Finding the Right Dog Food: What to Avoid
(Brandy Arnold - Dogington Post)
Choosing the right food for your dog can be a daunting task. Many of us have found ourselves overwhelmed standing in the pet food aisle, staring down a long line of bags, boxes, and cans, all promising to provide the very best and complete nutrition for our pets.
In an industry that is highly under-regulated, one that basically allows manufacturers to make whatever claims about health and nutrition they want, no matter how truthful, it’s important for pet parents to take an active role, to read labels, and to do their research.
After all, unlike humans that usually have a few different meals every day, with different protein sources, and a variety of ingredients, our dogs typically eat the same food every day, at every meal. Because of this simple fact, finding food that is safe, even after months or years of daily consumption, is vitally important to their health and well-being.
The list below is hardly all-inclusive, but will point you in the right direction to find the perfect food for your furry family. When you find a pet food that leaves out these known harmful ingredients, it’s highly likely you’ve found a food that leaves out all the other junk used by the commercial pet food industry too.
Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid:
By-Products: By definition, a by-product is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else. In dog food, by-products can include parts of the meat protein source not normally suitable for use such as bones, skin, beaks, feet, feathers, intestines, even urine and fecal waste. Further, by-products, by law, CAN include tissue from dead, diseased, disabled, and dying animals. In the pet food industry, these are normally referred to as “The 4D’s.” By-products do not include healthy “muscle meats,” but rather, the parts normally discarded during meat processing. By nature, by-products can be high in protein and are used by many manufacturers as a cheap alternative to healthier meats.
Sugar: Sugars are a common ingredient in commercial dog food, usually disguised as sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, etc., because it makes the food tastier to a dog’s natural sweet-tooth. In addition to contributing to obesity, sugars interfere with your dog’s ability to digest protein, calcium, and other minerals and inhibits the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Studies have also shown that excessive sugar intake can lead to behavioral problems.
BHA/BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemical preservatives often added to pet food to lengthen their shelf life. The World Health Organization has deemed these chemicals “suspicious cancer-causing” compounds. Yet, both remain commonly used by the pet food industry to make our dog’s food last longer on the shelf. In addition to proven cancer-causing effects, BHA and BHT can cause allergic reactions, fetal abnormalities, and negatively affect kidney and liver function.
Ethoxyquin: (Also known as Santoquin) Another artificial preservative, ethoxyquin is also a pesticide. Prolonged ethoxyquin use has proven to destroy normal liver function. Although ethoxyquin is banned from use in human food, it can still be legally added to pet food. Still, due to controversy surrounding the ingredient, many pet food manufacturers don’t add the ingredient directly, but add it indirectly by using certain poultry and fish that contain it. In effect, when reading your pet food label, this ingredient may be present even when it’s not listed. Do your research and ask your manufacturer to be certain.
Sodium Nitrate: Sodium Nitrate is added to dog food to help it retain color. Since our dogs don’t see colors vividly, or make food choices based on what color they are, this ingredient is strictly used to enhance its appearance to humans. Besides being a completely unecessary ingredient in pet foods, sodium nitrates can cause cancers, severe arthritic symptoms, abnormalities of the dog’s immune system, and has even been linked to death.
Artificial Colors/Flavors: Artificial colors and flavors have both shown potential to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Choose foods that are naturally flavored with real, whole ingredients, without added artificial colors.
Fresh, Healthy Veggies that Fido Will Love
(Brandy Arnold - Dogington Post)
Vegetables are great for dogs. Because of their low calorie content, veggies make a delicious treat that won’t add bulk to your baby’s body. And, they can provide your dog with some of the essential nutrients he needs, reducing the need for vitamin supplements. Like in humans, the rich vitamins and minerals from numerous vegetable sources can offer countless alimentary benefits to dogs as well.
Veggies to Keep Dogs Healthy
1. Healthiest vine veggies. Squash, cucumbers, and green beans are generally identified to be the most nutritious vine vegetables for dogs. Squash and cucumbers, whether raw or cooked, are rich in potassium which is beneficial in keeping your dog’s kidneys healthy while at the same time reducing his propensity for heart failure. Plus, squash has high amounts of Vitamin A, folate, and calcium. Green beans, on the other hand, contain high contents of cellulose which can be good in helping a hefty pooch lose weight.
