Dog Training Tips for Chewing Mouthing & Nipping

Dear Inquisitive Canine:

I recently purchased a Maltese/Pekingese mix. He is only 13 weeks old, but his biting habits are getting worse. No one can sit without him biting their feet or attacking their shoes. I have tried putting him in his crate after saying “no” to him. But nothing seems to deter him. Do you have any suggestions?

— Kathy

Dear Kathy:

Ah, yes, bees gotta sting, birds gotta fly and dogs gotta … mouth, chew and chomp! What a great question! Thank you for taking the essential steps in finding a solution for precluding those “Jaws” interactions with your puppy’s sharp, needle-like teeth. Isn’t it amazing how something that small can cause that much pain and discomfort?

I have a few suggestions to help you teach your dog how to use his mouth appropriately, including when, where and how. As a certified professional dog trainer, I like to first address why it’s important to provide dogs with appropriate outlets for chewing and mouthing. Then we will explore specific training exercises that are similar to the lessons I teach my private dog training clients and in my dog and puppy training classes.

Biting, chewing and mouthing are all normal behaviors for dogs, especially puppies since they will be teething over the next few months. Dogs throughout their lives use their mouths for exploring their world and all that’s in it. (It’s similar to how us humans use our hands for everything). Dogs also use their mouths for eating, play and passing the time away — chewing is just gosh-darn fun! In addition to play and activities, our beloved canines also use their mouths to indicate when he or she is stressed, or isn’t happy with something, someone, or a specific situation.

Regarding training exercises and a management plan, I’ve divided the following information into sections that cover the above topics, including chewing, mouthing and biting:

  • When it comes to chewing, it’s vital to set your dog up for success. You can teach and reward the behaviors you want by doing the following: Provide acceptable and rewarding chew items that your dog enjoys, especially when you have company and might not have enough time to interact with your dog. Chew bones (check with your vet to make sure items are safe for teeth), interactive food toys and other dog friendly (and safe) toys should be available for your dog at all times.
  • Reward your dog for making the right choices. You’ll also want to place emphasis in teaching your dog that chewing on those allowable items is the right choice. This means that you’ll want to reward him with extra treats, petting and praise whenever he is chewing on those items — at least initially, until you observe him in action choosing his doggy items and ignoring forbidden articles. Once he’s doing that, you can acknowledge with good ol’ praise. However, I’d reward with a treat on occasion just to provide extra positive reinforcement. After all, it never hurts to say “Thank you!”

You’ll want to experiment with different chew items until you determine your dog’s favorites. Just because we think our dogs should like something doesn’t mean he or she will. Observe and go from there. Then you’ll know what to stock up on.

  • Mouthing and allowable interaction through play activities: Tug and fetch are fun games as well as great outlets for extra energy. To help create rewarding times together, make sure toys are large enough for both your hands and his mouth to be on. If it’s too small, he might end up mouthing your hand. Reward your dog for playing nicely with both continued play and attention from you, along with a treat now and again. This extra bonus really boosts the message that he is making the right choice.
  • A positive way to teach “bite inhibition”: As a trainer, I have one specific rule for tug should jaws misfire — teeth hit skin, game is over! Similar to “hitting below the belt” and being “timed out,” our dogs need to learn it’s uncool for his or her teeth to come into contact with our skin no matter how tough or delicate hands are. If this should happen, you can certainly give a “time out” and stop playing. This type of penalty is one way for us to teach dogs “bite inhibition,” which is when he or she learns about controlling the intensity of his or her jaw pressure.

He will recognize, “Hmm, when my teeth hit her hand she just walked away. But as long as I kept my mouth away from her hand and on the toy, then we kept playing. I think I’ll do that from now on!” You’ll just want to make sure that these intermissions are only about 20 – 30 seconds. Afterward, you will want to resume play, ensuring you provide your dog the opportunity to make the right choice.

Another great way to provide your dog with activities in which he can use his mouth and learn about bite inhibition is through dog play. Puppy classes, puppy socials, puppy daycare and setting him up on “play dates” with other dogs of his size and temperament are ideal settings for him to learn how to use his mouth. Just make sure you are either there monitoring play, or that the instructors are maintaining a safe and friendly environment. For more on what to look for in dog play, click here to read a Dear Inquisitive Canine column on safe and friendly dog play behavior.

  • Determine if it’s play or if he or she is uncomfortable and/or unhappy: A dog that snaps or bites during times when he or she is not in a playful mood can often be sending a message that he or she is uncomfortable about something. It could be a health issue or something or someone in the environment that is causing your dog to feel apprehensive. If this is the case, you’ll want to investigate further, and even consider consulting with your veterinarian (for health-related issues) and a professional trainer such as myself for behavioral concerns.

As fun as it is for your dog to want to play with your feet, you’re not a human squeaky toy, so it’s great planning on your part that you want to take the time to teach him to make better choices.

With a little patience and understanding, taking the time to train your puppy to understand what you want combined with managing his environment when you’re not training, you’re sure to end up with a canine companion with the mouth that’s as soft and gentle as the rest of him.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine was written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. (Archived columns can be read here and on Noozhawk). Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail them directly.

Dog Fundraising Event Hosted by Isla Vista’s Chino’s Rock and Tacos to Benefit K9 PALS

Bring your appetite to the Isla Vista location of Chino’s Rock & Tacos‘ Monday April 4th from 4:00 PM – 9:00 PM where you can reward yourself and your tummy while helping out the inquisitive canine’s at K9 PALS!

You get a great meal in a great place while 10% goes to helping out the dogs at the Santa Barbara animal rescue K9 PALS!

To download the PDF just click on this Chino’s Benefit Day’s flyer link or the image to the left. For additional information about K9 PALS, including dogs that are available and other upcoming dog events, please see the K9 PALS website.

Thank you for your support of rescue animals!

 

Inquisitive Canine: Tips for Keeping ‘Ruff’ Housing From Getting Too Rough, Part I

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I recently adopted Tucker, my 4-month-old male border collie and lab mix, as a friend for my 3-year-old dog Polo, another male of the same mixed breed. Upon meeting Tucker I was taken over by his rambunctious behavior, but I figured he was a puppy and that this was something normal, and as time went on he’d begin to adapt to our family and his new brother Polo.

However, a few negative behaviors still remain. Tucker is constantly picking on Polo, which is at times a gesture to begin to play, which Polo accepts, but when he does not, Tucker does not understand that he needs to stop. I am afraid Tucker may injure Polo, as he bites his neck quite vi-iously, and sometimes, this playing will lead to a fight of barking, flying fur, and biting.

I feel as if they are two alphas under one roof, and while I want them to get along, I don’t want either of them getting hurt. Also, Tucker has a way of getting into anything and everything he can get his snout on, constantly jumping up on tables and eating things that are simply inedible by anyone.

I feel like I am at a loss, as me and my family have tried all sorts of ways to correct these repetitive and undesirable behaviors such as time-outs, pennies in a jar, a mechanism that makes click sounds, a low-deep “NO” command, and many other humane ways. He also gets very defensive and vicious when passing by other dogs during a walk.

I fear these things will never stop and he may no longer be able to be part of our family. This is very troubling as I’m sure you can imagine.

Are there any steps we could take to trying to correct this behavior? A friend whose dog is in-credibly well-behaved had mentioned doggy boot camp, can you recommend any that are in the Tri-state area as we live in Connecticut?

Thank you

Lauren Pascoa

Dear Lauren,

Congratulations on the adoption of your new pup Tucker! He sounds quite lively, and one entertaining bundle of energy! To answer your question, yes, there most certainly are steps you can take to resolve the issues you are having in order to reach your chosen goals!

