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Canine Body Language - it's a real thing

When you spend a lot of time with many different dogs, reading body language becomes instinctive. Before a dog trainer friend officially educated me on the topic seven years ago, I thought I was some sort of psychic: “I just knew that fight was going to happen.” But of course dogs communicate with each other and us though body language. How else are they going to do it? Remember that video of Cesar Millan taunting Holly, the food aggressive Labrador? After she bites him he says, “I didn’t see that coming.” That line reverberated around the dog world. How could a man who is surrounded by dogs all of the time, not have seen that coming? The rest of us certainly did.

Knowing how to read your dog is fairly simple and by doing so, you can save them a lot stress, prevent fights and bites, and create a feeling of safety for them. And better communication with your dog only leads to a better relationship.

Great reading material and visual aids:

Canine Body Language in the Dog Park

Stress Signals

Calming Signals

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A Difficult Lesson for Pet Sitters and Owners

twomI’ve been a professional pet sitter for ten years. I take my job very seriously, put safety first and always err on the side of caution. The story I’m about to tell is not only seemingly unreal, it’s pretty surprising that it happened to someone so diligent. A few weeks ago, one of my original clients from 2003, dropped his dog off to stay for a week, just as he had done many times before. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes, catching up and discussing their US/Canada road trip upon which they were about to embark. We also talked about Ginger’s decrease in appetite over the previous weeks, and I promised I would get her to eat. She loved eating at my house because I always made a special pot of stew (organic beef, sweet potato and carrots) just for her and served it atop her kibble. That evening, I sent them a photo of her devouring it. The next morning she did the same thing.

Two hours later, however, she threw it up and went back to her bed. That would be the last time Ginger ever stood up on her own. It wasn’t unusual for her to remain lying down for long periods of time because of her arthritis – especially if she could see you without having to change rooms. But a couple of hours later when I returned from walking dogs, I found it a little strange that she didn’t get up to greet me. An hour after that, Ginger wasn’t wagging her tail very much when we said her name. This was particularly unusual for this gleeful, bouncy lab. Once her breathing changed a little, I was concerned and wanted to bring her to the vet, or speak with her owners. Several text messages went unanswered and so off to the vet we went.

She was assessed by one of her own doctors and we were told to take her to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and advised that we “must reach her owners.” Several more phones calls went straight to voicemail.

At the VEC we were told that Ginger had internal bleeding, likely caused by a type of tumour called Hemangiosarcoma. Four hours later and we still had not been able to reach her people. The vet was not optimistic but since she wasn’t my dog, we agreed that she should receive a blood transfusion in an attempt to keep her stable until we got word from the owners. On our way out of the clinic, I told the vet that if her condition got any worse, he must call me so that I would come and be with her.

That call came at 3 AM. Ginger was crashing and the decision was now out of our hands. We raced back to the clinic, where I signed a “permission to euthanize” agreement for a dog that wasn’t even mine. We sat with her, petted her, and kissed her face as he slipped away.

We continued to sit with her for a while longer. Before we left, I took her collar off. It was the same, and only collar she’d had for at least a decade. I held it in my lap on the way home – thoughts bouncing between grief and disbelief and wondering how I would find the words to tell her owners.

Hours turned into days, and still no phone call came from them. For five days I didn’t go anywhere without my phone, and didn’t really go anywhere at all. I even slept with it turned on. I was worried they would hear all the urgent messages we’d left, and call me back only to reach voicemail. They were scheduled to arrive home Saturday evening, so that morning, I knew that would be the day.

Those five days, and in particular, that Saturday, were gut-wrenching. The waiting was pretty unbearable; I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I just did pretty much nothing. Just sat and waited with a pit in my stomach that could stop a train.

It was not an easy conversation; no one wants to deliver this type of news. But even more difficult, was the uncertainly for Ginger and not being able to reach her owners when the problem began. I kicked myself. I always ask clients if they will be reachable, but in this case, I made assumptions. Ginger’s owners were long-time clients and things had become very casual between us.

