Thursday, April 29, 2010

Feeding your dog healthy, fresh food

Slide 1

Home-made dog biscuits: Grain-free peanut butter chip drop cookies

If you want to start a heated debate among dog people, two controversial topics you can bring up are food and vaccinations. Even among vets, breeders and others who work day-to-day with dogs, there is no consensus. This posting is about food – I’ll do another one about vaccinations later.

The most common types of doggie diets are store-bought processed, raw, grain-free and combination diets. Some believe that only foods created using the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards are considered safe and nutritionally balanced. Others believe that dogs should be fed raw meat and bones with fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet others prefer grain-free diets. Some do a blend.

My views aren’t extreme. I believe that like people, no one diet works for every dog. Your dog’s lifestyle, genetics and overall health make their food requirements unique. An elite-athlete sled dog has different nutritional and caloric needs than a toothless, couch potato, geriatric miniature poodle. Likewise, dogs with food allergies or medical conditions need special diets. I also don’t believe that serving processed food is always best. My problem with processed foods is that you’re often paying for a low-quality ingredients, a high water volume and environmentally unfriendly packaging.

My personal preference is a raw diet supplemented with fresh foods. I put some caveats on that though. It’s essential to know what items are toxic to dogs. Everything should be fed in moderation. You wouldn’t live on one food item, nor should your dog. It's important to balance food types over time, rather than at each meal. And, watch to not include toxic ingredients.

Some people will argue that feeding people food makes dogs mooch or get fat. I disagree. Dogs mooch because of where you feed them, not what you feed them. If you feed your dog in the kitchen or at the dinner table, they’ll mooch. If you feed them in their spaces, they won’t. They mooch if they’re rewarded by doing it. And, unless there is a medical condition, they get fat when feed too much. It's that simple.

If you want to serve people food to your dog, it’s pretty easy to find lists of toxic foods for dogs, but what isn’t readily available is a list of generally healthy and safe foods. Here’s a starting point list of foods that I comfortably will and won’t feed to my own dogs:

Generally healthy and safe foods

Lean meat, fish and poultry, peanuts and unsweetened peanut butter, raw bones, offal (heart, liver, kidney, tongue, tripe), eggs, beans and lentils, apples, bananas, blueberries, saskatoon berries, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, dried fruits including dates, carrots, cabbage, spinach, green or yellow string beans, broccoli, ripe tomatoes, potatoes, yams, zucchini, beets, alfalfa sprouts, parsley, cod liver oil, salmon oil, canola oil, olive oil, flax or hemp seed, glucosomine, acidophilus, digestive enzymes, nutritional yeast, bone meal or egg shells, yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese.

Unhealthy and/or toxic foods

Ham, bacon or excessive poultry skin, macadamia nuts, walnuts, cooked bones, grapes, raisins and some currants including juices and trail mixes, rhubarb fruit and leaves, fruit seeds from apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricots, onions, garlic, avocado, green tomatoes and potatoes, potato peels, lumps of fat off meat, butter, corn, popped corn, yeast dough that’s rising, hops, xylitol, milk, nutmeg, caffeinated coffee and tea, salt, chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate icings, alcoholic beverages, moldy foods and sugar.

I’m not a veterinarian or a small animal nutritionist so please consider this as one source of information. The pet food industry has done a very good job telling people that they’re incapable of feeding dogs. I don’t believe them. Read about the topic, talk with your vet and others in the pet care business, then make choices that are best for your dog. If you feed your dog something that doesn't increase their vitality or agree with them, check with your vet.

Recipe for home-made dog biscuits: Grain-free peanut butter chip drop cookies

2 cups black beans

1 cup peanut butter

2 eggs – include shells

½ cup dried fruit (16 apricots - NEVER use raisins)

Blend 1.5 cups of beans with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor.

Once fully blended, fold in ½ cup of black beans so they look like chocolate chips (NEVER use chocolate)

Drop by teaspoonful onto cookie sheets

Bake at 350’ for 15 minutes

If you want to eat these yourself as protein bars, omit the egg shells.
I prepare black beans in bulk by soaking, boiling, bagging and freezing them in advance.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Appreciating animal control this week

These are my delightfully sucky cats. Betty on the left was given to me by a friend, and Wilma on the right had her start at the Regina Humane Society. We don’t know what Wilma’s life was before she arrived at their doorsteps. All we know is that she was unwanted. She could have simply been dropped off. She could have been in distress. We’ll never know. What we do know is that she was given a second chance because of animal control and protection laws.

According to RHS, this week is Animal Control Appreciation Week. So I think, we should all hug an animal protection officer – or at least show our appreciation. These are the wonderful women and men who give animals a second chance by working at humane societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and in municipalities to enforce the Criminal Code of Canada, the Animal Protection Act and municipal bylaws.

This cartoon is a really nice tribute those who work in this field.

In the business of animals, animal control and animal protection are two distinct things – one is about keeping animals safe from people, the other about keeping people safe from animals.

I prefer to think about it in context of Gandhi’s famous quote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I see that good animal protection practices results in good animal control, which helps to create strong, safe and healthy communities – that people who treat animals well, also treat each other well. For example, when an unsterilized animal is malnourished, untrained and allowed to roam, a child is easily harmed. No one wins and our society pays the price. Conversely, when animals are treated with kindness and compassion – they’re sterilized and receive proper food, water, shelter and care, kindness spills over to how people treat each other. I’m a bit of an idealist that way.

