In light of this, I would like to say a few things to dog trainers and prospective dog trainers everywhere:
A Message to Other Dog Trainers
I think one of the biggest problems in the dog training world today is dog trainers developing the attitude that they are the best trainer there is. That they have the best method(s), that they know everything there is to know about dog training and no one is better than them. Not only is this attitude toxic, but it seems to be unfortunately common. A saying I have often heard in the dog training world is “There is only one thing two dog trainers can agree on and that is that the third trainer is wrong”. It’s one thing to disagree, but in the dog training world it often seems that if one trainer disagrees with another’s methods the first trainer will do everything possible to rip the second trainer down in order to build themselves up. This is just sad!!! I try to hold true to the saying that while we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. I understand that the dog training world can be a competitive one; however, dog trainers should be able to learn and grow from each other, not rip each other down!
In light of this, I would like to say a few things to dog trainers and prospective dog trainers everywhere:
It’s sad the number of trainers I have run into who were unable to work with certain people, train certain dogs, or work in certain fields simply because they weren’t willing to change their training method(s). I had a friend who was once told by a trainer that her dog wasn’t "actually" trained because she had done all of his training up to that point without the use of a clicker. I knew another trainer who was great with training pets, but was unable to be very successful with service dog training because this person wasn’t willing to really change the training method they thought was "best." It is critical for all trainers to understand that all people and all dogs work and learn differently. Not only that, but different types of dogs require different types of training. A service dog is highly unlikely to be trained using the same methods as a police dog. It is also unlikely that you will use the same techniques on an extremely nervous, timid Vizsla that you would use on a strong willed, pushy Dachshund. The same goes with owners. It is unlikely that you are going to be able to do clicker training with a client who has Cerebral Palsy, or that an older person with a soft, raspy voice is going to be able to use a loud commanding voice. A truly great trainer will have knowledge on as many different training methods and techniques as possible. This way, when a client (be it the owner, or the dog) is struggling with grasping training, the trainer can mold and shape their techniques to fit the client’s individual needs.
If a training method didn't work, it would stop being used. Some methods are founded on modern science and have been proven to be more successful and glean better results. Some methods may be questionable as to whether or not they are “humane.” Some methods are truly downright abusive; however, all of these different methods exist because at some point, somewhere, with some dog, they have worked. Now, I obviously believe that the best training methods derive from those that help encourage bonding and a positive relationship. I would much rather my dogs do what I ask because they love and respect me and because they want to do what I ask, not because they are forced to or afraid of what might happen if they don’t. I focus on using positive training methods that are up to date with the most recent, proven science and behavioral studies. I understand that there are some dogs out there with stronger temperaments that may do well with stronger, more heavy handed techniques though. I just feel like stronger methods should be a last resort, not what you start with. I will not deny that results can be gained through more adverse methods either (I would also do what was asked if someone threatened to shock or choke me). I understand that the only reason these sorts of old fashioned methods and beliefs are still used is because it is possible to gain results from them (I’m not going to touch the argument about “at what cost to the dogs mental state?”). Police and Military dogs in the U.S. are evidence of this. I know that Police and Military dogs in other parts of the world such as Germany and the U.K. are starting to be trained using positive only methods just as successfully, however, I'm not arguing which method is "best" I'm simply stating that both methods work. Even if I personally generally disagree with more adverse methods, and believe there is a better way, I still believe that there are things that can be learned from them. Which brings me to my next point. . . . .
Whether that trainer has more experience than you or less, whether you agree or disagree with that trainer, there is ALWAYS something that you can learn or take away from them. I have been able to learn something from every trainer that I have ever met, regardless of how I felt about them. The world of dog training is an ever growing and expanding field. New knowledge about dogs, how they think, and how they learn is coming out every day, so it is absolutely critical for every trainer to make sure that they never stop learning. Don’t just “poo-poo” something because you disagree with it or don’t believe it. Do your own research. Find out what the information is founded on. Learn about all the different methods, techniques, and tools there are, why and when they are used, and how to properly using them. Find out all the information you can before you shoot any idea or training method down. It is far better to give an educated opinion than to give a half hazard guess or suggestion (and even worse to make a clear statement that ends up proven to be incorrect). If you are unable, or unwilling to learn or be taught you will find that your value as a trainer will be minimal and may even become obsolete.
