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.

Dog Training Tips for Fence Jumping Canine’s

It seems mom and I have been receiving Dear Inquisitive Canine emails from distraught dog guardians needing help with their “escape artist” dogs. It appears these pooches aren’t clear on boundaries at home. These dogs allegedly prefer to jump the fence and visit with friends and neighbors than stay put in their yard.

Being an inquisitive canine I would want to ask these inquisitive dog guardians a few questions before they start blaming the dog to want to find his or her own entertainment:

  1. Have you taught your dog the behavior you want?
  2. How often do you reward your dog with food treats, praise, petting and playtime for performing the behaviors you want?
  3. What type of motivation is there to stay in the yard?

Mom has taken her certified dog trainer skills to our Dear Inquisitive Canine column providing home management and dog training tips – the complete post will be published the beginning of August on Noozhawk. As for yours truly, I’d like to add in a few of my own canine suggestions:

  • Use the “bad” behavior to your own advantage: If your dog enjoys doing things that you’d normally consider “bad”, why not instead look at these behaviors as a way to reward? This way, you know you can motivate your dog and use the motivation to your own advantage. You’re just redirecting the activity to something safe.
    • For instance, if your dog loves to jump the fence for the purpose of visiting neighbors, then first ask your dog to do something such as play “Coming when called” games at home with the family, then instead of rewarding with food, put your dog on leash and walk him or her to friends and neighbors for a little meet and greet or play-date with the other dogs. Or host a get together at your own home.
  • Mental stimulation: Physical exercise is always great for energetic dogs that enjoy exercise. However, sometimes you end up with a better conditioned dog that finds more energy to do the things you don’t want. Many of us canines are similar to humans in that we need as much mental exercise as we do physical, along with social stimulation.
  • Dog training classes similar to what my mom teaches here in Ventura. Even a manners class would give a dog something to do that takes critical thinking skills. Plus it’s physical and social stimulation as well. Beside “obedience” classes there are other options such as dog sports like the dog agility class I take here in Camarillo with our friend Miss. Margie and the Seaside Scramblers. There’s also Flyball, Canine Freestyle, Rally-O and so much more. Doing an online search will certainly bring up lots of choices.
  • If you don’t have such resources close by or that don’t fit with your schedule, you might want to check out our Out of the Box Dog Training Game. Perfect for having fun with, and enhancing the bond you share with your dog while teaching the behaviors you want! Talk about a win-win.

Hmm, I wonder if the US Track and Field will ever consider having a dog team for hurdles…something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…

Take Your Dog to Work Begins With Planning Ahead

I am one lucky dog, for many reasons. One big reason is that I get to bring my mom the Ventura and Virtual dog trainer to work with me every day! Yep. Where we work she is allowed to be here with me. It’s a shame you humans aren’t as fortunate as this inquisitive canine.

The good news is June 25th is the national “Take Your Dog to Work Day” – mom will be bringing me to work with her. I just hope she gets to work at Ventura Pet Barn that day – cuz that’s one fun place to hang out.

I have found that this country is limited on locations where us dogs are allowed to go. Although I just had an awesome time going to Boston with mom and dad, it’s still seems there are lots of restrictions. I hope that if we can make this type of special occasion successful for everyone, then maybe it’ll turn into something even bigger! So let’s get ourselves prepared so us pooches can start going to more places!!!

There are a few points I’d like to address to ensure you have a successful time bringing your dog to work with you.

First: What can you expect from your dog?

Well, like you humans, dogs respond to novel situations much the same way. We might get really excited and want to greet anyone and everyone – person or dog. Or, we might become more uncertain and reserved, fearful, or “reactive” towards anything and everything.

If you’ve never taken your dog to work with you before, then the best thing would be aware of how your dog reacts to knew situations – including all the different people or conditions he or she may encounter.

Second: How can you make the experience run and positive one?

