Breed Matters

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Several of my clients have recently tested their dogs DNA using The Wisdom Panel.  As a trainer I do see the personality and behavioral effects that different breed types have on dogs although these personality and behavioral effects do not always follow the breed 100% of the time.  For example I have seen aggressive golden retrievers, labs who hate water, and border collies who are couch potatoes.  However, since our visual accuracy is only correct 25% of the time when determining breeds in mixed breed dogs this test can be of great help to both owners and trainers. They can answer questions such as: Why does my dog nip at my kids? Why does my dog prefer to be with humans than other dogs? Why is my dog still bouncing off the ceiling after a 2 hour walk?  Why does my dog insist on bringing me gophers, squirrels, etc.?

These tests also help in determining if dog owners need to have their dogs tested for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1. MRD1 is a genetic mutation. Some dogs, particularly herding breeds or mixed-breed dogs with herding breed ancestry have a mutation in the MDR1 gene that makes them defective in their ability to limit the absorption and distribution of many drugs. These dogs are also slower to eliminate drugs from the body that are transported by P-glycoprotein. As a result, dogs with the MDR1-mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs, so it is important to test your dog and share your results with your veterinarian.

In the end I think if taken with a grain of salt The Wisdom Panel is worth the money and should be considered by owners of mixed breed dogs.  You will build a better understanding of your dog and form a deeper connection.

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Meet & Greets

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If you have been following my blogs, newsletters and facebook page you know that one of the biggest training issues I work with is leash reactivity with dogs.  In order to try and prevent this issue on my end as a trainer I have introduced controlled meet and greets into my Basic Obedience classes.  These meet and greets primarily help my clients to read and understand canine body language.  They also build confidence in the owners and confidence in the dogs so we have win-win situation when it comes to the real world.  I always control the approaching dog and the meet and greet is very controlled and safe at all times.  After I go over the body language of each dog with all of my class.  In this way I am doing my part to create a better world for our dogs.

I always remind clients to keep in mind that not all dogs will like each other and as humans we cannot get upset at them for that unless we can honestly say that we like all people.  So respect yours dogs boundaries and keep everyone safe.

A few weeks ago in class I did a meet and greet with a leash reactive dog that I have been working with privately.  He did okay when he was paired with the puppies in the class.  Next he was paired with a teenage dog and this was one of those time I wish I had, had a video camera rolling.  Frankie was the reactive dog and he went up to Max and stopped and sniffed clearly saying I’m not going any closer to you.  Max who is usually exuberant for meet and greets stayed back and gave Frankie his space.  Then Frankie looked at me and said I’m done.  No growls, no lunging just two dogs having a conversation and the humans understanding and letting the dog go their separate ways.  It was amazing and reminded me why I love this job so much.

Come on out and join us on Wednesday nights for ourbasic class and learn all about dog body language.  Together we can and will make all dogs feel secure by giving each individual dog what they need.

The Art of Falconry and How it Relates to Dog Training

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A few weeks ago my family and I attended the Renaissance Fair and had the pleasure of watching two of the falconry shows by a non profit organization.  They had a red tailed hawk, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a Lanner Falcon, a Vulture, and 3 Harris Hawks.  Falconry like dog training is an art that requires hours of training, devotion, finesse, skill and most importantly positive training.  As the falconer stated “we will never force the birds to do something we do not want them too all of our training involves positive reinforcement.  This became evident during the shows.  For the first show they showed us their latest edition, a red tailed hawk.  He was still connected to a line because he had not yet been trained not to leave.  However, he still chose when and where he wanted to fly for the treats.  Next up was the owl and during the first show the owl screeched at them and refused to exit the kennel.  Later in the day when we returned he had decided to entertain and flew over our heads for lots of treats.  During the first show they also experimented by allowing all 3 Harris Hawks out and it was hilarious towards the end when they wanted them to go back to their house the birds were flying everywhere but in their house, the falconers were well trained providing treats every step of the way.  All ended well with all birds accounted for and happily treated.

