DAYCARE! 25 Questions to Ask

By Alice Fisher CPDT-KA
DOGSmart Training Systems Ltd


Having a dog means being responsible for your dog even when you cannot  be with your dog.  Entrusting others as guardians for your beloved pet means taking a giant leap of faith, having many back up plans and doing your homework.

Knowing what is good for your dog versus what you think you want your dog to do  can be challenging for the most well intentioned of us. Physical growth, mental  development and fear periods impact on your dogs needs and personality. Many people want the big run in the mountains  –  and so do many dogs, but others are not be able to handle the crowds of other dogs, sudden appearance of strangers or have less than a stellar recall.

As our time gets more encroached upon, we need to use the services of others to groom, walk and mind our four legged friends. Unfortunately that comes at a price that can be startling.  Factoring in the price of the dog, food, vet visits, grooming and now walking and daycare some people have asked for low cost or budget options such as dog sharing through websites or Craigslist advertising.  Just loving dogs and having dogs all their life does not necessarily qualify them to take care of Spot! Whatever you choose to do, buyer beware.

Here are some  top questions you need to ask a prospective walker and  daycare:

  1. Do they have a current business license?
  2. How long have they been in business?
  3. Can you observe them at work?
  4. Do they have Insurance i.e. liability?
  5. Are  they pet first aid certified?
  6. Do they care emergency supplies with them?
  7. Are they familiar with the veterinarians in their neighbourhood and in an emergency can they transport your dog there? (Many vets, and emergencies need a credit card on file and a signed release to attend your dog – you need to do this)
  8. What do they do in the case of a dog fight?
  9. Do they have a protocol?
  10. Do they implement punishment – choke chains, pinch collars, shock collars, alpha roll, hoses, spray bottles to control the dog?
  11. What happens if your dog gets lost…do they have current pictures and id?
  12. Who has access to your dog, when you are not with them?  (Be careful. Children should not be left with dogs / many children are inappropriate with dogs)
  13. Who delivers and picks up the dog?
  14. If they deliver to your home, are they bonded?
  15. Do they have a check in list?
  16. Give you a report of the day’s activities?
  17. Are they asking about the dogs’ bathroom habits and general health?
  18. If you were to visit unannounced, what would you see?
  19. Do they have a limit on the number of dogs and what is the ratio of dogs to caretakers?
  20. Ask them their definition of  play:
  21. How do they put the dogs together for play?
  22. Are they interrupting humping and letting you know about resource guarding?
  23. Are the dogs allowed toys, chews?
  24. Do the dogs get scheduled downtimes with their own space and what does that look like?
  25. Are they asking you for detailed information about your dog and doing a trial to see how your dog adjusts to the people and location?

This is your dog and you want the same boundaries you have at home to be implemented at daycare or on dog walks. Daycare should be just that, care, for your dog, keeping them mentally stimulated and physically active and recognizing their individual needs.

Safe Toys for Dogs?

By Dr. Jeannie Thomason


Dog Toys, they come in all colors, sized and textures, they squeak, they squish, they bounce, you can stuff them with treats or let your dog tear the stuffing out of them. Your dog’s chew on them, shake them, suck on them, and love tearing them to pieces (literally).

Sounds like fun right? However, did you know there is really no totally SAFE dog toy? Some toys if ingested even in small amounts can cause cancer and liver damage!

Vinyl and plastic dog toys contain a chemical compound that has been under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to possible cancer risks to humans. The chemical in question is DINP (di-isononyl phthalate), used to make hard PVC plastic soft and pliable. In 1998 Health Canada issued an advisory warning about the dangers of mouthing soft plastic toys by small children, and some countries, such as Sweden, Germany, and Italy, have already phased out DINP for use in children’s toys. But, for some reason no one is talking about the effects DINP may have on our dog’s health. Scientific research has shown that DINP can be toxic to lab animals, causing liver and kidney damage and at higher levels of exposure, increased cancer incidence. These findings prompted even further review of exposures to children due to mouthing soft plastic toys. These studies focused on small children who generally only mouth toys for brief periods during a small fraction of their lifespan. Dogs, in contrast, may chew and ingest soft vinyl toys for hours at a time throughout their entire lives.

