Friday, August 28, 2015

River, the Story of a Trainer's Dog who Needs to be Trained: Part 1

My friend Katy, who calls me her 'puppy pimp' since I found her the two puppies she adopted this year, told me I should write about my puppy, River.  She thinks that other people might like to learn about my experience with him, and feel better in the knowledge that even I deal with day-to-day issues with my dog.  I will be the first to admit that we have good days and bad days, and I am trying harder with him than probably any other dog I've ever had.
This story starts in September of 2014.  Along with my boyfriend, John, I decided to adopt a new puppy. My dog, Paisley, was 5 at the time, and I thought, in my infinite wisdom that it would be a good age for her to get a puppy.  She wants you to know that she highly disagrees with me.  We wanted to get either a Boxer or a Lab, and looked around at a few rescues, with Safe Harbor Lab Rescue being one of them since I adopted Paisley from them.  There was a litter of lab mix puppies that would be available at the end of October.  We met our puppy, Milo, at 4 weeks old, and brought him home at 8 weeks old.  He was the best, sweetest, calmest, most wonderful puppy and I wondered how we got so lucky!
Milo at 8 weeks
Unfortuantely, when he was 16 weeks old, Milo developed severe bi-lateral pneumonia and went in to the hospital for what was going to be a week-long stay for treatment.  At 6am the first morning, the doctor called and said Milo has gone in to cardiac arrest, probably had an embolism, and died.  She said 'We did everything we could to save him'.  I was in shock, not awake yet, and asked her "Can we come say goodbye to him?" We held him for over an hour and left without him. That was the hardest day of my life.  It was a week before Christmas and we were all devastated.
The next morning, John and I were both up before dawn, still crying and wondering what happened to our beautiful puppy.  I said 'I want to get another puppy right away' and he agreed. I searched online and found a rescue who had a little Boxer mix puppy who would be available for adoption the next day.  Under his cute little fawn and black face, it said his name was 'Milo'.  Clearly, it was meant to be, and I paid for him and filled out the paperwork on the spot.  We decided to name him 'River', which means 'renewed life, courage, and determination'.
River at 8 weeks
(John is a firefighter so we took pictures on the truck of both puppies)
In my emotional fog, what I didnt realize is that River was from a litter that was transported in from New Mexico. His mom is a pure-bred Boxer (we met her) and dad isn't saying. But he is what I call a 'reservation dog'. In my professional experience, I know that reservation dogs (dogs who come from rural areas, mostly New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, etc), tend to have more genetic fear.  I wrote about the subject in this blog .
I was not anticipating ever adopting a puppy with major issues, but River certainly has them.  He was afraid of people, shy with dogs, skittish with sounds and objects (he was terrified of garbage cans on the road and fire hydrants, which is very ironic!), he barked at everything and nothing, submissively urinated, shook in terror, and his ears were always pinned back to his head like something bad was always going to happen. I felt so bad for him!  He lived in a constant state of panic, and I set out to help him, just like I would for any client's dog.
Stay tuned for what I did to help him!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pekoe- A Service Dog in Trouble

In honor of International Assistance Dog Week, I want to tell you about a very special dog and his person.
Pekoe is a 6-year old black Standard Poodle with bright brown eyes and soft fur. His person, Vince, is a quadriplegic after an accident 16 years ago.  I met Vince and Pekoe a few weeks ago when Vince contacted me about some behaviors Pekoe was exhibiting.  I learned a lot about their relationshp, how it started, what Pekoe's favorite things are (food, food, and food), about Vince's accident, and also that Vince used to be an NFL and CFL football player 'back in the day'.  He played for the Packers, and I told him I was a Vikings fan - thankfully he didn't fire me!  Vince's incredible attitude and humor, despite his circumstances, inspire me, and his love for his dog is unwavering, just like anybody else who adores his dog.
It's not uncommon for service dogs to become protective of their humans.  Being responsible for someone, like Pekoe is, can be very stressful and the 'job' comes with a lot of pressure.  About 2 years ago, Pekoe started become reactive when he saw another dog.  For whatever reason, he deemed dogs a threat to himself and Vince, to the point where Vince had to stop taking him with him when he went out.  Unfortunately, not being able to take your service dog with you when you are quadriplegic can be heartbreaking.  Not to mention, Pekoe is Vince's constant companion and they are two peas in a pod!
Pekoe and Vince
When Vince first contacted me, I wasn't sure if I could take on his case. I had never worked with a service dog before and had no experience with working dogs in this situation. But Vince was very convincing and I truly wanted to help him.  So, I contacted my colleague, Jennifer Arnold, at Canine Assistants in Atlanta. She spent an hour with me on the phone explaining the nuances of dogs with wheelchairs and how service dogs handle stress. She gave me a thousand bits of advice to try, and it was all extremely helpful. After we spoke, I thought about it for a day or two, and ultimately realized that Pekoe is actually just like any other anxious dog I've worked with. He just needed to decompress and have some fun again.
I decided that we would go back to basics and let Pekoe just be a dog for a while.  While I have been trying different reward systems on Vince's chair (he can't deliver treats), I have been experimenting with Pekoe's commands, getting him to pay attention to Vince when he's distracted, and adjusting the way he works with Vince's wheelchair.  Vince can move pretty quickly in that thing!  It is very important that I use only positive reinforcement with Pekoe as he is already stressed enough.  No prong collar, leash jerks, or punishment for him- only love, praise, food, and allowing him to make choices.
Yesterday was our 6th session and already, Pekoe is less stressed and wants to work.  I introduced him to Rufus, my fake stuff Rottweiler from a far distance and he offered me lots of fun behaviors that we have been working on.  While Rufus doesn't move, seeing him was stressful, but Pekoe learned very quickly that Rufus is a predictor of really good things and this process will continue to help him learn he doesn't have to protect Vince anymore.
Soon I will introduce him to my dog, Paisley, and then go on a few field trips.  I am sincerely hoping I can get him back to the point where Pekoe can be a service dog again, as I think he truly enjoys it. I know Pekoe needs Vince, and Vince needs Pekoe-they make a great team. You know what's really cool, though?  They think I am teaching them... but in reality, they are really teaching me.
Vince, Me, and Pekoe!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Is puppy Prozac a good option?

