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Archive for September, 2013

Be Kind to Your Dog

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

This month, I’d like to dedicate this blog to my friend, Eileen Mabee. Some of you who are clients may have met Eileen during 2011/12 when she worked as my apprentice. She was a funny, quirky, ‘doggy’ person who came to apprentice with me not to become a trainer, but just because she wanted to ‘know stuff’!! That was how she was – totally enamored by dogs, as they were of her. Much as I tried to encourage her to branch out professionally, she knew what she loved to do and that was dog walking, and she did it beautifully. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone quite so in tune with a dog’s mind, and for whom force free training and kind understanding of a dog’s psychological challenges came so naturally. In a strange way, she became the teacher, and I the student, in the school of patience, kindness, and empathy. Eileen was walking dogs on a gorgeous fall day in September last year when she was killed in a tragic vehicle accident. At her funeral, the concensus was that if any human being would be granted access to the Rainbow Bridge (doggy heaven), it would be her, and it gives me comfort to know she’s watching over all the dogs I’ve loved. She has never left me, and I am still learning from her legacy to this day. This blog is about being kind to your dog.

I find, even in my own writings, that those of us in the force free, raw fed, natural choice world of dogs are often (no, ALWAYS!) telling owners what NOT to do with their dogs. Don’t feed certain (most) kibbles, watch out for jerky treats, stop over-vaccinating, and don’t use force in training. It’s not until someone does an actual consult with us that we get into the nitty gritty of what you SHOULD be doing for your dog. Ultimately, though, I think we all just want you to be kind to your dog, and in ways you may not have thought of before.

Make healthy choices! In our own world, we tend to try to make choices for ourselves that are ‘good for us’. We try to eat more veggies, not pop too many pills, exercise when we can, avoid living next to nuclear power plants and reduce our carbon footprint. But we don’t think about these choices for our dogs. Research the food you’re feeding (from an unbiased source!), add in veggies and fruits and cooked meats (if you feed kibble meats must be cooked – raw meat digests differently and doesn’t mix with kibble). Feed a raw meaty bone every once in a while! Consider switching from non-human grade, processed food (kibble) to whole, fresh, human grade food (raw). Think about the air your dog is breathing – is your home heavily scented? Do you smoke inside your home? Do you use heavy cleaners on your floors and furniture that your dog then licks off himself? Do you really need to vaccinate your dog every year and apply heartworm meds every month if your dog has limited exposure? Considering, researching, and acting on these choices is a kindness to your dog!

Exercise the DOG, not just yourself! Last month, from my balcony, I saw a woman running with her Golden Retriever down a very busy one way street. The problem was, she was running the dog on a Flexi-Leash (meaning the dog could extend up to 24 feet away from her at any moment), she was running on the road with the dog on the inside of the street (closest to cars) during rush hour, and it was about 33 degrees outside and the dog was on hot asphalt. Sounds pretty dangerous, right? It is! But, I’ll bet this owner felt like she was doing something good for her dog, even though the dog was clearly overheated, stressed by the traffic whizzing right by him, and not really being given a choice in any of this. Taking the dog for a walk can sometimes be a chore, or something we want to rush through. But we need to remember that a walk outside is a dog’s tv, his library, his movie collection, and his laptop/ipod/iphone all rolled into one – it’s their entertainment! If your dog enjoys walks, make sure you let him stop and sniff the sniffs, chase the occasional bird, run with other dogs, roll in the mud and maybe just sit with you in the grass and watch the world go by. Exercise isn’t just about making sure their legs move quickly and their heart rate increases – it’s about giving them a little ‘doggie-ness’ in their lives every day! Making the walk about your dog, and not about your image or your schedule, is a kindness to your dog.