According to, “almost all soft plastic toys contain PVC,” so avoid these types of toys if you’re concerned about the health risks mentioned above. Natural rubber or latex soft toys provide a non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternative.

Lead in Dog Toys

Questions about the safety of pet toys continue to haunt dog owner – Nancy Rogers. She has been trying to get answers since 2007, when she hired a laboratory to test the lead content in 24 of her Shelties’ toys. The tests revealed that one of her dogs’ tennis balls contained 335.7 parts per million (ppm) of lead, an amount that, at the time, fell far below the levels allowed in children’s toys. Today, however, that amount exceeds the 300 ppm federal standard for lead in children’s toys.

After they started recalling children’s toys made in China due to the levels of lead in them, hired a lab to test cat and dog toys from WalMart, and other agencies and private people did the same with toys from Petsmart, Petco, the dollar stores, etc. They found that many of the dog and cat toys made in China included lead, chromium, and cadmium – some in very high dosages.

No one is sure just what prolonged exposure to these can do to dogs, but the short-term symptoms are loss of appetite, diarrhea, and aggressive behavior.

Recent tests of hundreds of pet toys, tennis balls, beds, collars and leashes reveal that many contain what researchers call “alarming levels” of lead and other harmful chemicals. The tests were run in September 2009 by the Michigan-based Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental organization that analyzes toxins in children’s toys and other consumer goods; results are posted on the Ecology Center’s research-based website, While the site explains that the project’s screening technology “cannot identify the presence and concentration of every chemical of concern” (Bisphenol A, for example), some key findings are worth noting:

  • From the more than 400 pet products tested, 45 percent had detectable levels of one or more hazardous toxins, including arsenic, chlorine and bromine. Studies have linked those chemicals to reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer.
  • Of the tennis balls tested, 48 percent contained detectable levels of lead. Researchers discovered that tennis balls made specifically for pets were more likely to contain lead than “sports” tennis balls. The lettering on one “pet” tennis ball, for example, contained 2,696 ppm of lead and 262 ppm of arsenic, a known human carcinogen. None of the “sports” tennis balls tested contained any lead.
  • While one-quarter of all the products had detectable levels of lead, 7 percent of all pet products had lead levels higher than the 300 ppm allowed in children’s toys. Nearly half of the pet collars tested had detectable levels of lead; 27 percent had lead levels that exceeded 300 ppm.

Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center stated “Pets are involuntary canaries in the coal mine in terms of chemical exposure. Pets, like children, have higher exposure to chemical hazards, and our data show that pet products are far more likely to have hazardous chemicals than children’s toys.”

Thankfully, not all the dog toys tested, contained harmful chemicals. Researchers discovered more than a dozen “chemical-free” toys—including the Air Kong Squeaker, the Hartz Flexa-Foam Round About Elephant and the Nylabone Double Action Chew.

Chew Toys

Any dog owner knows how much our dogs love to gnaw and chew on things. This is a natural dog instinct. Our house wolves however, tend to chew on not so natural or nutritious items such as our slippers, carpet, furniture, walls, etc. To prevent the ultimate destruction of our homes, we dog owners run out and buy “chew toys” for the dogs. A large percentage of what the average new pet owner buys is made of rawhide.

WHAT IS RAWHIDE? Rawhide is literally the outside of a cow – the skin. It provides dogs with a satisfying chewing experience and it’s cheap and easy to find. So why is it so dangerous?

These well-liked dog treats are purchased in large numbers, by well-meaning dog owners hoping to give their pets something special and “appropriate” to chew on. These toys are favorites for many dogs and are popular with owners because they keep their pets occupied for long periods of time.

However, there are definite risks associated with these treats touted as being made of digestible animal products. However, there is nothing “raw” about them and very little digestibility. In reality they are processed and usually cooked at high temperatures which render them much more difficult for our carnivore pets to digest. They often cause vomiting, diarrhea and more often than the manufactures would like you to know – they can cause obstruction from pieces sitting undigested in the GI tract. In the case of the obstruction, surgery will most likely be necessary to remove the rawhide.

