Food and Treats: How to Make Good Choices

The following article is written by animal behaviorist, Cori MacGregor:

One of the best things you can do for your dog is feed him a highly nutritious and balanced food. If you feed your dog the proper food, his skin and coat will be sleek and shiny, he will have a strong immune system and it will promote good digestive health.

When you walk into a pet store to buy food for the first time, it can be overwhelming with all the options that are available. How do you know what to choose? First, you want to make sure you have the correct formula for your dog’s age, breed and lifestyle. Puppies will require a higher caloric content that senior dogs because their energy level is higher, and they are growing at a rapid rate. Larger breeds will need a different nutrient balance than smaller ones. Overweight dogs will need a formula geared toward weight loss, whereas a dog at a healthy weight will need a formula geared toward maintenance.

The label on the back of the bag has more information about the quality of the food than you may realize. There will be certain key phrases you will want to watch for. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines to regulate the claims a pet food company can make on its label regarding the quality and content of the food.

If the food claims to contain a single ingredient, such as beef or chicken, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water (including the water content it must be 70%). For example, if the food claims to be made solely of beef, beef is required to make up 95% of the food. Phrases like dinner, platter and entrée means the foods must contain at least 25% of the that ingredient.

If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with cheese”) only 3% of the ingredient is required. Foods that have specific “flavors” need to contain only a trace amount of that ingredient. The phrase “complete and balanced” also has a lot of weight behind it because of the minimum amounts of specific nutrients the food must have in order to be advertised as such. The fat to protein ratio is another key element to evaluate. The size of your dog and his breed will need to be considered but adult dogs should intake 15%-30% of their diet in protein. Recommended fat intake should be around 10%-20% of their diet. All of this information can also be found right on the label.

Also take a good look at the actual ingredients listed. By law, the pet food manufacturers must list the ingredients in order by weight. This means that the first ingredients on the list are what the food is primarily made up of. Find a food that lists a protein source such as chicken, beef, salmon, etc. as it’s first ingredient.

In addition to that protein source, you will want to look for whole grains and vegetables as well. Unlike cats, dogs are not true carnivores and these plant materials provide many of the micronutrients dogs require that they cannot get for protein sources alone. There will also be ingredients that you want to avoid.

If you find an abundance of these ingredients, reconsider purchasing that food. These ingredients will include artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. There could also be “filler” ingredients such as corn meal, brewers rice and beet pulp included as well. Corn could be another source of protein in the food but should not be listed as the first few ingredients.

Puppy's First Night Home

The following article is written by animal behaviorist, Cori MacGregor:

Congratulations! Bringing a new puppy home is certainly a very exciting time for your family. What you may not realize is that it can be a very frightening time for your new puppy. Put yourself in his paws…up until now, he has never left his first home and has never been separated from his mother and littermates. Understanding this, you can anticipate his reaction to his new surroundings.

When your puppy first comes home, you would be doing yourself a great favor by having all his essentials ready to go. These items should include:

  • A kennel, not too large or one that has a divider that can be used as puppy grows
  • A bed or special blanket for bedding
  • A play pen to reduce indoor accidents during potty training
  • Baby gates
  • Pee pads
  • Tough toys for chewing (useful during teething)
  • Food and water bowls
  • Food and treats (see discussion regarding best choices)
  • Nylon leash and collar/harness
  • Log book to keep track of puppy’s eating and bathroom habits
  • Enzymatic carpet cleaner for accidents (there will be accidents!)

Your home should be calm and quiet, at least for the first few days. It would not be a good idea to throw a “Welcome!” party for puppy because that would be scary and very overstimulating. The quite time at home will give your puppy the opportunity to explore his new surroundings and meet his new family members. 

That first night (and probably many nights after) will be the most difficult for your puppy because he will be extremely aware of his new “aloneness”. He will not be able to have physical closeness to his mother and siblings that he is used to. He will likely call out for them by whining, howling and squealing. He will be very restless and having difficulty sleeping, which is to be expected and is a natural reaction to feeling vulnerable.

The best thing to do would be to set up a comfortable sleeping space in his crate and place it next to your bed. You will need to take puppy out to relieve himself during the night as a puppy’s bladder doesn’t have the capacity to “hold it” for the entire night. Keeping him close by will make this easier on you. Give puppy a soft toy to cuddle with as it may help alleviate some of the loneliness he will be experiencing. Be prepared to lose a lot of sleep yourself as puppy reacts to his new situation. 

