James O’Heare, Dip. C.B.

Bored, Bored, BORED.

Bored, Bored, BORED

It is probably impossible to overstate just how bored most family pets are – and that means dogs and cats.  Predatory behavior in cats is usually easily recognized (they “playfully” pounce on wiggly things much to our delight) but dogs have evolved as predators and scavengers and while we see some similar behaviors the scavenging behavior lends itself more to being on the move.

But, what do the clever humans do?  Well, they lovingly place a pile full of not very healthy “stuff” in a bowl and shut out all opportunities for natural – NECESSARY- outlets for the critters in their lives.

It is really important to recognize that most of the dogs that people decide to bring into their lives have actually been bred to DO something for a living.  They flush birds, they hunt lions, they search for and kill any vermin they can get, they retrieve killed critters, etc.  And?  They are cute so they are bought, brought home and expected to be content to lie at our feet calmly awaiting an opportunity to do something – anything!

Yeah, right.  The dog’s take may well be:  The remote control!  Hooray.  Killed it!  What a good dog I am!     The “retrieved” mail that dropped through the slot may well have you   wondering who sent that mess. The dog’s take may well be: Killed that invader and mom will surely be super happy!   You may even find yourself saying to your neighbor: So, so sorry about your beloved kitty.  Vermin?  Not hardly – but the bored hunting type dog did what was ever so carefully genetically nurtured for many, many generations resulting in  successful, productive behavior!

Get real folks.  You have a DOG in your house.  Learn what is NATURAL canine behavior and not only deal with it but get into enrichment programs and true care and concern for your canine buddy.

Lore Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB, a canine behavior specialist, formerly at Texas A,& M,   recommends “that dogs receive their entire daily ration of food during training or from enrichment devices”.

Here are some of Dr. Haug’s suggestions:

Feed the dog from a Buster Cube or Roll-a-Treat ball
Place dog food or treats inside a cardboard box, old towel/rag or plastic jugs and allow the dog to tear the item apart  to get to the food inside.
Scatter food out in the grass in the yard or across the floor in your house to make the dog search for each piece.
Stuff Kong toys full of various food items (or the dog’s meal) and freeze them overnight before giving them to the dog.
Divide portions of the dog’s meal into small Tupperware containers and hide them around the house for the dog to find.
Place novel scents in the environment using small amounts of spices, herbs, extracts, or synthetic animal scents (rabbit, quail, squirrel, etc., available from a sporting goods store).
Build the dog a sand box either by sectioning off a 4-5 foot square area in our yard or buying a child’s wading pool and filling it with sand and dirt.
Buy the dog a child’s wading pool and fill it with water.  If your dog enjoys both water and digging you can alternate the substrate in the pool each week.
Place vegetables and fruits (e.g. melons, apples, lettuce, squash, watermelon, carrots, celery, etc) out in the yard or you can bury them in the sand box or float them in the wading pool.
Add sugar-free Kool-Aid, Gatorade powder, or bullion (or other broths) to water and freeze into a popsicle in a variety of sizes of Tupperware.  You can add various pieces of food items to these:  fruits, vegetables, cheese, dog food, meat, etc.
Hang rope or innertubes from a branch or other item in the yard for the dog to play tug with and increase the dog’s interest by putting food items inside
Give the dog old water bottles or milk jugs made of either cardboard or plastic.  You can increase the dog’s interest by putting food inside.  .  Always remove the plastic ring and the plastic caps before allowing dogs to play with these items.  Be careful to remove all these items when the dog is finished playing with them.
Some dogs will play with old tires either loose on the ground or hanging from ropes.
Training sessions are also forms of enrichment
Be sure your dog has both toys – squeakies, rope toys, stuffed animals, rubber toys, balls - and chewing items.  The types serve different needs.

Wow!  What a lot of wonderful choices open to us if we wish to enrich the lives of our dogs.

I take Dr. Haug’s suggestions one step further.  Please, please do add raw meaty bones to the choices.  Do NOT add Nylbones.  Avoid rawhide.  Try raw chicken feet instead.   Be very careful to observe your dog’s interaction with ANY toy/chewy and remove the item before a dangerous situation happens.  Dog’s often do love to bounce around plastic bottles, for example but toss the bottle once it begins to show signs of breaking apart.  Dogs DO ingest plastic, sad to say.

Also – remember:  A tired puppy is a good puppy!  Exercise, exercise, exercise – within a pup’s limits, of course.