Rawhide chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece not totally softened by saliva and crushed flat enough may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down.

Rawhide is regularly ingested even though the manufacturer states that the item is not to be ingested or claims that it is a chew toy, and then it is not classified as a feed item, and hence falls under no regulatory control. With no control, the manufacturer is free to use any ingredients or materials despite safety or health concerns. Due to the lack of controls, many inexpensive rawhides are imported from the Asian continent, most notably China and Thailand. In many of these countries, the hides are processed with mercury vapor, chromium salts, lead solutions, arsenic compounds and formaldehyde!

An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys. Since rawhide used for dog chews is not regulated in any way; especially foreign hides should be avoided. However, even those made in the U.S. have other detrimental ingredient such as antibiotics, lead, or insecticides that could adversely affect the health of your dog.

[Oct 19, 2011] “Tests on imported pet products made from animal hides by UK health authorities revealed many carried the salmonella bug, a common cause of gastro-intestinal infections in humans. They found that one in three batches imported from Thailand and one in eight from China contained salmonellosis that had survived processing and manufacturing”.

Soft, Fuzzy Toys

Okay so you can’t give your dogs most plastic toys because of phthalates, PCBs, dioxins and lead, and rawhide chews are no longer an option – what about plush toys?

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reports that stuffed toys also carry DDT and flame retardants as well as toxic dyes to make them nicely colored and attractive.

The chemicals used to produce dyes today are often highly toxic, carcinogenic, or in some cases even explosive. The chemical Anililine, the basis for a popular group of dyes known as Azo dyes (specifically group III A1 and A2) are considered deadly poisons (giving off carcinogenic amines) and dangerous to work with, also being highly flammable. In addition, other harmful chemicals used in the dying process include

  1. Dioxin – a carcinogen and possible hormone disrupter;
  2. Toxic heavy metals such as chrome, copper, and zinc – known carcinogens; and
  3. Formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.

What IS Safe To Give My Dog?

Let’s face it; there is no 100% safe toy for our dogs. The key is to purchase toys made of materials originating from nature – non-toxic, organically grown, dyed with natural coloring and always supervise your dog’s play time with toys. I don’t believe that dogs should ever be left alone with toys that can be destroyed easily. If your dog is exercised properly before you ever leave him/her alone, chances are that they dog will simply sleep most of the time you are gone. A tired dog is a content and happy dog. The best toys are toys that YOU can play with to interact with your dog.

Play WITH the dog and the toy. Stimulate your dog’s mind as well as making play a part of his/her daily exercise regime.

Many toys state they are not intended for strong or powerful chewers, other state they are not intended for chewing at all. Make sure you are getting an appropriate toy for the activity level and chewing ability of your own dog.

Here is a list of dog toy companies that produce “non-toxic” toys:


Planet Dog

Planet Dog Orbee Tuff toys are made from safer Thermo Plastic Elastomer (TPR) and are made in the USA. All products are tested for lead safety and are fully recyclable. We’re still waiting to hear confirmation on whether the squeakers used in the plush toys are phthalate-free or not though.

Simply Fido

Simply Fido LLC products are colored with low impact dyes, also known as “fiber reactive dyes”. Low impact dyes do not contain toxic chemicals and they require low temperatures during productions, which saves energy needed to heat the dyes. Our toys meet the highest safety standards:

BV Certified Non-Toxic 16CFR 1500.3(b)(5) and (8)(FHSA regulations)
Oeko-Tex Certification
OCIA Certified Organic Cotton

West Paw Design

“All of our products are BPA, PVC and phthalate-free. We have also just been Oko-Tex certified safe – right down to the tinkle bell and squeakers!” West Paw Design offers a great line of products from tough Zogoflex Chew Toys (which are fully recyclable) to plush tug toys and beds/mats.

Jolly Pets

Jolly Pets has a fantastic list of safer toys. The following products are BPA, PVC and phthalate-free: Tug n Toss, Romp n Roll, Bounce and play, Push n play, Teaser ball, Jolly Fun balls, Jolly Critters, Floating toys, Monster mouth and Hedge Hog. They also do third party testing for lead safety.