About a year ago, I started working with a family who adopted a 2-year old cattle dog.  Their older cattle dog, Miles, passed away (I also worked with him), and when they adopted Radar, he had some behaviors that weren't so good.  They worked diligently with Radar on a behavior treatment plan for several months, and while he made improvements, some of his triggers still set him off.  Radar was fearful and anxious, and he was a cattle dog, so he nipped and tried to 'herd' when he was stressed.  Michelle reached out to me again when they were about to give up.  Although they were familiar with herding dogs (they've adopted several), they just couldnt take a chance of Radar hurting someone.  Radar was at the end of the line.

We had spoken about fluoxetine (generic Prozac) briefly before, but they wanted to try behavioral methods, along with some all-natural anxiety supplements first.  I agreed.  But because Radar was so anxious and afraid, those only went so far to help him learn.  His brain still adrenalized quickly and he went in to 'fight or flight' mode in certain situations almost as quickly as he did the day they adopted him.  When Michelle called, I gently pushed her to try fluoxetine as I have seen it work with so many dogs like Radar.  She agreed and called her veterinarian.  Radar started on fluoxetine the next day.  Here is what Michele wrote to me after about 6 weeks...

"We reached out to Kari for help with our red heeler rescue dog.  Radar was fearful and reacted aggressively when his triggers were set off. He would bite at us and our other dog, Sadie.  Those triggers included loud noises like motorcycles and diesel trucks, accidentally touching him, and getting tangled in leashes.  We were at the point of wanting to give him back to the rescue organization we had gotten him from but decided to take Kari's advice and give anti-anxiety medication a try, along with continuing the behavior modification we were already doing.  Radar did well throughout the process and was very smart, but needed a little extra help in his brain when he was presented with his triggers.

We are so glad we tried the fluoxetine!  Radar is a completely different dog. He is relaxed, sweet and his fear is almost completely gone.  Even though it takes 6 weeks for the full effects of the drug to kick in, we saw an immediate change the first day he starting taking the meds.   He still has some issues with loud motorcycles and trucks but we are working with him to curb those behaviors, and managing him in situations that could be stressful.  Training is easier now as he is a more focused dog and doesn't immediately react.  We are very happy to say Radar is still part of our family!   Michelle and Jamie E."
Radar somewhere in Colorado 
So, what did the fluoxetine do?  It helped increase Radar's serotonin levels so his anxiety decreased.  It helped his brain stay in a calmer place so he could focus.  It took the edge off of his stress level so his triggers didn't make him so scared.  And while it did all those things, he was able to concentrate on learning, so he will be able to wean off the fluoxetine within about 8 months once he learns new behaviors.  Meds don't have to be a lifelong thing, and the best part is that fluoxetine isn't too expensive.  

If you are struggling with anxiety and aggression with your dog, and have tried behavioral intervention, it might be time to try some anti-anxiety medications in conjunction with training... I know medications have a bad stigma to them, but they can really improve your dog's quality of life!   