The difficult lesson? Always have a plan and a back up plan. Clients and pet sitters should always be able to reach one another, and in the event that isn’t possible, there needs to be an emergency contact. Someone who can make a decision on behalf of the dog and feel 100% confident that it’s the right one. Fellow pet sitters, it's difficult to ask the questions, but find out what your clients wishes are. The lesson to owners is obvious; although she was with her second favourite family, her own family would have like to be with her in the end.

Ginger was like family and we miss her so much.

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Prevent Door Darting

One of the questions on my new-client questionnaire is "Does your dog attempt to dart though an open door?" I’m always careful when entering a client's home, but if the answer to that question is "yes," then careful doesn't cut it. I need to be vigilant. It’s stressful; especially since the same dogs usually try to do the same thing when the door to the Element opens. This is the first thing I teach every single new dog - they must wait until I tell them it's ok to jump out. Otherwise they would be jumping out at every new pick up and drop off spot. But what happens when it's not me or the client coming through the front door, but rather a cleaning service or a contractor? Their job isn't to mind the dog. I arrived at client's home one day, a couple of years ago and the contractor told me the dog ran out as soon as he arrived, and that he had to chase him 3 blocks to the park. This story ended "well," but they don't all, sadly.

So, read this article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal, follow the protocol and keep your dog safe.

 

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Nicole Wilde Seminar: Separation Anxiety

As previously mentioned, continuing to learn about dogs (health and behaviour) is really important to us. Both Katie and I are indeed dog nerds, but the information we accumulate is valuable, and we love to share it with you. Here's part one of Katie's entry regarding the recent Nicole Wilde seminar on separation anxiety hosted by Speaking of Dogs Rescue. Nicole Wilde was recently in Toronto for a two day seminar and I 
attended Day 2 with two topics: Separation Anxiety and Dog-Dog Play.
 Having had multiple dogs with separation anxiety myself, I was 
interested to hear if there were any new items to walk away with from a personal standpoint, as well as a professional one.

First off, it was a reminder of how isolating and difficult life with 
an SA dog can be. Standard protocol for working through SA is that the 
dog is never left alone longer than it can handle. That can mean a 
minimum of a month of arranging daycares, doggie babysitters, no 
nights out, etc... while working through a dog's state of stress/panic
 that they experience every time they are alone or leading up to the event 
of being left, and the destruction that can be an expression of those 
emotions. It's no wonder, when asked by Nicole, a majority of the 
trainers present agreed they'd prefer working with an aggressive dog 
over a separation anxiety dog; it's an emotionally charged situation 
with slow progress and some owners may not have the tools at their 
disposal to accomplish each step.

That said it is imperative to work with a professional in these 
situations and you must have a proper diagnosis – is your dog stressed
 whenever it's the only one in the house or when it's away from a 
certain person? Will your dog settle with other family members or 
friends?

The best way to get these answers is to know exactly what your dog is 
doing when left alone by recording them with a webcam or digital 
camera. Nicole busted some long held myths such as “true separation 
anxiety dogs don't eat when left alone” by showing video of a client's 
dog bouncing between a food toy and howling at the door.

Nicole's favourite tool for ongoing monitoring is Skype: set up a 
dummy account that you connect to your smart phone and using that fake
 account to call in to your computer at home and watch your dog. (You can
set your skype to auto-accept calls, or, if you're popular on Skype,
make another account that's just for this purpose).

The most common separation anxiety symptoms are destruction (there
 were many photos of shredded doors), vocalization, and house soiling. 
Nicole really drove home the importance of nutrition alongside
 management, confidence building, and calm/mentally stimulating 
exercise (ie: a hike with lots of sniffing, not a 10k run).

If you're an owner working through this, remember to make a list of 
your resources – people you can leave your dog with, places you can 
take your dog along with you, friends with dogs that you can have over 
for play dates, etc.

There was more information than I can sum up in a short blog post, but 
the last point I want to mention was the question of when a dog should
be medicated. If the dog is in danger of harming itself, is 
experiencing severe emotional distress or is in danger of losing its
 home over the issue, it may be time to discuss medication with an
experienced trainer and Veterinarian working together.

For your own metal well being, it may help to join an online discussion forum dedicated to SA. Sometimes it helps to have a support network of people who know exactly what you're going though.

In part two Katie will discuss Dog-Dog Play. 

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The Liver Cleansing Diet

Receiving abnormal blood test results can be very unsettling for dog owners. Be thorough in your research and seek out experts, and remember: the internet can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Gather as much information as you can and discuss with reliable sources. Dr. Jean Dodds, an expert in thyroid disease, immunology and nutrition, formulated a liver cleansing diet for dogs that has helped save and prolong many dogs’ lives. If your vet has handed you a diagnosis of liver disease, try this diet before you panic. Dogs with numbers though the roof and on the brink of complete liver failure, have bounced back from switching to this diet alone.

You can feed this home made formulation for for up to three months before you have to worry about balancing it out with out with additional ingredients and supplements. Before rebalancing, have your dog’s blood rechecked.

Ingredients: 

1.5 cups white potatoes 1.5 cups sweet potatoes 1.5 cups of zucchini 1.5 cups string beans or celery *2 cups cod fillet (or pollock)

*Cod is ideal but some dogs will not eat it. In this case, you can use chicken breast (skinless)

Preparation: 

Peel the potatoes, chop and simmer until thoroughly cooked. Drain and mash. While the potatoes are cooking, wash and chop the zucchini and string beans or celery and cook until very tender. Poach the cod in a pan with some water. Mix all ingredients together until it is well blended.

If your dog is a picky eater it might help to cook the fish first, then use the water to steam veggies or cook potatoes.

Feed three (or four) equal meals per day; breakfast, dinner and before bed. It is especially important for dogs with impaired liver function to eat before bed.

I recommend preparing the recipe in double sized batches, and freezing what you won’t use within a couple of days.

How much to feed depends on the dog, but this a low fat diet and you will need to use considerably more of this food than you would kibble. The measurements above will feed a 10-pound dog for 2 – 3 days. If your dog is bigger, then double or triple this recipe. Once cooked, it will keep for 3 days in the fridge so freeze any excess.

The only downside to feeding this diet is the smell. If you don’t cook fish often, it may bother you. But it’s only temporary, and your dog’s health is more important, right?

Please keep in mind that artificial air fresheners and fabric sprays are toxic, so please don’t try to cover up cooking odors with them. Here are some safe alternatives.

It is worth noting that beneficial supplements for the liver include Milk Thistle Powder and SamE (see dosages below). You may include them with this diet, but I recommend first letting your dog get used to the food, and then adding supplements later. Continue them long term even after your dog’s numbers improve.

Milk Thistle (powder or capsules) dosage: 70 – 200 mg per 5 kg of body weight SAMe  Dosage: 100 mg per 5 kg of body weight – empty stomach

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Continuing Education To Serve You Better

Dog walking offers its challenges, but I think it’s important to stay fresh and keep learning.  I believe this is true for all professions. As part of my commitment to being a great Canine Nutrition Consultant, I work with a mentor who is a veterinary nutritionist, attend seminars on the subject whenever possible and I read books related to the topic. Recently I enrolled in the Advanced Canine Nutrition Certification course at CASI.

What’s Katie up to? She’s currently enrolled in the intense dog trainer program though the Karen Pryor Academy and apprenticing at When Hounds Fly.

So we’re both working hard and trying to be the best possible dog nerds we can be. Please forgive us if we’re a little slower than usual at responding to your calls and emails. It’s only temporary.

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Non Toxic Lifestyle Choices For A Healthier Dog

I can’t stress enough how important it is for dog owners to keep a “healthy home.” Dogs, some much more than others, are very sensitive to surface and airborne chemicals found in many household and pet products. If you wouldn’t expose a small child to something, you probably shouldn’t expose your dog to it. Eliminating harsh chemicals from your home requires only a little bit of research and effort.

The toxic chemicals that float through the air from plug-in air fresheners, actually stick to the surfaces in your home, including your dog's bed, food, water and fur. They may smell something like lavender, but there is nothing natural about them. They also make it more difficult for your dog to communicate with his environment through scent. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with a neutral smelling home, but if you still crave scents in the air, try a natural scent ball that uses essential oils.