Begging Dogs

Begging Dogs

There he sat.  An unbroken stream of saliva connected his mouth with the floor in at least 3 different locations.  There was so much slime it was rather difficult to sort it one stream from another.  To accompany this unsightly mess Billy Boy added groans, sighs, and a paw that was not content to rest on the guest’s lap but made regular movements in an effort to get the guest’s attention.  It did that all right!  It also snagged her silk dress and bruised her leg.

Meanwhile, would you care to guess how Billy Boy’s owners were reacting?  It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that they commented on how “cute” he was and that he just wanted an ever so tiny taste from her plate and then, for sure (?) he would go and lie down.

Clearly, B.B. has been well taught by his family.  Their side of the story is that when he was young he was so cute that they offered him bits from their plates to watch his performance as he ran from family member to family member becoming more inventive as he whirled around the table.  Here a bark, there a leap, followed by woofs, growls, play bows and more.  Such a cute puppy.

Now, B.B. has a whole file drawer full of behaviors to get attention and food but the family has tired of the behavior so the guests get the full blast.

What is wrong with this picture?

For starters, B.B. has a very distorted view of how to get food, what food is really his, how to get attention, and how to keep his owners happy.  Poor guy.  Early on he thought he was king of the world from the way they treated him for his shenanigans but lately he gets mixed messages which, in turn, cause him to be more and more frantic about his act when food is on the scene.

While the idea won’t find a receptive audience at B.B’s house what he really would benefit from is a clear view of his leaders. That means that they indicate that food they are eating or that is otherwise not offered to him, is unavailable.  Period!  No treats from their plates.  No access to food that falls from the table while eating or from the counter while cooking.

B.B. is, after all, a dog.  A wonderful creature.  Teaching him an appropriate way to behave in the world is the responsibility of a real dog lover.   And, definitely should be the responsibility of every – EVERY – dog owner.

And – wouldn’t you like to be able to leave the room to answer the phone - or whatever -and know that you could return to your dinner left unattended on the table?

This can be achieved – with no pain to B.B.

And, guess what? He will be a lot happier and so will you!  Give positive reinforcement training a try.


Arf, Arf, ARF, ARF, ARF!!!!

Arf, Arf, ARF, ARF!!!

They were driving down the street and neither of them gave even a glance at the huge dog,  just inches behind their ears.  Said dog was barking away at everything and, frankly, nothing.

I cannot imagine being in such close quarters and having that huge amount of noise pounding away in my ears but they seemed totally oblivious.  What was happening?

Well, “they” had appeared to accept the behavior.  What about the pooch?  Without a doubt “it” too had decided that his/her behavior was quite acceptable so she continued.  Dogs do what works.  We all continue to produce behavior that is rewarded.

Just what is a “reward”?  Well, this may surprise you but a reward is absolutely anything that is perceived as a reward.  Such as:  Your dog jumps on you.  You push the dog away.  REWARD!!!  Ah, but, you say.  I told her NO and I pushed her and I really meant it!  Sorry, folks, but what you meant and what she received from the scene are not matching up.  Dog barks and you, the human, shouts in return, intending to stop the behavior, right?   Dog receives the message that, Hey!  I bark.  She barks!  I am on track!  Result?  Yup.  More barking and, probably, of even greater quality and intensity.  Yikes!  A plan gone astray.

“She” got attention – precisely what she sought.

You saw punishment, right?  Well, punishment really means that what you did stops the behavior.  Did that happen?  No?  It was not punishment – it was REWARD!  Punishment is risky since it can backfire but it is also very, very much misunderstood.  What I find interesting is that people will continue to do the same thing – such as hollering at a dog to stop barking or shouting for it to Sit!, Sit!, SIT!!! when it is jumping all over the visitor.  One would think that the critter with the bigger brain would come up with Plan B since what they are doing is clearly not working but, sad to say, they usually just do more of the same.

Back to the Doggie in the Window.  In this case – a         car window.  What I understand to have happened is that they (the people) hollered, screamed, etc., for all the unwanted barking.  The big, wonderful, critter, received the “information” as a REWARD for the barking!  The dog’s take clearly is:  Cool!  We are all singing the same tune.  What a good dog I am.  I got 100% on this lesson!  The people simply gave up.  At least they didn’t seek a “home in the country” for behavior they caused to be really wild.

So?  What to do?  If one knows what the triggers are for the barking – loose dogs, motorcycles, etc., take the dog in the car, park it where all the action is and toss tasty food treats any time the scary thing passes.  As soon as it is out of sight the “kitchen is closed”.  Yup.  Sounds crazy, I know, but it works.  It changes the dog’s attitude about the issue to one of:  Hey!  Those dogs mean treats for me.  Pretty soon your dog sees another dog, looks to you for a treat and you are on your way to solving the problem.