Dog training can be an amazing career and everyone who joins this field does it for one reason: because we love these animals and recognize their potential and the amazing changes they can make in their owner’s lives. This is why we should spend every day trying to better ourselves and better those around us rather than tear each other down. We are all here trying to do something good, and that deserves to be respected.
Let’s face it, kibble in and of itself is NOT enough in a dog's diet. Eating one thing for every meal everyday weakens the digestive tract and weakens the immune system over all. Think about people who decide to go off meat for a while. When they decide to start eating meat again they have to introduce it into their diets slowly, otherwise they get sick. Dogs work the same way. If your dogs aren't used to getting different things in their diets, anything new is going to make them sick!
I hear people say all the time “never feed your dog table scraps. It will make him sick!” This is only true if your dog never gets anything but kibble in his diet. If you give table scraps to your dog on a regular basis it can actually be very healthy. The fact of the matter is that kibble didn’t even exist until the early 1900’s. Until then, domesticated dogs literally lived off our table scraps - for thousands of years! So obviously it can’t be as bad as the commercial pet food industry would have you believe.
Be Careful . . .
There are some foods you’ll want to avoid, since they are poisonous to dogs. These include; chocolate, grapes, mushrooms, xylitol, caffeine, and macadamia nuts, just to name a few. Just keep in mind that, should you choose to give your dog table scraps, be sure to put them in your dog’s food bowl and don’t feed them directly from the table. Otherwise you’re going to wind up with a begging problem.
A lot of people think that dairy is bad for dogs but that’s not actually true. Dairy is just as beneficial to dogs as it is to people. The problem comes when your dog isn’t used to getting it (which again, comes from the myth that you should only feed your dog kibble and nothing else). If a dog never gets any dairy his body will stop producing lactose, which is necessary to digest dairy. So if your dog eats dairy, chances are it’s just going to cause diarrhea. If you introduce dairy slowly, however, his body will start producing lactose again and he will be able to handle it just fine.
How I Supplement
My dogs get a variety of supplements added to their food every meal. Here is a list of examples of what my dogs get added into their kibble on a daily basis (keep in mind that I subtract from the amount of kibble my dogs get in order to make it all even out. I don’t want any fat doggies on my hands)
I usually rotate between plain yogurt and cottage cheese each morning. I add ¼ cup of Apple Cider Vinegar to a 32oz container of yogurt and then give both my dogs a few spoonfuls every other morning. Apple Cider Vinegar is a great immune booster and can act as a natural flea and tick repellent as well. Some mornings I just soak their kibble in milk and let them have “kibble cereal”.
This is where things get fun. Really I just rotate between any protein sources I have on hand (usually given raw). This can be ham, hot dogs, bacon, eggs, chicken, roast beef, etc. Raw egg shells are great to feed your dogs, as they are a good source of calcium and the egg shell membrane can help strengthen hips and joints. Keep in mind that you will see bits of egg shell come out in your dog’s poo afterward. This is normal and is simply the left over parts of the shell your dog’s body didn’t need. For those of you that live in Utah Valley, I love Ford’s Locker down in Provo. They sell a raw frozen dog food made of ground venison meat, organs, and bones for just $1.49 a pound! I love adding this into my rotation as well!
If you think the dog food industry is poorly regulated, the dog treat industry is even worse! When it comes to treats, my dogs get cheerios, bits of cheese, and bits of hotdogs. Again, Ford’s Locker down in Provo has some awesome dog treat options that I love. They make beef dog jerky and sell it for about $10 for a gallon sized bag - it’s awesome! You can give a whole piece as a tasty snack, or easily cut it into smaller training treats - and dogs love it!
Now this one can be a controversial subject, so let’s just get the facts straight: Once bones have been cooked they become soft and have the chance of splintering. Because of this, ALL cooked bones should ALWAYS be avoided. When it comes to raw bones, dogs are actually designed to eat and digest these. If you look at a dog’s teeth, the front ones are designed for scissoring through raw meat and the back are designed for crunching through raw bone.
Raw bones are a great and natural way to help keep your dog’s teeth healthy and clean without ever having to break the bank on dental cleanings at the vet! You do, however, generally want to make sure to avoid weight-bearing bones of large animals, such as cows. These bones are more dense than your dog’s teeth - and if your dog is an ambitious chewer he can easily end up breaking his teeth on them. It’s better to stick to rib and knuckle bones, bones from lambs, goats, pigs, etc. If you're looking for a great article on the benefits of bones and what bones to give your dog, check out: What Bones are Good for Dogs?