If you need an alternative to artificial scent laden fabric sprays, make your own:

  • 1 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 10-20 drops of your choice essential oil

Wash pet beds in natural, unscented laundry soap such as Bio-Vert or Seventh Generation or the very economical Pink Solution. Do not hang pet beds outside to dry, rather hang them indoors or put them in the dryer. But forgo dryer sheets, as they contain scents and chemicals that can irritate your dog’s skin. If you take the beds out of the dryer just before they are completely dry, they'll be static free. Side Note: Bio-Vert, Seventh Generation & Pink Solution are also make safer surface, glass and bathroom cleansers.

Disinfecting your floor? Why? The residual chemicals left behind from these harsh cleaners don’t disappear when the floor dries. But they do make their way into your dog's system when he eats something off the floor or licks his paws after walking through the house. Instead, wash your floors with water and vinegar (the vinegar odor disappears when it dries). If you like, you can even add a few drops of essential oil, like citronella or grapefruit. But don't over do it.

Ecoholic Home, by author Adria Vasil, offers you all the alternatives to harmful cleaners, soaps and detergents. Everything from safe commercial options, to home made solutions. But when in doubt, avoid any products with these symbols:

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 12.59.06 PMCanine Nutriton ServiceScreen shot 2013-01-20 at 12.56.05 PMCanine Nutrition Service

Do not smoke in your house. This should be obvious. Your dog’s lungs are a fraction of the size of yours and they’re not immune to the aftermath of second hand smoke inhalation, including cancer.

If you have a lawn, consider how harsh turf builders and fertilizers are. You don’t want your dog inhaling them, walking on them or doing grass angels on them. For natural gardening advice, the CBC’s Ed Lawrence has all the answers.

A lot of pet food companies use chemicals and dyes to colour their kibble so that it looks “cute” to humans and to ensure the same bright oranges and reds from batch to batch. Skip these products – one such offender is Beneful by Nestle Purina, and the result is very sick dogs.

Flea collars are another product to avoid. Imagine wearing a ring of pesticides around your neck 24/7. To avoid fleas naturally, feed a high quality diet, vacuum frequently, bathe your dog regularly and wash pet beds every week or two. There are many other natural ways to prevent fleas. To that end, avoid monthly pesticidal flea/tick treatments. The are not safe, and drastically increase your dogs toxic load.

Speaking of bathing, use unscented, hypoallergenic shampoo (I like Earth Bath Clear Advantage) and take this shampoo with you if you take your dog to a groomer. Instruct them not to use anything else such as finishing sprays on your dog.

If you even suspect mould in your home, call in a professional like I did last year, when I saw a few tiny black spots near the laundry tub in my basement. Sure enough, it was mould. Not enough to send us packing while it was being removed, but enough that it needed to be removed before it could spread any further. Within a week, my beagle's tear stains disappeared. They began four months prior and I assumed it was a food allergy, but an elimination diet offered no evidence of this. The humans in the house did not experience and mould related health problems, but as previously stated, dogs can be much more sensitive.

Your dog will appreciate these changes and you'll both be healthier for them. Happy detox!

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Vegetarianism as an Excuse

I hear it all the time, “ I can’t prepare meat for my dog; I’m a vegetarian.” The way I see it, if you’re not prepared to feed your dog a vegetarian diet, then you should consider the type of meat that is used in commercial products. It’s the kind of meat you never have to see or handle, but I assure you, the majority of it comes from factory farms where animals are crammed into deplorable living conditions. As if that weren’t enough, it isn’t the finest cuts that are selected to be rendered, processed and extruded into your dog’s kibble. What goes in are usually the parts not fit for carnivorous humans – the bottom of factory farming barrel. Some manufacturers have even been caught adding domestic pets to their product. When you opt to control the ingredients in your dog’s diet by making the food yourself, you decide where the meat will come from and which cuts are best. I’ll admit, having been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and yes, it’s gross most of the time. But knowing my dogs are eating a healthy, balanced diet of real food, out weighs the other issue. All the protein used in my house comes form local, free-range, organic farms, and small boat fisheries. That’s how I sleep at night. If you want to prepare a homemade vegetarian diet, I can help with that too.