The behavior scenarios you’ve described sound like normal tendencies of a highly spirited puppy. I do understand your frustration, and reasons for wanting to correct these unwanted behaviors. As a reward-based, certified professional dog trainer I suggest the best approach to reach your goals would be to replace these objectionable actions with those that you and your family members want. This way Tucker and all others involved will get their perspective needs met.

I have broken down your concerns into four separate areas:

  1. Puppy play and tips on socialization
  2. Jumping and scavenging or counter-surfing
  3. On-leash dog reactivity when on walks
  4. Assistance on locating local dog training services.

My sidekick Poncho and I are breaking this advice column into two parts. For this installment we will address the rough-housing (or “ruff” housing!), followed by Tucker’s propensity to counter-surf and rummage through the home. In the next edition, we will provide training tips for leash-walking and resources on how to find local assistance.

  • Tucker and Polo’s dog-play session: Your young spirited puppy, who also happens to be a mix of higher-energy breeds, wants to play with his older brother, who has most likely mellowed with age. And although Polo is still on the younger side, he’s probably had enough play experience to know how much he’s willing to tolerate from a puppy. Also, if Polo was an “only child” for most of his life, he might need some time to adapt to having another dog in the house, as well as a younger tireless one.
  • A few tips to help both dogs enjoy life with each other during play would be:
    • Reward both dogs for any and all nice play behavior! Be a cheerleader for both Tucker and Polo when they are playing nicely – ‘happy talk’ from you (and other humans) along with an occasional treat will send a message of “Nice play time boys!”, then you’ll get more of it. You can also reward Tucker when he is “listening” to Polo’s requests for backing off.
    • Monitor play: Dog play can appear to be quite intense at times (and often is). You’ll know it’s consensual if both dogs remain together and interact. Watch for reciprocal behavior be-tween the dogs. For more about interpreting proper dog socialization and play, visit my dog training blog.
    • Puppy classes and socialization: Reward-based puppy training classes are key for helping younger dogs develop into well-mannered, well-socialized adult dogs. You’ll also want to consider setting up play-dates for Tucker with other puppies to help him develop good play skills. In fact, proper socialization for dogs is important at any age. But don’t take my word for it, check out what my own inquisitive canine Poncho has to say about dog socialization.
  • Scavenging throughout the house: Hunting and foraging are normal behaviors of dogs. If given the opportunity he or she is likely to take it, especially with a younger pup. Dogs are quite keen at finding their own forms of entertainment, which makes it even more important for you to manage your environment, along with arranging specific outlets for Tucker to target his energy. Here’s one other dog that enjoys the sport of counter-surfing. My sidekick Poncho has provided some nice dog training tips to help with scavenging.
  • A couple of other handy tips would be to provide motivational interactive dog friendly toys that Tucker likes. (Not ones you think he should like but ones that he actually likes to play with). Reward Tucker for playing with his own toys. Yes, I mean give him a little treat and a “Good boy!” for all of those times Tucker chooses to pick up his own toy. As a double reward, please acknowledge with praise and a treat for those times when he ignores the forbidden items that were left out.

Which brings me to one of the simplest solutions: if you don’t want Tucker getting into something, put it away. Management may not teach Tucker exactly what you want, but it certainly sets him up for success by preventing him from practicing behaviors you don’t want.

Puppy behaviors can be exhausting, but remember, Tucker will soon outgrow many of them, becoming the well-adjusted good-mannered adult dog you all want. With guidance in his play sessions, and providing alternate outlets for Tucker to help relieve all of his energy, I’m sure you’ll be reaching your dog training goals before you know it.

Remember to tune back in for the next installment of Dear Inquisitive Canine where we revisit the art of loose leash walking, and provide a few resources on where inquisitive dog guardians can find local dog training services.

Canine Nutrition Series: Own Life Experiences Leading to Integrative Approach to Veterinary Practice

Welcome to the fifth installment of our featured experts on the Canine Nutrition blog series. For the final week in our thread, we are joined by So Cal’s local Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, owner and founder of California Pet Animal and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Dr. Mahaney enjoys spending time treating animals with both complementary and traditional veterinary medicine, helping people and writing. He says, “As there are so many unusual experiences in my profession, I have plenty of material about which to write!”

You can find many of his articles on his blog: Patrick Mahaney Blog as well as the column he writes for the Los Angeles Pet Examiner. Incidentally, like me, Dr. Mahaney has a blogging dog named Cardiff. “Cardiff is my muse, my companion, and the true motivating force for my veterinary practice.Cardiff’s Blog can also be found on Dr. Mahaney’s website.

Having an appreciation for animals and science since childhood, Dr. Mahaney was drawn to the field of Veterinary medicine. However, it was his own personal experiences of multiple back injuries that prompted him to expand his own knowledge and services for helping his clients. “I discovered that the integrative approach greatly augments the wellness of my animal patients.”

To read more about Dr. Patrick Mahaney and the veterinary consulting services he offers, please check out his personal website as well as his veterinary practice website. We appreciate all the wonderful information he has contributed to our Canine Nutrition blog series, and are pleased to be able to share his expertise with our inquisitive canine audience.


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Mahaney and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day?

A. There is a calculation for Resting Energy Requirement (RER, in kCal)= [BW^0.75]x70 BW= body weight in KG

Q. What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. In general, younger and more active dogs need higher calories.  Older and less active (including those that are debilitated) dogs need fewer calories.

Q. Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they speak with their vet?

A. It is really best that owners speak to their veterinarian to establish a guideline for weight maintenance or weight loss.

Q. Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. Yes, owners should follow the guidelines, but consider that extra calories are frequently consumed through people foods, dog treats, or consuming other pet foods (occasionally unbeknownst to the owner).  Therefore, always feed on the lower end of the food bag’s recommendation.

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs?

A. I prefer feeding specific feedings on a 2-3 times basis.  Some dogs are able to control their food consumption and maintain their own weight.  Others overeat their food and put on weight unnecessarily, which leads to a myriad of health conditions.

Q. Should dogs be on a specific feeding schedule? If so, all throughout his or her life? Or during certain periods only? (puppy/senior/lactating)

A. It is best for a dog’s digestive health and body condition to be fed in multiple, calorie and food substance appropriate meals per day throughout their lives.

Q. For dogs that do not have food allergies, is it okay for s/he to have a variety of kibble/wet food brands and not just the same one all the time? Is it okay to vary the protein base?

A. Consistency with food that enters a dog’s mouth typically leads to regularity in digestion and bowel movement production. I do not recommend varying a dog’s food on a day to day basis. Every couple of months, gradually changing the protein source may reduce the likelihood of developing dietary sensitivity to a protein source (as compared to long term feeding of a single protein source).

Q. Raw vs traditional vs home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. There is not a really “better” formula.  Feeding has to be done in a means that is appropriate for a particular patient based on their current state of health.

From a standpoint of food safety and potential for illness secondary to bacterial contamination, cooked foods are safer than raw.  Raw food is not exclusive to feeding raw meat, we have to consider raw vegetables and grains too.  Appropriately cooked meats, grains, and vegetables tend to be easier to digest than raw foods.

Q. Are “table scraps” acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters? High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. I am fine with the addition of table foods to commercially available pet foods, as long as they are low in fat and high in fiber, moisture, and beneficial nutrients.  For example, vegetables such as carrots are great additions as “table scraps” to almost any feeding regimen.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. Look at the pet food label. If the food contains “meals”, “by-products”, sugar, artificial colors, artificial or “natural flavors”, or preservatives (such as sodium nitrite) then it should be avoided. Additionally, whole meats, vegetables, and grains should be at the top of the list of food ingredients.