It is helpful to have some one else in the car with you during training so they can be the supplier of good “stuff” while you safely drive.

A couple of management tools include crating the dog so it cannot see out of the car or buying a Calming Cap from Premier Products.  The cap allows the dogs to see light but not much else so they do get, well, calm!  And, one can work on training dogs to respond to Quiet!, Leave it!, Enough!  It is more difficult to break a well established habit than it is to teach proper behavior right from day one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Those words represent the sounds emanating from the head of the smiling Labrador and were accompanied by Good Boy!, Good Boy! as his owner continued the pounding.  Labradors are usually good spirited dogs and definitely have a high threshold for pain but it didn’t take a genius to observe the dog’s discomfort.  Yes – discomfort in spite of the “smiling”, tail wagging picture.

 So, what’s the problem? Well, just think about that dog’s head.  There are the eyes and ears, for example, and clearly they are important to the survival of the animal.  A smart animal does his or her best to protect those vital organs.  Now, along comes Sr, Luvadawga, filled with nothing but kindness for his buddy and doing his best to show it each time Buddy does something asked of him.  Buddy, sit!  Buddy sits and as a reward gets his head pounded on.  Swell.

 Buddy knows Sr. L. well enough to not really feel as though that hand coming down hard on the top of his head is at the very least, discomfort, and probably confusing. He cannot help but flinch, close his eyes to avoid having them injured and in general simply endure the treatment.  Sr. Luvadawga is saying all the right words, and with a big smile, but his hand carries a different message.   Is it any wonder that our poor canine companions get confused and seem to disobey?

 Breeds with less tolerance for pain, with temperaments less accepting of people and their foolishness often do not accept such “loving” care and may leave the scene, or if prevented from doing so may growl or snap.  In turn they may well be punished or be termed aggressive and find themselves seeking a new home.

Learn how to praise your dog and learn how to greet dogs you do not know.  That same outreaching hand going towards the top of the head just to give a gentle pat is often viewed as threatening and certainly that is true if done to the dog by a stranger.  The best places to give a dog a physical form of reward are to the chest area and, for dogs you know, gently behind the ears and on the cheeks.  Rather than pats the motion should be tips of fingers in a back and forth or circular action. Long stroking motions are fine if you know the dog but, please, don’t make a career out of it!   To introduce yourself to a dog offer the top of your hand, palm held down, and allow the dog to move towards you – do not move towards the dog.  If the dog sniffs, fine.  If not, accept the message being offered and go no further with your actions.  If you see strangers approaching your dog try to teach them the proper way to meet your dog and that is especially true where children are concerned!

Children often move in fast, jerky motions and have high pitched voices and these are things that can make dogs very uncomfortable and even aggressive.  The dogs give signals that they are uncomfortable but, children do not read those signals, which in turn allows a dog to believe it is proper to “discipline” the offender.  Not a good thing!

 For dogs that have been under-socialized and/or abused it is extremely important to move slowly, use a quiet voice and carefully condition the dog to the gentle, loving touch of the human hand.  And, of course, the hand is never, never used to punish a dog.

Come? Come! COME!!!

Come?  Come!  COME!!!!!!!

High on the list of those who seek training for their dogs is that they want their dogs to come when called.  Yet, it is amazing how determined people are not to listen to how to make that happen.  And always I encounter that ol' standby - He knows what I want him to do and is just being spiteful.  That kind of thinking just about closes the door to ever achieving this highly desirable goal.

Maybe the first problem is using a word (any word) and believing that the dog really does understand that word.  Words mean nothing to dogs.  (How many of you are now saying - Oh, he knows what I want.....?)  Words gain significance purely as a sound associated with a form of behavior that is repeated over and over.  So, if one says the word Come! as the dog is sniffing the ground, heading away at a run, romping with his favorite buddy or any other activity you can name then - guess what? - the dog associates the word with that action if with anything.  Of course, if you use the word "come" during all those activities the dog just learns to ignore the word.

Worst of all is the dog owner who uses "come" to get the dog to appear for something the dog does not want to do or have happen.  So - one never uses the word "come" to call a dog for , a bath, nail clipping, something it does not want to do such as stop playing with a friend, etc.  Why would he ever choose to come again with associations such as those?*

Come must ALWAYS be used in a pleasant way.  No exceptions.  (On that same note, the dog's name should also always be used in a positive and pleasant tone of voice.  The name should signify a call to attention alerting the dog that something is about to happen.)  Teaching puppies to come is easy and fun because they are so bonded and dependent on their owners. And, if the puppy is taught that come means a treat, a ball game, dinner or just some happy, feel-good, pats and scratches that is a pup on his way to good associations.  Unfortunately, it will not hold up without challenge during adolescence!