The first thing you’ll want to do is check to make sure your place of business is celebrating this special day. If so, praise your employer! If you can make it positive for everyone, he or she may invite your dog back 🙂

Ask if you can bring your dog to do some “dress rehearsals” beforehand. Spending a few minutes meeting and greeting everyone, sniffing around the office, learning where the “potty room” is (outside in a specific area), getting to know the surroundings, practicing some appropriate behaviors such as sitting and waiting at doors, elevators, office entryways etc…can help make the actual day go much more smoothly. As my mom the certified professional dog trainer says “Don’t wait to need a behavior to train a behavior.” Plan ahead!

Have other humans give your dog treats for good behaviors. If your dog is comfortable around strangers, make sure he or she gets treats from these folks too. Provide positive reinforcing moments so the dog will associate the workplace and employees with fun and pleasant times.

Do not force your dog to like anyone. If your dog appears afraid (backing up, barking and backing up, not eating and not taking treats) then I would conclude he or she is being pushed too far. Allow your dog to set the pace on how quickly he or she wants to meet people.

Provide a comfortable place for your dog to “work.” Meaning, a dog bed or mat or crate specific for him or her to hang out. Either next to you or at least in the same office/area.
Make sure your take your dog out for frequent potty breaks and fresh air. You may be able to sit at a computer for hours on end, but it’s not fair to put us dogs through it if we’re not used to it (unlike yours truly here who has to sit at the computer most of the day.)

Lastly: What are some dog training tips on how to prep your dog for office-appropriate behavior?

  • Determine what behaviors would be required for that specific office: meeting lots of new people? Remaining quiet? Lying down all day and having to be quiet? Running around? Driving around? Then whichever behaviors are going to be needed, begin teaching beforehand.
  • Know your dogs personality! Pay attention to how your dog is in new public places. What kind of work place is it? Cubicles or a ranch? Phones ringing all day or one other employee? If your dog has never been exposed to this specific workplace environment, the best thing to do is take your dog a few times beforehand  even if it’s just for a quick visit so he or she can get used to it.
  • Meet and greet appropriately: teach your dog to sit (or four paws on the floor) when meeting new people. You and the others can give treats for nice behaviors.
  • Down-stay on a mat/bed/crate: provide enrichment for the dog so he or she will have something to do while staying on his or her specific place all day. Bones, food stuffed toys, or whatever he or she likes. Sometimes a leash tethered to a desk is good, so your dog can’t just wander off while you’re on the phone. Of course, if you have to leave the room for any length of time, make sure you bring your dog with you or leave your dog with someone he or she is comfortable around.
  • Make arrangements with other staff members to take care of your dog if the guardian has to leave, even for a few minutes. You’ll need to know that your dog will be comfortable around strangers, or another known person, if you have to leave your dog.

Thanks to all of you responsible loving dog guardians who take the time to enjoy your dog. I know mom and dad enjoy bringing me to their office with them. Hmm, I wonder if mom would continue to work overtime for extra kisses? Something for this inquisitive canine to ponder.

Bicycles, Skateboards and Scooters Make for Adventurous Options When Exercising Your Dog

I was recently sent information from Mark Schuette and his company Dog Powered Scooter telling me about his inventions that enable dog guardians to exercise their dog, while at the same time the humans get some exercise, and everyone enjoys the great outdoors.

At first I was a little reluctant. Why? Because I was worried that if the dog got startled, or decided to go after something etc…that it would cause an accident. It’s important for dog guardians to keep their dog, themselves and the public safe when venturing out. My concern was also prompted because the “overly protective dog mom” kicked in – I envisioned vet visits, or ER visits – of which neither is preferred. How negative is that? Sorry Mark…not very positive of me.

Then the certified professional dog trainer and critical thinker part of me kicked in and I decided to write to Mark directly so I could educate myself! Nothing like being inquisitive! This is what Mark had to say:

Hi Joan – I’ve sold 1200 now in 6 years since i invented it- and I have never had an injury to rider or dog. The dog/bicycle/rollerblade/and any “dog out front” method of mushing products can’t say that!  its safer than most other dog sports that require quick directional changes and even safer than letting your dog off leash in a dog park or in the woods!

My systems are all straight line exercise under a small load- or no load if the rider chooses to do the work. And its hardly work- only 4-5 lbs of pull is needed to keep the rigs at speed once the rider gets it rolling.

I have several over 65 yr old customers, and also several kids and even some slightly handicapped folks. The trike is totally safe and stable and the scooter is very safe but more of a sport since some balance and riding skill is necessary- comparable to riding a bicycle (without a dog). And most of my customers are women.

Because the rider has steering and braking control over the dog AND because the dog can only go forward (they cannot turn to pull you over to the side) its safer than any other wheeled rig out there.


Well Mark I have to say all of the items sound impressive, and a nice resource for dog owners to have! I would most likely invest in one if I had a dog that enjoyed running for longer distance. Poncho is an energetic inquisitive canine for sure, but as for running, well, let’s just say he’d be more motivated to sit in a bicycle basket up front 🙂 Unless there was a mail truck attached to the front? Hmm, maybe that could be your next item!

To my friends and followers who have higher energy dogs that need a fun and safe outlet for burning off that energy, check out Marks website Dog Powered Scooter! I look forward to seeing my local friends out on the Promenade here in Ventura!

Reasons Why and Solutions for Paw Licking and Chewing Behavior in Dogs


I have a quick question for you. My dog is always chewing on her feet. I’ve heard it’s allergies to grass. Is that true? Also, is there something I can do to make her feel better?

— Emily

Dear Emily:

It’s a quick question, but one with an answer that is not as quick or simple. Regardless of the reason for your dog’s feet chewing, you’ll want to have your dog examined by a veterinarian, and possibly by one who specializes in veterinarian dermatology. That will help rule out any underlying medical causes. The paw-chewing behavior may have started initially because of a medical issue, but has since developed into a compulsory habit.

Allow me to make it clear that Poncho and I are not veterinarians. We’re canine behavior experts and would never work outside our scope of practice. My sidekick Poncho wanted to give his own spin on this subject. You can read his post on dog behavior regarding paw chewing and licking.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I’d like to provide you with questions to help you plan ahead for the visit with your dog’s veterinarian:

  • How long has your dog been partaking in feet chewing? When you say “always,” does that mean from the time she was a puppy or more recently? It would be a good idea to keep a log.
  • Does she chew on all four paws? Or just certain ones?
  • Is the area irritated? Inflamed? Swollen? Is there any hair loss? Drainage or oozing? Lumps or bumps?
  • Have you checked between her toes and around her nail beds?
  • Have you changed your dog’s diet? New medications? Shampoos? Flea medicine?
  • Is she chewing at the same time every day? The feet chewing could be a sign of stress. Maybe before being left home alone?
  • What situations are happening before and after the feet chewing occurs? Is it after she goes out and plays in the grass? After walking on hot concrete or icy walkways?
  • If it arises after she plays outside on the grass, do you use chemicals or a specific fertilizer on your grass?
  • Are there no apparent triggers? Paw licking and sucking also can be indicative of boredom, and it may help her pass the time. Or, she may just find it relaxing, pacifying and enjoyable.

If all medical reasons are ruled out, your vet most likely will encourage you to begin a behavior modification plan. It will take time, patience and consistency on your part. You will need to do the following on a regular basis:

  • Keep her busy so she doesn’t have the time or energy to chew on her feet.
  • Provide items that she would rather put in her mouth and chew, such as bully bones and interactive food toys.
  • Reward her with yummy treats for ignoring her feet and chewing on appropriate items.

Unfortunately, paw licking and chewing is one of those behaviors that can be caused by a multitude of factors, both medical and behavioral. And, yes, allergies to grass can certainly be one cause of this common canine issue.

The thought of irritated paws is unbearable enough for us humans; I can’t imagine how your dog must feel. I commend you for taking the first steps to resolving this issue, instead of ignoring it and thinking it’ll just go away on its own. It can take time and some investigative work to find a solution, but it will be well worth the effort to relieve your dog of any unnecessary irritation.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. 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 us directly.

Paw Chewing Behavior in Dog is Cause for Concern: Dog Behavior Advice for Alleviating Irritated Paws

Mom and I have received an interesting question through our dog behavior advice column about a dog that licks her paws. Although this question was addressed to my mom, who happens to be certified professional dog trainer, she and I both thought it would be better for me to address it, since I myself am of the canine variety. Plus I’ve been known to lick my paws now and again, so in this case, I’m more of the expert.

  • Q: My dog is always chewing on her feet. I’ve heard it’s allergies to grass. Is that true? Also, is there something I can do to make her feel better? – Emily
  • A: Well Emily, I’d say there is a variety of reasons why your dog might be licking her paws.

A few topics to consider:

  • If you think it might be allergies, or another medically related reason, you’ll want to have your dog checked out by her doctor. Mom and I don’t practice veterinary medicine, we’re strictly behavior, so we’d be working outside our scope of practice if we gave medical advice. You can certainly check between her toes and look closely at her skin to see if there is irritation, but there might be something you aren’t able to detect that only a medically trained professional can. If you’re in need of a vet, you can check out our Inquisitive Canine resources page for links to finding a vet in your area.
  • When/what time does she lick her paws? More often after playing in the grass? Or at specific times of the day? When she is left alone? Before going to sleep? (That’s when I lick my paws…right before going night-nights…mom says it appears similar to young humans sucking their thumbs before going to sleep…just her own observation).
  • Could it be boredom? Have you provided other items for her to lick/chew? These types of items are referred to as Enrichment. Us pooches like to chew and lick things, so her paws may be the outlet she needs. Providing an inanimate object that she loves might be your best bet for redirecting her feet chewing behavior. Something to try anyway.

Chewies like Bully sticks and antlers are some of my favorite. They last a long time, don’t splinter (I hate when things get stuck in my teeth or cause me to choke). Plus, they don’t stink up the place, and don’t stain the floor or furniture. (Mom is very happy about that!) This is a photo of me and all of my various enrichment!

I wonder if there have been studies on dogs licking paws before taking nappies? Hmm, something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…

Out of the Box Dog Training Game: All About Skill Level

The following is a most excellent question from one of my wonderful inquisitive canine students – thought I’d share it with everyone, just in case you have the same question.

Hi Joan – I have a question regarding your new Out of the Box Dog Training Game

When practicing with my dogs Ady & Ashley, I’ll want to take them from beginner to intermediate (and eventually to advanced) for certain behaviors, BUT I can’t remember what differentiated one level to the next, like the descriptions on the canine circuit training class posters. Are the cards detailed like the circuit posters? Thanks – Ady and Ashley’s mom
This is a great question, as I’m sure there are other inquisitive canine folks out there wondering the same thing. I’d be more than happy to answer this, and describe how I teach my inquisitive canine students in the various dog training classes I offer, as well as private dog training clients to make the behaviors easier or more difficult for his or her dog(s). 
The concept I teach and often refer to is “3-D Training” – Distance, Duration and Distractions. Adjusting each element on it’s own will make a behavior easier or more difficult for your dog to perform. 
When teaching your dog a new behavior, you’ll want to make it easier and increase only one “D” at a time. You’ll then either lower the other two ”D’s” or keep them the same level. To make it more difficult, or to advance your dogs skills, increase one “D” at a time. For those truly advanced dogs out there you can increase two “D’s” at a time while lowering or keeping the third one the same.  
I describe each “D” in the following way:
  • Distance: the distance between you and your dog, or your dog and the object/person you want them to go to or target. 
  • Duration: the amount of time you want your dog to hold a position. 
  • Distractions: anything, and I mean ANYTHING in the environment that your dog can be triggered or motivated by – this includes anything that can stimulate at least one of his or her senses in some way. 
A few examples related to skill level would include:
  • Distance using Recall (coming when called): Beginner level: Inside your home, no distractions, no other behaviors like sit-stay, from 5 feet away. Advanced level: 30 yards away outside at off leash dog park with a mid-way “stop and stay”. 
  • Duration using Waiting At Doors: Beginner level: Have your dog sit before being let outside, give release cue then immediately open door to let him or her outside. Advanced level, ask for sit-stay at door, open door, dog has to wait 5-10 seconds before release cue is given, allowing them to go outside. 
  • Distractions using walking on Loose Leash: Beginner level: inside home. Advanced level is walking outside with every distraction in the world. 
As a gentle reminder, remember to reward everything you want, and to increase the value of the motivator when you’re advancing those skill levels. (Motivation is another topic I bring up in the Guide Booklet” and throughout my dog training classes and private dog training sessions). 
This information can be found in the Guide Booklet of my newly developed Out of the Box Dog Training Game. It’s also part of my various dog training class welcome packets and workbooks. The great thing about understanding this concept is it makes it easy for anyone to play the game, plus you’ll be able to play it over and over, all you have to do is to adjust the skill level as you go. 
Happy training to you and your dogs, and thanks again for the question! I love when people are as inquisitive as their canines. 

Dog Training Steps For First Dog: SOCIALIZATION!

Congratulations to Bo Obama! From what my mom the dog trainer said, he found his way into the First Family via Senator Edward Kennedy – got him from a family that was having trouble caring for him… that’s questionable, but I won’t comment – mom did that for me

Okay, remember what happened with Barney Bush and nipping the (lack of common sense) reporter? Boy, Barney was called all sorts of names: dominant-aggressive, evil, annoyed – just to name a few, from many folks. The reported said Barney “wasn’t in the mood to be pet.” Well, I’ve never met Barney, but from what I saw on the Barney Youtube video, it seems like he was behaving more like a dog, and the reporter was behaving more like a human – and unfortunately, the greeting skills of each species just didn’t mix well. Oh, and yes, maybe he just wasn’t in the mood to be touched by a stranger!

As for me, Poncho the dog, I don’t appreciate someone I don’t know just coming up to me, reaching over me, and touching my head! You humans don’t like people just coming up to you and touching you, do you? Or strangers approaching your human kids and touching them? Even if you know the person, sometimes it isn’t appropriate or acceptable – why the heck do you think us dogs enjoy it?

Remember, you all have your own weird way of greeting. That hugging and shaking hands stuff is kinda strange to us. Us dogs’ never said we liked being hovered over and touched on top of the head. That is your silly interpretation. Sure, we get used to it, especially if you follow it up with something wonderful, like a treat, or that goofy baby-talk, or a belly rub – but it takes awhile for us to get to know you and make these associations. Please don’t assume just because we’re dogs that we like everything and everyone – you don’t, do you?

Okay, so what’s my point in all of this? Let’s hope that the Obama’s take the time to socialize Bo to all of the people that they’ll want him to like, all the places they’ll want him to enjoy going to. They need to help Bo create those pleasant associations with all of those things. Maybe a field-trip or two to different places – the girls schools with all of those kids. Mr. Obama’s office? Or to a press conference to get used to those pesky reporters…

Mom teaches her students about the importance of socializing their dogs…she says “Anything you want your dog to like or do as an adult, it’s best to get them used to it when they’re young.” She says not to force them to like something, but to “pair” the person or place or situation with something that the dog loves, then they’ll begin to “love” (more like “trust”) that person, place, or situation because they associate that one thing (person, place, situation) with something good. The following is a partial list of what mom recommends for good socialization:

  • People: different ages, races, genders, sizes, shapes.
  • Places: different scenarios, a variety. This would include where there are automobiles, different surfaces, such as outside to potty in the rain, vet’s office (just a drop-in to say hi), outdoor cafe, or a walk along the perimeter of a shopping mall (check the dog-friendly rules first). 
  • Sounds: loud noises, cars, trucks, buses, sirens, thunder and lightning, fireworks, wind. 
Hopefully, the First Family will take the right steps in taking Bo to a dog training class, or working with a private dog trainer, to help them properly socialize him – especially to being handled by reporters. 
Us dogs are a pretty good judge of character. I wonder if Barney was actually dialed in on this reporter and his true personality? Hmm, something for this intuitive, and inquisitive canine to ponder. 