2. Top leafy greens. Celery generally provides a sufficient amount of vitamins like A, C, and K, and minerals such as fiber, riboflavin, folate, and lots of other nutrients that are beneficial to your dog’s health. However, it contains high levels of sodium, and should be fed in moderation. Another nutritious vegetable for Fido is parsley. Aside from vitamins A, C, and K, the plant is also rich in potassium, manganese, copper, and folate. In addition, spinach is also abounding with many vitamins such as A, C, E, and, K, and minerals like iron, thiamine, folate, potassium, calcium, zinc, and niacin. Like celery, spinach is also rich in sodium.
3. Best root veggies. Asparagus, carrot, and sweet potato are considered to be the top three most nutritious root vegetables readily available for dogs.Asparagus is rich in vitamins like A, B6, C, E, and K, and various minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, and copper. While carrots have rich cellulose content, Vitamin A, as well as beta-carotene, sweet potatoes, on the other hand, contain high levels of Vitamin A and B6, and potassium. Additionally, sweet potatoes contain high amounts of fiber, making them a great treat that also helps your dog to become “regular.” Both carrots and sweet potatoes make great low-calorie treats for pooches.
There are many other vegetables that not only appeal to Fido’s taste, but can keep him healthy as well. Nevertheless, not all vegetables are safe to be eaten by your dog. Because there are lots of human foods that can cause harm to your pooch, make sure that you consult your vet before giving him anything that seems palatable. And, check out this list of foods to avoid feeding your dog.
7 Foods You Should Never Feed Your Dog
Like small children that will often pick up random objects and try to eat them, many dogs will eat whatever you put in front of their noses, whether it’s good for them or not. That’s why knowing which foods you should never feed your dog is so important to their health and vitality. As a dog owner myself, I’m guilty of treating my dog to a bite of my dinner now and then (shame on me!), but I’m always careful to make sure what I’m feeding my pal is ok for her to eat. We found a great article at RealSimple.com that lists 7 foods your dog should avoid.
7 Foods You Should Never Feed Your Dog
Avocados: This seemingly benign fruit contains persin, which is toxic to dogs in large quantities and can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Onions: Potent onions damage red blood cells in both dogs and cats, leading to anemia and causing weakness, shortness of breath, and vomiting.
Grapes: Juicy grapes can cause kidney damage in dogs and cats, which may result in lethargy, increased thirst, increased urination, and vomiting.
Nuts: Macadamia nuts can cause muscle and nervous-system problems, triggering tremors, vomiting, weakness, and paralysis in dogs.
Chocolate: Never give your dog or cat this sweet treat—it stimulates the nervous system and the heart. Reactions include agitation, irregular heartbeat, tremors, and seizures.
Peaches: Feed your dog a peach and he may eat the pit, which can cause intestinal obstruction and cyanide poisoning.
Plums: Like peaches, plums have pits that contain cyanide and are harmful if swallowed.
Why Dogs Eat Grass — and How to Prevent It
(Juliana Weiss-Roessler - Cesar's Way)
Your dog begs to be let outside, immediately downs several mouthfuls of grass… and then promptly vomits it all up. Or maybe your dog is more of connoisseur, hunting for just the right blade to nosh on, with no side effects afterwards.
It’s a common behavior that baffles many dog owners. In fact, one survey found that grass is the most commonly eaten plant by dogs. But why do they do it?
Here’s the truth: we’re not 100% sure. It’s likely there’s not one simple answer. Different dogs may eat grass for different reasons. But understanding why your dog does can help you address the behavior.
Your dog eats every last morsel he can find under your dinner table after a meal, so why stop there? As natural scavengers, canines are programmed to search for nutrition anywhere they can find it. It’s possible that your dog finds the flavor or texture of grass yummy. Or it could be filling a nutritional need that his normal food isn’t, especially fiber.
Prevention: Some people find that the behavior stops after they switch to a high-fiber dog food. If you think this might be the case for your pup, consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet.
In some cases, eating grass is just something to do to pass the time. He’s got the backyard to himself, but not much to do there. Are you providing regular exercise and mental challenges for your pup? Do you notice your dog eating more grass during times when you aren’t walking or playing with them as often?
Prevention: Sometimes the solution can be as simple as providing a chew toy as an alternative or dedicating yourself to providing a consistent exercise routine.
Some experts believe that grass is a form of self-medication. When your dog has tummy troubles, he turns to grass for relief. This is more likely if the behavior starts suddenly or if your dog is very anxious about needing to eat the grass, often extending his neck and making swallowing motions, and then vomiting afterwards. But most studies have found that this is actually quite rare — less than 25% of dogs vomit after eating grass and only 10% showed signs of illness beforehand.
