Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shaping your Dog

Sometimes when training our dogs, less is more. Less talk that is. We talk to our dogs A LOT. We tell them how adorable they are, how good they are, and we tell them what they aren't doing correctly more often than not. When it comes to problem solving, concentration with little background noise is best initially. Overtime we want to work on proofing behaviors as the distractions increase. When our dogs are learning it is important to try and keep quiet.

That being said, when you like what your dog has done let him know. A smile, an exuberant "Good Dog!" and a treat will communicate that to your dog. Those type of acknowledgments can be lost on our dog if we are constantly talking to them. "Sit, sit, sit down Fido, why aren't you listening, sit, si..."Good Dog", stay, stay, no sit, sit sit..." You get the picture. If you are quiet and patient, and give your dog a chance to respond you will likely see a decrease in stress and a higher rate of attention.


Shaping is using a series of small steps to achieve a final behavior. It is done without manipulating the dog in any way whether with physical corrections, voice commands or pointing. Shaping encourages the dog to make decisions and we get to watch and mark the right decisions. Think of it as playing the childhood hiding game, "Hot and Cold". As you get closer to the hidden item you keep getting reinforced by a verbal marker hot, hot, hotter, or if you are steering off on the wrong course you hear cold. With shaping, the equivalent to being "hot" is the sound of the clicker and a treat. The absence of a click is the indicator to the dog that he is cold. The more clicks he gets, the more correct decisions he is making towards the final behavior. You want to keep your body still and quiet so that your dog makes all the decisions.

Below are two videos. One is me shaping Henry to put his feet in the laundry basket. Henry is pretty new to shaping and takes longer to think things through. The second video is to show the difference between dogs who have done a lot of shaping to those that haven't and is of my older dog Scout, also being shaped to put his feet in the basket. Take notice that in both videos I'm overall quite still and I don't talk to the dogs at all except when they make a breakthrough towards the final behavior.



Friday, September 20, 2013

Photo Friday

"Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." George Elliot

Friday, September 13, 2013

Photo Friday

"You can say any foolish thing to a dog and the dog will give you a look that says, 'My God, you're right! I never would've thought of that!'" Dave Barry

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What's in a food?

All dog foods are created equal.
What is good for one dog must be good for another.
If it costs more, it must be a good quality food.
100% complete and balanced!

Yikes! Look at all the artificial coloring, it holds no nutritional value for our dogs.

These are some of the most common pet food myths that will be touched upon today. Nutrition is such a vast subject and is a topic of great debate and extensive conversation. I will touch on the key components of nutrition as it relates to our dog and get you started on understanding what is on a dog food label.

Extensive research has been done on the diet of wolves, coyotes and foxes. Dogs and wolves are biologically the same. The dog descended from the wolf and shares some of its similarities. For instance, wolves are carnivores. Their primary diet consists largely of meat with minimal fruit and grasses. While our dogs are not wolves, it is still evident that they require large amounts of protein. In fact, it should make up the bulk of their dog food.

When you look at the ingredient list on your dog's food, it is mandatory for the manufacturer to list the ingredients in order of descending weight. That means the first ingredient in the list weighs the most. Because dogs require protein, it is encouraged by many, those who have done extensive research in canine nutrition, that within the first 5 ingredients there be at least 2 protein sources. For instance:

Innova Large Breed Adult (first 5)
Turkey, Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Grain Barley, Whole Grain Brown Rice

It is pretty evident what Turkey and Chicken are, the birds, no confusing words around it. What about Chicken Meal? What is the meal component? According to the AAFCO, (Association of American Feed Control Officers - they regulate what goes into dog foods), a meal is the protein source free of all moisture content. It is pure protein. When you look at something like turkey or chicken, the bulk of the weight is actually water weight. Similar to humans, aren't we about 70% water weight? While a whole protein source like chicken is good, chicken meal is almost better in the sense that if it is first that weight is all protein not protein and moisture. Now, what about some of the other protein sources. There are some companies that opt to use by-products. Here are some of the definitions food companies need to abide by when selecting their ingredients.

Meat: is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striated muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.

Meat By Product: is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meats, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes but is not limited to, lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissues, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. it does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animals food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.

Poultry By-Product - must consist of non-rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidable in good factory practice.

Poultry By-Product Meal - consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, exclusive of feather, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

Why would a company use by-products? They are often a cheaper substitute for the real thing. There may be some that claim by-products have their place and are very high protein sources. This may be partially true but the "high proteins" are often in a form that a dog can not easily digest, therefore, not getting the appropriate nutrients from it.

Here are two ingredient lists, one which I would consider a high quality food and the second, one you would get at your grocery store, a place that typically carries the lower quality dog food.

