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"Wholesome and Complete for Canines"

Ten years ago, I got a puppy. I brought him home, and about a week or so later, thought, as I scopped kibble into a bowl, "this can't be right." It made no sense to me that something so "convenient" could be healthy and balanced. Within another week, I was cooking for my dog. I was probably doing it wrong, but I believed then and I still believe that a dog needs fresh food. That was just the start. I began to study and read every good resource on the subject of home-cooking. Believe me, the information (although we don't have nearly enough) is overwhelming, because so much of it is conflicting and based on small studies and anecdotes. For now though, I'm ok with this, because common sense dictates that real food is better than processed. The more I learned on the subject, the more I realized what a huge responsibility it would be (not to mention how difficult) to instruct other dog owners how to home-cook. So naturally, I delved even deeper.

The scientific part of my education came from my studies through CASI, where I've earned a certificate and in both Canine Nutrition and Advanced Canine Nutrition. The holistic component came from reading materials by Dr. Strombeck, Dr. Pitcairn, Dr. Dodds, etc. I also attend seminars on nutrition whenever I can. Seminars are great because I learn the latest, both opinions and facts. I have a working relationship with a highly respected veterinarian who assists on some of my cases. She is at the forefront of nutrition research and it's an honour to have her reviewing and approving many of my diets.

It has taken me years to get here, but I'm finally ready to officially assume that resposiblity. Using the requirements of the National Research Council, I'm now formutlating balanced, home cooked meals for individual dogs. This means your dog's new diet will be tailor made to meet the nutrient requirements for a dog his age and size. But beyond that I'll use ingredients your dog enjoys and is known to tolerate. We'll work together to ensure the plan is working, making necessary adjustments along the way.

Commercial dog food, with a few notable exceptions, is making our pets sick. The number of dogs I meet with skin diseases, supressed immunity, kidney and liver problems, diabetes, heart issues, etc, is staggering. Yes, more dogs, poor breeding practices and over-vaccination all carry some of the blame, but we are what we eat. Like humans, what your dog eats plays an integral role in their health and behaviour. Think of food as the foundation. We need to start there to build healthy canines. I don't believe we can truly achieve the greatest potential for health by feeding kibble. How would that be possible? It's no secret how kibble is made, and that most manufaturers add flavour enhancers and scents to entice your dog. I encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about labels and laws and ingredients so that you can make a conscious choice on behalf of your pet. You cannot trust large corporations to do this for you. They've proven that.

Many people wait until their dog is sick to make the transition, which tells me they do believe in the power of food. But it's often marketing and pressure from some vets that won't allow the lightbulb to go off before that. Picture the commercials, or bags of food with images of fresh cuts of meat, whole grains and vegetables. Why not just feed those things to your dog instead of what's left over after processing, extruding and rendering? Ok, I'm over-siplifying a little; of course you do want to ensure balance, but we're lead to believe that's only achievable though processed, commercial products. I promise you, that's not the case.

My goal is to make cooking for your dog fun, easy, economical and fast. I've always said it, and I'll continue to say it, even if you cannot commit completely to feeding fresh food, every bit helps. It may feel overwhelming in the beginning, but once it becomes a part of your life, you won't look back, and the rewards are incredible. Let's Do This!

Click here to read my testimonials so far and follow along on Twitter @wholesomecanine

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How to Choose a Great Dog Walker - Some Stuff You Might Not Think Of

It's come to this: Many dog owners are being duped.

A responsible dog owner tries to do right by employing a walking service for their pooch. Sadly, what some don't realize is the service they're hiring isn't all sunshine and rainbows. What you hope for is a group of dogs frolicking in the park, playing chase, resting in the shade of a tree, fetching, wrestling, etc... . Sure, it can be that way. It should be that way. And in many cases, it is that way. But more often than not, it isn't. I could regale you for hours about the crappy dogs walkers I see day-after-day, but that's a different story for a different day.

With this post I want to help unsuspecting owners realize that dog walking has it's duds, just like every other profession. So how do you do your due diligence when hiring a dog walker? Here is a start:

1. Ask the other dog owners in your dog park who they use. Ask if they are happy with the service. I'm amazed at how many people are using a service they have "weird feelings" about.
2. Read your potential dog walker's website thoroughly to see if it feels like a good match.
3. Ask for references and CHECK them.
4. Potential dog walkers should want to set up a meeting in your home to meet you and your dog. During this time make sure your dog and the walker seem comfortable together. Listen to your gut.
5. If you’re considering a service that has employees, ask the owner of the company to bring the employee who will be responsible for your dog’s care to the first meeting. Also insist that you always be informed when staff changes occur. Make sure you will be allowed to contact your walker directly, instead of only having a manager's contact info.
6. Be sure your potential walker has a Dog Walker License form the City of Toronto. This means not only that they are bonded and insured, but also that they must adhere to city by-laws. (Dog walkers who do not use city green space however, are not obliged to have a license. These are dog walkers who use city sidewalks rather than parks.) I'm concerned about dog walkers who don't use public spaces (i.e.: rented hidden, private lockups). I personally feel your dog walker should be comfortable with, and encourage public scrutiny. I also know for a fact that dogs become bored when they visit the same place every single day.
7. Be clear about what type of service you are receiving. If your dog is not supposed to go off-leash, don’t leave this information out. If you want leash-free time in the park, make sure your new walker uses safe, legal off-leash parks.
8. Disclose any and all behaviour issues and personality quirks your pooch may have. When you meet with the potential walker, they should have plenty of questions in this area. If they don't, then likely they don't know much about dogs. Moving forward, stay in touch with him/her regarding any new issues, and positive changes also.
9. You want someone who is certified in PET first aid.
10. Can’t stress it enough: listen to your gut.
11. Especially if you have a puppy, ask your walker if he/she is going to work with your dog on some training basics. If they intend to work with your dog, ask them what training methods they believe in. If the answer doesn't involve the word "positive" (see my post), and instead uses words like "alpha, dominance, Cesar, etc... " then don't hand over your key. 