Prevention: In some cases, the stomach distress can be a sign of something more serious, like gastric reflux or inflammatory bowel disease, so it’s worth calling your veterinarian for advice.
Still Not Sure?
Relax. Many veterinarians consider grass eating a normal dog behavior. While dogs don’t gain anything of real nutritional value from grass, it also may not hurt them — as long as there are no dangerous fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides used on the grass itself.
You can help protect your grass eater by using only non-toxic products on your own lawn. When you’re out in public areas, keep an eye out for signs warning that chemicals have been used on the grass. You can also provide a safe alternative by growing a grass or herb garden specifically for him to snack on.
If you’re afraid that your dog may be suffering from poisoning caused by lawn treatments, call the ASPCA’s 24/7 Animal Poison Control hotline at (888) 426-4435.
Read more: http://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/dog-nutrition/Why-Dogs-Eat-Grass-and-How-to-Prevent-It#ixzz2zfhDAGyg
Earth-Friendly Ideas for Dog Owners
(Brandy Arnold - Dogington Post)
Because we all have a duty to do our part in protecting the planet for future generations, choosing to live a “green” life with your pooch is a great route to take. Becoming eco-friendly doesn’t have to be tough. Many online boutiques now offer various organic and environmentally friendly dog products for you to choose from. Preferring these items over synthetic and inorganic ones already play a great role in helping save our planet. Read on for some eco-friendly product ideas to get you started.
Going “Green” With Your Dog
1. Gourmet Dog Food and Treats. The easiest way to become an eco-friendly dog owner is to find organic dog food and treats for your pet. They are readily available and can be found almost everywhere. Aside from helping save our planet by obtaining products brought about by processes that use less energy, you also contribute in making your dog healthy as ingredients are all natural and pesticide-free.
2. Dog Beds. Opting for an organic dog bed does not mean sacrificing comfort. Many eco-friendly dog beds available in the market today are not only sustainable, but soft and snug as well. Their fabric is made of organic or recycled cottons while the filling is made of recyclable materials like pulverized plastic soda bottles. You know you’ve done your part if you help in diverting plastic from landfills and reducing energy consumption through the use of these eco-friendly dog beds.
3. Dog Shampoos. Organic dog shampoos are not only safe for our environment but also effective in getting rid of your dog’s dirt without stripping him of his natural oils. Their all-natural ingredients make a mild and gentle cleaning agent that does not result in any harsh reaction to your pet.
4. Dog Clothes. For those of us that dress our dogs, using clothes made of organic cotton is easier on the environment. Bamboo dog tees, for example, are very eco-friendly as bamboo plants supply 30% more oxygen as compared to trees, and remove 30% more Carbon dioxide which offsets global warming. Plus, bamboo trees do not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow.
5. Dog Toys. Although organic dog toys are a little more difficult to find, they are becoming more popular. Try looking for dog toys made with organic hemp or cotton. They not only help preserve the earth but are safe for your pooch. They are not toxic, and the fibers are not bleached, or processed.
Treating Doggie Bug Bites and Bee Stings
(Brandy Arnold - Dogington Post)
If you have a curious pooch that loves to snoop around, then it’s very likely that you will face bug bites and bee stings. Although most cases are rarely dangerous, it’s still crucial that you understand how some insect bites and stings can also lead to serious canine allergies, even death.
To avoid pain and serious symptoms of irritation, you should know what kinds of insect bites and stings can hurt your dog and what steps to take to provide relief to Fido.
Symptoms of Insect Bites
Signs of insect bites generally depend on the type of pest that stung your dog.
- For mosquito bites, the affected area often becomes red and inflamed. Itching and swelling are also noticeable. With mosquito bites in particular, you’ll want to provide your dog with itch relief, as his constant scratching or chewing can lead to hot spots or infection.
- Tick bites can result not just in swelling but infection as well. In addition to soothing your dog’s painful wound, tick bites should be monitored as they can lead to Lyme disease and other serious dog health complications.
- With flea bites, constant itchiness is common. Small swollen bumps on Fido’s skin surrounded by a reddened halo are also in plain sight. This kind can set off allergies that trigger itching, red rashes, swelling, and skin thickening. It’s important to control fleas in your home and on your dog. A flea infestation can lead to life threatening anemia.
