Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Taking The Plunge

Yup-I'm going to do it.

For the past year I have been feeding my dogs a very high quality kibble mixed with other foods. This includes meat, vegetables, and broths. I have found that despite being quite lazy, I rather enjoy making food for my (deep breath) I am taking it to the next level and transitioning to feeding an exclusively homemade diet.

The dog refrigerator stocked with ground meat
I should say right off the bat that I believe dogs in this country are very, very lucky. Even the poorest dog in the United States being fed the poorest kibble is at least being fed, while village dogs in other countries must survive on garbage and the occasional unlucky mouse or frog.

But...I have been reading about kibble and manufactured dog food in general and I have become more and more uneasy. My trepidation increased considerably after seeing this short video of an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) official admitting that pet food can contain rendered remains of deceased cats or dogs. Worse yet, there is no way to tell from the label if your pet's food contains these. Now, granted the video was posted to YouTube in 2006 and I have no idea how old it was at that time, but seeing it was enough to turn interest in preparing my own food for my dogs into action.

Today I completed the following steps:

Step One

I bought a spare refrigerator. Pet food takes up a lot of room when you have five dogs. I paid $100 for a used refrigerator in excellent condition. Another $10 delivered it, including dollying the bulky appliance into my dog room.

Step Two

I purchased a guide to homemade diets. For this, I turned to The Whole Dog Journal. The Whole Dog Journal and their unbiased reviews of pet food have been my guide to feeding for years. Dogs do have specific nutritional needs and I want to make sure I will meet these. I have a lot to learn but this short series of guides will give me a good start. I still have two large bags of kibble to go through-this will buy me some time to learn how to prepare my dog's meals while allowing them to transition to a home prepared diet.

Dexter has volunteered his services as a taste tester.
Step Three

I stocked up on containers. I have decided to portion out meals into two servings per day so I bought several reusable containers in various sizes.

Step Four

I paid a visit to my local pet supply store ( I like Bend Pet Express) where I found a variety of frozen organ meats, nicely packaged. This will be my starting point until I feel confident enough to buy my own meat and process it into meals.

Happy Training!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Shouldn't HAVE To!

*Joy recently called on me to solve a problem she was having with her adolescent Labrador pup, *Bear. The problem arose when she left Bear home alone for just an hour while she ran some errands, something she had only just begun to do. Joy had always returned home to find things just as she left them.

Except...this time. This time, it seems Bear had discovered the counter top, where he found (insert sound of angel trumpets):

"Bird food...all for me?! And hel-lo what is this? A fresh bag of cookies! Why, I don't mind if I do!"

Munch, munch, rip, gulp.

"And what is this?..a soft, cushy paper-like substance all collected on a roll...what fun!!!"

Joy described the shock of returning home to find Bear happily snoring on the sofa, surrounded by the evidence of his debauchery. Her disbelieving eyes went from the spilled boxes of bird seed scattered all over the floor to the empty bag of bakery cookies (devoured along with most of the bag itself) next to what may possibly have once been a jumbo roll of paper towels-now a mass of soggy clumps, slowly drying on the carpet and the sofa.

So, what have you tried? I asked, bringing us both back to the present.

"Well, scolding him, of course. He puts his head down and looks very guilty so I always think he has learned his lesson, but no sooner do I turn my back and leave something on the counter than he is at it again!" 

This led Joy to (naturally) assume that the dog was sneaky and defiant.

"He knows not to eat off the counter. That's why he only does it when no one is in the room! He is a bad dog, but I love him" she admitted as she glared briefly at the pup then absentmindedly stroked his big thick head, smiling despite herself.

"Anyway, my last dog, AngelBabyPerfectDog never stole food from the counters! I didn't have to pick anything up. In fact, I firmly believe that I shouldn't have to."

Lately, I hear the "I shouldn't have to's" a lot.

Why? I can only imagine the answer lies somewhere between:

1. The new way we keep dogs (in our homes, not working outside as they once did)

2. An unrealistic notion of what dogs are as presented by a once popular television show. One that would surely deem this pup's behavior as "dominant" and would perhaps advise Joy to "claim the counter using her energy."

Well, I don't know about that (sounds pretty far fetched to me), but what I do know is this; there is some powerful reinforcement at work here!

Lets break this down using a simple formula (ABC):

Antecedent: Dog discovers food and novel items on the counter
Behavior: Dog eats food and plays with novel items 
Consequence: Counter tops are fun! I love them!

So...what to do?

The fastest, most effective solution is to manage the environment - in other words don't leave anything out that you don't want eaten or destroyed and when you cannot supervise, make sure your pup has a safe place to be in. Yes, much like a toddler.

I no longer have toddlers in my home but the thought of placing cleaning products under my sink was unthinkable when I did. I would never have taken the stance that "I TOLD that baby to stay out of those cleaning products! I shouldn't have to put them out of his reach.  No means no, after all! Who is in charge here, me or that baby?!"

So, yes, you do "have to."


Because you chose to bring this big lug of a dog into your home.

In return, he gives you joy and happiness and is unquestioning in his innocence that everything good comes from you.

He trusts that you will keep him safe, even from things he loves.

And having to change some house keeping habits is a very, very small price to pay for that.

Happy Training!

Chris Waggoner

*Names and certain details were changed  for privacy

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dexter's Progress

The reason I adopted Dexter (aside from the fact that he hypnotized me with his deep brown eyes into doing it) was to have a dog to train to a service dog level. More specifically, a dog from a shelter.

But, above all else, I wanted a dog that would teach ME to be a good trainer.

True, I already had huskies that would have gladly volunteered to work for food. But...I wanted a dog that could be let off leash with a reasonable expectation that he would not be in the next county when I turned my back.

Enter Dexter; Hound Extraordinaire.

So I thought I would list what behaviors Dexter is fluent in so far and what needs...err...fine tuning, shall we say.

What he CAN do:

Back Up
Touch (nose)
Touch (paw)
Go Around (we love this one!)
Tuck In (needs fine tuning but we have the beginnings of a nice "tuck")
Loose Leash Walk (we are pretty good except when there are BIRDS present)
Pull A Cord To Open Fridge
Unzip Zipper (on clothing-with cord so far)
Place Something IN (basket only at this point)
Take Something OUT (ditto)
Get That (any item pointed at with finger)
Get That At A Distance (we are up to 100 feet)
Find My Keys (necessity truly is the mother of invention) 

Needs Fine Tuning:

Recall With Distractions (did I mention birds???)
Hold An Item (Okay, I tried a natural retrieve and yes, Sue Ailsby, you were right-BAD IDEA)
Loose Leash Walking (errr...birds rule supreme once again)

So, we have a long way to go yet. BUT look how far we have come! This is a dog who was surrendered because he was "too much dog"

Dexter-you make me a better trainer every day and for that I am ever grateful.