Food-Stuffing Type Dog Toys: What the heck do I do with this thing?

You may have purchased one of those great interactive food stuffing toys for your dog, right? Maybe one of those red cone-shaped ones from the Kong Company? And you put some of your dog’s kibble with a little peanut butter in it, gave it to him or her, and left it at that. But what now? What else can you serve to your dog? OMG, there are many options. All you need to do is “think outside the bowl.”

I’ve always enjoyed feeding my own dogs’ using interactive food toys; scavenger hunts too. They enjoy eating their meals out of them as well – I can tell because their behaviors indicate excitement and joy.

The Kong Company is nice enough to supply you with lots of tips and advice on great ways to use their products. For me, I like coming up with my own “recipes” (okay, I think of them more of concoctions) with anything and everything that is safe and nutritious for dogs.

Because the Kong’s are relatively small on the inside, you aren’t able to put an entire meal in just one. So, like we humans have sets of dishes, I have purchased a few Kong’s of the same size and consider them “dishes” for our dogs’. I might just give one, along with other favorite food toys or scavenger games – or training sessions. Extra veggies might go in a bowl, if really messy, or included in his Kong, another food toy, or divided into pieces for training.

Okay, so what all do I put in it? And how do I do it? Simple…for the easiest “recipe” I combine the following ingredients*:

  • Dry food
  • Canned wet food
  • Veggies: canned pumpkin, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash etc…and anything else that might be around that he likes.
  • Fruits: apples, pears, berries (or whatever is around that he likes)
  • Grains: leftover brown rice, whole wheat pasta, couscous, quinoa, sweet and regular potatoes…and anything else leftover that he likes – plain, just a small amount to make it more interesting, and only if and when I need to use something higher value, as when training in a new location
  • Lean meats: a small piece or two to make the meal more high value

For food stuffing toys that are round shape, I mix it all together, making sure there is enough kibble and wet stuff to make it the consistency of a human type chicken salad. I add a little no-salt chicken broth or water to thin it out a bit. Then, I cover and refrigerate it overnight. This way, the kibble soaks up the water from the veggies etc…makes it a little stiffer, for easier stuffing.

Now I’m ready to prepare the meals. For Poncho, I would take one of his round-shaped Biscuit Ball Kong toys and using a small fork or spoon, I’d fill it tightly with his “casserole.” I’d then wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. This way, I can make a whole bunch of them, and keep them for when I need them. When they’re frozen, it takes him longer to go through one…instead of gulping down a meal in 10 seconds!

For Ringo, using the cone-shaped toy, I like to layer his meal. I’ll fill it halfway with dry food, the other half with wet food, and top it off by inserting a veggie stick into it – usually zucchini, carrot, cucumber or bell pepper. Because the Kong for his size mouth is pretty small, he gets not one but two Kong servings for dinner.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to have your dog go through all the “stages” – beginners level (pre-school) to “University.” If you start off with a more difficult level, your dog might get frustrated and not want anything to do with it. Making it easy gets him or her conditioned to loving their Kong – they begin to associate the toy with more excitement than just the food itself. It’s a fun game for them – plus again, this action taps into their predatory drive, and gives them something to do!

Here are some “level of difficulty” suggestions, which are based upon how quickly your dog can get the food out:

  1. Beginner: dry kibble (can add in some dry treats to make it extra tasty and enticing), top off the hole with wet food.
  2. Intermediate I: mix kibble with a little wet food, add any appropriate leftovers you want, loosely pack it – you still want to make it easy for food to come out.
  3. Intermediate II: kibble, wet food, any vet-approved leftovers you want to add (such as veggies), pack it tight.
  4. Advanced: Freeze it! Initially, you can thaw it partially before giving it to your dog, so as not to make it too difficult.

*Remember: there are some foods that are not healthy or safe for your dog – check with your vet if you are unsure. If your dog has never had a Kong, it’s best to supervise until you know he or she knows how to use it.

Updated September 9, 2018