A Final Word
So, that’s my two cents when it comes to what to feed your dog. As I said before, I’m no expert, but I have spent an extensive amount of time studying the subject. I hope this information will help you in providing your dog the best diet you can give!
If you missed my first nutrition post, "Choosing the Right Kibble for your Dog," make sure to check it out!
My most trusted advocate when it comes to determining the quality of any dog food is Dog Food Advisor. This is a fantastic site that breaks down dog foods by ingredient, discusses the quality of each ingredient, and gives an overall rating of 1-5 stars. Nearly every U.S. brand and flavor of dog food is listed on this site! I keep a personal rule to never give my dogs any food under 3.5 stars. Ideally, I stick with 4 stars or higher.
I get asked a lot about what I feed my dogs. This seems to be one of the biggest concerns any responsible pet owner has, as we want our dogs to have long, healthy lives. The first step to accomplishing this is to make sure our dogs are on as good a diet as possible.
Over the years I have studied canine nutrition quite a bit. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means, but I have learned quite a lot. One of the first things I discovered was, as sad as it is, you CAN’T always trust your vet when it comes to canine nutrition! If you’re curious why this is, check out my blog post, “Why Vets Don’t Know Everything About Nutrition.” When it comes to canine nutrition, you are likely going to have to find out the facts and do all of the research yourself, because the pet food companies are NOT going to tell you - or your vet - the truth!
A Trusted Guide
Some General Rules
There are a lot of awesome homemade diets and raw diets that are super healthy and amazing to feed your dog. However, for the sake of time and since the majority of dog owners do in fact feed their dogs kibble, that is what I’m going to focus on. When it comes to finding a good kibble to feed your dog, there are several basic rules you want to stick by:
Make sure the first ingredient is some form of protein! If it isn’t then you can safely guess the majority of your dog’s food is just filler. But don't just look at the first ingredient - look at the next 5 as well. If the first ingredient is protein, but the next 5 are grains and/or vegetables, then this food is mostly filler. Ideally, you should see protein listed at least 2-3 times within the first 5-7 ingredients.
Corn is nothing but filler and has no nutritional value to your dog whatsoever. Not only that, but it is one of the most common allergens found in dogs (my own dog, Suki, is allergic to corn). I could go on forever about all the reasons to avoid corn, but for the sake of saving time, here are some good resources:
Avoid Unknown Meat
Unnamed meat products can include “meat meal”, “bone meal”, “animal fat”, “animal digest”, “blood meal”, etc. If it doesn’t specifically state what animal these sources are coming from, don’t trust it. Chances are they are coming from road kill, euthanized live stock, or even possibly euthanized pets.
Avoid "Fruit Loops"
A Word From Dr. Karen Becker
Avoid foods with multiple shapes or colors in it. There is no reason for this. Dogs don’t care! That is solely for the owner’s benefit and often results in a lot of unhealthy and unnecessary food dyes in your dog’s food. I have also found that the only foods that really do this tend to be the lower quality ones. Basically if your dog’s food looks like Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms, that’s pretty much what it is!
While there is a lot more information on what to avoid and what not to avoid, these tend to be the biggest and easiest to remember. Here are some good clips from Dr. Karen Becker, a holistic veterinarian with a lot of good nutritional knowledge, on what goes into pet food, and what you should look out for:
Finding the Right Food
There are a ton of different brands of dog food out there and while one is great for one dog, it may not agree with another. I feed my dogs the Kirkland brand from Costco, a 4 star food on Dog Food Advisor. It’s also one of the highest quality foods for the most affordable price that I’ve been able to find. It’s about $30 for a 40lb bag. My dogs do really well on it; however I know a few dogs that didn’t do well with it. Blue Buffalo is also one of the top quality foods out there, but I’ve met a lot of dogs that it is simply too rich for.
Sometimes finding the right dog food that works best for your dog can be a process in and of itself. There are several brands that I do really like: Wellness, Kirkland, Fromm, Blue Buffalo, Pure Balance, California Natural, and Innova, just to name a few. There are also several brands I always warn against: Iams, Pedigree, Purina, Science Diet, Beneful, Ol’ Roy, Kibbles & Bits, etc. Unfortunately there is really no one food I can recommend for every dog. As I’ve mentioned before, I highly recommend using Dog Food Advisor as a trusted resource to help you find the best food for your dog.