After the shows I could not help but think how this all related to dog training except that our dogs can’t fly away, but they can run!  Dogs like these birds are very intelligent and they base their decisions on what works.  If I go back into the kennel the treats stop. If I Iand on that perch I get a treat.  If I fly up into the tree the audience laughs (okay may be pushing it a bit on that one) but you get the point.  If the falconers did not use positive reinforcement they would never be able to get these bird to do anything.  That is the same with our dogs.  Bonds and trust are key to dog training and if you don’t build that through positive reinforcement your will not be able to count on your dog when you need them to listen to you.  Also, sometimes dogs just don’t listen because they are dogs.  For example in the outtakes on the movie “Against the Wild” the husky makes a mad dash through the woods and the trainers are seen chasing him.  My well trained dog Yukon became a two legged walking dog when we met up with the volunteer crews on the Vivian Creek Trail and they were sawing a tree and throwing the debris down the side of the mountain.  He thought they were critters and he was going to get them no matter what his silly owner said or requested.  In both of these cases dogs were being dogs.  Just like the birds were being birds.  Especially when the vulture steals peoples food during the show who do not put it away.

I think that dog trainers and owners could learn a lot from falconers.  Mainly I think we could learn that our dogs make mistakes, they do what works, and we have to be patient and build a strong bond with them and understand each dog like each bird is different.

Fear in Dogs

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Fear is defined by Wikipedia as an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events. Fear may occur in response to a specific stimulus happening in the present, or to a future situation, which is perceived as risk to health or life, status, power, security, or in the case of humans wealth or anything held valuable. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.

Animals experience fear in the same ways that humans experience fear.  For example my youngest daughter is terrified of spiders.  She did not have this fear until she tried to pet a fake spider on Halloween night and it jumped out at her.  Now all spiders real or fake send her into a panic.  She has generalized the fear to all spiders both real and fake.  Our animals do the same things however just like humans they do not even have to have had a bad experience with the object of fear, all they need is to perceive it is a danger to them and they respond with fear.

When I first got Yukon he was terrified of leashes, people, and coming inside the house. Tashi was terrified of metal, metal stairways, metal gates, cage doors, etc.  I am working with another dog who is just a pup and has nad no negative experiences with people however he has started to growl at them and he sees them as a danger. Since a psychotherapy session would prove ineffective for all of these dogs we have no way of knowing whether they had a bad experience with these things or if they are generalizing from an experience to something similar. The facts is that these fears are real for these dogs so the only way to respond to these fears then is with compassion and positive training.  The old protocol was to flood people and animals with what scared them most.  The studies found that this was ineffective because our bodies then reach a point where we shut down completely or in the case of dogs they often turn on their fight mechanism and now you have a fearful highly aggressive dog that is facing euthanasia.

A fearful dog is delicate so when looking for a trainer be sure that they are not using flooding to treat fear.  Look for a trainer that uses positive methods and trains with compassion for your dogs fears because for your dog they are very real, and very scary.

Pukka’s Promise Book Review

When people have kids they generally read book after book.  There are books broken down by age, books about vaccines, books about nutrition, books about socialization, etc.  But when people get a dog many people do not read any books about their new family member.  Maybe it is because they have had dogs before, found the dog on the road, think how hard could this be or they have friends and family who have dogs and make it look easy.  After a few weeks they generally consult with a veterinarian and/or trainer and this is the best case scenario.  Some do neither and some of those do okay and others end up as shelter pups becoming an ever increasing statistic.

My background includes showing German Shepherds, helping my Grandpa with dogs at his veterinary practice and working as a veterinary assistant for a traditional and holistic vet for 6 years.  I have mentored with brilliant dog trainers, attended many seminars and conferences in all things dog and worked with behavioral issues ranging from the basics to dog to dog aggression.  I have watched dogs fight Cancer, some losing and some winning.  Some my own and some those of my friends, clients, etc.  I have owned a dog with an autoimmune issue (Lupus) caused by exposure to Ivermectin at a very young age.  This dog later died from immune mediated hemolytic immunity.  I have owned a dog with Cushings Disease and when traditional medicine almost took her life I turned to Holistic and was lucky enough to have 2 more good years with her.  We have cooked for our allergy dogs.  We feed everyone else grain free diets and treats.  My pets have received laser therapy, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and homeopathic remedies to treat their ailments. I follow a minimum vaccine protocol with my dogs and cats and follow Jean Dodd’s research very closely.  I use flea and heartworm preventative on an as needed basis.   Heartworm medication for example clears out anything your dog was exposed to within the last 30 days so since we do not live in a high risk area I only give it to my dogs immediately after entering a high risk area. In Ted’s book on page 90 he discusses a modified protocol for those living in high risk areas.  I socialize my dogs on a routine basis.  I hike with them, run with them and utilize the Nothing for free training method each and every day.

