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Archive for December, 2009

Front Seat Drivers

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Quite often I take Toby (my 4 year old Boxer) out in the car with me while I run errands – provided the weather is not too hot or too cold. 9 out of 10 times when I arrive back at my car, there he is, in the driver’s seat, paws on the wheel, ready to drive us home. It has to be one of my favourite images of him. But, once it’s time to drive to our next destination, Toby knows that it’s back seat time, and sits patiently on his blanket looking out the back window. On highway trips, he wears a seatbelt and he wears it well. This has taken some work, but with cozy blankets, a chew toy and a slightly open window, he’s quite content to go on long drives to the cottage etc.
On our journeys, we often see other dogs trying to drive – while the owner is also trying to drive! This happens with many breeds of dogs, but often it is the smaller breeds that best fit in their human’s lap. In all the dog training I’ve done, I have never trained a dog to drive. So why are they in the driver’s seat while the car is in motion? No one ever actually plans on being in a car accident, but when they are in one, it happens within seconds, and with no time to avoid it. Thankfully, car manufacturers do plan for accidents, and provide safety measures for us such as seatbelts and airbags. But these devices are to protect drivers and human passengers, not dogs. In the event that the person driving in front of you suddenly stops, and you rear-end them, it is likely that you, the driver, will lurch forward and go front first into your air bag, which expels with incredible pressure. Now, what do think is going to happen to your little four-legged friend when this happens? He will be crushed between your body and the exploding airbag or the steering wheel, and sadly, their little bodies just weren’t built to withstand this kind of impact. Not only that, with the force of the airbag being so strong, there is a good reason that newer vehicles come with a sensing device that shuts off the passenger side airbag when the passenger is under 75 lbs – because the force of the airbag would injure them considerably. Most dogs who sit on your lap while driving are well under this weight, and because they are on top of you (you likely being more than 75 lbs), the driver’s side airbag is still engaged and will deploy in an accident.
There are several stringent rules in place when carrying babies and small children in a vehicle. These rules are in place to protect their tiny bodies in an accident. We should all consider these rules for our dogs as well, small or large breed. We should protect them just as carefully as we do the humans that we love, and not put them in danger just because they are warm, cute and cuddly. Keep your dog in the back seat at all times, and if your dog is rambunctious in the car, use a crate or seatbelt and seek assistance from a trainer if you need it. We all love to cuddle with our dogs, but save it for when you are safe and sound at home. Dogs in the front seat are a major distraction to the driver, and at serious risk of death or injury when riding in the front. If you love your dog, show him by keeping him safe.

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What is Canine Nutrition Counselling?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