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Potty Training Your Puppy

Those of you who know me, know I love potty training puppies. I always have, and I have no idea why.  I don't really enjoy everything else that comes along with puppyhood, but teaching puppies to potty outside has always been easy and enjoyable for me. I potty trained my Siberian Husky, Skye, in 3 days and Paisley, my lab, took just over a day.  At the time I got Skye, I was working with Dr. RK Anderson in Minnesota and I started training her with his "Potty Outside" schedule.  I was lucky to have him to bounce questions off of, and after 3 days, she was holding it during the night and waiting until I took her to her potty spot during the day.  But not all puppies are like that- most take 2 to 4 weeks, some even  longer. Every puppy is different, just like every child is different.
Skye at 9 weeks
The most popular question I get is "How do I teach my puppy to tell me when she has to go out?", and my answer is always "You don't".  And the reason is because your puppy is going to be an adult one day, and expected to hold his or her bladder and bowels for at least 8-10 hours.  You want to set your puppy up to succeed long term, not just short term for your convenience.  What if your dog has to pee when you're at work and goes to the door and rings the bell?  You won't be there to let him out, so what is he supposed to do?  The flipside to this is what if you are home, and your puppy rings the bell just to go out, get the treat, come back in, and ring the bell to go out and get a treat again?  Puppies are very adept at training humans! The reason, I suppose, that everyone wants to teach their puppies to tell them when to go outside is because it's easier for the human.  Does your 12-year old child say "Mom, I have to use the toilet right now, can you please open the bathroom door and put the toilet seat up for me?"  No, because you trained him to hold it until he has to go, and then he goes in the appropriate spot (hopefully!).  It is so much easier to teach your puppy to hold it (within reasonable time-frames, especially when they are super young), until you take her out and put her on the grass where you want her to learn to go.
And then the other famous question... "I took my puppy out, and stood there for 30 minutes and she just sniffed around... no potty.  But then as soon as I brought her in she peed on the carpet- she was mad at me!" People- puppies and dogs don't get mad!  And they certainly don't do things out of spite (talk about anthropomorphizing!).  My answer is "Well, she just doesn't know that the outside is the ONLY place she's supposed to go yet".
The key to potty training is confinement and contigencies.  Your puppy's freetime must be contigent upon he or she going potty outside.  It's as simple as that, and once you get him or her on a schedule where they can learn that, you'll be much more successful.  So many people get majorly frustrated and discouraged when they can't potty train, and their puppy is still 6 months old going on the rug in the kitchen.  But it doesnt have to be like that!  Please read the Potty Outside schedule above for more tips.
And if you would like additional help, I offer a Puppy Potty Training Board & Train program to help puppy owners with potty training, and behavior training in general. Puppies can be difficult, but they soak up learning and are so motivated- it's so fun watching them figure things out!  It doesn't have to be frustrating, and I can help take the guess-work out of potty training for you.  Read more about the program here, and please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about your puppy.
Marvin... a 12-week old bulldog puppy who came to visit for Puppy Board & Train. Yes, he's wearing pink, but it's all I had  :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reinforcement or Punishment?

What to look for in a dog trainer to build your dog’s confidence and enhance your relationship
Kari Bastyr, MS, VSPDT and Louisa Morrissey, CPDT-KA, VSPDT
 (Thank you, Louisa, for your collaboration!)