You may be tempted to move puppy to a location far from where you can hear him but this will only increase his sense of insecurity and vulnerability. He may develop anxiety about being kept in a crate, which will become an important training tool in the near future. You may also be tempted to get puppy out of his crate and let him sleep with you in your bed. You may find that having a dog in your bed long-term (especially a large one), is undesirable. Allowing puppy to sleep with you from the beginning will create a habit that will be very hard to break down the road. Also, remember that puppies won’t be able to “hold it” for very long…

Over time, your puppy will adjust and so will you. Good luck and enjoy your new companion!

Why You Should Clean Up After Your Dog

Nobody enjoys the smell of poop. It can make us nauseous and is just plain unpleasant. But when your dog goes, you must clean up, whether it’s in your own yard or out in public.

Not only can it be disrespectful to your neighbors (or anyone walking by), but leaving your dog’s business laying around can also be a health hazard.


A Hazard to Health

Dog poop can sometimes contain dangerous parasites and bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacteria, and can also spread parvovirus and corona virus to other dogs. Not only that, but it can also contain hookworms, tapeworms and threadworms in addition to coccidia and giardia – single celled parasites. A number of these can even be passed on to humans!


Not a Fertilizer

While some people may think that any animal’s waste can be used as manure, it’s important to note that dog poop is not a fertilizer! 

Dogs are omnivores which means that the meat in their diet won’t break down easily. Leaving out your dog’s business can quickly attract flies that will use it as a place to lay their own eggs and can also attract rats that may eat it if they’re having trouble finding food.

Dog poop can also contaminate water. When it rains, the bacteria it contains are washed into the drainage system, ending up in local waterways.


Always Pick Up After Your Pup

When we hold walks at Sidecut Park or at the farmers’ market, we always make sure that everyone cleans up after their dogs. 

Luckily, we hardly ever have to say anything, because everyone attending is responsible, but even if one dog owner doesn’t clean up, we can all suffer the consequences. 

Taking dogs out in public is a great way to socialize any pup, however, if a dog’s waste is not cleaned up, dogs can be barred from returning to the places we like to take them to. No one likes to step in poop, so do the right thing and clean it up!

Why you probably should not use a shock collar on your dog.

There are a lot of training methods out there and a lot of opinions on how you should train a dog. It seems like dog training almost has been caught up in the culture war with people being very passionate about their beliefs. I don’t want to get caught up in that, I just want training that is scientifically sound. 

One school of thought that keeps falling in and out of favor, is the idea of dominance. There was the idea, that wolves were led by an ‘alpha’ who basically told everyone what to do. However, scientific research into wolf packs has shown that their relationships are much more complicated and basically discredited the dominance theory. 

Another school of thought was inspired by Behaviorism, the study of how we respond to stimuli and how we learn. The popular training method that came out of this is positive reinforcement training. 

The use of a shock collar falls in the first category. You punish unwanted behavior and force the dog to restrict his impulses. Sometimes a sound is used to warn a dog, like in an invisible fence collar, but the sound represents a threat: the next step is a shock. Some people say it’s effective, some people are abhorred by this. Now there is a study that sheds some more light on the use of these collars.

In the study* dogs were divided into different groups and trained with and without the use of shock collars. The researchers found no significant difference in the immediate results; dogs seemed to be following commands just as well having been trained with or without these collars. But they saw signs of stress in the dogs that had been trained with the collars.

Also, when the owners were asked if they were confident continuing the training, the owners that had been using positive reinforcement were very confident that they could continue, whereas they owners whose dogs had been trained with a shock collar were much less confident. And here lies the rub. Average dog owners will probably not be as capable using these collars, getting the timing right and they might be tempted to overcorrect if they don’t get the desired response. 

Use of these collars can have devastating effects in dogs that are having anxiety and fear issues. Dogs can shut down or become aggressive. I’ve personally seen dogs become aggressive after being trained with these collars and I strongly recommend people to stay away from them. It’s a lazy way of training, your dog is not some kind of device you can control with a remote. Having a well behaved dog means you have a strong bond with your dog, based on spending time and working with your dog. It’s based on trust, not on fear. 


*”The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Training Collars in Comparison to Reward-Based Training”, published in peer reviewed scientific journal Plos One, conducted by researchers at the University Of Lincoln in the UK.