How much do you really know about you dog’s food? Do you know what ingredients are good, and what are bad? Have you ever heard of someone actually cooking for their dog? Do you have a couple of hours every day to research and learn about all of the different things there are to know about canine nutrition? Probably not. I have made this learning process a part of my full time career, and a nutrition specialist such as myself can help you make the right decisions for your dog.
Kibbles come in many forms, from ‘economical’ (i.e. Purina Dog Chow) to premium (i.e. Science Diet) to human grade (i.e. Orijin). Are the premium and human grade kibbles worth the extra money, or are you just paying for a brand name? Certainly not. In fact, in the majority of dogs, those that are fed a more expensive human grade kibble are healthier, and require fewer veterinary visits that those who are fed economical kibbles, or even premium kibbles. Are you getting a balanced diet from every brand of dog food? Yes actually, even the economical brands are required to adhere to the American Association of Feed Control Officials standards for the minimum nutritional requirements for all stages of canines – puppies to seniors. However, these standards are ‘minimum standards’, which can equate to a person eating pizza every day of their life – it may contain the four food groups, and it may sustain you, but it does not make you healthy; and most dogs foods contain food that is NOT human-grade, and the standards for the grade of foods in dog food are shockingly low. Like people, every dog has a unique metabolism and there is not one preferred food for every dog, however there are a series of brands that promote good health and can be fed every day in good conscience. Finding the right brand and the right type of food can be a trial and error process, but once you’ve found what works for your dog, it is very easy to stick to.
Supplementing kibble with fresh food and home cooking for your dog is another excellent way of ensuring that they are receiving quality nutrition. Many owners find that the simplest way of providing an easy, nutritious diet while providing fresh food is to feed a human grade kibble combined with raw meaty bones and pureed fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw meaty bones, such as beef knuckle bones, are easily sourced at your grocer’s butcher counter, and fed at room temperature in the backyard (or on your living room carpet, if you really, really enjoy cleaning it!). Fruits and vegetables can also be sourced locally, and are best prepared by cooking them until soft and then popping the mixture into the food processor to puree it. Unfortunately, although dogs benefit greatly from the nourishment found in fruit and vegetable, they do not posess the amino acids and enzymes required by the body to break through plant wall, and therefore in order to absorb the nutrients, the fruit and vegetable wall needs to be broken for them, hence pureed. In most cases, the entire vegetable can be used, including stalks, peelings etc., and because dogs have a much higher capacity for ‘sterilizing’ the food in their stomachs, there is no problem with buying ‘near expiry’ vegetables at a lower cost. Everything can be thrown into one pot to soften up, and then the pureed mixture can be broken into containers, and kept in the freezer. You can simply take out one container per week to be fed with kibble, and this allows you to prepare many weeks of vegetables at the same time. This creates a quick and easy way to greatly increase the nutritional value of each meal, and just like us, make sure that vitamin-packed vegetables make it into every meal. The fruit and vegetable choices often depend on the breed of dog, lifestyle and health concerns, so consult a canine nutrition specialist before you proceed. In most cases, a specialist will recommend fruits high in anti-oxidants, fibre and vitamin content, such as raspberries or blueberries, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, parsley and kale. All are inexpensive, readily available and easy to prepare. A nutrition specialist will assist you in ‘tweeking’ the recipe for your dog’s unique needs, for example, steering a dog with hypo-thryroidism away from broccoli, or a barrel-chested or IBD dog away from beans.
Lastly, there are the various forms of completely home-prepared meals, either raw fed or cooked. The only food that MUST be fed raw is meaty bones. Bones that are cooked lose nutritional value, and can easily dry out and splinter, causing serious damage to your dog’s mouth, throat, and intestinal tract. Dog’s digestive systems contain bacteria killing enzymes that essentially sterilize all of the food they eat once it enters their system (care must still be taken in preparing the food, so that your kitchen and family eating area remain free of bacteria, just like preparing your own meats) – this is the reason our dogs can eat things that to us appear to be totally disgusting, but to the dog is yummy, delicious and doesn’t make them sick. Therefore, there is no reason that meats cannot be fed totally raw. However, if you feel more comfortable preparing meats that are slightly cooked, this is fine too. The most important aspect of home-prepared feeding is ensuring that you provide enough nutritional content for the dog. For example, the average human requires approximately 725 mg of calcium each day, but a large-breed dog requires over 3,000 mg of calcium each day, with a more regulated ratio of phosphorus. Although a dog can eat the same foods we do, they do need a different ratio of these foods, which is where a nutrition specialist can come in handy. We can help you understand your dog’s nutritional needs, provide simple recipes for you and set you on a course to make your own educated choices for your dog’s meals. We can even provide you with meal preparations for every day of the year, if you feel more comfortable relying 100% on the nutritionist. We will also help you to understand how to make the change from kibble to home-prepared, what to do when you go on vacation with or without your dog, how to make the most of changing seasonal foods, and how to apply these theories to multi-dog families.
At the end of the day, good nutrition makes a healthy dog. Canine nutrition specialists, like myself, can provide you with all of the tools to create a balanced diet for your dog. Remember, veterinarians are incredible people with skills that go far beyond our family doctors. Vets are pharmacologists, diagnosticians, surgeons, behaviourists and much much more while dealing with multiple species (dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, cows etc.) and patients who cannot tell them what’s wrong – it’s a tough job and we love them for it. However, all of this training leaves little time for nutritional assessments, and very few vets are able to guide you in this category. Talking to your vet about the health of your dog and bringing that information to a canine nutrition specialist can result in your dog being at the top of his game, and armed with the nutritional health to fight off infection, virus and disease. Wouldn’t we all like a dog who is happier, healthier and with us for a few years longer?
The Dog’s Assistant provides nutritional counseling in your home for kibble choices, kibble and supplement mixes, raw food or cooked food. These counseling sessions will be geared to your budget, time allowances, personal preferences and your dog’s health, energy level and lifestyle. Contact us for a consult at 416-471-2737 or by email at erica@thedogsassistant.ca .

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The inlaws are coming – with the dogs!

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

At this time of year especially, many dog owners are opening their homes to friends and family – along with their canine counterparts. Welcoming their dogs can sometimes be stressful and complicated, and is often an area where considerable tact in the family relationship is required. The majority of dog owners consider their dogs to be members of the family, if not like children, and when family dogs don’t get along or misbehave, it can cause tension in an otherwise happy reunion.
The most important thing to remember is that you are responsible for your own dog. It’s usually not a good idea to get involved in the handling of or correcting of another person’s dog. Hopefully, your visitor’s will feel the same way and not interfere with your dog, but if not, try to keep your cool and remind yourself that you can only control your own mind and not someone else’s, and calmly step in to take over the issue with your dog. The canine mind is exceptionally sensitive to human emotion, and anger or frustration with another dog or human is quickly perceived by your dog, and may exacerbate an already difficult situation.
There are some key points to promoting a healthy ‘dog-in-law’ dynamic:
1. If the dogs have never met, try to do so in a nearby park before going to your home. A neutral territory makes a greeting much less intense for dogs, as they do not have ‘turf’ to defend. If possible, legal and safe, do so off leash to allow them space to greet and hopefully play together. If not, keep a slack leash so as not to communicate any danger or stress to your dog. Try not to physically handle your dog, such as holding one dog in position to allow the other to sniff it – let them do this in their own time. A withheld dog is often a defensive dog. Once they are over the initial greeting, proceed to your home as a group.

2. Once inside the home, don’t assume that they dogs are instant cousins and love each other as such! Keep an eye on them, particularly as the visiting dog checks out your dog’s ‘stuff’, like toys, sleeping areas and food bowls. Many dogs can get defensive about these areas, and your dog’s calm response to the visitor making his rounds should be praised. The owner of the visiting dog should also calmly discourage their dog from licking the house dog’s bowls or stealing it’s toys. They might not be ready to share yet, and keeping things fair will encourage a friendly relationship.

3. If there are children present, and the dogs are allowed to be around them, SUPERVISE AT ALL TIMES! Every dog behaves differently with children, and also may behave differently if there is another dog in the home. Protection, jealousy and confusion can be predominant in this high-energy situation, and an adult should always be WITHIN ARMS LENGTH of the dogs at all times.

4. Be honest about your dog’s bad habits! If he is defensive around his ‘stuff’, tell the other owner! Embarassment on your part can lead to nasty arguments between the dogs, which could easily be avoided by assigning separate parts of your home to each dog. If you know they won’t get along – separate them! If you don’t want your dog to get table scraps, politely share this information with your guests. A lot of dogs are jumpers, which for Grandma or Grandpa could be a serious issue, so keep the crazy canine on a leash to prevent any accidents. Often, just a loose leash on a dog that she can drag around the house will come in very handy if they dart for a piece of food or an open door – it gives you an extra six feet of ‘catching’ distance!

5. Give your dog a quiet place to go to, like a crate or a bedroom that no one goes into. Dogs are smart, and often if they are overwhelmed by another dog, children or too many people in the house, they will seek out a space to get some peace, quiet and alone time. Let them have it, and their tempers will stay in check.

Most importantly, enjoy your guests and have fun with them! If that’s difficult, take lots of deep breaths! Keeping a calm, happy environment will likely keep the dogs calm and happy, and ultimately will lead to a great ‘doggy cousin’ relationship!

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Bringing home…Daddy?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

One of the programs that I offer is called Family Integration, which normally focuses on bringing home baby – and how to make sure that the family dog is ready for and accepting of the new family member. I also counsel families about step-family integration, and have published an article in Animal Wellness Magazine about that very subject. In most of these counseling sessions, there are children involved, which become my primary focus in the training program, as they are most often the primary focus of and most complicated part of the integration from the dog’s perspective. However, this is not always the case, as I discovered recently in my own life.
Last summer, I adopted a 3 year old Boxer named Toby. I’m often thankful that he landed in my experienced hands, as he is certainly a challenging dog (putting it nicely, since he’s right here next to me!). During the time I have had him, Toby and I have lived alone in our little Oakville apartment, and have developed quite a bond. A Boxer’s natural tendency is to protect, and although I am top dog in this home, being a woman certainly increases his drive to protect me. Toby is by no means an aggressive dog, in fact he is quite the clown, but in the appropriate situations, he has proven himself to be my guard at my command, and in a controlled manner.
Imagine his surprise when Mom comes home one day with this strange guy beside her! And how confusing it is that this man, as opposed to all other men (except his grandpa – my Dad), is allowed to put his arms around her and hold her! In Toby’s canine mind, this must be a display of dominance, and a disturbing observation that may be challenging his Mom’s position of Alpha in the home! What the heck is happening to the balance we once had! And, how is Toby to respond to such a display with no guidance from the Alpha, no indication to attack this possible intruder! So, initially, Toby tried to jump between us, made a lot of confused noises (Boxer talk), and generally got pretty nervous around this new guy. Although, when no threat was being made towards me, he sure did try his hardest to make best friends with my boyfriend, hoping they could conspire together to overthrow the Queen I’m sure. This commradery was quickly swayed when he was no longer allowed to spend the whole night on the bed, which clearly knocked him down a peg in the chain of command. But, he quickly discovered that he had this really cozy thing called a ‘dog bed’ (imagine that!), and found that having this place to sleep with no human feet kicking him in the night wasn’t such a bad thing.
Then there is the issue of my boyfriend, and often me, smelling of this strange Chocolate Lab that Toby had never met before. We decided to let both of our dogs meet in an off leash park, and you could practically see the lightbulbs go off in their heads when they realized “you’re the ‘other’ dog I’ve been smelling on my human all this time!”, and off they went to consort about the weird intruder on their human’s bond with them. After the successful greeting, Toby and my boyfriend’s dog Misha were happy to share each other’s home with one another, and a sigh of relief was breathed on both of our parts. Our dogs are extremely important parts of our lives, and being able to blend a happy family was an important step in our relationship.
Amongst much hilarity, Toby has accepted my boyfriend in ‘our’ life together, and even misses him now if he’s away for an extended period on business. The key elements in developing his relationship with the new man in his life were consistency in his schedule, maintaining his cuddle time with me, and learning to rely equally on both of us for his needs. My boyfriend frequently takes Toby for walks ‘just the boys’, feeds him meals, and encourages play time and training time when they are together. Therefore, he was no longer a ‘strange man’, but quickly became ‘Daddy’, and as important to Toby as I am. As a couple, we also addressed the costs associated with Toby, and my dedication to his veterinary, behavioural and nutritional needs, and were able to move forward without any shocking financial costs or lifestyle decisions.
We often don’t consider how life changes can affect our dogs, but if we recognize their responses to the new human in their life, and make the interactions positive, they will quickly accept that there is a new dynamic at home, and it’s ok. Even small adjustments, like a new home or a new job, can impact your dog’s idea of daily life. If we can begin to assess how these changes affect us as humans, we can better understand how they affect our canine partners as well.

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