Do your part to help animal control and protection – sterilize your pet, treat it well and help a friend or neighbour be kind to animals. And to the fine animal protection and control workers, thank you so much for all you do!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Double dog dare you: getting a second dog

Nothing beats the pure bliss of watching two dogs romp and play together. They seem inseparable. Where one dog explores, the other follows. They curl up together on their comfy beds into tiny balls so you can’t tell where one starts and the other stops. When they come to visit us at our kennel, double dogs are always happy – and that makes sense because they’re always hanging around, playing with their best buddy.

In single-dog families, you are their universe. You are the source of everything – including being their 24/7 live entertainment. At times, that’s great, and at other times, especially when they’re puppies or adolescents, it would be nice if some of their extra puppy energy would be burned off elsewhere. Enter, the second dog. After you’ve exercised and trained your dog, you can chill and watch your dogs run, interact and play. They can burn off more energy together in a half hour than you could ever give them in several hours – unless you’re into agility or other dog sports of course.

However, there is a secret dark side to double dogs. In addition to the extra space they take (think about two danes), double the hair and poo to clean up, and doubling your cost for food and veterinary bills (especially if both get serious, expensive medical issues), as with people, there can be personality issues – and those issues can turn into aggression and management problems. The most difficult problems seem to be with female/female and big/small dogs. Females can wrestle for dominance, and what would normally be a small scuffle between size-matched dogs can easily become deadly when yorkie and retriever sized dogs get into it. Another thing to watch for is getting puppies from the same litter. They’re awesome and adorably cute, but they can bond more with each other than with you.

Some believe that the ideal way to get a second dog is to get one, train it and bond with it, then get your second dog later. Compatible dogs include picking male/male or male/female rather than two females, and sticking to similar sizes. Once you’ve got two dogs, spend solo time exercising, training and bonding with each dog. If you already have a big and small dog, watch their dynamics, and possibly separate them when you’re not there to supervise them.

Personally, I’m really big on double dogs. I love living with Daisy and Buddy. Every now and then they still get on each other’s nerves – usually over a really, really tasty treat – but knowing that helps me manage around it.

If you’re interested in this topic, here are a few more resources:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dealing with dog aggression: when your sweet, adorable puppy, turns into Cujo

We hear it over and over again “my dog would never bite”. That’s simply wrong – every dog will bite. We all know about some normally mild-mannered person who one day snaps and gets road rage – dogs are no different. They don’t have many ways to express themselves – so they use their teeth. They typically give several warning signs ranging from a growl to a stare and freeze, then move on to a bite. For some dogs, that progression is slow, for others, all of those phases can happen in a moment. This escalation process to an actual bite is called the “bite threshold”. Normal dog aggression occurs around specific triggers such as being touched, resource guarding “their” stuff – toys, food, etc., their people or around other animals. For example, a normally calm, submissive animal can appear to be vicious when approaching another dog while on a leash walk.

While many dogs are able to tolerate one stressor, trouble often occurs when a number of their stressors combine. For example, one dog dislikes, but tolerates toddlers, they tolerate when people take their favourite toy, and they tolerate loud noises. But, inevitably you have a loud family party, where a toddler takes the dog’s favourite toy. That combination could be too much stress for your dog to handle. Then wham, the dog bites, and everyone is shocked.

Here are a few things you can do to avoid aggression:

Be a leader
This is about being like a confident, assertive-parent. It’s not about being an aggressive dominant brute. You’re in control of everything in your dog’s life and they need to realize that. Use trainer Sue Ailsbury’s techniques to respectfully and responsibly put yourself in control of your relationship.

Socialize your dog to everything
Let your dog experience the world and different people of all ages, men and women. Let them see the world so they realize that it’s not a scary place.

Never use aggression on your dog
Using aggression builds fear. When you build fear, you’re also setting the stage for future aggression.

Handle your dog and their stuff
From day one, take away their stuff, make them move from your pathway and off the furniture, and be able to touch them all over. Ideally get other people to do this too so your dog is prepared for other caregivers such as vets and trainers.

Ask for and reward the behaviour you want – rather than tolerating what you get
Every day your milk man arrives, your dog goes wild, then watches him leave. His little doggie brain tells him that he’s done his job by sending the bad man away. Rather than allowing this behaviour, train your dog to do something preferable like sit or go to your mat. Reward that behaviour. Eventually your dog will sit or go to their mat when they see the milk man arrive.

Teach your dog to have a soft mouth
If you do this right and one day they feel the need to bite, they’re less likely to cause damage.

Protect your dog
One of your jobs is to protect your dog from harm’s way so they never feel threatened. Being attacked by another dog is an easy way to build aggression into your dog. One trainer I know carries a riding crop with her when walking her dog. If any dog tries to harm her dog, they can’t. It sounds a little nasty, but I’d rather deter someone else’s aggressive dog than build fear into mine.

If you notice signs of aggression, manage or modify it right away. Doing nothing is a recipe for disaster – either you or someone else will be bitten. Check with your vet to rule out that behaviour changes are not medically related – eg. if they’re in pain, they may snap. Don’t do anything that is likely to get yourself bitten. If you’re concerned at all, seek a professional trainer to help you out. When doing that, make sure you find one that uses positive techniques rather than aggressive, fear-based methods. Never tolerate behaviour in a small dog that would be unacceptable in larger dogs. What often starts out as cute puppy behaviours can turn into a nightmare.

Here are some additional resources to help you on your way: