Do it Right!

Making Your Pup’s Socialization Count, By Lisa Kerley, BSc, KPA-CTP, Dog Days Daycare,

For those of you familiar with my training or who follow my articles, you know that I dedicate a lot of time to socialization and how critical it is for puppies and young dogs. Over the last 15 years, the number of fearful and reactive dogs that I have seen has increased – a lot. The majority of my behavioural work now is working with 8 – 24 month old youngsters that are fearful, reactive or aggressive.

My statistics indicate there are 3 groups that these clients fall into:

1. Those that don’t formally socialize their pups, believing that the key to a ‘good’ dog is obedience.
2. Those that wait to begin socializing their pup.
3. Those that actively socialize their young pup, but don’t get it quite right.

There has been so much valid scientific information in the media over the last two decades, that it’s hard to believe early socialization isn’t a part of every young pup’s life as soon as they get home. Unfortunately, people are still following outdated information or are the victims of misinformation.

I’d like to address the things that many parents should do differently when trying to socialize their pup. Even with the best of intentions, many parents still end up with a young dog that doesn’t act like it’s been socialized at all. After all those hours at the dog park and having met nearly every person in the neighborhood, how is this possible? The two biggest blunders most people make are over-exposing their pup and not pairing socializing experiences with something pleasant for the pup. Both of these are critical to being successful. Not factoring them in will make many socializing efforts a waste of time.

This young dog has a safe, quiet spot to watch the game from. Not too close to the action and away from the crowd.  Good choice!

This young dog has a safe, quiet spot to watch the game from. Not too close to the action and away from the crowd. Good choice!

In this article, we will focus on socializing with people. No one wants to have a dog that is fearful or reactive, but a dog that has issues with people is a game changer. Unless you are a hermit living in the middle of nowhere, your life and the way you live it will be impacted. For those of you who have chosen a ‘loyal’, ‘one-person’ or ‘stand-offish’ breed, an effective, well-thought-out socialization is crucial. These breeds are designed to be suspicious of people outside their core group, so without good socialization they will be stressed around new people. But don’t think because you have chosen a ‘friendly’ breed that you don’t have to worry. ANY dog can potentially be fearful. It is the responsibility of every dog parent to ensure their dogs become comfortable and confident via a good socialization program.

Now I bet many of you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? Get out, find lots of people and get them to pet your dog.” Wrong. That’s why so many dogs end up being reactive or fearful.

Overexposing the Pup

This is this biggest fault in most people’s attempts to socialize their young dog. When meeting people one-on-one, most puppies are made to interact, being petted or handled in some way. This is not necessary to start with. For many pups it will actually make them uncomfortable and cause them to become sensitized to people. And although it is recommended to socialize young pups to lots of people, many also misconstrue this and expose them to too many people at once. Choosing a location or event with large crowds will often be too much for most pups, especially early in their socializing.

Remember that we do not want to flood or overwhelm the pup. It is vital for good socializing that the pup feels comfortable. Exposing the pup does NOT mean they have to actually interact – be patted by or sniff the person. They just need to be aware of people nearby to begin with. As the pup builds confidence, they can interact to a greater degree.

When a person approaches, have them stop at some distance from the pup. Setting up this initial buffer zone will allow some time for the pup to check out the person from a safe place. This will also give the parent a chance to make sure the pup is comfortable with this degree of exposure. Keep the pup next to you rather than having them out front. This position will provide them some security and allow them to be assessed and helped more easily, when necessary.

If and only if, the pup looks comfortable should you let the pup get closer and potentially interact with a person. It’s vital that the interaction is not forced on them, whether they are being restrained or the person invades the pup’s space. Remember contact is not the goal. It is to make each interaction comfortable for the pup. This means the pup may be fine to eventually go all the way up to some people and not others. That’s OK. The pup will gain confidence just by having a buffer zone with each and every person to start. They won’t feel rushed or over-faced. The handler will also gain the ability to read the pup’s body language and choose how to proceed more readily.

Some dogs are more relaxed in larger groups of people as they may feel they ‘get lost in the crowd’ and won’t be noticed and have to interact. In this situation it is vital to manage the exposure. When exposing a pup to larger crowds, choose a position where the pup is not in the thick of things, at least to start. Pick a spot at some distance from the crowd or location (a playground with kids or a busy city street). If choosing to a busy retail location, for example, don’t start at the front entrance. That’s way too much to start. Instead let the pup watch people from a safe, quiet location – next to your car or on a bench away from all the activity. Make sure the spot doesn’t make the pup feel trapped. Eventually the pup can get closer. That may be able to happen in that session or may need to wait until a future one.

Along with distance, the intensity can be reduced and the pup kept comfortable by picking lower intensity exposures to start, gradually increasing the intensity as the pup shows they are able. Depending on the situation, you can choose locations or times of day when the place is quieter or less crowded. For example, the first time a pup visits a school playground shouldn’t be at recess, when all the kids are there at once and very active. Watching children going into school (from an appropriate distance) would be a better choice to begin with.

No Positive Associations

Creating exposures that are comfortable and don’t overwhelm your pup are a crucial part of good socializing. If one really wants to maximize the benefits of a pup’s exposures, there is one more simple thing to do. Pair any and all exposures with something positive. This will create good memories and pleasant associations. Usually a tasty treat is the easiest way to do this. Apart from being convenient to carry around and provide to the pup, it also provides an additional way to assess how the pup is feeling (along with their body language). If a dog loses interest in an otherwise irresistible treat, or takes it with a rougher mouth than usual, these are both indications that the pup is not relaxed.

Remember the point about positioning the pup next to the handler when encountering passersby? Apart from support for the pup, it also allows for the reinforcement to be provided conveniently. It’s much easier to hand the pup a treat (or any other reinforcer) from this position. DO NOT HAVE THE STRANGER FEED THE TREAT. It is common practice, and all too often advised, to have the stranger provide the treat to the dog. By doing so it is believed the pup will learn that strangers are OK. What often happens, is that the pup will be lured in by the food, with no chance to assess if they are ready to be that close. When the food is taken, the pup is now really close to someone that they may not have been ready to approach if the food didn’t tantalize them over. The important thing is that the pup is being provided with something they enjoy in the presence of the person. Again, it should not come from the stranger. This will also prevent the pup from learning that passersby are treat dispensers!

When exposing your pup to groups or crowds, it is also a good idea to keep them nearby. Again, this will allow for quick and easy reinforcement. If anyone tries to interact, be sure to provide space and time for the pup and assess how they are feeling.
If at any point they begin to look unsure or worried, give them a break and when appropriate, start again using an easier setup.

Although a treat or food is typically the best reinforcement when you are ‘on the go’, anything that the pup finds enjoyable can be used as a reinforcer. As long as they find it rewarding in that particular circumstance, it will be valuable. Any activity – play, tricks, treat searches – anything that they enjoy and can engage in, will work.

And one final point. Keep the sessions short. With some things the pup may only need a minute or two to get everything they need out of an exposure. Remember that flooding will have the opposite result to what is desired. If planning to ‘get a lot accomplished’ give your pup lots of intermissions, so their brain gets a break and they don’t overtire.

Anyone taking the time to socialize their pup does so with the best of intentions. By following these simple considerations, you can really make the most of your pup’s socializing time!

For more tips on good socialization, check out “Socialization – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” The Pet Connection, Dec 2013, p.28).

For more information on body language, signs of stress and maximizing your young dog’s positive experiences, please visit

Partnership on A Leash, By Valerie Barry

IMG_2583There’s nothing I enjoy more than taking a walk with my dog. I have one dog, Salem, who has been with us a long time. We have learned a lot together over the years and she is just easy to be with and I believe we have developed a wonderful partnership together.

What I really DON’T enjoy is watching someone just “walking the dog” – neither party enjoying it or each one tethered safely to the other but immersed in their own individual experiences. I see owners texting while their dogs drag them along; or dogs getting dragged along as distracted owners don’t notice their dog stopping for a sniff or a pee. Frequently I see problems escalate when owners fail to observe their dogs staring at an oncoming dog; or when the dreaded “flexi-lead” is out full length and dogs or people get wrapped around each other.

When I take a walk with Salem, aside from the pure pleasure of hanging out with my dog, there is also a tremendous amount of satisfaction that I feel knowing that we have developed this relationship with each other. I don’t know how she feels about it, but I feel like we are “working” in perfect harmony:

there is no tension on the leash;
when I slow or stop she does the same;
when I need to take a corner the lightest amount of pressure to the right or left is enough to direct her (often, she has already picked up on my intent);
when we need to pass someone she moves to the opposite side of me;
she either ignores dogs who don’t interest her or has a happy tail wag for others;
if she encounters a dog who gets into her space, she is very skilled at deflecting them and deflecting any unwanted advances and of course I’m there to help her out which I like to think she knows and counts on;
she has happy tail wags and the occasional Husky-like “woo woo” for people she knows and ignores those who don’t interest her.DSC_1370

The longer I work with and live with dogs, the more convinced I am that leash-walking skills are critically important. It goes beyond the need to have a dog that walks nicely on leash vs. the dog who hauls you at full speed down the street. Leash walking really illustrates the relationship you have with your dog and subsequently can either help develop a dog who is confident and easy to be with or who is insecure, reactive and difficult to manage.

The behaviour displayed during leashed walks is often the same type of behaviour I see in the home environment and also illustrates the “problems” that I am called in to help with. Early in my work with a client, in addition to whatever else we are working on, I highly recommend that they work on leash walking skills. Developing this partnership helps build confidence and bolster the relationship you have (or should desire to have) with your dog.

As I train my new dog, Quincy, I have made a promise to her – the same promise I made to Salem: I will teach her what I need her to know to live in our world successfully, and I will teach her in a way that is instructive. I will give her the comfort to know that she can make mistakes and I will help her learn. She can rely on me for support if she is uncertain, and I will give her feedback that is instructive not punitive. She needs to know that she doesn’t have to be afraid of me regardless of her behaviour. Barking and lunging at an oncoming dog is simply her feedback to me. I need to manage the situation so she doesn’t feel the need to react and I need to help her feel more comfortable around approaching dogs. I may use tools to help her during the training process but they will be tools that help us both and don’t use fear, pain or intimidation to work. It’s not about “control” or “dominance” its about teaching and learning.

Quincy’s past is not pleasant and very different than Salem’s, so “working in harmony” may take us a long time, but we will get there and the effort will help her behaviour in all aspect of her life with us. Learning to take direction from me on walks will help her learn to take direction from me in all circumstances and that it is safe to do so. Learning to watch and anticipate my movements keeps her thinking and she will become more aware of my body language as it relates to her. Learning that I am there to support her will help build her confidence around new and potentially scary things.

Leash Walking Goals
These are the goals that I strive to achieve when I teach leash walking to my dogs and to my clients:

1. No tension on the leash.
Quincy practicing a nice loose leash) I want dogs to work to avoid tension altogether – not simply to respond when they feel tension on their leash. This skill requires that your dog focuses some of his thinking energy on your movements and your body language at all times.

2. Stay where I put you.
If I put you on the left, stay there until we change sides – no dodging in front or behind me. I teach my dogs to walk on both sides of me even though I generally use the left out of habit. There are times when I may want my dog on either side and they need to be comfortable with that and stay on the side I put them on. I prefer to pass by pedestrian traffic with my dog on the other side of me so there is no opportunity for inappropriate greetings – from either my dog or passers by (human or dog). My dogs, therefore, learn to easily move from one side to the other at my direction.

3. No barking or lunging.
If my dogs are uncomfortable with other dogs or with people and feel the need to react, then it’s important that my first training efforts are made in that direction. I spend a lot of time working on helping them feel better about and more tolerant of people and dogs.

4. Stop when I stop (move as I move).
Again, I teach my dogs to learn to become more aware of my intent and my body language. I want to be able to stop and have my dogs notice and stop, too vs. having to brace myself for a sudden tug on the leash. Dogs are masters of body language and we telegraph a lot of it when we stop, change direction, speed up or slow down. This is not a difficult thing for them to learn to do.

5. Respond when I ask.
Quincy and Frankie practicing Respond to my name) I need to know I can get my dog’s attention when I need it. If I call her name, I would like her to turn her head and acknowledge that she heard me and is ready to listen. This is an especially important part of the leash walking skill because responding to her name, indicates to me that my dog is mentally still with me and working with me.

If you have a dog who is worried about other dogs and potentially reactive they are generally prone to staring at oncoming dogs. One dog staring at another is very rude and may be interpreted as a threatening gesture. Having your dog respond to her name by looking at you stops the stare and makes the whole interaction between two dogs much better even if they’re simply passing each other by

Two Exercises to Try.

1. It’s Not The Leash.
The leash is merely a tether and a safety device to keep your dog with you. It should not be the reason your dog pulls nor should it be used to deliver punishment like a strong yank. We should be teaching our dog to remain with us regardless of the length of leash between us. A simple, first exercise I do is this one:
Make sure you have some good treats, a clicker (or verbal marker ready), your leash close by and your dog in a confined area like your living room or fenced yard.
Let your dog know you’re about to get to work – “Ready?!” and pick up your leash. Do NOT attach the leash to your dog – simply carry it in your hand (hence the confined area).
Immediately begin clicking/marking and treating for your dog remaining with you while you stand still. Click and treat as fast as your dog can chew and eat her treats.
Next, while your dog is engaged in eating a treat, take a step away from her and pause. Click/mark and treat as soon as your dog makes a move to follow you.
Repeat this last step varying between 1 and 5 steps away and varying the speed at which you leave (from very slow to very fast).
Work up to you moving randomly around the area clicking and treating your dog for remaining with you the whole time.
If at any point your dog leaves you, simply remain in place until she returns.
After about 5 to 10 minutes, end the session – “All Done!” – and put down your leash.

Practice this a lot. Work toward the leash becoming a cue for your dog to remain with you – not because it tethers her to you but because it’s present. Because the leash is not attached, your dog is learning to move with you and stay with you without tension.PICT0048

2. Hello, I’d Like Your Attention.
Many people make the mistake of using their dog’s name as a Recall – come when I call your name. I think this is a bad habit as there are times when I don’t want my dog to come when I use her name. I prefer to use my dog’s name as a way to get her attention – maybe just for praise or affection or to give her some direction – Sit, Down, Come Here, etc. This exercise is very simple and reinforces or teaches your dog to give you her attention when she hears her name:

Have a pocket full of treats and your dog in a confined area like your living room or fenced yard. Let her know you’re about to begin work –“Ready?!”
Call your dog’s name and click/mark as soon as she turns her head toward you. Throw her treat away from you instead of handing it to her. This part is important, as you want your dog to get the reinforcement at a small distance away from you so she doesn’t think she needs to come to you to get it.
Move randomly about the area calling your dog’s name and Clicking for her attention – continuing to throw the treats at a distance.
Occasionally pause and call her name to see if she has gotten the idea that she doesn’t need to come to you when she hears her name – you’re looking for her to just turn her head and give you her attention.
Work for 5 to 10 minutes at a time then end the session – “All Done!”

Do you feel you and your dog have a good partnership? Try these exercises and see how you do! If you’re in our area, join us at our New, “Partnership On A Leash” series of classes in the spring. As always – keep it positive!

Feeding Cats as Nature Intended

Cat with dishBy Dr. Moira Drosdovech, DVM.

Although commonly accepted that commercial dry food is an adequate 100% complete balanced diet for cats, I have many concerns with this line of thinking.

First, let’s take a look at what cats really are. Cats are 100% carnivores. In fact, cat species are the only true carnivores we have on Planet Earth. They have evolved and thrived over millions of years to fit their prey, not the other way around. Prey does not evolve to suit a predator.

After over 3000 years in our company, there has been little effect on the physiology and behaviour of cats compared to their wild relatives. They are capable of reverting to a completely wild state after only one generation.

Dry food does not compare to or reflect a cat’s natural diet. For one, it is made with a great deal of grain or grain by-products, in most cases well over 40%. While dogs may relish a bowl of oatmeal or what they can scrounge at the barn from the grain barrel, cats would rarely volunteer to consume grain.

Feeding grain to cats can lead to some potentially serious health problems. One theory is that excess grain will cause obesity in cats just as in humans. Many cats are quite sedentary and unless they burn the energy derived from carbohydrates in the diet, they will wear it in the form of fat! Obesity has become a huge problem in our feline population. That one cup of dry food you are feeding your 10 pound cat is really equal to 2 cups once rehydrated. No wonder they are getting fat!

Physiologically, they are not designed to metabolize a diet high in carbohydrates and I believe these dry diets put extra stress on the pancreas as a result. Diabetes is a commonly diagnosed ailment in cats, especially in those that are obese. It affects as many as 1 in 100 cats. Isn’t it possible that the grain-based dry diets are causing many of these cases?

Another problem with feeding dry diets to cats is the fact that these diets are lacking moisture in any significant quantities. Cats, by nature, are not keen on drinking a lot of water. They have adapted over millions of years to obtaining most or all of the water they need from their prey. Once swallowed, the dry food will absorb stomach juices and water, swell and often be regurgitated, thus a probable cause of chronic vomiting in some cats.

By feeding dry food, we force them to drink more that they wish to and, over time, the vast majority simply do not drink enough. This will lead to a long term state of mild, chronic dehydration. According to the Small Animal Clinical Nutrition textbook, the “volume of water drunk increases as the moisture content of the food decreases; however, cats fed dry foods usually have lower total intake of water than those fed moist foods”.

Kidney failure is extremely common in senior cats and accounts for many deaths. Contrary to common belief, a diet high in protein does not cause kidney disorders or lead to kidney failure, although it can and will exacerbate an already existing problem, whereas dehydration is damaging to the kidneys. Dehydration can also predispose a cat to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, a painful condition in which the cat has trouble urinating and may obstruct completely, a life-threatening problem.

What about their teeth? Doesn’t dry food keep their teeth clean? Absolutely not, a fact even stated in the aforementioned textbook. “Dry foods are often perceived as providing dental hygiene benefits”, but studies have “found no correlation between food form and periodontal disease progression”. Carbohydrate based foods lead to an unnatural alkaline body environment that will allow mineral deposits, such as tartar build-up on teeth, to develop.

The text goes on to say “The general belief that dry foods provide significant oral cleansing should be regarded with skepticism”. Even special tartar control diets (eg. Hill’s T/D) will still allow plaque accumulation and gingival inflammation to develop, albeit somewhat less than regular dry foods.

So what is a species-appropriate diet for cats? Raw meat and organ meat balanced out to contain all the minerals and other nutrients they need. Most seem to prefer poultry. You may also try small raw meaty bones such as pieces of chicken wings and necks, but not all cats will go for this. If you have ever witnessed a cat eating a mouse or bird, they leave very little behind.

Cats keep their teeth clean by biting and shearing through fur and flesh. This is not possible for most cats, as they don’t hunt, but chewing through chunks of meat will help along with the fact that a protein-based diet keeps the body in an acidic balance, thus minimizing mineral deposits.

This diet is very simple to do, takes little time and is therefore still convenient. Products are available that you mix in to make the meat a balanced diet. Never feed just raw meat, as this is unbalanced. Please look at for more information.

If started when young, raw food is almost always readily accepted. Finicky adult cats can be hard to re-program, sometimes impossible, but it is always worth a try. Their health and longevity will be improved.

For those owners that don’t wish to feed raw foods, the next best thing is a moist good quality food (no artificial ingredients preferred) with very little dry food, supplemented by chunks of meat here and there. You can also try them out on the occasional fruit or table scrap. Of all the fruits, cantaloupe seems to be favored.