Have fun with your dog! Our own human lives are filled with too many things to do, both fun and not fun, for approximately 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. The average dog gets about 90 minutes per day of ‘stuff’ to do, like eating, greeting his owners, going for a walk, and maybe even playing tug with his owner. Can you imagine having nothing to do (No books, no tv, no ipod, no phone, no friends) for 22.5 hours a day, every single day, for the rest of your life? Playing games like hide and seek with treats/toys/humans, having a doggie play date, putting away toys in a hidden spot so that old toys can become novel and exciting again are all easy ways to have fun with your dog every day. You could also enroll in a dog sport, pick up 101 Dog Tricks for Dummies and teach him new ways to impress people, you can feed him all his meals from Kong toys, and you can even just spend a little time cuddling on the couch! All these things can really brighten the day for your dog, and they are kindnesses that any dog will appreciate!

Give them a break! In life, there are always things we’ve got to do that we just don’t really want to – like doing the dishes, getting an oil change done etc. For dogs, they have these ‘obligations’ too – like Toby, my boy who sleeps with his face on the arm of the couch and just hates it when I walk by and squish his cute cheeks and kiss his head. He couldn’t be more obvious about thinking “Oh my god, Mum!!! Just leave me alone will you?!” – but it’s something I ask him to put up with because it makes ME happy, even though I know it doesn’t make HIM happy. But, there are also lots of times that I give him break, and forego what I may want from him or from a situation to give him the space he wants. I don’t force him to cuddle with me when he doesn’t want to, I give him extra ball time or a warm blanket and a stuffed Kong when we spend time at my family’s home at Christmas and it’s totally overwhelming for him. I let him run around the yard with the sprinkler in his mouth on hot summer days, or we stay up late/get up early to walk him so he doesn’t have to bare the heat on a hot summer day. I shoo away the ever present annoying dog at the dog park so he can enjoy himself without being pestered, and I just generally try to avoid situations that he plain old doesn’t enjoy by omitting the phrase “my dog SHOULD like to…”, because he’s shown me that he doesn’t, and that’s ok. These things seem relatively small, but each choice is made out of respect for his boundaries and needs, and they are in themselves small kindnesses.

Train without pain! No matter what the issue is, I find most people who use force with their dogs (like leash corrections, yelling, physical manipulation, holding the dog down by the collar, etc) aren’t really thinking “I’m going to use a forceful method of training to make sure my dog is perfect all the time and I’m very much aware of the psychology behind why it might work and what ramifications it might have”. In fact, only once or twice in my career have I heard a dog owner justify their reactions to their dog’s behaviour that way. In fact, most owners I work with are really just REACTING to their dog and trying to stop a problem in the moment, and if they could avoid it in the first place using force free techniques, they would! Worst of all, by reacting to problem behaviour using force (even when you feel it’s your last resort), the majority of the time you’re not fixing a problem, but you are creating a trust issue with your dog, breaking down the relationship, and ultimately leaving your dog feeling confused and afraid. When you don’t even want to use these techniques in the first place, knowing these consequences are possible make it even worse. So my final word on kindness is this; take the time to learn more about positive training. Read books (I’m happy to make suggestions), watch DVDs and online presentations, hire a positive trainer, get some squeaky toys and some yummy little treats (or whatever makes your dog super happy) and start learning with your dog! Those who have been down this path, including myself, will tell you it’s the most exciting, rewarding journey you can take with your dog. You’ll end up feeling a sense of pride in yourself, and your dog, and you’ll both be happier because you made KIND choices.

This picture is my Toby’s happy face, and there’s very little in this world I wouldn’t do to make him smile like that every day. If Eileen were here today, she’d tell you that no matter what challenges you face with a dog, no matter how far beyond saving they seem, there is always a way to make a dog smile – even if you have to get right in the pond with them and be stinky together all the way home. 