Because most dogs are adopted through shelters and at an older age, many of them come with behavior issues that other people have reinforced.  While secondhand dogs are wonderful and have a lot of love to give, it can be frustrating to try and untrain the bad behaviors while you try and train the behaviors you want.  Equally important are young puppies learning how to grow up to be well-behaved, stable, happy, and calm.  Teaching commands is important to all dogs, but the main focus, we believe, should be on teaching ‘impulse control’ and ‘manners’ while rewarding your dog for doing it right, instead of focusing on what he is doing wrong.   Your dog can know every command in the book, but if he can’t calm down and focus to do a ‘sit’ in a high-stress or excitable environment, is ‘performing’ out of fear of pain or physical punishment, or doesn’t know how to do the command outside of your house, then ‘obedience’ is a moot point.
The first step in helping your dog listen with distractions and without fear, and more importantly, be motivated to listen to you because you have a loving and trusting relationship, is to find the right ‘positive reinforcement’ trainer.  There is a lot of wonderful information out there on using rewards to train your dog, but there is also a lot of misinformation regarding training in general.  Many dog trainers purport to use only positive reinforcement, but then use shock or prong collars when they believe a dog ‘needs more’.  That is NOT positive reinforcement.  Other trainers aim to use a ‘balanced’ approach to dog training.  What most dog owners don’t know or understand is that ‘balanced dog training’ means the trainer uses all four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment.
·        Positive Reinforcement: Presenting a positive stimulus to increase the likelihood of the behavior
·        Negative Reinforcement: Taking away an aversive stimulus to increase the likelihood of the  behavior
·        Positive Punishment: Presenting an aversive stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior
·        Negative Punishment: Taking away an aversive stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior
Notice that ‘reinforcement’ always increases behavior and ‘punishment’ always decreases behavior.  Also note that Negative Reinforcement does not mean ‘punishment’, nor that bad things happen. The term is often used incorrectly in dog training. 
Therefore, a ‘balanced trainer’ may shock your dog for grabbing something off the counter, but then give him praise once the dog gets off the counter.  A trainer using a ‘balanced approach’ will use a prong collar to leash correct your dog for growling at you, then give him a treat for stopping. This type of training is not only confusing to dogs, but severely undermines their confidence and trust in humans.
A new term called ‘force free’ training is also being widely used. Originally, this term was coined by trainers using only positive reinforcement (giving rewards for the correct behavior) or negative punishment (taking away rewards to decrease unwanted behavior such as walking away when a dog jumps). These trainers are dedicated to never using a method or tool that physically hurts or intimidates a dog, hence the term ‘force free’. Many trainers that use prong or shock collars have realized that most of the dog-owning public really does not like the idea of hurting their companions in the name of training. To cover up the fact that they use painful training methods and to appeal to the public, these shock collar trainers have now stolen the term ‘force free’  to apply to shock collar training as well.  
You will also find poeple who use ‘natural’ or ‘pack’ dog training. This is a very good time to dig deep in your research!  Often these types of trainers are using the outdated and incorrect ‘dominance theory’ to train you and your dog. This theory states that since dogs and wolves are related, and wolves use a rigid heirarchy to control the pack, that dogs do the same.  They propose we need to be ‘alpha’ to our dogs, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The following is the modern information supported by animal behaviorists who have a Masters Degree or Doctorate from a researched-based animal behavior program and/or accredited university. (Beware of the self-proclaimed ‘behaviorists’ and ask for their degree. Many dog trainers say they are ‘behaviorists’ when they barely have a high school education).  
The data that says wolves work in a strict hierarchy came from a study of captive wolves in a zoo done in the 1930s. Recent wolf studies show that wild wolf packs are a functioning, fluid family unit in which each individual is essential to the survival of the entire group and energy wasted on intra-pack violence is detrimental to the survival of all. Next, while wolves and dogs share a common ancestor, dogs have been domesticated by humans for a few 10,000 years. We have selected animals that work with us, read our body language, and understand our emotions.  The modern domesticated dog is not a wolf, plain and simple, and does not need to know us humans are ‘alpha’.
Finally, the dog-human connection is a fascinating inter-species relationship. Dogs know that we are humans as much as they know a cat is a cat and not a dog!  But why would you not want to use a trainer using the dominance theory?  By approaching all of training from the viewpoint of dominance only, one misses some very important causes of a dog’s behavior such as medical problems, lack of training, anxiety, poor diet, fear, learned behavior, genetics, or simply a dog trying to adjust in the first month of adoption to a new environment.  Additionally, the dominance theory type of training instantly creates a confrontational relationship between a person and their dog, as the person is required to establish, and maintain at all times, an alpha status.  Do you really want that relationship with your dog?  Wouldn’t you rather learn to train your dog through reward-based methods, respectfully communicate with them, and have the deeply fulfilling relationship you are dreaming of?
We receive calls from potential clients every day who are doing their due diligence… googling ‘dog trainer’ and calling around to see who has the best deal, who can do the ‘fastest’ work, and who is available.  These are the wrong things to ask when looking for a dog trainer.  First and foremost, ask if he or she uses ONLY positive motivation and reinforcment. Many trainers use pain-inflicting motivation, but say they use positive reinforcement.  They will shock your dog, or jerk your dog off the ground, but not tell you that they do that.  And why would they?  Would you really bring your dog to a board & train program if you knew horrific things would happen while she was there? Ask which type of training tools they use with a dog, and ask specifically if they use choke, prong, or shock collars at any time.  Ask where they received their education.  Ask if they have references, both from clients and from colleagues.
Does the trainer offer a method that ‘guarantees results for all dogs’?  How many of you think that is realistically true?  You’re right, it’s unrealistic!  Each dog is an individual.  Each person is an individual and the relationship forged between them is unique. While we live in a fast food, two-minute, sound-bite culture, the honest truth is that training takes time.  Relationships take time, respect, and effort, whether those relationships are between two people or between a person and their dog. A good trainer will be honest with you about the time and work that will be involved in training your dog.
The best way to find a reward-based trainer in your area is to search professional organizations like The Pet Professional Guild, Victoria Stilwell Positively network, Karen Pryor Clicker Trainer network, or ask your friends and family if they use a dog trainer who believes in pain-free training.   Reward-based training also doesn’t just mean feeding your dog a lot of treats. Food is a great motivator, and a great paycheck (would you work without a paycheck?), but good trainers wean off treats really quickly so you and your dog do not become dependent on them.  Positive motivation is key, rather than making your dog afraid of you so he’ll behave.  But when a trainer says he or she doesn’t believe in treats or rewards, run the other direction!  If your dog has aggression issues, please don’t use aggressive techniques, as that will invariably make your dog worse or ruin him.  Good trainers will focus on the anxiety and insecurity causing the aggression, and not just punish the aggression to make your dog to shut down.  If your dog is shut down, he may not be aggressing, but the punishment will only increase his general anxiety and fear and potentially make him dangerous.
Above all, a good trainer will use techniques and tools that will enhance the bond between you and your dog, rather than destroy it. Training methods and tools that cause intimidation or pain deeply damage the human/canine bond. Training methods that are pain and fear-free, and based on positive reinforcement  will deepen and strengthen your bond.  A good trainer will be there for the long term as the relationship between you and your dog develops, and if you need help over your dog’s entire lifetime.  
Have fun, and don’t forget to reward and postively motivate your dog- he or she will thank you!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recap of the Denver Dog Bite Prevention Conference