- Bee stings can result in large bumps, sores, redness, swelling, and intense pain. While a single bee sting will likely not do too much damage, multiple bee stings can be lethal.
- Spider bites, in addition to leaving a large, swollen and itchy bump on the skin may lead to shivering and even vomiting. If your dog starts to show any of these serious symptoms, alert your vet immediately.
What You Can Do at Home
· Baking soda. To help your pooch get relief from itchiness brought about by the acidic bites of insects, just mix baking soda with water, and then rub the paste on the bug bite a few times each day. The alkaline nature of the powder will help to alleviate the discomfort.
· Aloe Vera. Skin irritation can also be reduced by taking advantage of the cooling action found in the Aloe Vera plant. Simply slice off a portion of the plant and then apply it directly on the infected skin of your dog. Allow the soothing juice soak in. Alternatively, you may purchase Aloe Vera gels and lotions available in the market – just make sure they’re pet safe!
· Get rid of the stinger. In case of bee stings, remove the stinger from your pooch’s skin with a pair of tweezers. This way, you can prevent any more venom from being circulated into his body. Never try to scrape the stinger using only your fingernails as you might just drive it even deeper into your pet’s skin. After this, wash the wound with mild soap, and then use cold compress to lessen the swelling.
· Antihistamines. To control intense itching and reduce symptoms associated with bug bites and bee stings, an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can work wonders. The typical dose is .5 to 1mg per pound of your dog’s weight (Please check with your vet before giving your pet any OTC medication.)
An antihistamine, given immediately and at the right dosage, can save a dog’s life. Many times, a bug bite or bee sting, particularly around the dog’s face and mouth, can cause extreme swelling, even cutting off air supply. Every dog owner should have dog-safe antihistamines in their first aid kit. For information about antihistamines and which ones are appropriate for dogs, click here.
Doggie Do’s and Don’t's on Easter
Easter can be a fun holiday for your entire family and of course that includes the dog, too! However, because there are a few extra potential hazards and likely sources of stress for our four-legged best friends during this festive day, it’s important that you keep him safe. To have only the happiest of Easters this year, remember these do’s and don’t's:
What to Do:
· Watch out for diet treats. It may seem like a great idea to give Fido sugar-free candies and cookies, but you could actually be poisoning your pet. Xylitol an an artificial sweetener that is harmful to your pooch and can cause a radical drop in your pet’s blood pressure, cause liver damage, and worse, death.
· Keep chocolate bunnies out of reach. Keep Fido away from chocolates, especially the dark ones. These delights contain theobromine which, although harmless to humans, can be lethal to your dog, resulting in increased heart rate, shaking, seizure, and death.
· Avoid grapes and raisins. Health conscious parents often fill plastic eggs with grapes or raisins in place of candies. Although many dogs can eat grapes and raisins without suffering any ill effects, others can end up afflicted with kidney failure and even death after consuming just one. Best to skip these sweets altogether and not find out one way or the other.
· Beware of macadamia nuts. You probably won’t find these in a lot of Easter baskets, but in case you do, immediately put them away. Macadamia nuts have been found out to trigger not only diarrhea and vomiting in dogs, but also hind-leg weakness and fleeting paralysis.
· Include your dog in this special day. If you have kids and surprise them with Easter baskets on Sunday morning, surprise your dog with an Easter surprise, too! She’ll love being included in the fun and, having her own basket of dog-safe toys and treats will keep her occupied and out of your kids’ unsafe goodies.
What Not to Do:
· Don’t allow your dog access to pennies. When planning an Easter egg hunt, many folks fill plastic eggs with loose change. Because some dogs will eat almost anything, make sure that your pup doesn’t ingest any coins as they can cause severe anemia as well as kidney breakdown.
· Don’t leave harmful objects in your dog’s reach. Put away candy foil wrappers, electric cords, and keep Easter displays and baskets beyond your pet’s reach. While the shiny candy wrappers can cause various intestinal problems, electrical cords, when chewed on, can deliver fatal electric shock. The plastic “grass” used to fluff up Easter baskets may look like fun to a dog, but can cause serious problems to your dog if ingested.