At seven or eight months (it really depends on the dog) there is enough development that the dog will feel the need for some independence and then the fun begins.  The owner usually makes the big mistake at that time of getting very cross because the pup always came before and now acts like he doesn't even know his name.  So, the adolescent gets pushed away rather than getting the reinforcement needed to get through the stage well.

On the other hand, if the dog has been taught to sit, down and stay (both in the sit and down positions)  regular "work-outs" of doggy discipline nudge the canine brain into respect mode and that helps with the problem of coming when called.  The dog is not treated as though he just entered Marine boot camp!  He is praised and given treats or allowed a toy as a reward for his wonderful cooperation which in turn encourages more of the same.  But - he is definitely going to do those exercises!  Sometimes it feels as if one is beginning all over again but all that info is in there – just needs a bit of a reminder to get it to resurface.

As for the off leash games - fine so long as you do not continue to call the dog and reinforce that coming is an option.  But, better to curtail the off leash activities until the dog is showing attention once again.  There are series of exercises to be performed with varying lengths of line so that the dog realizes that control extends to many different distances -  dogs learn very quickly that your control doesn't extend beyond about 6 feet so that idea must be changed completely.

Allowing the dog to drag a long line so that he is periodically reeled in, if necessary, is another way to get the idea home that Come! means just that - and it means now.  Regardless of whether the dog comes when called or needs some help with the line a treat or other reward is always given.  This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, remember?

Do not go for an outing and only call the dog when the outing is to end.  It would take a really stupid dog to not catch on that come means the fun is over.  Instead, call the dog back regularly for treats and then release him again so that he doesn't know just when the romp has ended.

The last item of business with this cue (as with all others!) is to learn to give just one  and make it happen.  While I haven't a glimmer of hope that those of you reading this will give up hollering and repeating Sit, SIT, SIT!, or Come, COME! COME!!!! I am honor bound to continue to try teaching the proper way.

While the following phrase did not originate with me I surely wish it had because I love it: "Every handler gets the dog he deserves."

Think about it!

 *When one needs to get the dog for things the dog considers unpleasant the trick is to go TO the dog – not use the wonderful Come! word for those occasions.

Bring 'em Up Right!

Bring 'em Up Right!

Dogs are social animals and that means there is a powerful need to interact with their own kind as well as the human sort that is often their only or primary social situation. We used to refer to them as pack animals but it has been clearly determined that they do not form “real”packs such as wolves would do.     This interaction process begins with the litter mates and their mom.  Some studies promote handling the pups each day from day one.  What is consistently supported is the need to leave the pups with their litter mates and with the mom until a minimum of 8 weeks of age.  Many responsible breeders will not release toy breed puppies to their new homes short of 12 weeks of age.

Puppies do their first real interactions with one another between weeks 5 and 7.  Before that they lack adequate mental development to learn socializing behaviors - You chew on my ear and I am not going to play with you!.  They begin to accept superiors and inferiors in their circle of litter mates and parent and their personalities truly emerge.

During these weeks and those that follow, well raised puppies should be in the house where they learn about the noises generated by humans and their many machines as well as being assured of adequate interaction with people - big people, little people, people with hats, beards, long hair, dark glasses, etc.   Puppies sheltered from such actions and noises may end up having lifelong fears of vacuum cleaners, food processors, even the moving action of brooms!

This is also the time for their first vaccinations, parasite treatment and checkup by the vet as well as learning about collars and how to walk on a leash.  Responsible breeders do all that and so much more!  Pity the poor pup that has been wrenched from the only world he knows, stuffed into a stinky, bouncing machine with the whole outside world flying by!  Then his next car ride will probably be to the vet making both the car AND the vet mighty unpopular.  All avoidable with some effort on the part of the breeder.

Once the pup has been settled into the new home the education begins immediately.  Either the pup is learning what you want him to know or he is learning things that will require some back-peddling on your part.  Better the former.  For example, do not allow the poor whining sad little pup to sleep with you the first couple of nights and then be upset that he screams and cries, etc., when you decide to put him elsewhere.  Don't reward him with pets and coochy-coos when he jumps on you and then become impatient with the dirty paws and sharp toenails that are ruining pants and scarring skin!  Do not give the little one free rein of the entire house and then get upset about puddles and poop piles.