Victoria and I before the conference
Back in May 2012, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the National Dog Bite Awareness and Prevention Conference in Atlanta hosted by the Georgia State Bar Association.  Topics included dog body language, how to handle aggressive dogs, dog bite statistics, laws governing dog bites, animal control procedures, fatal dog attack investigations, and other fascinating subjects.  I learned a tremendous amount, and decided that day to bring the conference to Denver.
For the last several months, myself, along with my assistant Anne, and Victoria Stilwell, planned the Denver conference that was held on November 2, 2012.  We were lucky to have five knowledgeable and educated speakers who donated their time to help spread the word about dog bite prevention.
First up was Victoria.  For those of you who don’t know, she is the star of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog”.  She works tirelessly to educate pet parents on positive reinforcement methods of training, and how using punitive methods can increase aggression and cause damage to dogs.  The focus of her morning presentation was why dogs aggress, dog body language, how environment and handling can increase a dog’s aggressive response, and bite levels and intentions.
Dogs can be aggressive for many reasons- pain, predation, fear, anxiety, protection, etc. In order to understand and determine the reason for the aggressive response, dog behavior experts have to look at several factors and cross off possible causes one by one. She recommended starting with a full medical work-up including blood work. Studies have shown that dogs suffering from hypothyroidism tend to be more aggressive and low levels of serotonin can also lead a dog to be more aggressive. The dog’s diet is a crucial element as well, meaning nothing can be ruled out and everything should be considered.
Stilwell also talked about the myth that dogs “just snap” without warning. Dogs offer many signs that they are uncomfortable, but many people are simply not aware of those signs. The audience was shown different clips from Stilwell’s TV show, It’s Me or the Dog, illustrating the signals that dogs send humans (and other dogs).
Dogs' calming signals may include:
§  Lip licking
§  Tongue flicking
§  Blinking, averting eyes, or turning away
§  Yawning – depends on the context
§  ‘Shaking off’- similar to when they shake off water, but the dog isn’t wet
§  Ears pinned back
§  Sniffing the ground
§  Closed mouth to an open mouth
§  ‘Whale eye’- a dog keeps his head straight, but turns his eye toward you…you can see the whites of his eye.  It means fear or uncomfortableness
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety begin to display those signs before the owner leaves – pacing, panting, whining, yawning, shaking off, etc. When the owner is gone and dog is barking, chewing, being destructive, the dog is no longer anxious, but rather the dog is in distress. Treating the separation anxiety means treating the reason for the pacing, panting and whining. Any successful behavior modification plan for any behavior must focus on treating the root cause of the behavior and not the behavior itself.
The morning’s most poignant speakers took the stage and bravely shared their story of love and loss of their 2-year-old son and 8-year-old dog. Joseph and Carrie Perk were as typical as they come – two happy parents raising their toddler son and infant daughter in a bustling household that also included two beloved Weimaraners, Lloyd and Chessy. Like many dog owners, the Perks took their dogs through obedience classes and thought that they were doing all of the right things, never giving much thought to stress signals or dog body language that could indicate trouble.
“It’s funny, I never really gave it thought how many times I’ve been bit by a dog,” Joey said. “I didn’t think about it until we were asked to come here and speak. But I think almost everyone here has been bit by a dog, right?”
Carrie and Joey never thought either dog would bite but sadly, the unthinkable happened. The Perk’s typical family was forever changed on Dec. 22, 2009 when Lloyd fatally bit Liam on what seemed like any other morning in the Perk house. Lloyd was a Weimeraner, and not of a breed that people often associated with aggression and this is one of the myths that each speaker at the conference wanted to dispel. Any dog, given the right set of circumstances in the right situation will do what it feels is necessary to get rid of a threat and the last resort when all other signals fail is to make a point with a bite.
Carrie Perk and Lucy