· Don’t forget where you hid the Easter eggs. Keep a list of where you hide your eggs. When the egg hunt is over, take a quick count to make sure everything has been found, particularly in and around the yard. While the thought of gobbling up an old hard-boiled egg after it’s been hidden outside for a few days is enough to turn our stomachs, your dog might think he’s hit the doggy lottery! Besides causing an upset stomach and intestinal distress, rotten eggs can cause dangerous food poisoning and a hefty vet bill. Both hard-boiled and plastic eggs can also pose a choking hazard if swallowed whole.
· Don’t share your Easter dinner with the dog. Traditional Easter dinners often include dishes like ham, chicken, turkey, or lamb and a variety of side dishes, casseroles, and desserts that may contain ingredients (like onions, sage, grapes/raisins, nuts, chocolate, and more) that are dangerous for your furkids. They day following big holiday meals, like those served and Thanksgiving and Easter, are the busiest days of the years for veterinarians dealing with dogs that have eaten bones, dogs with pancreatitis from eating too many fatty foods, poisoning by unsafe ingredients, and general upset stomach. If you want to do a little something special for your dog, try a new Easter-themed toy or dog treat instead of a dish from the dinner table.
Removing Ticks from Pets
Six Steps to Rid Dogs and Cats of Parasite
To check your dog for ticks, run your hands over his entire body —back, belly, armpits, between the toes, on the legs, around the face and inside the ears. If you feel a bump or a swollen area, push the hair aside to see if a tick has dug into your dog’s skin.
Ticks can be as small as a head of a pin. They are brown, tan or black and have eight legs.
If you see an attached tick on your dog, you can seek veterinary assistance to ensure proper removal (and examination) of the tick. Your veterinarian can let you know what kind of tick is on your dog and make sure the entire parasite is removed.
If you are unable to visit your veterinarian and need to remove the tick on your own, make sure to have the following on hand: gloves (ticks can transmit disease to you, too), tick remover tweezers, antiseptic, rubbing alcohol and a Ziploc bag.
How to Remove a Tick
Lyme Disease Lyme disease, caused by bacteria carried by deer ticks, is the most common insect-borne affliction for dogs and is most prevalent during the fall and spring months.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can take time to appear, so watch your dog for any signs of infection, such as lameness, arthritis, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and a reluctance to move. Contact your veterinarian immediately with any concerns.
For more information about the cause, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, please read our article here.
Tip of the Day: Do You Have a Nervous or Shy Dog?
(Dogs to Kevin)
One thing that is very important if you have a nervous or shy dog is getting them out and socializing them like crazy. Do this often. Get them around lots of people while they receive awesome things. The things can come from the other people, or even you. One reason this is important is if your dog randomly gets lost. If your dog is lost, and scared of people, it will take a whole lot longer to get him back. If he loves people he will probably just wander up to anyone, which will allow the person to check the tags and hopefully get him back to where he belongs.
When doing this socialization, start off in areas that do not have too many people. We don't want to flood the dog. Flooding is putting the dog in a situation where it is surrounded by things it doesn't like. Basically you wouldn't want to start this process off at a county fair. If you have a nervous/shy/fearful dog and live in NE Ohio, contact me for help. We can work on this socialization and some confidence building.
Teaching an Aggressive Dog How to Be Social Around Other Dogs
Aggressive dogs are most effectively trained without aversive techniques.
(Beverly Hebert- Whole Dog Journal)
Going for a walk with your dog may be one of your favorite ways to exercise and relax, but your pleasant outing can quickly turn into a stressful one if you happen to encounter another dog running loose. If the other dog is threatening or your own dog reacts aggressively, the situation can become downright dangerous.
Like most owners of dog-aggressive dogs, Thea McCue of Austin, Texas, is well aware of how quickly an outdoor activity with her dog can stop being fun. Wurley, her 14-month-old Lab mix, is a happy, energetic dog who loves to swim and go running on the hike-bike trails around their home. But when he’s on leash and spots another dog, he sometimes barks, growls, and lunges. Since he is 22 inches tall and weighs 60 pounds, he can be hard to handle, says McCue. “When he pounced on one little 10-pound puppy, it was embarrassing for me and scary for the puppy’s owner!”
However, Wurley’s reaction to other dogs is far from rare. Tense encounters between dogs are not unusual, as dogs that don’t get along with other dogs now seem close to outnumbering those who do. In fact, dog-to-dog aggression is one of the most common behavior problems that owners, breeders, trainers, shelter staff, and rescue volunteers must deal with.
When Goldie sees another dog, she goes nuts,
growling and barking. If another dog approach-
es, she attacks. Rather than "correct" her with
collar yanks and yelling, Sandi Thompson
uses classical conditioning to change Goldie’s
response to strange dogs.