More on this subject from a local dog trainer. 

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Commercial Dog Food: "Recommended" Products

As you may know, I'm certified in canine nutrition and completely obsessed with the subject. Because this is common knowledge among those who know me, friends and clients often ask me which commercial pet foods I would recommend. The truth is, if I had it my way, every single dog in the world would be consuming a fresh food diet; either cooked or raw. Alas, I know this simply isn't possible for everybody. Not yet, anyway. So now I'm writing this all down once and for all. If you're feeding commercial food, please consider canned food, or at least some portion of canned. Your dog's intestines and kidneys need the moisture, and generally, they contain higher quality, more bioavailable proteins than dry food. Canned food is a bit more expensive than kibble, so if you have a large dog, you'll likely prefer a combination. But do whatever you can to provide moist food.

My recommended canned foods are:

Go! by Petcurean  Organix by Castor and Pollux  Shredded and Gold Recipies by Fromm

Mulligan Stew

Ziwipeak

My recommended dry foods are:

Holisic Blend by Holistic Blend Carna4 by Carna4 Go! by Petcurean Orijen and Acanca by Champion Pet Foods

And that's really it folks. Please keep in mind I'm not saying each of these foods is suitable for every single dog. They're each different, just like each dog is unique. You'll need to figure out which one or combination works for you. (Don't be shy to ask for 'sample' or 'trial' packs at your friendly, local pet store.) Remember, unless you know your dog to have an "iron gut," transition very slowly when switching food.

I chose the above products based on quality and where they're made, also because they're readily available in Toronto. Specifically, you can find these in our neighbourhood at Helmutt's Pet SupplyTimmie Dog Outfitters and The Dog Bowl.

I should also mention these shops also offer freeze-dried diets made by Orijen and The Honest Kitchen and ready-made raw diets such as Tollden Farms.

I hope you find this information helpful.

My real, true recommendation is real, fresh food. If you're ready to switch to a home-prepared diet, I would love to help!

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Off-leash Dogs in Toronto: One Bad Apple

So here's the thing. Those of you with well-trained dogs who stick close-by and come when called, feel you've the right to let your dogs off leash in any park, at anytime since your dogs don't disturb others.  Well, you don't. BUT if it were only you guys behaving this way, no one would complain. It is those with less obedient dogs who've ruined it for the majority. And it is mostly they who have created dog haters in our city.

I detest our Mayor as much as the next person, but I want to point out he's not "going after" all off-leash dogs, just off-leash dogs in non designated areas.

Think of Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto with it's massive leash-free area, AKA "the bowl". At any given time, you will see dozens of dogs scattered around the non leash-free zone. Most of them will be acting appropriately and sticking to their corner with their people. But at least 6 of them will be out of control, 200 feet from their owner, running through the playground and charging up to on-leash  DINOS, children and picnickers. The closest to my own heart however, is the DINOS. Someone with Dog(s) In Need Of Space, has every right to use green space that's intended for the public, including leashed dogs.

Here's a list of off-leash parks in Toronto. Here's how to request an off-leash zone in your park. And here's a list of parks that have already had applications denied, and the reasons why.

That's my 2 cents.

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Positive Training is Best: Give Your Dog a Chance to Show You How Great He Is

I'm asked all the time by followers of Cesar Millan and believers in force-based training, why I think positive reinforcement training is better. I'm not a dog trainer but I know the answer.

I often say: "Think about the way guide dogs are trained, or search and rescue dogs, or cancer detection dogs. That's the kind of dog you want, and that's the kind of bond you want." It's that simple. You want a dog that trusts you and respects you. None of those dogs were trained through force or "dominance". They each learned their craft through positive reinforcement. I promise that you will not fix anything by pinning your dog to the ground or poking it in the neck. Think about it: A leash reactive dog begins to growl at another dog in the distance and you two-finger poke him in the neck. What's the message being received? "Every time I see another dog, you startle me with a poke in the neck, so I guess I need to be on my guard from other dogs and from you."
Why not try conditioning your dog to look to you for guidance when another dog is approaching? And teach him that seeing another dog, means that something great's about to happen? 