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Making Healthy Choices for Kibble Fed Dogs

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The majority of us who own dogs do so because they are wonderful companions, dear friends, and members of the family. In fact, many dogs owners I know prefer their dog’s company to that of people! We love our dogs, and do our best to make choices for them that will make them happy, healthy, and to create longevity of life expectancy. But, when it comes to food, making these choices can be confusing and difficult, as we’re led down the garden path by pet food companies, sales people, and medical professionals who sell food but do not specialize in canine nutrition. People often come to me for advice because I don’t sell food – I don’t profit from the food choices that you make, but I do advocate for a dog’s wellbeing, and spend a great deal of time learning what choices truly are best for your dog. Ultimately, the choice between a kibble diet versus a balanced raw diet is the choice between feeding a 100% processed, non human grade diet versus a fresh, whole, human grade ingredient diet. Just as we try to feed ourselves fresh, whole foods more often than processed foods, I realize that is not an option for everyone, and it is my goal to help you feed the best possible diet within your means. The healthier the diet you choose, the less likely it is your dog will experience chronic (and expensive) health issues, and the more likely it is that your dog will have more balanced behaviour (food feeds the brain, after all).

A note on recalls: Any food, human or otherwise, is at risk of recall. This can be due to packaging issues, quality concerns, or the results of testing feedback. What we want to see following any recall is transparency of information (were we made aware immediately, were the parameters of the recall clear, did the company promptly and clearly answer your questions), preventative recalls (meaning the company recalled the product based on their own concerns, as opposed to a recall being forced upon the company by the FDA), regular third party testing (where the company has food tested PRIOR to distribution by an outside company, rather than by it’s own in house testers post-distribution), and most importantly, changes to the protocols to prevent future recalls. Did they change warehouses, replace ingredient suppliers, improve pre-distribution testing? Most importantly, are third party websites that are not controlled by the kibble company revealing mostly positive or negative reviews of the food when it’s fed by the average pet owner? Also consider the source of the company’s ingredients – ‘Manufactured in Canada’ does not mean the ingredients are from Canada! When asked, does the company give you information about what country supplies their ingredients, and does that country maintain the same food safety standards as we do in Canada?

Ignore the marketing!! Recently, pet food companies have begun advertising their food by showing you fresh, whole foods as a component of their product. I personally find this ironic, given that if you were to actually feed this food in it’s advertised “real food” form, as opposed to it’s kibble form, you’ll be laughed out of the vet’s office and told by the kibble companies that this is not an acceptable way of feeding your pet. The ingredients in pet food, for the most part, are NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION! Kibble is a processed food, often comprised of the parts of foods made for humans that are not considered fit to be consumed by humans – this is why so many kibble companies are actually owned by a parent company that produces human food products. Rather than pay to dispose of all the waste from this production, the waste is instead used to make dog food, which the company can profit from. In addition, the regulations for marketing dog food are different from those for marketing human food. For example, you can find a canned food that is called ‘simmered beef flavour’, which actually contains little to no beef, and whose protein sources are primarily chicken and soy. So, how you can avoid these tricks? Learn to read the ingredients!

Read the label! No matter what any sales person tells you, the benefits (or lack thereof) of any food are based in their ingredients – both content and quality. Remember, dogs are carnivores, so meat is the most important ingredient on the label. One major misconception is the term ‘meal’ – many people think that’s a terrible thing. Ingredients on a label must be listed by weight, with the heaviest product being first. Meal is simply a meat which has had it’s water content removed. Consider a chicken breast – it’s approximately 80% water. If the water has been removed, thus reducing it’s weight significantly, and chicken meal is your first ingredient, the content of meat in the diet when meal is the first ingredient is high. By-products are simply the part of the meat that are not considered part of the human diet, mainly because we find them distasteful. If we again use chicken as an example, this can include feet, beaks, gizzards, heads, and feathers. Although feathers are basically indigestible (just have a look at the stool of the wolf who raids the chicken coop), the other components mentioned are digestible, and often nutrient dense. Where we see concerns in meat products is when the food contains an unnamed meat, such as ‘meat meal’, ‘meat by-product meal’ etc. There is a reason that companies don’t name their meats, and often it’s because the meat chosen is very unsavoury to the human eye. Ann Martin’s book “Food Pets Die For” is an excellent resource for any person who feeds kibble, and she elaborates on what ‘meat’ is acceptable for use in kibble. This is often the tipping point for people who are so appalled by what is actually in dog food that they end up switching to a fresh, human grade diet such as raw.