Q. Supplements: Daily vitamins, minerals? Is this necessary if dog eats a healthy diet? When would they be required?

A. I recommend feeding a whole food diet which is rich in natural vitamins and minerals so that there is less of a need to provide supplements. Activity, illness, surgery, and age related changes can induce nutritional deficiencies that may benefit from supplementation under the guidance of a veterinary professional.

Q. “Joint supplements” are becoming very popular and people are giving them to their dogs without consulting – is this a good choice?

A. It is always best for a pet owner to consult with a veterinarian before administering dietary supplements, such as Glucosamine/Chondroitin joint supplements, which typically require long term administration. Always choose an oral joint supplement that has been manufactured to meet your dog’s needs (as compared to a human joint supplement that may not be absorbed as well from the canine gastrointestinal tract).

Q. Holistic medicine vs traditional? Both good? One better than another? Complementary?

A. Really, all medicine should be holistic. Holistic means that you are focusing on the entire organism, not just an individual part or organ system.  Western (conventional) and complementary (Eastern, etc) can work quite well together when done by an experienced veterinary medical practitioner.

Q. Interactive food toys: Good? Bad?

A. Interactive food toys, such as treat filled Kong toys, pressed beef hide, or others can be used with success by a responsible pet owner with a dog that does not have body weight or digestive issues.

Q. Are there some foods/supplements that can help prolong a dogs life?

A. Addition of whole food, nutrient rich, whole foods, such as steamed vegetables, can provide beneficial moisture, fiber, and antioxidants that can prolong a dog’s life.

Omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish or flax seed oil, also safely provide benefits to multiple body systems with low likelihood of side effects.

Q. Allergies: seems that “food allergies” are commonly diagnosed but without actual testing. How is it best to determine a dog really has a food allergy? Actual testing? Or is a subjective diagnosis acceptable?

A. It is best to determine if a protein or carbohydrate is tolerated by a dog by doing a food elimination trial for a minimum of 6-8 weeks.  The food elimination trial does not permit feeding of protein or carbohydrate sources that your dog has previously consumed.  It is vital to be vigilant and strict in the process to potentially see a positive result.

Q. Treats for training: Are there some that are better than others? Healthy vs “empty calories”?

A. Training treats should be very interesting to your dogs nose and taste buds to motivate performance of your requested command. Additionally, treat size should be as small as possible, as the number given is typically in the double digits. Training treats should be free of sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors.

Q. How can dog owners provide valuable nutrition without adding extra calories if using foods to train their dogs? (Besides using the dogs kibble)

A. Dog owners can feed small portions of low sodium deli turkey, cheese, dried liver, or other real foods as training treats.

Q. When is it time for a dog owner to seek assistance from their vet?

A. Dog owners should seek assistance from their veterinarian anytime their dog is not following their normal patterns of eating, drinking, sleeping, or playing. Additionally, a dog should have a physical exam performed by a veterinarian at least every 12 months.


If you are just joining us and would like to start from the beginning of this series, please click on this introductory post on Canine Nutrition link to find out the reasons behind why I wanted to delve into the area of nutrition for dogs. You will also be directed to additional links in this series for Q&A with experts in canine nutrition. If you haven’t signed up to receive our dog behavior blog post, you can via RSS feed or direct email on our inquisitive canine blog website.


Canine Nutrition Series: Nature’s Variety Nutrition Researcher helps answer commonly asked questions about dog diets

Welcome back to this weeks segment of our Canine Nutrition series. Today we’ll be joined by Nature’s Variety director of research and development Dr. Laura Duclos.

Dr. Duclos holds degrees in Biology and Veterinary Technology. Her doctorate research includes studies on the nutritional biochemistry of parasites. As the Director of Research and Development, her role at Nature’s Variety oversees research regarding the palatability and health impact of all new Nature’s Variety products and protein varieties.

Prior to joining the Nature’s Variety team, Dr. Duclos was a biology lecturer at UNL and worked for Oxbow Pet Products as Director of Nutrition and Product Development.

Dr. Duclos holds a BA in Biology and a BS in Veterinary Technology from Quinnipiac University. In 2006, Dr. Duclos graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) with a PhD in Biology.  Her published works include numerous peer-reviewed papers and several articles for pet magazines.

To find out more about Dr. Duclos and the work she is involved with, please check out the Nature’s Variety Learning Center website.


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Duclos and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day? What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they need speak with their vet? Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. When determining the amount of food to feed your dog, it’s dependent on many variables that need to be considered. Feeding guidelines are just that- they are guidelines based on an average dog, average size, average weight, and average activity level.  But as you are determining the amount to feed, you absolutely need to consider factors such as age (adults don’t need as much food as puppies!) size (is your dog overweight?), breed (large breed? Small breed?), activity level (is your dog in agility or a hunting companion?)

Just as any responsible parent watches their children’s food intake, use the guidelines as a starting point and adjust accordingly….we do not recommend pet owners try to calculate kcal needs on their own – the feeding guidelines have done a lot of this already.

Kcals are determined based on the above factors using a formula that predicts the metabolic requirements of your dog. This is what the feeding guidelines reflect. Also note that each food will be digested differently and each food has a different nutrient density.

For example, a raw diet is about 95-98% digestible vs. a kibble which may be 85% digestible – your dog will better utilize and extract all the energy in the raw diet and therefore may not need nearly as much to sustain ideal body weight.  This, too, is captured in the feeding guidelines (or should be!)

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs? Raw vs. traditional vs. home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. No – some dogs do not know when to stop eating.  Just like humans, over eating leads to obesity and related diseases.  As for commercial or home-cooked – either can be good and bad.  The key is to look for Complete and Balanced commercial diets with high quality ingredients; meat or protein meal should be the first ingredient.

For home-cooked diets, be sure that the diet you are feeding was developed for your pet by a trained nutritionist – do not use recipes off the internet!  Home-cooking is a commitment, so we highly recommend commercial diets unless you are willing to shop, prep, and cook for your dog.  We believe raw is best, but again, each dog is unique and each pet owner has their own opinions towards raw.

Q. Are “table scraps” acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters? High quality okay? Healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. Table scraps seem like an acceptable way to feed a pet-as an owner you believe that feeding them what you eat is a sign of love. However, too many table scraps aren’t good for your pet.  Not only are you training them to beg at the table, you’re compromising a complete and balanced diet.  Try some raw carrots or celery, or feed a raw diet.

Commercially prepared raw diets are healthy, balanced food that you can feel good about- raw meat, fruits, and vegetables that have been thoughtfully and carefully balanced.  Table scraps can also pose a health risk – choking, toxicity (onion, chocolate, macadamia nuts, etc.), pancreatitis, etc.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. Every pet food manufacturer will tell you that their diets are the best.  And not every dog does well on every diet. In general, most foods are acceptable for dogs, but take a good look at the ingredients, and watch how your dog does on the diet.  Remember- you are what you eat! And that goes for dogs, too.

So look for a diet that is complete and balanced, has a high meat content (meat or meat meal listed as the first ingredient), and that offers the proper nutrition that a dog needs. We recommend a diet that’s highly digestible for maximum nutrient digestibility, with no added synthetic vitamins and minerals.  Some other things to consider are grain-free diets if you have concerns about food allergies or weight issues.

As always, question the pet food manufacturer.  If they are a reputable company, they will respond and answer your questions.

Q. Allergies: seems that “food allergies” are commonly diagnosed but without actual testing. How is it best to determine a dog really has a food allergy? Actual testing? Or is a subjective diagnosis acceptable?

A. “Food allergies” have become quite the buzzword recently.  Seems as if a dog can’t scratch an itch without it being assumed it’s an allergy! A true food allergy is an immune reaction vs. a food intolerance which is just sensitivity. A true allergy can’t be diagnosed unless you perform an elimination diet test followed by a challenge test.

An elimination diet removes certain known allergens from their foods, such as corn, wheat, soy or some proteins like chicken or beef, and the vet will watch to see if symptoms subside over time. Once the symptoms subside, the vet will re-introduce one food at a time looking for symptoms to return.

Once a reaction occurs, only then can the vet be sure which food ingredient is the one your pet is allergic to and recommend foods that do not contain that ingredient. An elimination diet takes time and patience – sometimes it takes as long as 1 year!  If you think your dog has a food “allergy”, try an exotic protein diet such as rabbit or duck, and make sure to look for a grain-free diet.

You should see symptomatic relief right away unless that diet still contains an ingredient your pet is reacting to.  In that case, a visit to your vet may be needed.Remember, there’s no substitute for a visit to the vet if you have concerns or if novel diets do not seem to help.

Another way to help alleviate food allergy symptoms is to rotate the food they eat. Just as if you were to eat a piece of chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of your life, it’s likely that you would develop a sensitivity or “allergy” to chicken.  So rotate your dog’s food between proteins and forms for the best success!

Q. Treats for training: Are there some that are better than others? Healthy vs “empty calories”? How can dog owners provide same nutrition without adding extra calories if using foods to train their dogs? (Besides using the dogs kibble)

A. Dogs love treats, even when you’re not training them. In training, a dog usually receives a lot more treats than on an average day. So it’s important not to overfeed- loving your dog and rewarding him for good behavior shouldn’t come at the cost of having an overweight dog.

Try freeze-dried chicken or turkey for treats. They’re really tasty and have nutritional benefit. Or look for a grain-free, meat-based biscuit that provides nutritional value.

Some treats also claim to have ingredients for joint health, fresh breath or even a calming effect. These treats are so small that the benefit is limited, so it’s best to treat using a healthy snack. Remember to adjust your dog’s caloric intake accordingly based on the number of treats you give.


To follow our blog series on Canine Nutrition and the do’s and don’ts of what to feed your dog, begin with our introductory post on canine nutrition. You will see additional links to each post by our canine nutrition expert’s. To continue following the blog series make sure you’ve signed up to receive them. You can do this directly on our inquisitive canine blog website.

Canine Nutrition Series: Big Apple vet believes in integrative medicine, animal rights and “pushing the envelope”

Welcome back to our fourth Canine Nutrition blog thread piece. This week we are joined by New York allopathic veterinarian Phillip Raclyn, DVM CVA. Trained as an allopathic veterinarian and practiced as such for twenty years, Dr. Raclyn is founder and chief of staff of VETSnyc, two veterinary practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and one in Yorktown Heights (Westchester).

He has earned his Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and has had extensive post graduate training in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. He is a member of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, AVMA, NYCVMA, American Association of Feline Practitioners, PeTA, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. He has been a Teaching Assistant for the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society certification course.

Considered and expert and valued resources in the arena of animal wellness, Dr. Raclyn is often asked to make frequent appearances on television, radio and print media. He has also been featured as one of the only veterinarians in the New York Magazine BEST DOCTORS issue.

To find out more about Dr. Raclyn, please see his VETSnyc website. We thank him for taking the time to address our Canine Nutrition questions.


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Phillip Raclyn and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day?

A. Approximately 30kcal / lb

Q. What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. Working dog vs couch potato. Weight loss or gain desired. It’s better for older dogs to be thinner to keep the pressure off the joints

Q. Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they speak with their vet?

A. Most vets can’t do this for them. They can go to an online site with vet nutritionists who can formulate diets for them.

Q. Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. It’s usually reliable.

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs?

A. Depending on the dog. Many dogs will eat themselves FAT

Q. Raw vs traditional vs home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. I don’t think RAW is important. Home cooked, good quality ingredients more important. We don’t eat raw often, and not many nutrients are lost in cooking unless its overdone.

Q. Are “table scraps” acceptable ? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters?

A. YES, within reason.

Q. Would healthy foods that are found in the ingredients of the dogs current diet acceptable.

A. YES

Q. High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. YES, but less grains are better. More protein is better, except for dogs who have liver or kidney disease.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. No byproducts, no chemicals, mostly protein and fat, low carbs and grains.

Q. Supplements: Daily vitamins, minerals? Is this necessary if dog eats a healthy diet? When would they be required?

A. Multi-Vitamins are nice, not essential.

Q. “Joint supplements” are becoming very popular and people are giving them to their dogs without consulting – is this a good choice?

A. YES, but you have to use a good quality product.

Q. Holistic medicine vs traditional? Both good? One better than another? Complementary?

A. The best is integrative, using both with good judgment about which type of medicine works best for which problem.

Q. Interactive food toys: Good? Bad?

A. Good

Q. Should dogs be on a specific feeding schedule? If so, all throughout his or her life? Or during certain periods only? (puppy/senior/lactating)

A. Flexibility is usually best, but I have no strong opinion about this.

Q. For dogs that do not have food allergies, is it okay for s/he to have a variety of kibble/wet food brands and not just the same one all the time? Is it okay to vary the protein base?

A. YES

Q. Are there some foods/supplements that can help prolong a dogs life?

A. YES, see my web site regarding nutritional supplements for dogs.

Q. Allergies: seems that “food allergies” is commonly diagnosed but without actual testing. How is it best to determine a dog really has a food allergy? Actual testing? Or is a subjective diagnosis acceptable?

A. NO testing is accurate. Only elimination can give a diagnosis

Q. Treats for training: Are there some that are better than others? Healthy vs “empty calories”?

A. Freeze dried meat of chicken is best.

Q. How can dog owners provide same nutrition without adding extra calories if using foods to train their dogs? (Besides using the dogs kibble)

A. USE meat or chicken. Not empty calories. Not fattening.

Q. When is it time for a dog owner to seek assistance from their vet?

A. As soon as possible. Waiting is usually counterproductive



To follow our blog series on Canine Nutrition and the do’s and don’ts of what to feed your dog, begin with our introductory post on canine nutrition. You will see additional links to each post by our canine nutrition expert’s. To continue following the blog series make sure you’ve signed up to receive them. You can do this directly on our inquisitive canine blog website.

Canine Nutrition Series: Holistic Cat Loving Veterinarian Brings Light to Dog Nutrition

Welcome back to our Canine Nutrition blog thread. This week we are joined by holistic veterinarian Jean Hofve, DVM, a Denver Colorado-based veterinarian who lives with her four fabulous felines: Flynn, Puzzle, Sundance, and Spencer.

After receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University in 1994, Dr. Jean settled in Denver, practicing full time for 5 years and then part time, while maintaining an active career as a respected writer, speaker and consultant in all areas of pet health. From 2004 to 2007, she served as the Editor-in-Chief for the  Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Jean is internationally known for her expertise on pet food and nutrition. She has written hundreds of articles, lectured on pet topics throughout the US, and regularly appears on radio and TV. Her articles have appeared in Animal Wellness, Feline Wellness, The Whole Dog Journal, The Whole Cat Journal, Cats, DogWorld, Journal of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and many other publications. Her website, www.littlebigcat.com, is a respected source of information on feline health, nutrition and behavior.

A well respected writer, Dr. Jean (along with nutritionist Dr. Celeste Yarnall), has just published her first book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook (Quarry Books, 2009). Yes, she loves cats but she knows her stuff about dogs too! Here’s a little of what she said to me regarding nutrition for dogs:

Feeding a dog is just like feeding a child. It’s mostly common sense, with a little bit of education on a few specific canine quirks. MDs and nutritionists keep telling us–eat a variety of foods, mostly fresh meats, fruits and vegetables (as opposed to “food” that comes in bags, boxes, or cans). I say this is also what our canine pals need. It wouldn’t make sense to feed a child the same food at every meal, day in and day out, from infancy to adulthood–and it doesn’t make sense for dogs, either!”

To read more about Dr. Jean Hofve’s veterinary practice, books and resources please check out her Little Big Cat website.


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Jean Hofve and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day? What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. Yes, all that, and you can add to the list season, weather, time of day, social factors, health history, personality, spay/neuter status…and of course, what exactly is being fed!

Q. Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they speak with their vet?

A. There is a formula for maintenance energy requirement (MER), and it is: 70 kcal x kgBW0.75, though the range may vary from 48 to 114 kcal. Which of course is a pain in the you-know-what to grind through, especially if numbers like “to the 0.75 power” freak you out like they do me!

It’s easier to use one of the online dog-food-calculators which may also account for variables like age, extreme weather and activity level. This will give you a ballpark number, but since caloric requirements are so individual, consider it a guideline only and not a pat answer.

And…there are a couple of hitches. First, to get best estimate, you have to list your dog’s ideal weight, not what he weighs now. When trying to get a dog to lose weight, you must feed for that ideal size. And it’s not going to look like very much food to either of you!

The other hitch is that most dog foods do not list calorie content; it’s not required. However, for many foods you can find calorie information online. If all else fails, call the manufacturer; they’ll be happy to tell you!

Honestly, most vets know very little about nutrition—at my school (Colorado State) we had a 2-hour lecture on pet nutrition (given by a guy from Hill’s) out of 4 years of vet school, and even that was better than some! And most vets’ continuing education on the subject comes from pet food sales reps. It’s not hard to know more about your dog’s nutritional needs than your vet…and it’s worth the effort!

Q. Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. It’s unreliable, because there are so many factors that affect caloric needs that are not considered in those recommendations. Moreover, it is in the manufacturer’s financial interest to over-estimate the amount to feed, because that sells more dog food. This was recently proven in a study of “weight control” dog foods—the calorie contents were all over the map, and most were inappropriately high.

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs?

A. No. Dogs aren’t built to graze. In fact, canids come with a large-capacity stomach and relatively short digestive tract. They’re supposed to hunt, kill, eat as much as they can, then digest and metabolize while they sleep it off. In a couple of days, they do it all again. A wolf can eat up to 30 *pounds* of meat in one sitting!

Q. Raw vs traditional vs home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. In general, I do recommend raw-meat-based diets for dogs (and cats). That said, there is no one diet that is right for all dogs. Some dogs can’t tolerate raw meat, others need a certain amount of grain in the diet. Hate to say it, but you just have to try different things and pay attention to the results in terms of energy, skin and coat, stool quality, appetite, and all that sort of stuff. The dog’s needs will change, too, with season, weather, age, activity, etc. Some days they seem to be “hungrier” than others. Don’t you have days like that? I do!

Q. Speaking of “table scraps”, are they acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters?

A. Here’s my simple rule: If you would eat it, you may share it. Don’t treat your dog like a portable garbage disposal. Be aware that certain foods that are fine for people, like onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts (I wouldn’t share those anyway!), grapes/raisins/currants, can be toxic to dogs. Also, go easy on meat trimmings, chicken skin, and other high-fat items; they can cause pancreatitis, which is life-threatening.

Darn near every pet food out there claims to be “high quality,” so that’s kind of meaningless. Ya know, you wouldn’t market a pet food and say “Hey, we’re okay!” Clearly there is a huge variation in quality, and not everyone can be at the top. In most cases, the disparity is detectable by the difference in price. However, some foods, such as those from a company that also makes a line of veterinary “prescription” diets, cost far more than is justified by the quality of ingredients. They have to support that bloated advertising budget somehow!

The term “human grade” also has no legal definition; some companies are sincere about it, but others are not. However, the terms “natural” and “organic” do have legal definitions, so sticking to foods that make those claims may be better. However, beware of foods that use “Nature” or “Natural” or similar terms in the brand name—that use is not well enforced. The USDA has, however, cracked down on brands that featured “Organic” in the brand name but did not comply with the strict federal regulations on the term.

Q. High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. Sure. Veggies must be pureed or cooked (steaming works well), and grains must be cooked. A dog’s carnivore digestive tract doesn’t have the means to break down those tough plant cell walls to get at the nutrition. In the wild, the prey animal has already begun the digestive process. But digestive contents are not a significant part of the predator’s nutritional intake; an adult dog’s physiologic requirement for carbohydrates is zero.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. It’s easier to list the things you want to avoid: by-products, meat-and-bone meal, corn products, multiple grain products, artificial preservatives….here’s an article on foods for dogs you’d want to avoid that explains all that.

Q. Supplements: Daily vitamins, minerals? Is this necessary if dog eats a healthy diet? When would they be required?

A. Homemade diets (raw or cooked) need supplementation. Follow a tested, balanced recipe and don’t skip any of the recommended supplements. Serious nutritional deficiencies can occur, with serious health consequences.

A “complete” commercial diet will state whether it is for adult maintenance or growth/all life stages. I recommend an “all life stages” food as it will meet the higher standard. Manufacturers typically over-supplement to make sure that the food still meets requirements after processing and packaging. You can add water-soluble vitamins and Vitamin E without worries, but fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, and K) and minerals are not necessary and can be harmful.

However there are four supplements that I recommend for all pets, regardless of diet. These are:

  1. Digestive Enzymes
  2. Probiotics
  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  4. Antioxidants

Q. “Joint supplements” are becoming very popular and people are giving them to their dogs without consulting – is this a good choice?

A. Most joint supplements are very safe, but a few contain minerals like manganese or zinc that may accumulate over time, and could reach toxic levels. Some also contain herbs that could be problematic in certain animals; alfalfa, for instance, is a diuretic and would not be appropriate for a dog with kidney issues.

There have been a few reports that glucosamine raises blood sugar in diabetic dogs, but it does not do so in normal dogs, and the jury is out on this one.



To follow our blog series on Canine Nutrition and the do’s and don’ts of what to feed your dog, check our our introductory post on canine nutrition and first installment with nutrition-and-exercise-for-dogs expert Dr. Audrey Harvey. To continue following the blog series make sure you’ve signed up to receive them. You can do this directly on our inquisitive canine blog website.

Inquisitive Canine: Jack Is Quick to Jump the Fence – Creating an inviting home environment can help motivate dogs to stay put

Hi, Joan:

I have a dog named Jack who has an issue with jumping our backyard fence. We ride bikes every day, so it isn’t an exercise issue. We’ve also tried everything to make him stop, including using an electric fence, which he seems to laugh at.

He always comes back and lays in the front yard, but he runs away when we try to get him back in the house. Treats don’t work, chasing doesn’t work and tempting him with a car ride (which he loves) doesn’t work — and is actually dangerous because he runs beside it. We also have tried getting the bikes out — no luck. Sitting in the yard and being calm, with a treat in hand, waiting for him to come doesn’t work. It is a real problem.

Luckily, all of the neighbors and their dogs love him and Jack isn’t aggressive, but we live by busy streets and so I am very afraid he will get hit by a car. It is very frustrating. Got any ideas?