Premier Pets

Premier Pets confirmed that their entire Busy Buddy line is made with safer materials. All products including cloth/plush products are tested for lead safety.

Chewber Inc.

All Chewber products are made from natural rubber right here in the U.S.A.

Chew Toys

The original Nyla Bones’ are a very popular and safe alternative to rawhide toys.

I do not recommend the edible ones or the soft Gumabone as they are easily chewed off large pieces.

Again, the original Nylabones are made from pure virgin nylon, which makes them stronger and more durable than Gumabone. In fact, the Nylabone Galileo Bone is the World’s Strongest Dog Bone! Nylabones are: unique therapeutic devices designed to satisfy the chewing instinct of aggressive chewing dogs; safer than other dog chews; they will not splinter or break off in chunks but must be worn down or be chewed off in very small fibers that are easily passed through the digestive system.

Fresh, RAW marrow or knuckle bone from your local butcher. (NOT the smoked, cured, cooked ones in the pet stores) These healthy treats can provide hours of gnawing pleasure, clean the teeth and contain minerals, vitamins, etc. in the marrow. *IMPORTANT* NEVER give your dogs cooked bones! Cooking changes the structure of the bone and will make it brittle and if ingested, nondigestible! Make sure the bone is sized appropriately – it should be too big to be easily swallowed. Remember, feed Raw bones only.

References: – PVC in Toys USCPSC

The Risk of Chronic Toxicity Associated with Exposure to Diisononyl Phthalate (DINP) in Children’s Products 1998

Synthetic Dyes: A look at Environmental & Human Risks

“I Adopted Your Dog Today . . . .”

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP
In Partnership With Dogs


At the end of March, my husband and I adopted a new dog into our family. We weren’t looking for a dog, but an opportunity came up and we decided that it was good timing for us. I always hope that people will choose to adopt a local dog from a rescue group or shelter – there are just depressingly large numbers of dogs needing homes in our own communities. As a dog trainer, I feel that it’s particularly important that I choose to adopt and use my expertise to give a “do-over dog” another chance.

Whenever I get a new dog, I’m reminded of the poem “I Adopted Your Dog Today”* that has always struck a chord with me.  There are just so many fantastic dogs waiting in shelters that have been abandoned by their original owners. People who never saw or cared about their potential and for some reason didn’t take seriously the responsibility of taking another living being into their lives.

We’ve always had our lives enriched by the animals we’ve adopted. I thought I would share our training journey over a series of articles as we take on the challenge of training and living with “Quincy”.

Quincy is a 10-month old female adolescent dog who was originally dumped at a vet’s office, critically ill, at approximately 6 months of age. She was fortunate to end up in rescue and in the care of an experienced and caring foster home who, along with the vet clinic, nursed her back to health and gave her some much-needed early socialization and training. Remarkably, despite her early dire straits, she is a sweet tempered, curious little dog with a fun sense of humour. More remarkably still, she is quite respectful of our older dog, gentle yet playful with our 3 cats and and even playful with the crows who land in our yard.


Due to her lack of early positive experiences, Quincy has many things she is afraid of:  new people, strange noises, “invisible” dogs barking, door knocks, squirrels, animals she sees on TV, sirens, humans sneezing (loudly), children playing, car doors slamming – and I’m sure we will discover others. Because Quincy’s behavior of choice is barking hysterically, this is something we need to address as our first challenge. By the end of her first week with us, Quincy was already anticipating that there would be something to bark at outside and she would start barking as soon as the door opened – even if there was nothing there. We needed to get working on this right away!

The easiest way for us to start is to choose items that we can most easily control and manage. When modifying behavior, you can be most successful if you can control the threshold of what your dog is afraid of. For example, in order to work on invisible dogs barking, I am going to record the sound of a dog barking on my phone and then work on it by playing the recording back at a low enough level that Quincy is aware of it and visibly alerts to it, but doesn’t yet feel the need to bark. Even the sound of her own recorded barking causes Quincy to bark!