The major reason, says Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), is that during their puppyhood, dogs are often deprived of adequate socialization with other good-natured dogs. As a result, many pups grow up with poor social skills, unable to “read” other dogs and exchange subtle communication signals with them.
Regular contact with playmates is necessary to develop social confidence. The current popularity of puppy classes is largely due to Dunbar’s pioneering efforts to provide puppies with a way to experience this vital contact with one another. If puppies miss out on these positive socialization experiences, they are more at risk of developing fear-based provocative behaviors. Because dogs that show aggressive tendencies tend to be kept more isolated than their socially savvy counterparts, their anti-social behavior usually tends to intensify as they get older.
Conditioned to improve behavior
Fortunately, there is a way out of this dilemma. If you happen to own a dog that doesn’t work and play well with others, the good news is that new training techniques are being developed that can help you resocialize your dog. Like McCue, who opted to take Wurley to “Growl” classes, you may find these training remedies can improve your dog’s manners so that you can feel comfortable handling him in public again.
Although the techniques themselves may be new, Jean Donaldson, author of Culture Clash and training director at the San Francisco SPCA, says that they are solidly grounded in behavioral science theory and the “laws of learning.” Though different trainers design their own classes differently, in general, “Growl” classes are geared to teach dogs to associate other dogs with positive things, and to teach dogs that good behavior in the presence of other dogs will be rewarded.
The first method commonly used in these classes involves simple classical conditioning – the dog learns that the presence of another dog predicts a food treat, much as Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with dinner coming.
Operant conditioning is also used to teach the dog that his own actions can earn positive reinforcement in the form of treats, praise, and play. Both types of conditioning attempt to change the underlying emotional state of the dog that leads to aggression, rather than just suppressing the outward symptoms.
This approach is a departure from the past; only a few years ago, most trainers recommended correcting lunging and barking with a swift, hard leash “pop” (yank). Although this forceful method could interrupt an aggressive outburst, it seldom produces any lasting improvement – it does nothing to change the way the dog will “feel” or react the next time he sees another dog.
With Goldie tied to a sturdy post, Thompson
has a friend walk his dog past Goldie’s field of
vision, at a distance of about 150 feet. When
the dog appears, the trainer feeds Goldie a
steady stream of delicious treats. Fixated on
the other dog, Goldie seems to barely notice
the treats – but she does eat them.
In fact, this sort of punishment sometimes exacerbates the problem by sending the wrong message to the dog; he learns that proximity to other dogs brings about punishment from the owner!
Punishment results in additional negative side effects. A dog who has been punished, just like a person who has been physically or verbally rebuked, usually experiences physiological stress reactions that make it harder for him to calm down. Also, when punished for growling or showing signs of unease with other dogs, a dog may simply learn to suppress his growling and visual signals of discomfort; the result can be a dog that suddenly strikes out with no warning.
These are some of the reasons that behaviorists like Dunbar and Donaldson now believe that it is absolutely necessary to eliminate all punishment and reprimands from aggression rehabilitation programs.
Components of effective training programs
In the most effective aggression-retraining programs, unpleasant or punishing training methods (“aversives”) are avoided as much as possible. Control over the dog’s behavior is obtained by putting the dog on what is known as the “No Free Lunch” regimen. The basic premise is that the dog must respond to an obedience cue in order to earn every right, freedom, and privilege. These include meals, treats, toys, play, games, walks, and even attention and petting. The goal is to teach the dog to appreciate his owner as the provider of all good things in his life.
Meanwhile, the first step in specifically dealing with the dog’s aggression might merely be rewarding the dog for any behavior that does not involve fighting or aggressive behavior. His behavior is then modified through a planned program of shaping (reinforcing each small action the dog makes toward the desired goal); desensitization (presenting other dogs at sufficient distance so that an aggressive reaction is not elicited, then gradually decreasing the distance); counter-conditioning (pairing the presence of other dogs with pleasant things); and training the dog to offer behaviors incompatible with aggression on cue.
An example of the latter would be short-circuiting a dog from lunging by having him instead do a “sit-stay” while watching the handler. Eventually, the dog can even be trained to offer this behavior automatically upon sighting another dog. (“If I turn and look at my handler when I see a dog, I’ll get a sardine – yum!”)