A Final Word
Most of the time, feeding a higher quality food also means spending more money up front. However, I have found you can usually feed less of a higher quality food than of a lower one. I had a dog in my home that was on a low-quality brand and was eating 4½ cups of food a day. I asked the owner if I could switch her to Kirkland and the dog went down to eating only 3½ cups of food a day. This can even out price-wise or can even save you money in the long run.
Overall, I feel like it ultimately comes down to health and quality of life. A person can live off Ramen Noodles, Mac & Cheese, and T.V. Dinners and be “just fine”, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy or going to live the longest life. The same goes for dogs. A dog can live off a cheaper, lower quality food and be “just fine”, but that doesn’t mean the dog is healthy or going to live very long. A less healthy dog often means more health problems to deal with and more money going to your vet, so you’re really not saving much money, if any, in the long run.
Watch for my next blog post, "Canine Nutrition Part 2 - Supplements"
Over the years I have studied canine nutrition quite a bit. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means, but I have learned quite a lot. One of the first things I discovered was, as sad as it is, you CAN’T always trust your vet when it comes to canine nutrition!
I know this comes as a shock to a lot of people. Your vet is supposed to be the person you can turn to for any and all things relating to your dog’s health. However, something that all pet owners are going to have to come to terms with is this: VETS DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING!
First, it’s important to recognize that becoming a vet is one of the most difficult career choices to make. Often times their schooling is more difficult and rigorous than even that of regular doctors. Look at all the different ways you can specialize in the medical world; Primary Care Physician, Pediatrician, Gastroenterologist, Endocrinologist, Psychologist, Pharmacist, Allergist, Anesthesiologist, Surgeon, Urologist, Nutritionist - and that doesn’t even scratch the surface! A vet has to be all of these and more. And not just to one species, but to several! Unless a vet decides to take the time to specialize in one specific thing it’s simply unrealistic to expect them to know everything on every subject for every animal!
Becoming a Vet is HARD!
Vet Schools Skimp on Nutrition Education
Second, when it comes to canine nutrition, most vets only receive one required class on the subject in school - a very few U.S. schools require 2 classes, and I understand that one school requires 3. So unless your vet elected to take more (they usually don’t), his or her schooling was limited. And guess who creates the curriculum, hires the teachers, and passes out LOTS of free samples for these courses? Pet food companies! Usually Hills (think: Science Diet). It's a huge conflict of interest that creates the same problem in veterinary education that the pharmaceutical companies create within medical education.
This is why almost all vets seem to be so particular to Science Diet. It’s the only one they’ve ever really been taught about! And sadly, it is only a subpar food at best. Dog Food Advisor, my most trusted advocate when it comes to determining the quality of any dog food, only gives Science Diet foods a rating of 2-3 stars out of 5. I keep a personal rule to never give my dogs any food under 3.5 stars, but ideally 4 or higher. You can check out their breakdown of Science Diet and why they gave it that rating here. What’s more, in my own personal experience, I have never met a single dog that was able to stay on the basic Science Diet formula. Every single one, without fail, ended up having to be moved on to one of Hill's expensive specialty or medicated formulas at one point in time or another. Seriously, Science Diet! What the heck are you putting in your food that is forcing dogs to have to be put on specialty diets?!
Most Vets Don't Seek Out Additional Nutrition Education
Keep in mind that veterinarians can specialize in nutrition, both during school and through continued education after, even receiving nutrition certifications if they choose to do so. But as I mentioned above, most vets don't elect to take additional nutrition classes - there's simply too many other things they need to focus on. And it is my understanding that very few pursue after-school nutrition education options. If you're wondering about your vet's nutrition knowledge, you'll want to ask very specific questions about how many nutrition courses he or she has taken, what types of courses they were, what companies sponsored the courses, and whether or not he or she has received any certifications. This way, you'll know exactly what you're vet knows - and whether or not that knowledge is biased toward a particular pet food company.
The Difficult Truth
When it comes to canine nutrition, you are likely going to have to find out the facts and do all of the research yourself, because the pet food companies are NOT going to tell you - or your vet - the truth! They just want as many people as possible to purchase their brand - and only their brand.
Watch for my next blog post, “Canine Nutrition, Part 1 - Choosing the Right Kibble for Your Dog”
I love dogs and I love teaching people about dogs! Here on my blog I can do just that!