The Perks weren’t taught what to look out for and what can cause stress for the family dog. Obedience trainers didn’t explain the reasons dogs turn to the side, lick their lips, yawn, fold their ears back or pant. It was only after losing Liam that Carrie began researching what happened and why that she began to understand how much Liam affected Lloyd. Wanting to honor Liam’s memory and feeling the need to share what she learned and tell people what happened, the Perks founded the Liam J. Perk Foundation with the mission on educating dog owners and children on how to stay safe.
Through the foundation, the Perks created the Let’s Talk Dog! Awareness sign that can go up any place where that dogs and humans interact: playgrounds, dog parks, vet offices, schools, etc. to provide a quick, easy to understand guide to dog body language.
Jim Crosby, a retired police lieutenant, provided a riveting look into his work investigating the worst of the worst: fatal dog bites and maulings. Crosby is the guy called in to provide an objective analysis of the scene and dog(s) involved (if the dogs have not yet been euthanized). His presentation included reviews of past cases and stories about the dogs and people involved in different incidents around the country.
Crosby’s detailed investigations involve surveying a scene, looking at police photographs (if the scene has been cleared), measuring depth of wounds, testing dog(s) for blood on coat and in mouth and talking with witnesses to get a sense of what was going on just before and during the attack.  Based on a dog’s dentition, Crosby is able to determine which bites were inflicted by which dog in cases where two or more dogs are involved. Dentition also helps to rule out dogs because bite patterns will not match every dog because they are like fingerprints and no two dogs have the exact same pattern. 
Jim Crosby
Before speaking on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), Crosby pointed out that statistics show time and time again that dog of mixed breeds make up the largest percentage of biters. Each speaker stressed that any breed of dog can bite and research has shown that BSL does little to protect communities from dog-bite incidents. Crosby also took time to dispel a couple of rampant myths.
“A Pit Bull does not have a locking jaw. No dog has a locking jaw. It wouldn’t be a very good predator if every time it closed its mouth, its jaw locked,” Crosby stated. “The Gila Monster is the only animal on the planet with a locking jaw and that is so it can inject poison into its prey.”
Crosby displayed a slide showing the measured bite force of different animals. Rottweilers topped the dog category with a measured bite force of 328 pounds per square inch (psi), followed by German Shepherd dogs with 238 psi and Pit Bulls came in at 235 psi.
One lasting fact that stuck with many in attendance was just how quickly a bite – or several bites – can occur. The audience learned that it takes the typical dog two-tenths of a second to bite and release. A healthy human’s response time is three-quarters of a second.
“By the time you realize that the dog is biting you and you can react, that dog could have bit and released up to five times,” Crosby said.  He also showed graphic photos of deceased victims, severe bites, and crime scene investigation photos to illustrate all of his findings and investigations.
Our fourth speaker of the day was Claudine Wilkins, one of the leading forces behind the Georgia Dog Bite Conference in May conference. Wilkins is an animal law attorney in Atlanta and was instrumental in helping Georgia legislators draft and pass the state’s Responsible Dog Owner Act.
Claudine Wilkins
In the Act, owners of dogs that have bite histories are held liable and must follow a very specific set of laws in order to keep the dog(s). Dogs with bite histories are placed into two categories: dangerous dogs and vicious dogs. Depending on what category a dog falls in to, the owner must keep the dog from engaging with any other animal or human if the dog is off the owner’s property and some owners must carry $50,000 of insurance. No person can own more than one vicious dog, and no one with felony convictions can own a vicious dog. The Act is step in the right direction, Wilkins said, in helping to boost public safety and retool old, outdated dangerous dog laws.
The full day of speakers was a huge success and we all took home at least a little bit of information to continue education and spread the word about dog bite awareness and prevention.  It is up to all of us to learn about dog body language, be responsible for our own dogs, prevent dog bites from happening, and educate ourselves about dangerous dog laws and breed specific legislation.  The next conference, sponsored by Wag & Train, will hopefully be in the next two years, and we hope to hold it at CSU in Fort Collins. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Chow-Down on Pet Food Ingredients

Last week, I had a discussion with a puppy parent who brought treats to class that contained 'propylene glycol'.  She purchased them from her vet, and when I told her what was in them, she was mortified.  Her beloved puppy is only 10 weeks old, and already she is unknowingly feeding him things that could possibly shorten his life.  She loves her puppy and only wants whats best for him, just like many other pet parents.  So, below is information that I have learned over the years, because I was just as shocked as she was when I learned what I was feeding my dog in the late 90s.  I am not going to tell you what to feed your pet, but rather give you a place to start researching yourself.  I like the website and also The Whole Dog Journal, as a starting point.  For my own education, and for the purposes of this blog, I also consulted my friend and fellow trainer, Anna Johnson.  She is a certified Canine Nutritionist, and her website is  She is a phenomenal resource for nutrition consultations.