Management comes into play when I’m not actively working on her issues. In this case, I want to ensure that she isn’t barking hysterically at invisible dogs (or other random noises) when we aren’t home. So, when we leave the house, Quincy is in her crate with a stuffed kong and I leave the bathroom and kitchen fans on as well as a radio talk show playing to muffle outside sounds and prevent any accidental reinforcement for barking.

There are two goals I have in mind. One is to change her emotional response (concern or fear) to the sound of dogs barking (and all of her other fears) – “It’s no big deal, never mind”. The second goal is to teach her a cue to be “Quiet” when asked.

Fear – Sight, Sound or Smell of Something:

One of the most useful tools I have found is the “Look At That” game developed by Leslie McDevitt who wrote the “Control Unleashed” books and DVDs. It’s perfect for anything your dog is afraid of or overly reactive to – sights, sounds or even smells (I’ve even used it with reactivity to skunk odors). As soon as your dog alerts to the object of his fear (or reactivity), Click or Mark and treat. Ideally, the “game” is played under threshold – when your dog notices but isn’t yet over-reacting to the trigger. That’s why I’m using a recording – I can control the level of sound and work up to the “real-life” level of the sound of invisible dogs in our neighborhood. I have used this technique in many, many client situations (as well as my own) and it has worked reliably every single time.

The sequence goes like this:

  • Play the sound of a dog barking at a low level.
  • Quincy turns toward the sound (or pricks an ear or purses a lip as a pre-cursor to growling/barking).
  • Immediately Click, Treat.
  • Repeat at the speed the dog is playing (alerting to the “thing”) – this might involve some very fast Clicking/Treating.

Ultimately, Quincy will hear a bark and immediately turn to me for her treat before I even have a chance to Click for alerting to the sound (“did you see that I noticed that?”); or she may just ignore it altogether. The association of invisible dog barking will have now changed from a “scary thing” to “a way to get treats” and/or “no big deal”.  Either outcome involves no barking!

Once she is feeling less worried about things, I also want a way to silence her barking when she starts. I don’t mind her barking when someone knocks at the door but I would like her to stop when I ask. It’s easiest to teach this skill – “Quiet” – when she is already pre-disposed to bark.  Once her intensity of barking at invisible dogs decreases a bit, I will vary our training sessions with “Quiet” training.

“Quiet” Please:

  • Barking starts.
  • Cue “Quiet”, offer a very high value treat, “Good Girl” while she chews quietly.
  • Repeat as soon as barking starts again.
  • It’s that simple – as long as she is under threshold enough to be able to stop barking and eat her treat, this should work.

Very soon, I should notice Quincy turn to me anticipating her treat when I cue “Quiet”.  Again, the threshold of the trigger is important – your dog needs to be interested in eating and able and willing to stop the behavior in order to eat. Believe it or not, some dogs can bark (sort of) and eat at the same time!

An important point is that the emotional response surrounding fear-based behaviours should only be successfully solved with positive methods. Any attempt to “punish” barking will ultimately be unsuccessful and result in worse problems in some way.  Positive works – every time!

Follow In Partnership With Dogs on Facebook for more reports and photos on Quincy as we progress in our training! Stay tuned for more training reports . . .

The Dog That Almost Wasn’t by Sheena Staples

Friday December 13, 2013 was a cold, moist morning in Surrey, the temperature never topping 4C.  It was much too cold outside for a light jean jacket, but that’s all that was wrapped around the body of an emaciated female Doberman puppy when an unidentified person dropped her off at Allondale Animal Hospital and fled without leaving any other information.prudence8


The clinic staff initially thought that the puppy had already passed away – she was emaciated and more than 80% of her body was naked and swollen with the painful, bleeding lesions of mange.  She was motionless and unresponsive, too weak to even lift her head.  The clinic responded with emergency treatment, stabilising the weak dog until she could be moved to the Surrey Animal Resource Centre (SARC).