— Thanks, Dee Ann Deaton

Hello, Dee Ann:

My oh my, it sounds like Jack is nimble, quick and living up to the “Love thy neighbor” policy. From what you’ve described, it appears you’ve been an inquisitive dog guardian, doing all you can to problem solve the situation, and I appreciate your efforts.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I have worked with many dog guardians to find solutions for keeping their globetrotting pooches safe and secure.

It’s first important to create an inviting environment to help motivate Jack to stay on his own property. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  • While Jack is still learning to stay in the yard, he should always be supervised when left outside. Leaving such decisions to his own devices might result in a round of fence jumping. Setting him up for success is the best way to avoid disappointment, and is key to successful dog training.
  • Create an enriching environment in your own home and yard so Jack will prefer to stay put. Scavenger hunts, interactive food toys, chewies, bones and even a digging pit can all be placed in your own yard for Jack’s entertainment. You’ll also want to make sure he is experiencing fun times with family members at home — not just on a bike ride. If you’re so inclined, you might want to arrange doggy play dates at your home so his friends come to your place instead of him having to set up his own rendezvous.
  • See if it’s possible to build a higher fence or plant a hedge where you live. This is a management step that may help prevent him from independently taking a tour of the neighborhood.

Dog training tips for coaching Jack to stay in the yard:

  • Teach Jack what the correct choice is and reward him for remaining on your property. Using high-value yummy food treats — ask your vet about pieces of human foods such as lean chicken, steak, fish, pork etc. — or whatever motivation works best to positively reinforce desired behaviors from your dog. While a professional dog trainer can help you analyze the rewards you’re using, there are also some simple things you can do to discover what motivates your dog.
  • You’ll initially want to reward this wanted behavior frequently. Once Jack is conditioned to stay in the yard, you can then reward him intermittently to ensure you’ve acknowledged he is making good choices. Remember, we can never be thanked enough for doing something someone else wants — especially when it’s as difficult as not going out to spend time playing with friends and neighbors.
  • Train necessary behaviors: “Coming when called” and “Leave it!” might be two behaviors that would come in handy should Jack take off. Using the first one if he takes off, and if he doesn’t come back then use your backup cue “Leave it!” This is the cue I use for when I want a dog to stop what he or she is doing and come to me. If you’ve ever taught Jack to “touch a target,” you could use that as well — keeping a target in your hand (or targeting your hand itself) while he comes and touches it with his paw or nose.

Your home and neighborhood sound quite appealing — no wonder Jack wants to head out and be with his friends. With a little planning, training, and forethought, you should be able to motivate Jack to stay and play in your own home.

Canine Nutrition Series: Food for thought on importance of exercising your dog

Welcome to our Canine Nutrition blog series where we introduce our first expert on some of the do’s an don’ts of your dogs nutrition. This week we are joined by  Dr. Audrey Harvey BVSc(Hons). Check out her PoochTo5K website where you’ll see how passionate she is about preventative health care, obesity management and the importance of exercising your dog. Poncho and I would love to join her running group, but the commute down under would be quite the trek – beyond an ultra marathon to say the least.

Prevention, management and exercise: “It’s good for their body, and it’s good for their mind. It’s also great for your relationship with your dog.” She also has an interest in dog behavioral problems and how to manage them. For additional information on Dr. Harvey, please check out the following links:


The following is the canine nutrition Q&A session between Dr. Harvey and myself:

Q. Roughly how many Kcal’s may a dog have per day?

A. The amount of Kcal’s an adult dog needs to just maintain its body varies with body weight. For example, a 20lb dog would need 360Kcal/day to keep its body functions working. A 30lb dog would need 500Kcal/day.

  • Let’s look at the calorie content of, for example, Eukanuba Adult Maintenance formula. It contains 404Kcal/cup. So, your 30lb dog really only needs a little over one cup a day to keep its body working. In reality, that figure refers to dogs who basically don’t do anything, and are on the equivalent of cage rest between meals, so that figure needs to be multiplied by up to two times to take into account the conditions you’ve mentioned in your next question.

Q. What factors into the amount allowed: Age, size, breed, activity level etc…

A. Obviously larger dogs need more energy for maintenance. Puppies need extra energy while they are growing, and because they only have a small stomach, commercial puppy food has more Kcal per cup than adult food. Again, using Eukanuba puppy as an example, it contains 417Kcal/cup, so these babies can get more Kcal in the same volume of food. Working dogs who are on the move all day need more energy. Interestingly, bitches who are at peak lactation need the most energy of any other dog, almost twice maintenance – milk production is really energy expensive.

Q. Is there a formula that dog guardians can use to help figure this out? Or should they speak with their vet?

A. The formula that’s most commonly used by vets is RER in Kcal = [BW^0.75]x70 where RER is resting energy requirements (cage rest between meals!) and body weight is in kg. From there, that figure gets multiplied by up to 1.8 to take into account any of the above factors. As a vet, if I wrote that on a piece of paper and gave it to a dog guardian and said, here’s how much you need to feed your dog, I’d not expect them to comply, it’s a bit confusing. Also, they may overestimate how much extra they need to give based on their dog’s activity level, age etc and feed too much.

I prefer to have a chat with a guardian and work out a rough guideline of how much to feed, then modify based on their dog’s condition over time.

Q. Should owners follow the guidelines on the bag/container of food, or is that unreliable?

A. In my experience with my own dogs over 20 years, I think the guidelines on bags of dog food are quite generous. I have never fed any of my dogs that much. I’d suggest that dog guardians start with the guidelines on the bag, and change it based on how their dog looks.

If they’re getting a bit curvy, cut back on the quantity. Every dog is different and these are only guidelines, so always look at your own dog’s body shape and response.

Q. Are the calculations the same for a dog running/walking a mile as it is for humans? For example, if you and I (humans) burn 100 calories per mile we run, would a dog burn the same walking/running? Is there even research on this?

A. Great question, and I haven’t been able to find anything out. I’d suspect it would be different, but I can’t back it up with science. The sled dogs that run the Iditarod eat a diet that’s up to 70% fat to fuel that activity level. Human ultramarathon runners do up to 100 miles – nowhere near the distance the dogs do but fuel that with fat and carbs. Dogs aren’t like people because they metabolise fat as their primary energy source, whereas we metabolise carbohydrates.

Q. Do you think that “free feeding” is an acceptable way to feed dogs?

A. Nope. I don’t like this for many reasons. Although it doesn’t happen with every single dog, I’ve seen a lot of dogs become overweight with this type of feeding. It’s also hard to know how much your dog is eating when all you need to do is fill up the bowl of kibble every other day, so you may miss any subtle loss of appetite that could indicate illness.

I personally prefer to work out how much to feed my dogs per day, and halve it. They are then fed twice daily, and I can see the food disappear. I know that they have a healthy appetite and that they are all getting their fair share.

Dinner time is also a great training time. I have four dogs and they all sit and wait until they are told they can eat. It teaches them to be obedient in the presence of a huge distraction – 3 other dogs and their bowl of tucker.

Q. Should dogs be on a specific feeding schedule? If so, all throughout his or her life? Or during certain periods only such as puppy/senior/lactating?

A. I personally feed my dogs twice a day, and if they get a Buster cube or any extras, that comes off their rations. Again I have no research to back it up, but I figure all the body systems work pretty much all the time, why should the gastrointestinal system do nothing for 23 hours then work its butt off for one hour… I also don’t subscribe to the theory that dogs are like wolves and should be fasted for a day or two every so often. I don’t think there’s any advantage to that at all, and it probably isn’t very nice for our dogs who have been domesticated for generations.