I have evolved from the use of choke and pinch collars to more humane and positive training methods, because they work.  I have experienced dog agility, dock diving, freestyle dance and trick classes.  I have worked with show dogs.  I continually read everything that I can get my hands on related to dogs.  I read books written from every angle of training to broaden my perspective.  I subscribe to the Whole Dog Journal.  You are probably thinking well of course you do that you are a dog trainer.  Yes, you are correct but I also do it because I want to know how I can make my dogs lives on this earth amazing and how I can make them live longer.  Dogs give us so much but ask for nothing in return.  The least I can do is soak in everything dog like a sponge, evaluate it and share it with my clients to increase longevity and special times for each and every dog that is loved by a human.  That is why I started reading “Pukka’s Promise” by Ted Kerasote.

I’ll be honest the first few chapters I had a really hard time with and almost put the book into my discard pile several times and then it got interesting.  In Chapter 5 Ted discusses breed changes complete with pictures of what certain breeds of dogs used to look like and what they look like now.  I have always grown up with Shepherds and overtime our Shepherds went from the level spine to the sloping rear ends causing  hip dysplasia in an already compromised dog.  Now we have pugs who can’t breathe and our prone to heat stroke.  Many breeds have been affected by these changes and none of them for the good.  I was glad to read about a local Chow breeder Kathy Beliew of Imagine Kennels in San Bernardino, California who has rebelled against this trend and instead has tried to restore the health of her dogs through selective breeding.  Along with the skeletal changes came disease.  In the United States 61.4 percent of Golden Retrievers die of Cancer (Pukka’s Promise pg 56).  We lost every one of our Shepherds and Goldens to Cancer. Yet the AKC refuses to revise such dysfunctional breed standards, even though they are literally killing our dogs.  In 2012 the British Kennel Club took a historic step by requiring veterinary checks for all “Best of Breed” dogs, many dogs failed and were stripped of their wins.  This hopefully means that these dogs were not massively bred since they no longer had a title.  Also, in 2012 the United Kennel Club revised all breed standards and called the endeavor “our moral duty to the canine world”.  German Shepherds with low slung backs would no longer be permitted.  Kudos to them for stepping up.

In Chapter 6 Ted discusses some very good points on getting your dog.  I hear from clients many times that they never saw the mom or dad on the property.  I’ve heard “well they had lots of land” and then the dog pees and poops in the crate and in the house indicating that the dog was kept in a confined area that was most likely not maintained on a regular basis.  Every potential puppy buyer MUST visit the place where the dog was bred, and ideally you will be shown around and see both parents.  The puppies should be handled every day, meet dozens of people and children, hear all sorts of noises, meet other dogs and all by 7 weeks of age.  If you are going through a breeder do your research do not impulse buy.  Also, never buy from a pet store, pet store dogs are puppy mill dogs.  If you buy that dog you are allowing the cycle to continue for that puppy mill by funding them.  Do not do it.

In Chapter 7 Ted discusses vaccinations.  This is a must read.  Our dogs are on a minimal vaccine schedule because annual vaccines are not only unnecessary for your dogs they are dangerous to their health and well being. For example when Pennsylvania required that all cats be vaccinated for rabies vets begin noticing sarcomas growing at the injection sites.  As a vet assistant I saw many of these vaccine induced sarcomas.  Something that was meant to save your pet was now killing them through Cancers and autoimmune diseases just to name a few.  On page 82 Ted discusses the findings of Dr. Ronald Schultz immunologist.   The immunity for the following vaccines was found to be as follows: Distemper 9-15 years; Parvovirus 7 years; adenovirus 7-9 years; Rabies 7 years.  Dr. Dodds is working on the Rabies challenge and if successful in 2014 we should be changing to a 7 year protocol for Rabies vaccinations.

Then Ted finally finds his dog after searching for several years.  His tales of bringing the pup home is heartwarming. Ted talks to his dog, he socializes his dog and he lets his new pup figure out the world this is what dog ownership should be all about.

In Chapter 10 Ted discusses chemicals and it is definitely a chapter worth reading.  Remember our dogs have their noses to the grounds we want to be very careful what we expose them too.  Ted also offers some great advice on things you can do to minimize exposure to your own dogs.  For example he mentions Planet Dog Toys as having no chemical in their dog toys when tested.   We do not allow our gardener to put anything down in our backyard where our dogs reside.  I had a dog who developed an autoimmune issue from exposure to weed killer now I take every precaution necessary to ensure that does not happen again.

Does your dog bark and bark and bark?  Then Chapter 11 is for you. Ted utilized a remedy that never would have occurred to me as a trainer and it worked.  I think I have another tool in my toolbox.