SARC is Surrey’s impound facility and the shelter cares for about 2,000 animals a year that find their way through the doors.  We unfortunately see the full spectrum of injury, abuse and neglect in the stray domestic dogs and cats impounded here, but little had prepared us for the skeletal Doberman puppy delivered into our care.  The veterinarian estimated her at about 7-8 months old, and at just 28 lb she was approximately half the weight a Doberman puppy her age should be.  Her eyes were sunken into her swollen face which was cracked and bleeding from the painful sores and lesions of Demodectic mange, a kind of mite that often takes advantage of immune-compromised animals.  Her body was nearly naked, allowing the eye to trace the contours of her malnourished frame.  Worse still, her ears were freshly – and poorly – cropped, sutures still lining the ragged edges.  It was clear that that all of this did not happen overnight; it took a long period of neglect for her to end up in this condition, which meant someone cared so little for this dog that they could not even be bothered to feed her properly, yet they still made the effort to have her ears cropped.


As the task of nursing the puppy back to health was in staff’s hands, so was the task of finding out who could have done this to such an innocent creature?  Who had left this puppy on the road to a slow, painful demise?  Sadly, we have never learned the answers to these questions – we don’t know where Prudence came from and we don’t know who was responsible for the trauma she suffered.  Equally as sad, in 2004 another female Doberman puppy in similar condition was abandoned at the Surrey shelter.  It’s heartbreaking to think that after so much time has passed, so little has changed.


But if her history was bleak, her future could only get better, so the staff at SARC gave the Doberman puppy a new identity; our Dear Prudence was cuddled, bathed, scrubbed, medicated, fed, carried outside to relieve herself when she was too weak to walk and gently supported along when she started to take tentative steps on her own.  Prudence accepted all of her treatment, therapy and attention with the grace that we came to know as her unshakeable faith in people.  Prudence was always willing to believe that we had her best interests at heart and she worked as hard as staff did to help her get better.


By the time Prudence’s swollen and cracked skin was well on its way to healing, and a soft, downy fuzz was starting to appear on her body, she had put on some much needed weight and started to have some real energy to burn – just like a normal puppy!  She started playing with staff and enjoying short visits outside to run around, snuggled inside a warm flannel jacket donated by a generous person who was moved by one of the many stories of Prudence in the news and on the internet.  We know that it was time to move Prudence out of the shelter and into a foster home for the remainder of her recovery so she could not only regain her health but also learn how to be a dog.



Just after Christmas, Prudence left the SARC facility for her new temporary home with Alex and her Doberman Slyde.  Together they shaped Prudence’s emotional well being, showing her the joys of living in a house and introducing her to other wonders of the world like car rides and dog parks and basic manners.  Prudence’s health and world view progressed at the same time – slowly over the next 12 weeks her hair coat and her confidence grew.  It was a long road to recovery, but it somehow felt like in no time at all Dear Prudence had, with the help of her many friends at home, at SARC and at the vet, blossomed into a real dog.  The capacity for dogs to forgive, and to forge forward, is something we humans should strive to emulate.


On March 31st 2014 Alex bid a reluctant good bye to Prudence and the team at SARC wished her well as she left on another adventure to her new, forever home.  We hope she has a full and vibrant lifetime of happiness – no dog has ever deserved it more.  At the same time, all dogs deserve at least as much.


The Surrey Animal Resource Centre was glad to be a part of Prudence’s recovery from near death, but is sad to think that there may be other puppies like Prudence out there that were not as lucky.  Of the approximately 1,000 dogs that come through the facility every year, most are lost dogs that strayed from home, and about 70% of those dogs are quickly reunited with their owners thanks to a City dog license or permanent identification like tattoos and microchips.  For the remainder, as with the many hundreds of cats, rabbits, small animals, birds and livestock that SARC takes in with no ID, or ID not up to date, no owners are ever found.  We would like to remind everyone of the importance of having current and permanent ID on your pets so that shelters like SARC can get them safely home again.



Supporting Your Performance Dog

By Andrea Kuznick, CNP, EMP

Supporting Your Performance DogOne of the questions we are often asked by guardians of canine athletes is which natural health supplements could be used to improve their athletic performance. Regarding performance, a primary concern here is what level of stress is acceptable and how well does each dog deal with the stress while at these fairly strenuous trials?