Q. I know the larger chested dogs are prone to bloat, but when is it better/worse to feed dogs related to exercise. Small amount say 1/2 hour before, then more afterwards or normal meal longer time before exercise? Or do dogs not have the same issues as we would?

A. Bloat is a huge problem for deep chested dogs. Exercise after eating or drinking is a high risk factor, so I’d skip food and excessive water intake before exercise. Avoid allowing a dog to gulp water after exercise, small frequent drinks are better, and wait an hour or so before feeding. That’s purely because it seems like an excitable dog is slightly at increased risk of bloat so if they are allowed to settle for a while after exercise, the risk may be reduced.

Also, if a dog is on twice daily meals, then it won’t be a big meal that’s scheduled for after exercise which also reduces the risk. Again, I can’t find any specific research but that’s what I do with my guys. I don’t have any giant breeds but my kelpie Guinness has  a reasonably deep chest.

Q. For dogs that do not have food allergies, is it okay for s/he to have a variety of kibble/wet food brands and not just the same one all the time? Is it okay to vary the protein base? What are your thoughts about a varied (but healthy) diet?

A. I do the same as you [vary the kibble, healthy and lean table scraps in food toys). Three of my guys don’t have any allergies (thank goodness!) and they get beef, chicken, lamb kibble, table scraps and treats. Guinness the kelpie I suspect has some sort of inflammatory bowel disease (he gets the runs when I take him for a run <G>) so he’s being trialled on fish and tapioca kibble.

Q. Raw vs traditional vs home-cooked? Is one better? Why?

A. Many vets are unsettled with raw feeding because of the risk of infection with bacteria such as Salmonella. These can be shed in a dog’s feces and may cause illness in other animals, children and people with compromised immune systems. Also, the American Veterinary Dental Association and the FDA over there (USA) are advising people not to feed raw bones because of the risk of tooth fracture and more.

Home cooked is fine if the recipe is developed in conjunction with a veterinary nutritionist, and there are several sites on the web where vets can create a nutritionally balanced home cooked diet for a dog. Here is one example Pet Diets.

Making a good home-cooked diet isn’t necessary a simple option. Many people work out a home cooked recipe based on what they find perhaps in books or on the web, or on advice from breeders, and they may not be suitable for a dog’s specific needs.

For example, puppies need a specific balance of calcium and phosphorus for optimal bone growth and even if the calcium quantity is right, the wrong balance can cause problems. Excessive calcium may be associated with orthopedic conditions such as osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), a disorder of cartilage development in the joints of the limbs. It’s a problem in growing dogs and may need surgery. There’s also some evidence that excessive calcium and rapid growth contributes (to OCD).

I have always fed my dogs a traditional high quality kibble, with training treats and occasional table scraps. They have enjoyed good health and really no illness and have lived into their teens.

Q. Speaking of “table scraps”, are they acceptable? If not, why? If so, what are the parameters? High quality, healthy such as low fat/lean meats, raw/steamed veggies and whole grains?

A. I don’t have a problem with table scraps, everything in moderation. No cooked bones ever, and nothing too fatty. We see a lot of cases of pancreatitis in dogs after Christmas because they have been fed a lot of fatty leftovers, particularly ham and pork. My dogs get lots of different types of scraps, including meat, veggies, and even toast crusts!

Q. I had been told awhile back that cow dairy (cheeses mostly) and fat is not good for dogs. Is this a standard rule of thumb?

A. I think everything in moderation. Dairy itself I don’t think is an issue, unless a dog can’t handle the lactose. If anything it’s fattening and that needs to be taken into account. Fat, eg from meat, may cause pancreatitis so I trim that off any scraps for my dogs.

Q. Dog foods: are some better than others? If so, what should dog guardians look for in finding good quality foods?

A. Some definitely better than others, and you get what you pay for. Cheaper food tends to contain a higher proportion of cereals, and cereal protein isn’t as good quality for dogs as meat protein. The ingredients listed on the dog food packet are listed in order of quantity. Good quality foods will have meat and meat by products listed as the top two or three ingredients in the ingredient list, so you know they have a better amount of meat protein than a food with cereals at the top of the list.

Q. I believe many people equate “by products” as being “bad” – are they? Aren’t dog foods broken down in such a way that dogs are able to digest them better since their digestive tract is so short?

A. By products I understand are things like offal, tendon etc..anything that’s not muscle meat. I don’t see them as necessarily bad, not sure of the nutritional value of a tendon, it’s just collagen. I guess that’s protein though, isn’t it? Dog  foods are pretty thoroughly rendered, so they would be easier to digest than if a dog was just fed a chunk of tendon, I’d imagine.

Q. Supplements: Daily vitamins, minerals? Is this necessary if dog eats a healthy diet? When would they be required?

A. I personally have never used vitamins and minerals for my dogs, and I don’t recommend them for client’s dogs who are on a good diet.

>Q. Too many vitamins and supplements can affect kidneys and liver? A. Sure, too much Vit A isn’t good for example, but not sure how much of a vitamin supplement they’d need to take to get sick. One can look up references for the toxic dose of Vitamin A, and compare to the content of a well known vitamin supplement and work out how many pills are bad.

If they’re not on a good diet and may need supplements, I try and encourage them to change their diet rather than give them supplements. The only time I’d suggest a supplement is if there was a specific diagnosed deficiency, and that’s something to work on with their vet.

One supplement I have seen be very useful is a fatty acid supplement for dogs with dry skin or skin allergies. It can often ease inflammation and improve the condition of their skin and coat. If they want to try a fatty acid supplement, I don’t insist on a checkup but I tell them that on its own it may not have much effect, eg some dogs with allergies have secondary infections of the skin that really need antibiotics. I usually try and get them in for a checkup because they could well be wasting their money without a proper diagnosis.

Q. “Joint supplements” are becoming very popular and people are giving them to their dogs without consulting – is this a good choice?

A. I have no problems with joint supplements such as glucosamine, they can help, and they seem to be quite safe. If a dog is on any sort of medication, guardians need to let their vet know in case there is any interaction between the medication and the supplement but in most cases, there’s no problem with giving them a try.

Q. Best to confirm with Vet first before starting any medication? OTC, homeopathic or anything?

A. Absolutely. There can be interactions between drugs and alternative herbal treatments that can make a dog sick. Even a phone call to the vet to check is a good idea.

Q. Holistic medicine vs traditional? Both good? One better than another? Complementary?

A. If people prefer holistic medicine, that’s fine, as long as they don’t shun conventional medicine just for the sake of it. If a holistic medicine has been proven to be effective, that’s great. Herbal medicine fine (after all, lots of drugs are derived from herbs), physiotherapy fine.

Personally I don’t use homeopathy or reiki or such treatments on my dogs, but if a dog’s guardian wanted to use that for her companion, I’d help them find a suitably qualified colleague.

Again, everyone needs to be told what treatments of any type are being given because a herb may interact with a conventional drug, to the detriment of the dog.

Q. Interactive food toys: Good? Bad?

A. Awesome! Buster Cubes and the like are a great way of keeping boredom at bay, great for a dog’s mental health. Must make sure that whatever goes in the food toy is taken off a dog’s daily food ration, so they don’t take in too many calories.

Q. If owners wanted to feed meals out of the toys, can they be given spaced throughout the day instead of morning/evening only? A. Sure. I figure how your dog is fed has to fit your lifestyle too, and using toys when a dog is alone is a great idea.

Q. Are there some foods/supplements that can help prolong a dogs life?

A. None that are categorically proven to increase a dog’s life as such, but vit C and vit E are antioxidants, known to reduce cell damage. That helps. A lot of good dog foods now contain these vits.