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Safe, Canadian-made Treats and Home Made Kong Stuffing Recipe

Many people just toss treats to their dogs and don't really think about why, or the quality of the treats themselves. This passive activity does little to pacify or satisfy your dog, can contribute to weight gain, and in some cases has cost lives. I want to offer you a list of treats that are Canadian-made and safe for your dog. You can use them for training or as snacks. But even safe snacks come with a warning – over feeding can lead to weight gain, and that alone is devastating. So as long as you’re feeding responsibly, I believe you can feel confident in the following products.

Nothing Added. Their tripe strips can be cut into tiny pieces and are perfect for training since they are “high value.” They’re super stinky, so I recommend placing the tiny pieces in your treat pouch with other, less rich treats so they can take on some of the scent. Nothing Added also makes dehydrated chicken, lamb, liver and more.

Northern Biscuit has always been one of my favourite treat brands. They’ve extended their line over the years to include grain and gluten free products.

KaliWags, made in BC are super healthy and extremely crunchy – teeth-cleaningly crunchy! Okay they’re a little more expensive than your average treat, but I look at these more as a snack, given their heartiness and high quality ingredients. On the days my dogs have one, I cut back slightly on their food. You can offer these freely to younger dogs whose weight is not an issue.

The Barkery treats can be difficult to find, but if you see them, grab a bag. This is a small company that not only knows what dogs like, but they have safety and health at they top of their priority list.

I do recognize that the brands listed above cost more than other treats that are mass-produced, or manufactured in China or Thailand, but since you’re feeding treats sparingly, it’s not actually a huge investment. For more information on why “Made in Canada” matters, watch this CBC documentary about the affects of feeding foreign treats.

Please feel free to add comments listing your top picks for Canadian-made, delicious treats.

If you’re not training though, why give treats passively? Stuffed Kongs are a great way to offer healthy treats that last, but only if you make your own stuffing. I’m absolutely not a fan of Kong’s canned, sprayable stuffing. It’s full of ingredients that aren’t good for your dog. That said, I love stuffable Kongs! If your dog enjoys them, buy a few that are size-appropriate, and between each use, wash them thoroughly! I run mine through dishwasher.

Julie Posluns, co-owner of online training school treatpouch.com, provides stuffed Kongs daily, and in fact this is how her dogs receive most of their food. Julie says: “Giving your dog all his food in a bowl is a wasted opportunity to burn energy and provide mental stimulation. Kongs are the perfect medium for presenting healthy food and providing your dog with hours of pleasure. Once you place the food in the Kong be sure to freeze it, then give your dog the frozen 'Kongsicle' and let him work at it. Don't be discouraged if your dog gives up easily in the beginning. If this is the case consider only partially freezing the food, or investigate some of the different types of Kongs (there are some designed for dogs who have softer mouths). Kongs are also affordable and long-lasting, making them an excellent investment compared to most dog toys which are easily destroyed. Each morning I prepare 8 Kongs and freeze them for later. It just takes a few minutes and keeps my dogs occupied for hours. They love it, and so do I.”

So why not make this Kong stuffing recipe? Place the ingredients into your slow cooker, in this order:

  • 500 grams of ground chicken (or venison, extra lean beef or turkey)
  • 250 grams (usually a half bag) of California mixed vegetables
  • 1 washed and roughly chopped sweet potato
  • 1 ¼  cups of water (may need to be adjusted)
  • Set to low heat for 6-8 hours
  • When time is up, add one egg and ½ cup of quick-cooking oats.
  • If you wish, leave out the oats. Reduce water to half.

Stir thoroughly, breaking up the pieces of meat, and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Then stuff your Kongs and place them in the freezer.

home made stuffed kong recipe

(It is ok to thaw the mixture in your fridge and refreeze inside Kongs.)

This is a safe addition to any diet, but can be very beneficial to a commercial diet since the protein sources in the stuffing are high quality and highly digestible. Just be mindful of the additional calories. I know many people stuff their Kongs with peanut butter because it's so easy and dogs love it. Not only does PB provide excess fat and very little required nutrition, peanuts are known for their susceptibility to aflatoxins, a potent carcinogen in the livers of rats. (Corn is also famous for harbouring aflatoxin-mould, so read your treat and kibble ingredients)

Please email if you have any questions and don’t forget to add your treat picks!

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