I know this works because I've done it with my own 10 year old terrier. We work on this a lot. In the past few months we've closed the distance which we can pass another dog without a fuss, to a sidewalk's width. Not every single time, but most of the time. I'm proud of what we've accomplished together, and I swear to DOG, he's happier these days than he's ever been. And don't forget how positive reinforcement helped Cami emerge from her shell and allowed her to finally be a "pet".

How about the person who "alpha rolls" his dog? You'll likely notice that his pooch has poor recall. It could be he's learned that when he does come, he often gets a yank on the collar, rolled and pinned to the ground, or "bah'd" at.  Dogs like stability, and this behaviour from a human is anything but stable. Not only can positive reinforcement training develop a strong recall that could save your dog's life, it'll enhance his life. Dogs crave metal stimulation and really want to know they're pleasing you, both of which this style of training will provide. Which means your dog's personality and all his character will flourish. 
Don't get me wrong, I was just as mesmerized by Cesar as the next person, when his show began airing. But common sense rapidly took over and the bottom line is positive training has been researched for decades, and the methods are based on cruelty-free, scientific findings. For more information about how truly flawed "dominance" based methods are, I refer you this article. Not only is it extremely well written (by a certified trainer), there are numerous additional links to valuable information. 
On TV, watch It's Me or the Dog instead of watching the Dog Whisperer or that other guy who's name I'm afraid to mention. Want alternative reading material on the subject? Look for books by people like Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist (my favourite is The Other End of the Leash).
If you live in Toronto and you need a great training school, there are a few: When Hounds Fly has two locations, and Who's walking Who has four. They're both based in positive training but they use different styles so please read up on their websites and see which one you think fit's you and your dog the best. Always check the credentials of anyone calling themselves a 'tainer' or 'behaviourist' and if you're not 100% comfortable with their methods, move on. 

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Cami the Husky from Attawapiskat: Positivity and Consistency Reign

When I got a call from Jonathan, a potential new client who had just adopted a dog from Moosonee Puppy Rescue, I was a bit skeptical it would work out. Nevertheless, I agreed to meet with them just because he was so nice and Cami, their new dog, sounded like a lovely gal. 

No one is completely sure of what went on in Cami's past, but it's believed she lived mostly outdoors, tied to a porch. She was rescued with her litter of pups and that's about all we know.  Dogs who've had this kind of start in life are often difficult to integrate into city living and into a dog walking group, as they often come with a lot of "baggage." They can be very fearful of loud city noises, aggressive around food, or lack the social skills needed to get by in a dog-park setting. (don't get me wrong, sometimes they're perfect.)

Upon arriving to meet with Jonathan, Eryn and Cami, we were all pleasantly surprised that Cami greeted me a the door. Until this time, she was still shy and kept her distance from guests.
We talked for a long time about the structure of my walks and how I would help Cami acclimate to life in the city. All the while she laid between the three of us soaking in the affection and belly rubs. 
After the first week, I didn't really know if Cami was benefiting from the walks or even enjoying them, but she wasn't miserable and I knew Jonathan and Eryn badly wanted her to get out during the day and interact with other dogs. I stuck with it. On each walk, she would go off on her own and sniff the perimeter of the park and then eventually plant herself someplace and look off into the distance. I would approach her at least 20 times on a walk and offer her a small treat. She took about 8 out of 10. If there was another dog too close, she refused the treat, or if there was a strange noise coming from somewhere, she would spit it out. 
One day, a couple of weeks in, Cami played with a dog who was not in our group and it warmed my heart. I knew in that moment she was having fun and, there was hope. As the weeks went by, I continued rewarding her for things like making eye contact and just for "being."  She was however, still completely ignoring me when I called her to "come." But she wasn't running away from me and she was happily getting into the car when it was time for her walk ... I thought, she can't be hating this so I'll keep trying.
Then about 3 or 4 weeks ago, Cami began playing with Gus, a dog from OUR group. My heart nearly exploded. Especially since Gus's owner doesn't think he really plays with other dogs :) From then on, I made a point to walk them together as often as possible. The first few days was just wrestling and bouncing, but then it really started! Cami began running big wide circles, and Gus couldn't resist chasing. A week later, Rueben, a 4-month-old Ridgeback joined the gang. For whatever reason, they welcome him into their play sessions, encourage it even. They're like the three musketeers, still.
Here's where it gets really good: About 2 weeks after Cami started really enjoying her walks, I thought "this is a good time to start trying out her recall again." From a large distance, no response. So I began to close the gap. Finally from about 2 feet away, "Cami come" actually worked. I know, you're thinking "who cares!?" I CARED :) 
Once I had her happily coming in for a reward from 2 feet, I gradually increased it to 3, then 4, then 5.... and now, from across the park! This process took about 4-5 walks. 
And here's where it gets totally awesome: Not only is she happy to come when called, she follows the pack as we move around the park and constantly "checks in” on her own. She's loving it and she likes me and the rest of the dogs! Which is good, 'cause we adore her.
What brought Cami around and gave her confidence? A loving home with loving, patient, calm, owners and positive conditioning. Never doubt the power of positivity. 

Here are some photos and video of our favourite husky before and after. 

Then

Now
Video Then:
And NOW!!!

 

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