I’ve been researching dog food lately, and I’m going to share a simple test for determining whether your dog food is any good. But first, I’ll start with my newest pet peeve…
This is a great food. Grain-free and plenty of meat.
Which Dog Food? Answer the Dang Question!
It bugs me when I hit the computer to research something and I end up visiting websites that encourage me to do my own research. When I Google “Best Stapler,” I’m not looking for encouragement to “ask yourself what you are really looking for in a stapler.” I just want to see: “It’s the PaperJaw 3000.” Search for “Best Dog Food” and you will find lots of websites that go on about the attributes of good dog food, but they never tell you what to buy! I’m not going to do that. If you’re interested in my opinion, I’ll give it to you — see the pictures for the foods I use and recommend, and click on them for more info.
Most Dog Food is Nasty
I believe that most supermarket dog food is made out of bad stuff. The ingredient list for Kibbles ‘n Bits, for example, includes corn syrup. I feel sorry for dogs that are being fed sugar as part of their daily diet, and I would expect that whatever money their owners are saving on dog food, they will end up spending at the vet. In short, I believe it only makes sense to consider so-called “super premium” brands, and so I’m only looking at those. Fair-warning: good dog food is significantly more expensive than bad dog food, but the bag lasts longer because you’ll use less per serving, and you’ll end up saving money on vet bills. Click to continue…
Thanks to all who came out during a snow day to my talk at the Sherborn Library last week! If you were there, feel free to leave a comment or question below. For those who missed it, I will be giving a repeat performance at the Framingham Library on February 17th at 7PM. The topic is everything you need to know to raise a great dog, and I’ll include demonstrations with my dogs and video clips of techniques you should practice with your own dog. See flyer for details.
Many folks struggle with the dog-dog introduction. The clip below shows one of the ways I do it. Several things to notice:
The absence of formal commands. I minimize the use of “sit” and “heel” and other formal command-response techniques with my dogs. I do communicate with them using voice and hand signals, but it is only to reinforce the learned behaviors they already know. In the video, I tell Grace to “wait” because I sensed she needed a reminder, but she probably would have done it on her own, which is the idea.
High expectations. I don’t focus on, or stare at, my dogs. I expect them to behave and I mostly ignore them when I am interacting with others. If they don’t behave, my priority is to correct them immediately.
The imaginary line. I maintain a line that runs to my immediate left and right at all times. Throughout our walks, my dogs have to stay behind the line unless I give them permission otherwise. When Maeby (in the red coat) sits, she is respecting the line.
Off-leash control. This takes time to achieve, but it is worth it.
Safety. Before I let my dogs greet this new dog, I determined that the new dog is not dangerous. I also wanted to let the approaching family know that my dogs are safe for dogs and kids. If I didn’t feel comfortable, I would not have sent my dogs ahead to say hello.
Take a look at this Golden walking with his owners. What’s wrong with this picture? Some people would say, “He’s pulling on the leash. He needs to be trained.” And that idea — that the principal remedy for a poorly-behaved dog is training — is a common one, but it’s wrong. I want to dispel the myth here because it causes a lot of owners to miss an exciting bigger picture, which is: The best remedy for most dog problems is not training, it’s to change the dog’s environment.
Back to the picture. If you had to circle the most important part, what would you choose? The woman’s clenched grip? The taught leash? Some owners look in the wrong place for the solution. For example, some people with pulling dogs switch to a choke or prong collar. We’ve all seen it. Now we have the same pulling dog, except now he’s gasping for air.
So, what’s the right answer? The dog’s brain. Look at that dog’s eyes and expression. You can almost see him thinking, “I’m leading this show, and I’ve got my followers behind me where they belong.” The reason he is pulling is because his owners have created an environment that tells the dog’s mind that he is leading this walk, and so he’s behaving 100% appropriately by fulfilling that role with vigor. Amazingly, when you change his environment and therefore what’s going on in his brain, he’ll stop pulling immediately. That’s the big point. The dog in this picture already knows how to walk politely, and he will demonstrate that immediately for anyone who changes his brain. He doesn’t need to be trained. Click to continue…
I talk to a lot of people about their dogs, and in general, I believe owners have good instincts about what’s going on in their dog’s head. However, there is one exception. It’s a topic that is so frequently and fundamentally misunderstood, that I thought I should talk about it here. And, before I go too far, I should say that I think it is partly Snoopy’s fault.