Dogs may well be able to use human antioxidants, and it may be cheaper but ask vet to research dose and how effective they are in dogs.

The biggest thing a dog guardian can do to keep their dog around longer is to watch their weight. I was reading research recently that suggested that dogs who were lean lived up to 2 years longer than an obese animal.

Q. Allergies: seems that “food allergies” are commonly diagnosed but without actual testing. How is it best to determine a dog really has a food allergy? Actual testing? Or is a subjective diagnosis acceptable?

A. Allergy testing as such isn’t always accurate in the case of food allergies, often a food trial gives a better result. Dogs become allergic to foods they have been eating for some time, so the best way to diagnose a food allergy is to feed them something new.

Guardians need to choose a protein source their dog has never had before, and a carbohydrate source they’ve never had before, so they won’t be allergic to them. Alternatively, use a prescription hypoallergenic diet. The dog needs to eat this for 8 weeks, and nothing else must pass their lips! No treats, no table scraps, no pinching another dog’s food. This is so hard, and from what I’ve read, less than 20% of dog guardians follow through.

People don’t understand that they can’t give their dog anything else, and yes even a tiny treat can stuff up the food trial. This isn’t a balanced diet either, but for a healthy adult dog, it won’t hurt them to eat this for 8 weeks.

If the symptoms improve, then food obviously plays a big role in the problem. Guardians then add one single food source eg a new protein, for two weeks and watch for the return of symptoms. If they recur, that food is banned forever. If not, then it can go on a list of “safe” foods.

Over time, guardians develop a list of foods that won’t upset their dog, and a list of foods that are banned forever. This takes time and effort. I don’t really like to just stick to a subjective diagnosis, because a guardian might notice that beef makes their dog itch, but there may be other ingredients involved and things could be much better for the dog if the guardian went the whole hog and did the food trial.

Q. If they decided to obtain an actual allergy test, would they be able to forgo the food trial? Or the food trial is still the best way to go? A. It’s best to do a food trial with a suspected food allergy, it’s apparently more diagnostic with this particular allergy than allergy tests.

Q. Does feeding a dog a varied diet help prevent food allergies? A. I had a look in the vet only forum I read and there is apparently no real way to prevent food allergies, it’s more a genetic thing. So, the luck of the draw.

Q. Treats for training: Are there some that are better than others? Healthy vs “empty calories”? How can dog owners provide the same nutrition without adding extra calories if using foods to train their dogs? (Besides using the dogs kibble)

A. Obviously meat based, low fat treats are ideal but any treat has calories, so whatever a dog is given in treats, must come off their daily calorie allowance. Some people give their dogs small pieces of steamed carrot as a treat, no calories there, but some dogs may not like the vegetarian option.

I like to get some beef liver, slice it thinly and dry it in a slow oven, then cut into little cubes and use them as training treats. They’re nutritious and lean and the dogs love them. Liver isn’t something that should be a huge part of a dog’s diet but in small amounts for training it’s great. The one problem with liver is vitamin A, there’s a lot in it.

I did read about some trainers using sultanas (raisins) as treats. They can make dogs very sick, so that’s a no-no.

Q. Food that are “bad” and “poisonous” for dogs – there are lists all over the internet. How accurate and extreme are the items listed? Onions/garlic – what if they are cooked and in a sauce? Or is it raw only? Chocolate – pure baking chocolate more than milk, yes? But overall a no-no. Grapes? Just the skins or everything?

A. Garlic and onions are dangerous, but 15-30g of onions per kilo bodyweight is needed to poison your dog. That’s a lot! My dogs get leftover spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne with some garlic and onion, and I’ve never seen a problem.

Dark chocolate more so than milk which is more toxic than white. Half of a 250g block of baking chocolate is enough to be dangerous to a 10kg dog. I prefer to keep my chocolate to myself, lol, but if people really want to give their dogs something, try carob.

I’ve read that 10g sultanas (raisins) per kg body weight can be enough to be deadly to a sensitive dog, and there’s no way of knowing if your dog is okay with grapes/sultanas until you feed them. My dogs don’t get grapes or sultanas! I think the thing is to be aware of the risks and make a sensible informed decision.

Q. When is it time for a dog owner to seek assistance from their vet?

A. Whenever they are concerned about anything to do with their dog’s physical and mental well being, and sooner rather than later. Lots of problems are easier to manage if they’re caught early in the piece, and sometimes it’s not a big job to get things back on track. Sometimes a bit of reassurance too is good for a dog guardian and can set their mind at rest.

To read our introductory post on Canine Nutrition, and to continue following the blog series on the do’s and don’ts of what to feed your dog, watch for our subsequent weekly posts. You can sign up to receive them via RSS feed or direct email on our inquisitive canine blog website.

Dog Foods and Nutrition: Food for Thought – An Introduction to Our Series on Canine Nutrition and What to Feed Your Dog

Being a certified professional dog trainer I am often asked in my Ventura dog training classes as well as from private dog training clients “What should I feed my dog?” Although I am always happy to share my personal opinion about what I feed Poncho (’cause ya know I have one), I only do so as a health conscious critical thinking dog mom. And as much as I’d love to give these fine folks my advice on what they should or shouldn’t feed their dog, I feel it would not be an appropriate component of my dog training services. Why not? Basically because:

  1. I am a professional dog trainer, I am not a veterinarian.
  2. I have studied the art and science of dog behavior and training, not the professional field of canine nutrition.
  3. I feel it would be outside my scope of practice to provide such information. There are too many factors that go into evaluating our own diet let alone another species.

Fortunately, I am able to make my own decisions as to what and when I eat, and where I get it from. In regards to choosing foods for my sidekick Poncho I certainly have my own preferences and opinions, but as a responsible dog guardian and certified professional dog trainer I also know that dogs are different than humans in nutritional requirements. Yes, we should be mindful that our canine companions are individuals in what he or she likes, just like us, however, I feel it’s also best to keep anthropomorphism at bay when it comes to what we feed our dogs.

When it comes to dog foods, dog diets, dog nutrition and what is good/bad/better it seems there are as many opinions as there are dogs. Similar to the world of diets and nutrition for humans, it appears everywhere you go there’s copious amounts of information on this topic for our domestic dogs. From qualified veterinarians specializing in canine nutrition to our friendly dog loving neighbors, everyone has an opinion. But how do you sort through it all? What where and who is the best resource?

Well, after hearing a myriad of controversial viewpoints over the years I thought why not take the time to hunt down some data that I could share with inquisitive dog guardians and their inquisitive canines! This way, I’d be able to provide easy access to valid resources and links when students asked. Mind you, this does not mean I am going to begin teaching dog training workshops on canine nutrition. Not at all. I will still continue to direct folks to their dog’s own health care provider. My goal is to provide dog owners with answers from those who are authorities in the field of canine nutrition about what their dogs should or shouldn’t eat.

So how did I go about acquiring this information? I queried top canine nutrition experts who work professionally in the area of nutrition for dogs. I was thrilled that I received such a wonderful response, especially since my list of questions was quite extensive. (I’m inquisitive too you know). So please help me in welcoming this panel of experts to the inquisitive canine blog:

Follow-up posts in this series will include Q&A with each expert, so if you want to receive the next installment in our canine nutrition series, I encourage you to subscribe via RSS or direct email to ensure you receive follow-up posts. (Just head to our inquisitive canine blog homepage and choose your method of delivery).

The folks who have so generously taken the time to respond are quite knowledgeable and a true asset in the area of canine health and nutrition. I hope you find the information I’ve provided in this series of posts as intriguing and thought provoking as Poncho and I have.