Here goes...
Educate Yourself
I urge every dog and cat owner to re-evaluate what you are feeding your pet. Please don't buy the grocery store brand because it is cheaper. You are doing your pet an injustice. Do research. Be informed. Study the labels on the foods that you are currently feeding your pet. On food labels, ingredients are listed in order of their volume percentages. For example, if chicken by-product is the first ingredient listed on the label, then chicken by-product is the major ingredient in your pet's food. The second ingredient is the second largest amount, and so on. And even if the first ingredient is Chicken, it doesnt mean there is a lot of chicken in it (as it contains mostly water).  You want to look at the other ingredients, too.  A word about ‘protein’ in pet foods: The 'Crude Protein' analysis on pet food labels is only a measurement of the amount of nitrogen in a food -- not the quality of the protein. Because of this, pet food companies can use the cheaper by-products of human food production, such as Rice Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal & Beet Pulp. Whole meats are always the best source of quality protein. Meat protein is absorbed and retained better and is higher in essential amino acids like methionine, arginine, and taurine. Ingredients such as ‘Rice Gluten Meal’ contain less than half the usable protein as other sources, such as whole Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Lamb, Fish, etc.
Species-Specific Variety
Many dogs and cats eat the same thing day-in and day-out for their entire lives. There is no variety, and most domesticated animals are fed a dry kibble. One could argue that this is the equivalent of humans eating only Pop-Tarts everyday for our entire lives. Dogs and cats are carnivores, and unfortunately, dry food kibble alone doesn’t give them all the species-specific nutrition that they need. The digestive systems of dogs aren’t made to digest anything but what they would eat in the wild. Their digestive tracts are much shorter than ours so food basically goes in and out. It doesn’t take as long to go through as a human. I recommend supplementing your pet’s dry kibble with wet food whenever possible, even just by a tablespoon. This will add more moisture in his system, which will put less stress on his kidneys and liver. Also, their saliva lacks the digestive enzymes amylase and cellulase that are essential to break-down raw vegetables. Most dogs love veggies and fruits, so if you add them, ideally they should be shredded, cooked, or steamed.
Dry Food Kibble
Dry dog and cat food can include a majority of grain and fillers. Therefore, by feeding your dog only dry kibble every day, you are giving him much more grain than he would eat in the wild, which is none. Dogs don’t need grain or traditional carbohydrates, but we are feeding it to them everyday.
Look for foods that have whole protein sources like Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey, Turkey Meal, Lamb, Lamb Meal, etc. If you see ‘chicken meal’ as the first ingredient, it is usually a good thing, especially if it’s followed by ‘Lamb Meal’ or ‘Whole Chicken’, etc. Premium foods use the whole animal to render as ‘meal’, and if it comes from high-quality sources, it can be very nutritious. Just because the first ingredient says ‘Chicken’ definitely doesn’t mean there is a lot of chicken in it.
There is a belief today that certain well-known national brands on the market are ‘the best’, when they are absolutely not. These brands are full of by-products and fillers, which can harm your dog’s long-term health and behavior. Another myth is that corn is an acceptable grain. Corn is very hard to digest and has little nutritional value for our pets, especially if it’s been cooked over and over to make corn meal. Also, although many vets are wonderful and are very knowledgeable (like mine!), some do not think nutrition is necessarily important in your dog’s health. Veterinary students only take one nutrition course their entire time in vet school (so I’m told by many of my veterinarians friends), and just as human doctors don’t know much about nutrition, some vets don’t either. Don’t take your vet’s word for it- investigate foods on your own and make an informed choice. If your vet sells it, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s good for your pet.
it's also a myth that higher quality foods cost more.  While they do cost more 'per bag' or 'per can', because there is more nutrition and less filler, they cost less 'per meal'... often by a considerable amount.
The Raw-Food Diet
The raw, species appropriate diet (can also be referred to as the BARF diet) does not contain grain products, which are not biologically appropriate for our pets. It is argued that to maximize your animal’s health, he requires protein from sources similar to his wild ancestors who derived their fats and essential fatty acid from raw meat and vegetables. In addition, raw food is a great ‘weight maintainer’. If your cat needs to lose weight, he’ll lose it while eating raw food. If he needs to gain weight, he’ll gain it- both with the same amount of food. These days, there are many dehydrated raw products, too, that make it easy to supplement dry food. You just add water and don’t have to deal with the bigger freezer.
Rotation Diet
Some say that the best diet for a dog is the rotation diet, which consists of rotating protein sources every month. A lot of animals develop food allergies, and this can be attributed to eating the same protein every day for 15 years. If you rotate the kinds of proteins you give your dog, you may reduce the chances of him developing a food allergy. All this means is you can feed your dog a chicken based food for a month, then switch to lamb or beef. Rotate and you can see major health benefits. It is a myth that you are not supposed to switch dog food!
Home-Made Diet
Some people may prefer to make their pets’ diet, which has now become even easier. There are freeze dried powders, including bone meal, vegetables, and supplements that you can add to raw or cooked meat to allow for your pet’s nutritional needs. It can be more cost effective than some diets, but can also be more time-consuming.
Animal By-Products
These are parts of an animal that are left-overs from the human food chain. They can include intestines, chicken heads, lungs, livers, kidneys, duckbills, chicken and turkey feet, feathers and bone. Ingredients listed as chicken, beef, poultry, and animal by-products are not required to include actual meat.
Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT
These are chemical additives used as preservatives. Ethoxyquin is FDA-regulated as a pesticide, and is now banned in Europe for both human and animal food. It is a known carcinogen. BHA and BHT are petroleum derivates and are also believed to be carcinogenic. The scariest part? If these chemicals are added by the meat packing plants to preserve the human leftovers before they are sold to the dog food companies, the dog food companies are not even required to list it on the label!
Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is used as a preservative in many grocery store-brand treats. PG is an ingredient in anti-freeze (anti-freeze can kill dogs), brake fluid, lotions, hair products, etc.
Powdered Cellulose
Many dog food companies are jumping on the ‘grain-free’ bandwagon, and are indeed making foods that are grain free. But what they are using instead is equally as disgusting because it’s not even meant for consumption. Powdered Cellulose is ‘processed WOOD’!
Corn Gluten Meal (Think ‘Glue’) or Any ‘Gluten’
Corn Gluten Meal is the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of cornstarch or syrup. When added to pet food, it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste). It helps holds waste in, making the kidneys and liver work overtime. Dogs may chew their lower backs, and feet may swell causing dogs to lick/chew on their feet.