When dogs are “up” or in a condition called “drive” for whatever dog sport they are entered into, the dog’s ability to focus, concentrate and the need to please their trainer (owner/guardian) is heightened. However, the distractions at these events (noise, crowds, food smells, other dogs, new experiences in general) create extra stress for these performance dogs. A trainer will prepare their canine partner by making sure their dog has previously been exposed to these experiences and is adjusted to them. To make the acceptance of the distractions easier, several herbs can be used for all obedience training and as extra support for these events or trials. The result is the dog will more likely focus on what they have been trained to do and at the same time better endure the stress level encountered.

In the dog sport called Schutzhund, my German Shepherd must track a field, do an obedience course, and then perform protection duties. If she fails in any category, she fails in the competition. These events can start as early as 5 am in the morning for tracking, and often the protection part is held on the second or third day of the event. There is a lot of down-time in between the trials and even this has an effect of stress on the dog and can possibly cause performance failure.

These herbs are especially effective:  American Ginseng, which helps with mental focus, supports the physical body, fights the effects of stress, and supports the immune pathways; Astragalus which supports the body energy and stimulates the immune system from the effects of stress; Siberian Ginseng, used to increases alertness, stamina and endurance; Codonopsis pilosule, a Chinese herb used to increase stamina, strength, and, it acts as an adaptogen for stress. Lastly, ashwagandha, an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb, supports the immune pathways and acts to synergistically enhance the restorative effects of astragalus.

The following is what I add to my dogs’ meals daily for illness/injury prevention and fitness:

Probiotics can help to keep a dog’s intestinal tract healthy and vibrant as they are life-sustaining good bacteria (to help immune function). Probiotics support optimal absorption of the nutrients contained in their foods (I do both raw and homemade organic meals). As the sport/working dogs’ age, or experience an injury or illness, more consideration should be given to aiding better absorption of minerals and nutrients (this helps to prevent injuries by keeping the joints structurally strong). Good gut flora (bacteria/probiotics) help to make B-vitamins which support digestion and absorption of the meals I prepare for my girls (Lupa and River).

Herbs like Slippery Elm bark and Marshmallow root are known as mucilaginous herbs and are used to resolve diarrhea, constipation, and GI inflammation. Kelp is a good source of trace minerals, one of which is iodine, to support glandular function (also the immune system and how the body supports calcium retention for strong joints). Spirulina is known for having extraordinary concentrations of vegetable protein, carotenes, chlorophyll, and vitamin B12 — and spirulina is another source of trace minerals. Brewer’s Yeast is a source of essential B-vitamins (important for glands, stress, and coat colour/health. Guar Gum, as a fibre, binds with toxins and helps to carry the waste out of the body. Citrus Bioflavonoids are a source of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties (heals the gut). Flax seed meal is a great source of EFAs, antioxidants, and it binds to toxins as insoluble fibre.  The combination of flax seed meal, slippery elm and marshmallow root also serves as an ideal vehicle to protect the probiotics from stomach acids and hence ensure a higher amount of probiotics survive to implant in the small intestine and colon.

I also use a superb vitamin and mineral formulation to ensure my dogs are getting all the nutrients they need to keep them healthy. A dog’s diet/meal should contain moisture or ideally be at 70% moisture content. Remember, the working/sport breeds have much higher demands of them physically for their programs/training routines so extra nutritional support is required. Yes, their urine will have a darker yellow colour but this is normal as the body excretes any extra water soluble vitamins that it is not using, (i.e. water soluble vitamins such as B-vitamins do not accumulate in the body). I would rather have it this way and know my dogs’ bodies have the extra vitamins for absorption and stress support.

Omega 3-6-9 essential fatty acids are invaluable to a working dog. Every living cell in a dog’s body needs essential fatty acids; these help support a healthy coat, yes – but in a true case of “your dog is what she eats” essential fatty acids contribute to the elasticity of the cell membranes. The flexibility of the body at the cellular level contributes to preventing inflammation caused by free radical attacks.  Fatty acids are important for hormone production, which in turn controls the building of healthy, strong joints, better functioning glands and immune pathways; and so on. EFAs are the BEST source of appropriate energy (body fuel) and are used as an energy source for active muscles.