While he cannot be allowed out on the streets until totally protected with vaccinations (usually at about 4 months) he should be exposed to other pups, dogs, cats, people and anything else that is part of the world in which he lives.  How to do that?  Visit a friend's garden and invite friends to yours.  Take the pup for short rides in the car - rides that do not end up at the vet's!  When he is safe from the killer diseases make an effort to get him into a puppy training class.  While such classes do not replace the need to do ongoing training a bit later in his life the time for socializing is when he is a youngster.  And, start with training the day he arrives - no punishment, please.  He is a baby.  Just use food treats to teach him to sit, down, come and stand for grooming.  It is fun and oh so easy!

Well raised properly trained and socialized pups rarely need a "home in the country" along about 8 months of age.  And?  If you have not continued with group training this is THE best time to hop to it again.  This is adolescence time!  ;-)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Canine Obesity, Part Two

Are you killing your dog?

Did you instantly respond - Of course not! I love my dog! - ? Well, let's look at the facts. Have
you checked your dog's "waistline" lately? Can you actually see the ribs? If your dog has long
hair can you feel the ribs with only the amount of pressure it would take to barely dent the flesh
of an over ripe avocado? If you have trouble with these questions than it could well be that
your dog is fat - even obese.

Some estimates state that in excess of 80% of our canine and feline companions are

"Obesity related illnesses can kill, and when they don't, they reduce the quality of life." (DOG
WORLD, October 1998) Almost no part of the body escapes the stress of an overweight
condition - heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, joints, etc. And, this "disease" is totally

 It is true that some breeds (the Nordics and Labs, for example) seem to gain weight very easily
but a simple equation exists for all breeds - feed no more than the dog requires to meet needs of
growth and/or activity. There is evidence that in neutered animals the metabolic set point is
lowered but the above premise still holds true - feed no more than the dog needs. Another
aspect of weight gain in spayed/neutered animals is that the operation usually takes place
at about the time that the animal has also slowed way down in its growth rate. Therefore
neutered dogs require less to eat but the same amount is offered!

 Over and over again, when I comment to clients that their dog is too heavy (read fat!) I get comments such as - "Really?" "He hardly eats a thing." "My breed is supposed to be
heavy." "But, he is always so hungry - just look at that expression." And when I ask exactly
how much the dog eats the answer is often - "Well, about a half a bowl full." Or, "Just a
few handsful." One of my favorites is "But she won't eat if I don't put (fill in the blank) on
her food.) This is said about a dog that is so fat it clearly doesn't even want to eat and is
being "forced" into doing so by a "loving" owner!

To get in charge of the situation the first thing that is required is to know exactly how much the dog eats at each meal and don’t forget to add in all the little extras that fall her way! To
know precisely the amount requires a measuring cup. No guessing. No free feeding! Decide
just how much the dog has been getting and reduce that amount by up to 15%. While there
are low calorie diet foods available there is reason to believe that the dog will feel more hungry
on those empty calories than on reduced intake - which is what will be required ultimately

Feed on schedule, offer no fatty table scraps, buy the best dog food available if you are feeding kibble - do not buy supermarket brands! Consider feeding “real food”* rather than processed
food. Avoid any and all foods with corn, wheat or soy. Best, actually, to go grain free! Grain
free is NOT free of carbohydrates but it is a step in the right direction. For training treats (You
do train your dog, right?) you can mix some of the kibble with tiny bits of meat, cheese, hot
dogs dried fruit,(NO RAISINS!) etc. and let the flavors blend. Only your dog will tell you if the
mixture is worth working for.

No diet is complete without an exercise program but if you have neglected this part of your buddy's life begin very, very slowly to avoid stress on the heart and joints. Walk only in the
early or late hours to avoid heat. The sidewalk is hot to the touch so consider how that feels to
the dog's pads! And, sun beating down on the dog plus radiating up from the sidewalk (He is a lot closer to it than you are.) can dehydrate an animal very rapidly.

As for those pleading eyes and the drooling. remember that your dog is capable of doing that following a full meal. Hunger may actually be part of the problem if you are feeding dry food
that is mostly grains and very, very little meat. The dog is not satisfied even if she is full! If
you love your dog give her a life free of the strain of packing around extra pounds that tax the
system and destroy the joints.

*To me “real food” means a raw diet but even a well balanced cooked diet is way ahead of what comes in bags. There are a LOT of resources for home prepared food but even giving
your dog some vegetables, fruits, eggs, fresh meat now and then is an improvement over the

Canine Obesity

The lead article in the April 2007 issue of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is about
obesity in canines. One study done by the National Academy of Sciences show that 25 to 40% of
our companion animals are obese. Not just fat. Obese! And, three quarters of their owners don’t
see their dogs that way at all. Or, do not want to see their dogs as obese? The result, sad to say,
is the same: unhealthy, unhappy and uncomfortable companions who count on their people to
monitor such things as what and how much they can eat.