Ground Corn
Ground Corn is the entire corn kernel, ground or chopped. Corn (in any form) is the #3 most common cause of food allergies in pets. It is linked to hyperactivity, hot spots, itchy skin, and even behavioral problems.
Soybean Meal (or any form of Soy)
Soybean Meal is the product obtained by grinding the flakes that remain after removing most of the oil from soybeans. Dogs and Cats do not contain the amino acids needed to digest Soy, it is the #1 allergen of dogs and has been linked to bloat and gas.
Animal Fat
The origin of the contributing animals is never known. The oil is very low in both linoleic acid & essential fatty acids, which are important for skin and coat health. It is extremely difficult to digest and can lead to a host of animal health problems, including digestive upsets, diarrhea, gas, and bad breath.
Beef Tallow
Beef Tallow is obtained from the tissue of cattle in the commercial process of rendering. Same side effects of Animal Fat.
Chicken By-Products (Or any meat by-products)

Chicken By-Products consist of the rendered, left over parts of slaughtered chickens including necks, beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. By-Products contain almost no nutritional value. They are linked to many deficiencies, allergies and overall poor health.
Poultry By-Product (Non-Specific By-Products)
Same as the previous ingredient, although the origin is from any fowl (turkeys, geese, buzzards, etc). Non-specific By-Products are less expensive and because the protein is never named, it can change at any time. Same side effects as above.

Beet Pulp
The sole purpose of Beet Pulp is to ‘firm up’ stools. When added to pet food it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste) and holds the waste in. It has been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Brewers Rice
Brewers Rice is a by-product of the alcohol industry. It is basically the mill floor sweepings and is a very low quality product that is void of nutritional value. It has also been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Rice Flour/Wheat Flour
These flours consists principally of the soft, finely ground and bolted meal obtained from milling rice/wheat. It is a highly pre-processed ingredient. All of the naturally occurring vitamins have been leeched out by the processing that has already occurred. It is a dehydrating ingredient as well as an allergen.
While there are many different views on the pros and cons of all dog and cat foods, it's up to you and I, as the pet parents, to be informed. We all love our pets and want them to live long, healthy, and happy lives. What we feed them is just as important as how we train them!