Another cornerstone technique, originally developed by behavior counselor William Campbell, is commonly known as the “Jolly Routine.” An owner is taught to use her own mood to influence her dog’s mood – when your dog is tense, instead of scolding, laugh and giggle him out of it! This same technique can work on fearful dogs. Make a list of items, words, and expressions that hold happy meanings for your dog and use them to help elicit mood changes. “The best ‘double punch’ is to jolly, and then deliver food treats,” says Donaldson. “The bonus to this technique is that it also stops the owner from delivering that tense, warning tone: ‘Be ni-ice!’ ”
Applying positive methods
The “Open Bar” is one exercise that might be considered an offshoot of the jolly routine, and it, too, makes use of classical conditioning. Here’s how it works:
For a set period of time (weeks or months, as needed), whenever another dog appears, like clockwork you offer your own dog sweet baby talk or cheery “jolly talk” and a special favorite food never given at any other time. The “bar opening” is contingent only on the presence of other dogs; therefore the bar opens no matter how good or badly your own dog behaves. Likewise, the “bar” closes the moment the other dogs leave – you stop the happy talk and stop feeding the treats.
Success! Goldie can hear Thompson’s cue
for "sit" and "look at me," and has enough
self-possession to comply. This is a great
place to stop the first session.
Skeptics may ask whether giving treats to a dog whose behavior is still far from angelic does not actually reward bad behavior. But behaviorists explain that the classical conditioning effect – creating a strong positive association with other dogs – is so powerful that it overrides any possible reinforcement of undesirable behavior that may initially occur. The unwanted behavior soon fades in intensity.
Another advantage of the Open Bar technique is that it can be incorporated into training regimens that are easy to set up, such as “street passes.” Street passes are also a means of using distance and repetition to desensitize your dog to other dogs. The final goal is for your dog to be able to walk by a new dog and do well on the first pass.
All you need to set up a training session using street passes is the help of a buddy and his dog. Position yourself about 50 yards from a place where you can hold your dog on leash, or tie him securely to a lamp post or tree. Ideally, this should be on a street, about 50 yards from a corner, so your friend can pass through an area of your dog’s vision and then disappear.
Your friend and his dog should wait out of sight until you are in position and ready with your treats. At that point he should appear with his dog, strolling across an area within your dog’s sight. As soon as he and his dog appear, open the bar and start sweet-talking your dog as you give him treats. The moment that your buddy and his dog disappear from sight, the bar closes and you stop the treats and attention.
Don’t get discouraged if on the first few passes your dog seems too frenzied to care about you and your treats. Patience will pay off. “It may take 10, 15, or 25 passes, but how many times in a row can he get totally hacked off?” asks Dunbar. “At some point he will calm down.” When he does, he will begin to make the connection with the food appearing and disappearing with the comings and goings of the “cookie dog.”
Similar sessions can be set up in quiet parks or out-of-the-way places. The handler, with the aggressive dog on leash, should stand several feet off a path, as a friend walks by with his dog, also on leash. Both dogs should have an appetite (don’t work on this right after the dog has been fed!) and both handlers should have really yummy treats in hand to help keep their dogs’ attention on them and to reward the dogs for good behavior.
The dog walker should make several passes, until the stationary dog is able to maintain a sit without lunging. As training progresses, the owner should be able to gradually reduce the distance necessary for his dog to react calmly with what Donaldson calls a “Oh, you again” response when the familiar dog passes by. The same process is repeated as new dogs are introduced into the equation.
Naturally, the more dogs that your dog can interact with, the better chance he will have to improve his behavior. If he has some bite inhibition (when he does bite another dog, the bites are not hard enough to break the skin of his victim), Donaldson believes the ideal solution is a play group of “bulletproof dogs” that are friendly, confident, and experienced enough to interact well with him. Unfortunately, this kind of play group is not easy for most owners to replicate on an as-needed basis.
Donaldson says the second best thing is a well-run “growly dog class” just for aggressive dogs, another concept developed by Ian Dunbar. One way these classes differ from regular obedience classes is that everyone in them is in the same boat, and therefore willing to work together to overcome their dogs’ problems.
One of the most comprehensive programs is offered by the Marin Humane Society in Novato, California. Training director Trish King says MHS’s “Difficult Dog” class size is limited to eight dogs and progress proceeds in baby steps.