Would supplementation be different for a younger dog versus an older dog?

YES, the older dogs actually need more joint specific nutrients added to their meals. I would recommend adding a joint supplement protocol for sport or agility dogs to maintain that optimum performance level needed for competitions and trials events. So long as the older dog enjoys the activity and care is taken around prevention for injuries. I personally have seen dogs as old as 14 years competing and still loving their sport.

As our agility dogs get older or endure an injury, they may suffer the same complications of repetitive strain on the joints and tendons as humans do, and can lose some of the lubricating fluid between the joints and vertebrae. One of the key ingredients necessary for cartilage repair is glucosamine. Normally, in healthy dogs, the body can produce sufficient glucosamine to provide for joint repair. Under arthritic or injured conditions, the need for glucosamine increases. If the body cannot provide enough glucosamine to meet this increased need then the joint repair process suffers and progresses to mobility issues.

Chondroitin sulfate is the major glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found in cartilage; it also helps inhibit enzymes that are destructive to the joint and has been shown to be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. Since chondroitin production by the body decreases with aging, supplementation with this compound may be especially helpful for older dogs with arthritis or injuries.

It is important to control the inflammatory process; otherwise there will be further damage to the joint.  Remember, at any time there is a balance between joint destruction and joint rebuilding.  Joint destruction is caused by the inflammatory process so it is vitally important to control the inflammatory process otherwise joint destruction will predominate over joint rebuilding.  Controlling the inflammatory process can be done using traditional herbs and compounds known to reduce inflammation. MSM, which is an excellent source of sulfur, may help to control pain and inflammation. There are several herbs that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects: Boswellia serrata has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory relief from arthritis by inhibiting pro-inflammatory 5-lipoxygenase chemicals and blocking leukotriene synthesis.¹ Devil’s Claw has been reported in some laboratory studies to have significant pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.²

When inflammation is prevalent in the agility dog, then I move to reduce the inflammation and increasing mobility. Movement keeps the weight off and keeps the older dogs happier in general. Formulations that contain the above-mentioned herbs and MSM encourage repair through reduction of inflammation. It supports immune functions and overall health by minimizing an often overzealous inflammatory response. (Inflammation can be caused by a number of factors; food allergies and hidden pathogens for example.)

Insufficient hyaluronic acid in the joints can cause extra wear and tear on the joints and hence cause an inflammatory response at the level of the joint. Hyaluronic acid lubricates joints and is an integral component of synovial fluids and membranes around the joints. While glucosamine is a precursor used to synthesize hyaluronic acids, the syntheses of hyaluronic acids require other components which may not be present in the body in sufficient quantities because of mal-absorption or excessive usage. The sporting activities may then degrade the joints faster so supplementing with hyaluronic acid skips the process of the body having to struggle to keep up with the demand to produce it on its own by providing the body with a pool of complete ingredients necessary to make new hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid is unique in its restorative ability, and will often provide improvement, where glucosamine and chondroitin have failed to do so. Hyaluronic acid supports joint health and cartilage function, reduces joint friction, increases joint mobility, and provides lubrication and shock absorption for joints, and seems to helps alleviate pain associated with even normal exercise & activity.

As a dedicated nutritionist with the opportunity to choose better nutrition this time around for my two young dogs, I realize that I may seem a little “over-the-top” for most trainers of sport dogs. My last two large dogs died at 15 and 14 years respectively and it was due to mobility issues in the end. I believe that had I known to undertake nutrition prevention protocols sooner there could have been less damage to their joints. Today, with my young dogs now 3 and 2.5 years old I’m more determined to provide the best options for their health, growth, development and experiences to support the adventure of the dog sports we both enjoy.

1. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd. 2004 Feb;146(2):71-9, Dietary support with Boswellia resin in canine inflammatory joint and spinal disease.
2. Wegener T. [Degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal system–overview of current clinical studies of Devil’s Claw (Harpagophyti radix)]. Wien Med Wochenschr . 2002;152(15-16):389-92