Chapter 12-15 delves into nutrition.  Did you know that dog food companies provide scholarships, free dog food, back packs, lab coats and other goodies to students at veterinary training colleges?  Did you know pet nutrition courses offered at veterinary schools are often taught by veterinarians that are often employed by major dog food companies?  Ted states “The lack of separation between the veterinary profession and the pet food industry has now influenced how tens of millions of dogs have been fed including shelter dogs” (184).  These Chapters are very fascinating, Ted did his research.  While doing his research he was denied access to the Purina and Hills dog food plants. Purina also failed to respond to emails regarding the content and quality of their food.  For me personally that raises a red flag.  The pet food industry has not run any studies proving that kibble with grain is ideal for our dogs and they have zero incentive to run a study that might show that these foods are not in fact ideal for our dogs.  But where does that leave us?  We have a Coonhound that suffers from severe allergies and I priced Prepared Raw Diets for him and the cost ranged from about $200 – $275 per month for a 55lb dog. We cannot afford that nor can the average person.  Grain free diets range in price from $45 – $120 a month for a 30lb bag which is much more reasonable.  Also there is an accumulation of scientific evidence according to Ted that a low carbohydrate diet reduces insulin spikes, protein improves performance, and vegetable are cancer-protective (209). One plant that produces grain free diets allowed Ted to see the day to day operation of the plant and Ted was impressed.  This company was Natura Pet Products who produce EVO grain free food.  All of the ingredients are human grade and of US origins.  EVO ranges in price from $65- $120 for a 30lbs bag.  We currently feed Taste of the Wild and our hound gets California Naturals to help with his allergy issues which are probably not related to food at all since food related allergies in dogs are rare according to Jean Dodds (222).

The public has the influence.  If we demand higher qualities in our pet food we will get it.  If we settle and don’t question what we are feeding our dogs and how it is affecting their longevity we will continue to get food that is subpar and foods that gets recalled because of ingredients that do not come from the US.

Chapter 16 delves into the word we all dread “Cancer”.  Many veterinarians claim that Cancer is increasing in dogs and it is affecting many dogs at much younger ages just as the incidence of cancer in children has been increasing in the last few decades.  The suspected culprit: environmental exposures.  This is a heart breaking chapter which explores several specific cases and information on different treatment options.  Since the Morris Animal Foundation survey in 1998 reported that 47% of people stated that their dog died of Cancer this is a very important chapter of this book to read.  The sad news is that even with treatment survival time still remained at about 1 year in most cases.  30% of those with bone marrow transplants can survive more than two years, this procedure costs about $15,500 combined with radiation and chemotherapy which costs around $10,000.  There is a website called Vet Cancer Trials which has a search engine so that the public can look for clinical trials in their area to help offset some of these costs.  The key to this chapter is know your dog, feel your dog and respond immediately if you feel anything out of the ordinary.  Survival rates increase dramatically when Cancer is caught early before it has a chance to spread to vital organs.

Chapter 17 delves into training philosophy.  My opinion of this chapter is that it should not have been written by the author.  He seems to be lacking education in dog training theories.  This chapter is filled with contradictions including the quote “No scientist has yet done a controlled study showing that dogs who have jobs – herding, hunting, guiding, therapy, search and rescue – or who get to play, explore, and make decisions on their own while off- leash live longer lives than those who don’t.”  Yet he spent page after page trying to convince dog owners that keeping your dog in a yard or using a leash was a prison sentence for your dog and that they would never be happy.  I strongly disagree as I work on a daily basis with many very happy dogs who go on walk while on leash and enjoy large fenced in areas to play, frolic and explore.  Since I am a positive trainer I also disagreed with his reasoning for the use of force with dogs.  Recently Psychology Today published an article on this topic and I think they can explain it better than I.  To check out the article click here.  I came very close to putting this book down after this chapter.  However, I came to the conclusion that although Ted and I would never be able to sit down without having many heated discussions he overall has written an excellent book and since it is his book he is entitled to his opinion just as I am entitled to mine so I continued reading.

Chapter 18 – Chapter 20 discusses shelters the good, bad and the ugly.  Statistics from the Humane Society of the United States show that the number of dogs and cats killed in North American shelters has fallen from about 23 million in 1970 to between 3 million and 4 million today (302).  The key to getting more animals adopted according to people that Ted spoke to is a good marketing plan and a compassionate director.  We see that every day the shelters who can afford to have clean areas, meet and greet sites away from all the barking and compassionate dedicated volunteers are the ones with the highest adoption rates.  A trend that I see that breaks my heart is volunteers being attacked for their good deeds.  Often a misunderstanding occurs and the hard working volunteer is wrongfully accused of harming the animals that they are helping.  These attacks need to stop if more animals are to be saved.