“The first class is very controlled,” she describes. “We’ve prepared a small fenced area (using show ring gating) for each dog and the first couple of weeks we throw towels over the fences to prevent the dogs from making eye contact. By week three, the coverings have been removed. By the fourth week we have a few dogs in muzzles wandering around each other. The goal is to have the dogs remain under control when another dog runs up to them!”
King says that proper equipment is part of the formula for success. Dogs are acclimated to wearing Gentle Leaders (head halters) for on-leash work and muzzles for off-leash work. Since muzzles can interfere with the dogs’ ability to pant, care must be taken not to let dogs become overheated while using them. No pinch collars or choke chains are allowed.
“We’ve found that most people have already tried to use corrective collars, and they haven’t worked,” says King, “probably because of the lack of timing on the owners’ part, as well as the fact that these collars can set the dog up for identifying other dogs as a threat; they see an oncoming dog, while they feel the pain of the collar jerk, and they hear their owner yelling at them.”
Changing this common scenario begins with teaching owners to keep the leash short but loose. Instead of punishing corrections, MHS instructors use a variety of exercises to train dogs to avoid conflicts.
“We teach dogs to follow their owners, not to pull on leash, to watch the owner, sit, down, stay, and so on,” says King. “We also teach the owners how to massage their dogs, and how to stay calm and in control at all times. More than anything else, the class is to help owners control and manage their dogs.”
Changing the handler’s behavior
Across the continent in Toronto, Canada, Cheryl Smith, who developed some of the concepts used at MHS, also believes that working with owners and dogs as a team is one of the most important components of her Growl Classes. One of the first things that Smith teaches owners is how to take a deep breath and relax about everything. Owners who remain calm are better able to pay attention to their dog’s body language and to observe what triggers aggression.
Without special coaching, owners are likely to do exactly the opposite, thus making the problems worse.
For example, if you anticipate or respond to your dog’s aggressive behavior by tightening up on his leash, you will reinforce his perception that he should be leery of other dogs. If you get upset when he lunges and barks, your emotions will fuel his tension and aggression. If you continue to punish and reprimand your dog after he has started to settle down, you will only confuse him and make him more stressed, because punishment that comes more than a couple of seconds after a behavior is too late – your dog will think he is being punished for being quiet!
In contrast, the right approach utilizes prevention and early intervention. The dog must be prevented from repeating the problem behavior because every time that he does so successfully it will become more entrenched! Interventions may include moving to break up eye contact, using a body block to prevent physical contact or to redirect forward movement, giving a cue such as “Gentle” (open the mouth and relax the jaw) or “Off” (back away), and offering treats to defuse or interrupt tension interactions. Smith says that corrections should be limited to verbal reprimands, time-outs, or the withholding of a reward; further, she doesn’t recommend that any of these corrections enter the picture until the dog is able to respond correctly at least 80 percent of the time.
Be patient – and realistic
Of course, there will be some dogs that don’t respond adequately to any training program. These may require a referral to a certified veterinary behaviorist who can prescribe drugs such as Prozac as part of the treatment arsenal. If you have an aggressive dog, you have a responsibility to ensure his safety and that of others by taking appropriate measures, including the use of a muzzle when indicated.
But no matter how serious your dog’s problem may be, Jean Donaldson advises keeping it in perspective:
“In any discussion of aggression, it bears remembering that the bar we hold up for dogs is one we would consider ridiculous for any other animal, including ourselves. We want no species-normal aggressive behavior directed at any other human or canine at any time, of even the most ritualized sort, over the entire life of the animal? It’s like me saying to you, ‘Hey, get yourself a therapist who will fix you so that for the rest of your life, you never once lose your temper, say something you later regret to a loved one, swear at another driver in traffic, or yell at anyone, including your dog.’ It’s a tall order!”
In other words, keep your expectations realistic. Then, if you stick with the program, the odds are you will end up pleased with the results, like Thea McCue. After completing their Growl Class course with trainer Susan Smith, owner of Raising Canine in Austin, she and Wurley are once more able to hit the hike and bike trails together again. Describing Wurley’s progress thus far, McCue says, “he warms up to other dogs much faster and rarely reacts to dogs while we’re running.” Although there remains room for improvement, Wurley’s days of pouncing on puppies are over!
-by Beverly Hebert
Beverly Hebert is a freelance writer and a dog trainer from Houston, Texas. This is her first article for WDJ. Thanks to trainer Sandi Thompson of Sirius Puppy Training in Berkeley, California. For contact information for Hebert or Thompson, see "Resources."
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