In my opinion, the most significant ingredient issue in kibble is grain loading. Remember, ingredients are listed by weight, but kibble companies are allowed to split ingredients in the food and list them separately, often resulting in a grain loaded diet. For example, here’s an ingredient list from a major pet store brand pet food : Chicken meal, corn gluten meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, natural chicken flavour, chicken fat, rice, dried beet pulp (sugar removed), pork meal, pea fiber, wheat gluten meal, anchovy oil. Now, if we actually count the grains listed in this food, we’ll find that there are six sources of grain. Compare that to one meat listing at the beginning of the ingredient list, you’re now seeing that this is a grain loaded diet! If the company were required to combine it’s grain listing, the grain would most certainly outweigh the meat! Given that dogs are carnivores, and have a minimal requirement for carbohydrate in the diet, this is not an ideal diet for a dog, and it is not biologically appropriate. Because the dog’s metabolism is not designed for such high grain intake, the body can react to this food as a foreign substance, or in other words, the dog can develop allergies (symptoms are often soft stool, itchy paws, chronic ear infections, body odour, etc.). Unused grain is also converted by the body into stored fat, and reduces the body’s ability to break down dietary fat and protein – a magic combination that causes obesity in dogs! Weight loss in dogs is often best achieved, in my opinion, by a moderate protein (24-34%), moderate fat (12-18%) diet low in grain, combined with daily exercise and small, healthy treats.

Why are we avoiding wheat, corn and soy? Of late, this has also become a popular marketing tool, but is a serious consideration when choosing a kibble. These grains and the soy bean are the most heavily genetically modified ingredients in the world, meaning that the base dna of the product has been changed, often resulting in the body’s inability to recognize it as a food, resulting in allergies. Dr. Joseph Mercola states the following about soy: “Thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility — even cancer and heart disease.
One of the primary reasons it would be wise for you to avoid soy is that more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. Since the introduction of genetically engineered foods in 1996, we’ve had an upsurge in low birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems in the U.S., and animal studies have shown devastating effects from genetically engineered soy including allergies, sterility, birth defects, and offspring death rates up to five times higher than normal.” Based on studies such as these, along with extremely high pesticide content in these ingredients, many kibble companies have recognized the public’s concern about these foods, and eliminated them from their products, which is a wonderful move forward for kibble. Most kibble companies have also found more natural ways to preserve their foods, as opposed to some who are still choosing to use BHA and BHT, known carcinogens now banned in human food production, and ethoxyquin, which if fed in large amounts has been linked to cancer as well.

Lastly, consider what makes sense to you about what a dog can nutritionally use. Do you really think there is a lot of nutrition that can be absorbed in a peanut hull? Can a dog absorb much nutrition from a diet solely comprised of soy protein isolate, starch and vegetable oil (yes, this is a real ingredient list from a veterinary prescription diet)? If unused grain converts to fat, is a grain-only weight loss diet really healthier, or are the ingredients simply not being absorbed by the dog, causing him to lose weight (meaning, is the dog being nutritionally starved?)? These are questions I ask myself, and that I believe all dog owners should consider when deciding what their dog will consume for the foreseeable future. Humans are omnivores, meaning we are designed to eat meat, grains, vegetables etc., but we cannot remain healthy on a diet solely comprised of grains. If a dog is physiologically designed to eat mostly meat, does it make sense to feed only soy protein isolate (like soy flour), starch, vegetable oil and a multi-vitamin for every single meal for the rest of their life? Could YOU eat that, and be healthy?

Many veterinary nutritionists and homeopathic research vets have spent a great deal of time trying to educate the veterinary community and dog owners on the pitfalls of the common kibble diet. For more information about this, please watch this short 8 minute video from Dr. Karen Becker: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/11/08/new-trends-in-pet-food.aspx

Please note that these are solely the opinions of The Dog’s Assistant (Erica Garven), and that I am not a veterinarian. The opinions contained herein are based on research provided by a variety of veterinary nutritionists and canine nutrition professionals. All dog owners are encouraged to consult a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition in place of, or in addition to, their regular veterinarian prior to making diet changes.

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