Also, I have added a poll to the website (over there on the right) so you can anonymously brag or confess about whether you had it right or wrong in your own mind all along. Ready? Here is my assertion:
Excitement is not a sign of happiness. It’s a sign of instability.
That’s right, I believe dog owners commonly misunderstand excitement. When a dog is wagging and jumping and barking and vibrating, it’s a negative thing that should be addressed. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not a sign that the dog is happy. A happy dog is a calm dog. Click to continue…
I see many owners of small dogs who, when faced with a challenging situation such as an approaching larger dog, immediately swoop in and lift their dog to safety. I think it’s a bad habit. No matter the size, your dog is the same species — and has a similar brain to — Canis lupus, the grey wolf. In a wolf’s world, there is no such thing as a rescue airlift. Just like us, dogs learn from challenging situations, so unless there’s real danger you should let them have the experience. Similar advice for bigger dogs: don’t pull them away from every challenge.
9. Lose the Harness
Unless your dog is being attached to a sled, he doesn’t need a harness. Harnesses condition dogs to pull, which is one of several reasons that collars are better. I’ve heard owners say, “He pulls so much on the collar, I’m afraid I’m going to hurt his neck.” You won’t.
8. Nice Yards Are Not a Substitute for Daily Walks
Wolves walk every day, and so should your dog. You can have the baddest backyard in town, but your dog still won’t be satisfied hanging out there for two reasons: 1) Her nature is to be with her pack, and 2) it’s boring. All dogs need significant exercise almost every day, and unfortunately hanging out in the yard doesn’t count.
Gunner is a 9-year-old mix whose engaging Lab-like personality has a temporary layer of dog-dog and dog-owner aggression layered on top. Gunner’s owner and I have been meeting to work on removing that layer, and so far his progress has been exciting.
In our first meetings, we worked on the common problem of “chaos at the front door.” She wrote:
…I am thrilled with my progress. I had [a friend] come to the door and the old usual behavior started. I made my noise and [...] in short order Gunner backed off. I did resort to using a “cuff” gesture and he growled for a nanosecond until I hissed again…. then sat patiently until I greeted my friend. NO high frequency energy. He was chilled behind the line of my territory, and after a bit I did go and pat him. I was delighted…
Recently, we met again to practice dog-dog encounters in the woods, and the session started off a little rough: the first dog we tried to introduce provoked a strong reaction from Gunner with lots of lunging and growling. We decided to use a pack walk with my two dogs to re-acquaint him with social behavior. It was amazing how quickly he let go of the aggression. We spent an hour walking and swimming in the woods with the dogs on-leash and off. Here’s a picture of Gunner’s owner handling all three dogs like a pro. Notice her confidence and how all three leashes are loose! Wonderful progress.
Note: Don't put your dog in the front seat like this if you have an airbag that could inflate in an accident.
The other day I was driving along with Maeby in the front seat. A big rabbit dashed in front of the car and I hit the brakes pretty hard. Maeby tried to keep her balance but ended up awkwardly crumpled in the footwell. Although she was unhurt, I felt bad about it, and after reading this article: Canine Car Safety, I went out to Pet World and got some good canine seat belts.
I’m getting better at connecting them up, and we are still getting used to them, but I’m determined to make them part of our routine. Now, when I hit the brakes, it’s reassuring to see them held firmly by the belts. Makes me think maybe the kids should be wearing seatbelts too.
Did you ever give your dog a command just as she began to scratch herself? Then you get to stand there awkwardly while you wait for her to finish? It happens to me occasionally, and for some reason it never occurred to me that I was being intentionally blown off. Here’s a great article with a new theory on what all the scratching is about:
Here’s a clip from an interesting email I just got.
I wondered if there is anything to be done for a highly anxious dog/owner. My friend’s Weimeraner is a great dog but super anxious. Shakes like crazy if there are a lot of people around, hates fireworks and pees upon greeting a lot. I love her, very sweet but seems to suffer all summer long with all the people at the lake. Is that something that could change or is that biochemical do you think?
Add a comment and let us know what you would do. I’ll be posting my reply as well.