There is such a difference between these two food. One uses "people" food, whole vegetables and fruits and the other a variety of synthetic flavors and artificial coloring. One is likely to be more expensive than the other but there are other low quality brands out there that are quite costly. Why? They need to make money somewhere for all the marketing and commercials you see. Often the higher quality foods aren't as well known as some of the lower quality foods and this is likely due to the fact that they take the marketing money and put it towards the higher quality ingredients.

Also the cheaper food actually end up costing you more than the higher quality food. What goes in must come out. The cheaper foods have more waste so you need to feed more to actually get your dog a reasonable amount of the nutrients. The higher quality food has less waste within the kibble so you can feed less because more is absorbed. So of the above examples, food A you may only need to feed 3 cups/day and the food B you would have to feed 6 cups/day.

Things to look out for in ingredient lists - vague descriptions. In the bargain brand food listed, it doesn't specific what meat is used for the meat and bone meal or what animal fat is being used. This leaves wiggle room for the company to always be able to shop for the cheapest ingredients while staying "true" to the ingredient list. As noted about, avoid artificial colors, as well as preservatives BHA and BHT, these are known carcinogenic preservatives used in foods, human food too, and in packaging.

It is a continuing debate on what is good for dogs. Your dog may do just fine on a lower quality food but that doesn't mean that is what is best for them. Think of yourself or your child. Just because they survive and can live on McDonalds doesn't mean they should eat it every day forever, does it? Eventually you are going to notice health problems.

The thing with dogs and puppies, are that they are relatively resilient. You may not see problems until they are big problems. For dogs it may be fatty tumors, cancerous tumors, organ failure, or joint problems to name a few. Feeding a higher quality food can help prevent the onset of some of these
problems. Your dog will develop better physically and mentally. Provide your dog with a high quality food and supplement with fresh whole fruits and vegetables and you will add a lot to their commercial dry dog food.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sensitivities vs. Allergies

Did you know that if your dog has a sensitivity to food one of the first things you should notice is your dog's skin changes? They may become more itchy, they could start shedding more, the coat may dry out and you may see more dandruff or they might develop an odor and a greasy coat. Dogs may develop an ear infection, a rash or discoloration of their coat (usually on lighter dogs).

For the first 2 years of Scout's (my 5 year old yellow lab) life he had chronic, although mild ear infections. He would itch some but not to a degree that would earn any concern. The ear infections I chalked up to the fact that he was a lab and labs always had ear infections. It wasn't until I switched the brand of dog food that it made me question a food sensitivity. What prompted the switch was that the manufacturer of the food I was feeding had sold out to a company that makes everything from cosmetics to shampoos to food. Often in the dog food world, once this happens, the quality of the ingredients start to change. So before that happened I switched foods. It was unintentional the first food I switched Scout to, but it was a high, novel protein (bison, venison), free of rice and full of pro and prebiotics. Within a span of 3 weeks, Scout's ears, untreated with medications, cleared. I had never seen them so clean. While he never had a raging infection he always had that greasy, yeasty debris. It was at this point that I became aware that he had even been itchy. Because when he used to jump up and start scratching his armpits after laying on carpet, I would think, he has little hair there and the fiber of the carpet must irritate him. After switching foods, he hardly ever itched. That it is when the light bulb went off! 

It took many months, close to a year, of trial and errors to narrow down the ingredients which were irritating to him. In the end it came down to Rice and/or Chicken. I am more certain that it is chicken because once it came down to the two, I picked a chicken grain free diet which had about 6 different chicken ingredients within the first 10 listed. At the end of 1 week being on the food, his ears started to get that greasy debris. Scout can still eat things with chicken in it, but just not an overabundance and every day for a month or more. I have no problem with grains in a dogs diet, I find it just as easy to pick foods that are chicken and grain free. Scout who will be 6 in a couple of short months has been ear infection free for 4 years. 

You may have noticed that I keep calling it sensitivities verses allergies. The difference between a sensitivity verses an allergy is that with allergies they are acute reactions; swelling, can't breath, overall, severe issues that need attending. Think of people who are allergic to bee stings and need immediate assistance. Sensitivities are an intolerance. They can occur anywhere 2-72 hours post exposure, like after eating something. According to Dr. Jean Dodds, Veterinarian and one of the foremost experts in pet healthcare, onset of sensitivities occur between 6 months to 4 years for most animals. Largest complaints when it comes to sensitivities, itching, otitis externa (ear infections), and seborrhea (dry skin flakes like dandruff ). 

There are definitely other reasons dogs can itch. Food sensitivity actually falls third in the list of many things. Number 1 = Flea bites, Number 2 = atopy, or inhalant allergy, and then Number 3 = food sensitivity. 

If you think your dog has an intolerance to something in particular, like food, it is important to give the trial 4-6 weeks if not 6-8 weeks of eliminating that particular ingredient. Then if there is no improvement you can try eliminating more ingredients. There are a number of companies out there that offer a limited ingredient formula which is often one protein source and one grain which is extremely helpful when doing food trials.

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