10% overweight may shorten the dog’s life by 33% and 20% overage makes that figure leap
to 50%. The review states that the “fourth top cause of canine death is obesity-induced
disease” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And people refuse to see
the situation or, if they see it, often fail to take action to improve the lives of those animals that
depend on them 100%. What to me is even sadder is when vets do not tell their clients that
their dogs are obese and make it clear just what that is doing to the animal! Dr. Sean Delaney
of the University of California, Davis, says: It is debilitating, and obese animals are really

Routinely I see dogs struggling to walk with their owners. Their breathing is rapid, they are
panting, they are limping from the joint pains – the one thing they are not doing is enjoying the

The illnesses you impose on your dog when you allow her to gain those extra pounds are
multiple. Arthritis and other orthopedic disorders are often related to the excess wear and
tear imposed on body joints having to deal with the extra weight. While many dogs may get
arthritic conditions as they age just being a “little bit” overweight brings on the conditions sooner,
escalates the deterioration, and causes pain earlier in the dog’s life.

Existing problems are exacerbated and they include luxating patella, canine hip dysplasia,
ruptured or torn ligaments supporting joints, and ruptured spinal disks. Even small reductions in
weight can give the suffering dogs some relief from the pain.

Breathing problems are clearly evident and never more so than with breeds with breathing
problems to begin with – English Bull Dogs, French Bull Dogs, Boxers, Pekinese, Pugs, etc. These
breeds have enough trouble breathing without fighting the extra pounds! Fat dogs often try to
stop regularly while walking in an effort to improve their breathing. They indicate shortness of
breath, they snort, gasp, use a wide footed stance and allow their tongues to hang out of their
mouths all with the hope of increasing air intake. How very, very sad.

Fat contributes to the condition because it constricts the diaphragm, lungs and airways. Nice
thought, eh?

That fat and the fat in the abdomen of course complicates surgery both for the surgeon and
for the anesthesiologist who tries to monitor the anesthesia. Fat cells absorb some forms of
anesthesia and therefore take a longer time to leave the body after surgery. Obese dogs have
a higher rate of death following surgery than dogs with proper body weight. The doctor’s job of
diagnosing problems is totally compromised as she probes and palpates trying to check on organs,
locate a lump, etc. and lab results on blood and urine tests are altered!

And we aren’t finished yet with the downside of obesity. The liver may be affected, diabetes may
result, some studies indicate that obesity contributes to bladder or mammary cancers. Immune
system suppression, incontinence and skin and coat health are affected negatively.

So – be realistic about your dog. Really, really accept responsibility for those extra pounds
and what it is doing to your dog. She doesn’t know that by eating the extra dog food, happily

accepting a slice of pizza, nibbling away off and on all day long, begging for and getting fatty
foods, causes her the pains making so much of her life less comfortable than it could be and
having her die sooner than need be.

Only you can help her to live well and comfortably.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

When to Start?

When to Start?

The moment your new pup or adopted dog enters your home you are either training what you want the dog to learn or you are “training” something that needs to be undone down the road.

Unfortunately most people wait – and wait! – until problems are very evident before seeking help.  Sad to say the “help” they seek may result in the pup or dog being sent to a shelter or otherwise abandoned because behavior issues have gotten a bit out of control.  But, even if that is not the case it is ALWAYS more difficult to correct problems then to prevent them

Impulse acquisition is the first mistake!  Before a pet enters your life there is homework to be done.  One needs to carefully evaluate one’s lifestyle to be certain that a pet will fit in well.  And, then, just what kind of pet will be best?  For some a puppy is the only answer – puppies are so cute and so much fun to watch and play with.  But, they certainly come with issues:  housetraining, chewing, mouthing and more.  Puppies acquired from less than reliable sources very, very often have health issues that mean extra care and lots of extra vet bills.  Older dogs may fit in beautifully but all too often they come with “baggage” that can include housetraining problems, temperament issues, separation anxiety and more.  It may be that a cat is a much better answer but do not think you simply bring home a kitten or adult and you live happily every after.  Kittens and cats have very special needs and you best learn what they are.

Before a pet enters the home one needs to decide where she will spend most of her time.  Where is the feeding station?  What food is needed?  Water bowls?  Toys?  Collars and leashes?  Who is the primary care taker?  Have you planned to blank out your social calendar to give the much needed adjustment time to the newcomer?  Do you have an appointment with the vet to check on health issues and set up a vaccination schedule?   These are for starters!

Often people want to give a pup/dog time to “adjust” before asking anything of them but habits – good and not so good – form very quickly.  If the pup is not going to be allowed on the bed or furniture when she is an adult then it should not be allowed on the furniture because “she is so frightened, or lonely, or sad, or whatever.  Please do not misunderstand what I am saying:  If having your pup on the sofa or bed with you is what you enjoy then by all means do so!  Just don’t confuse the issues by one day great and the next day – no way.

Eight week old pups have almost identical brain waves to adults so they can learn just about anything they can physically do – but their concentration is limited and they are easily distracted.  Also – and this is VERY important: Punishment is NOT part of the scene.  You don’t even get to holler at the little one!

It used to be that one did not begin training until the pups were 7 or 8 months of age and many (Too many!) people still believe that to be the case.  The reason that “rule” was in effect is that punishment was the method to “train” and pups are quickly ruined when they encounter punishment.  Positive based training methods can teach pups as young as 4 WEEKS of age so your eight week old baby is a sponge just waiting to soak up all the good things you can send her way.

 It is so much easier to teach a small pup good leash manners than an unruly 8 month old adolescent.  It is much easier to prevent destruction of pillows, remote controls, toilet paper rolls and your fingers than it is to “cure” the problems.

So – please plan well ahead of time if a pup (or kitten) is to be your companion.  Seek help before you bring home this little creature that will be looking to you for safety, comfort and a long healthy, happy life.


Cats are technically “obligate” carnivores and that means that to be healthy they really need to eat meat.  If you have ever taken the time to read the labels on those packages of dry cat food you are feeding your cat you’ll easily conclude that meat is not making up the greater percentage of what is in the bag.  Typically the food is 1/3 to ½ carbohydrates from grains and starchy vegetables.  Not food for carnivores.  In fact, dry cat food presents many challenges to a cat’s health.

Commercial cat food has the advantage of being convenient and cheap – that does not make it healthy.  Producers of all the major brands of cat food have a responsibility to the stock holders and not a heck of a lot to the cats.  In order for cats to even eat the “stuff” in those bags the manufacturers have become geniuses at flavoring those cute little chunks and hunks with sprayed on fats and flavors.  Some of the worst foods are still so tasty (not nutritious, you understand) that cats overeat.

Wet food surpasses dry food in that there is far less carbohydrate in the blend so a minimal goal for your cat’s diet is at least 50% wet food.   But, be aware that fish flavors and those containing liver or giblets (often labeled at “by-products”) offers a significant risk for thyroid disease.  Easy open and “pop top” cans have been implicated as a high risk.  It is thought to have something to do with the lining of the cans or the interaction between ingredients and what is in the lining.  Avoid pop-tops and especially those with white linings.  Fish should be avoided if your cat has a urinary tract disease.

Cats evolved as desert animals and as such their main source of fluids came from the animals they ate.  Their prey animals are approximately 65% water and while cats eating dry food are likely to drink “more” water they rarely drink enough to be totally hydrated.  High – proper! – water intake keeps the kidneys happy, dilutes the urine and reduces the risk of crystals and stones.  These are such common and mostly avoidable health issues – if the cats are fed what they are meant to eat!

The BEST diet for your cat is a homemade/raw diet but beware – Yes – that does require time and understanding of just what and how much to feed your cats.  What you need to know is beyond the scope of this article but I refer you to:

Raising Cats Naturally by Michelle Bernard
Natural Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall
What Cats Should Eat by Jean Hofve,  DVM

Dr. Hofve has this to say about cats and carbohydrates:

Scientific evidence is increasing that carbohydrates are simply not metabolized well by many cats, if not all…overweight cats are at higher risk for many healthy problems.
  • joint damage
  • diabetes
  • decreased immune function
  • heart disease
  • respiratory disease
  • liver disease
  • pancreatitis
  • digestive disorders
  • skin and coat problems
  • urinary tract disease
  • increased anesthetic risk
  • impaired healing ability
  • cancer

 If you want optimal health NEVER feed dry foods!!!

Read the Label

READ THE LABEL!!!  You are in for some surprises!

Most people have learned the benefits and needs of reading the labels on cans and packages of food for humans yet never give it a thought when they purchase food and treats for their pets.  Pet food manufacturers take wonderful advantage of that customer behavior.  If the word “manufacturer” used in conjunction with food doesn’t appear as a red flag you are already lost!

If you insist on feeding processed food to your pets at least wise up to the really bad stuff in those products.  Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are linked with causes for cancer. Large doses of propylene glycol (used to keep foods moist and chewy) are currently being linked to central nervous system depression and even kidney changes.  The products containing these cheap but damaging ingredients are usually going to also contain ingredients most likely to cause your dogs to itch, suffer from gas, have flaky skin, and more.

And, commercial treats for dogs are often the very worst of the bunch.

Of the top 15 commercial treats in The Whole Dog Journal’s current review I must admit I have never seen a single one available in this area.  Almost none of them would even be available in supermarkets in the U.S. but I’ll list them at the end of the article so you can add them to your wish list for the next trip to the store.

While we do not have the best we certainly have examples of the worst!  Beggin’ Strips tops the list.  The ingredients list starts like this:  Original bacon flavor:  ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, ground yellow corn, water, sugar, glycerin, meat, hydrogenated starch, hydrosolate,  soybean meal…  To quote WDJ, “Also contains artificial preservatives and colors.  This sort of ‘grocery store’ treat is just sweetened glop”.  Well – they do call it the way they see it!  And whatever “Original bacon flavor” is I haven’t a clue.

I believe I have seen Snausages in our area also.  The list of ingredients includes seven instances of artificial preservatives and several artificial colors.    And, how about the old standard, Milk Bones?  Well, let’s see.  Wheat flour, wheat bran, beef and beef bone meal.  Basically a recipe composed of what is known as “food fragments” and the bottom line is there is not much that is healthy in those bone shaped biscuits.  We would want to see wheat, for example, instead of wheat flour and wheat bran if we wanted to see anything about grains in the food – and we don’t.   Maybe the worst thing about Milk Bones is that people will buy the biggest one their dogs can handle meaning it becomes part of the diet rather than “just” a treat.

While treats do not need to meet the high standards of the food people SHOULD be feeding their dogs because the treats are supposedly doled out in small portions those treats should not have harmful ingredients in them.  For example, we do not want sweeteners (often shown as corn syrup, sucrose and ammoniated glycyrrhizin) in our dog’s regular diet or treats but a bit of molasses, honey or fruit in a treat is certainly not a bad thing.

Clearly, the best thing to do is to give fresh, real food for treats such as bits of meat, chicken, cheese, fish or even fruit.  The tinier the pieces the better, especially when using treats for training purposes.  But – if you must have some cutesy shaped doggie goodie here is the list from which to choose:

Buddy Biscuits                                         Original Quinoa Dog Buscuit

Charlee Bear Dog Treats                          Simon and Huey’s Doggoned Tasty Treats

Henry and Sons Vegetarian Cookies        The Hand that Feeds You Healthy Dog Bakery

Liver Biscotti                                            Wet Noses Herbal Dog Treats

Old Mother Hubbard Dog Biscuits           Barkin’ Bits

Original Dog Biscuits                               Dry Roasted Canine Treats

Live-a-Littles                                            Solid Gold Beef Jerky

Pro Treat

When you read an ingredient list it SHOULD read ingredients in decreasing quantities but the pet food companies are very deceptive in their labeling process.  Take the following list of ingredients from a can of cat food as an example:

Water, beef, liver, meat by products, corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, chicken fat, vitamins and minerals.

Looks like it has a lot of meat, right?  Well - corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, are all basically the same thing – corn.  But, because the company can legally label particles of corn separately it turns out that corn is second to water in this particular recipe!  Deceptive?  You bet!

Cats should never be given any grains and the only reason to put grains in canned food is to same the precious stock holders money.  Since the extruders (the machines that make dry food) must have some form of carbohydrates to make the little dry pellets grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes are a major part of all the dry recipes.  Cats should never be fed dry food because of the carbs.  Dogs should be treated better than they are and not be given dry foods either but at least they can digest it better (which is not saying much!) because they are not obligate carnivores as are cats.

Names of the cans are helpful because they are regulated but, of course, little is said to the buying public about how to read those labels!  If a food is called “Beef Cat Food” it must be at least 95% beef “on a dry matter basis”.**  If the label says something like Beef Feast or Beef EntrĂ©e you are now down to 25% beef – or whatever the name meat may be.  If a label says “Cat food with beef” you are now down to a maximum of 3%

This of course applies to dog food as well and you can use the same thinking process as you read the dry food labels.  A label may say Chicken, for example as a first ingredient.  Good start, right?  Well, maybe not.  It means that it is chicken meat – that part is good – but it went into the extruder raw – full of moisture – 75% or more moisture!  When it dries out it is greatly reduced in quantity and therefore in percentage.  Chicken meal means it is meat but dry when it goes into the machine.  Next check how many times you see some version of grains and grain fragments and you get an idea of how bad it really is.

Become aware of what you buy to put in your trusting feline or canine companion's food bowls.  Learn to carefully read those labels.

*There is a specific formula to determine “dry matter basis” but space prevents including it here.