Chapter 21 addresses the flip side of Spay/Neuter.  This is a very interesting chapter and a must read.  Are some of the major health problems our dogs are faced with today a result of spaying and neutering vs less invasive methods of sterilization?  Why aren’t less invasive methods which generally cost less being offered?  Check out this chapter with an open mind, I promise you will not regret it.

The last two chapters meander into longevity and enjoying every moment with your canine companion.

Overall I find that “Pukka’s Promise” was a very eye opening book.  There are parts that will make you laugh, parts that will make you cry and parts that will make you want to do further research.  I did notice a lot of contradictions throughout the book so read this book and then do your own research into the areas that interest you.

Lesson Learned

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In January of 2010 we adopted a husky from a rescue group.  She was 2 years old at the time and we named her Alusia Sue.  When we brought her home she grabbed a hold of one of our cats and started to violently shake the cat, I yelled at her to drop it and she did only to go after another cat.  Thankfully both cats were okay physically and the socialization to cats began.  Since that first attack Alusia never touched a cat again.  She knew that cats entering the room meant praise and treats.  Cats could lie next to her and she would ignore them.

Flash forward to September 2013, I made a mistake.  Yes I the human made a mistake.  We never leave Alusia alone with cats because like I tell my clients you can never predict a dog’s behavior 100% of the time and it is not worth the risk.  I left to pick my daughter up from school and I left Alusia in the bedroom with our cat Charlie.  When I came home I knew something was very wrong because our cat Milo was puffed up and yowling at the bedroom door.  I opened it to find Alusia attacking Charlie.  I immediately got her outside and ran to Charlie’s side.  I have worked as a veterinary assistant so I checked him for wounds only finding a skin abrasion but I knew that, that does not mean that he did not have internal injuries.  I could tell from his mannerisms and his eyes that he was in shock.  I immediately gave him sub cutaneous fluids and placed him on a heating pad while speed dialing the vet.  The vet said to bring him in immediately so I rushed him down.  I had done a good job of treating the shock but shock is a scary unpredictable thing.  So Charlie was hospitalized and xrays were taken and he was given iv fluids.  He suffered no internal injuries. Charlie will come home to recover in a few hours, the next 48 hours remain critical.

I always tell my clients that dog’s behavior can NEVER be predicted 100% of time and this is a case in point.  I made a mistake, not Alusia, me.  Alusia and I will definitely be spending some time on training but I will never leave her alone with a cat again.  This is a risk we take when we have homes with different species, it happens.  It is how we handle it and the lessons we learn that change the way things happen in the future.  Most importantly Alusia is not a bad dog.

Adventures in Costa Rica

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This Summer my family and I vacationed to Costa Rica. In Costa Rica there are many, many street dogs.  Some are taken care of by the villagers some are not.  By street dogs I mean mixed breed dogs that roam free.  My 10 year old daughter who knows my Be A Tree presentation by heart was unsure of what to do when approached by these off leash dogs. These dogs either sought human attention or were on their own missions and ignored the humans. We threw Be a Tree out the window and went with reading the universal language of dogs (I at least spoke that language, my Spanish could improve however). One particular dog I will call him Spider after the crab. As we walked along the beach looking for turtles he joined us but he was not there for us, he had a job. Spider was sniffing out crabs. After many failed attempts to dig one up, success! Spider got a big crab and the fight began. The crab snapped his claws at Spider, spider showed him his teeth and got nipped on the nose. They danced Spider showing teeth and the crab clicking his claws and occasionally getting Spiders nose. This dance continued for a good 5 minutes and then Spider moved on and the crab returned to the sea, I got the feeling that this was a daily routine for Spider, he seemed to enjoy playing with the crab and had no intention of eating it.  So the lessons from this story: street dogs still speak dog, don’t play with crabs, and most importantly my husband asked me since Be A Tree works so well for dogs what works for crocodiles, my response Be A Log since the Caimans are always lounging on logs I figured the crocodiles would do the same.

A side note: Some of the villages in Costa Rica with street dogs tended to take care of them, however this was not universal.  Some of  these dogs were malnourished, injured, and often ignored.  Upon further investigation I discovered Adopt a Street Dog From Costa Rica, Inc. which is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization based in Berkeley California.  This wonderful organization places Costa Rica’s street dogs in loving homes in the USA.  They estimate that there are about a million street dogs in Costa Rica.  For more information about adopting or to donate check out their Facebook page.