Have fun feeding your cat as Nature intended. You will see their health blossom and their enjoyment of life improve.


Protecting Our Animals From Genetic Engineering, by Lucy Sharatt

Our companion animals are eating a steady diet of genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) food. Our dogs and cats, hamsters and guinea pigs, our fish and even our birds, are eating GM food. They don’t know it, and you might not either!
While we don’t know what, if any, health risks there are from eating GM food, new research raises serious questions. In the meantime, the environmental damage from GM crops is clear.
The pet food industry is part of our industrial food system, a system that is environmentally destructive and increasingly risky to our health. The choices we make for our pets can support their health, but also the health of our entire food system.
GM-chart-fridge postcard for web posting
GMOs in Pet Food

In Canada and the US, the main GM crops are corn, canola, and soy. In fact, these three make up 95 percent of all GM crops grown around the world – and almost all of the corn, canola and soy planted in North and South America is now GM. They’re mainly used to feed farm animals and to make processed food ingredients. This means that our pet food is full of GM ingredients, as well as meat from animals fed GM grains.

The meat in pet food is from animals that are fed a steady diet of GM grains. Then there are all the GM corn, canola and soy ingredients. Corn is in dog and cat food. Crushed corn is in a lot of bird food and soy is now used for fish feed. The first two ingredients in a lot of rodent food are corn and soy, and hamster and gerbil food is made with canola oil. Some rabbit food has soybean husks and meal. And little guinea pigs are eating soybean meal and corn in multiple forms. CBAN ad

Are There Health Risks?
With genetic modification, also called genetic engineering, scientists can change organisms at the molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other, completely unrelated, species. This is totally new. Unlike conventional breeding and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering directly transfers genetic material between different species or kingdoms that would never breed in nature.
While scientists can successfully create these new GM organisms (GMOs), there are still major questions about the possible health risks and environmental impacts. This is because the process of moving genes around is very invasive and can have unintended impacts on the rest of the organism. These changes could possibly trigger new allergens or create new toxins. In many cases, we would simply not know where to find any new problems.
A major obstacle to confidence in their safety, is the fact that our government doesn’t do any of its own testing. All GM foods are approved based on science that’s produced by the companies selling the products. All of this science is kept secret by our government, and its not peer-reviewed by independent scientists. On top of all that, there is no mandatory labeling of GM foods in Canada or the US, so there’s no tracking or monitoring of possible health impacts that might occur.
Pigs Harmed by GM Grains

An important 2013 study (Carmen et al) showed that farm animals fed a steady diet of GM grains could be seriously harmed. The study was the first-ever to look at the health of pigs on a diet of mixed GM grains, just like they would eat in reality.

In the study, the GM-fed female pigs had 25 percent heavier uterus on average than non-GM-fed females, a problem that could indicate disease. The pigs fed the GM diet also had a higher level of severe inflammation in their stomachs. This should lead to more study to find out if animals and humans are getting digestive problems from eating GM crops.

There is also common anecdotal evidence from farmers and veterinarians that pigs fed GM soy and corn have reproductive and digestive problems. The study authors mention this, and farmers in Canada have reported similar observations to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. US farmer Howard Vlieger, one of the coordinators of the study, said, “For as long as GM crops have been in the feed supply, we have seen increasing digestive and reproductive problems in animals…In some operations, the livestock death loss is high, and there are unexplained problems including spontaneous abortions, deformities of new-born animals, and an overall listlessness and lack of contentment in the animals.” He also said, “In some cases, animals eating GM crops are very aggressive. This is not surprising, given the scale of stomach irritation and inflammation now documented.”

More Pesticides on GM Food

In addition to possible health risks from eating GM foods themselves, the GM ingredients in human and pet food are grown with a dangerous dose of chemical pesticides.
Eighty-four percent of all the GM crops currently in the ground are genetically modified to be tolerant to specific herbicides, to allow for more sprayings – the weeds will die but the crop plants will live. They are genetically modified to survive sprayings of brand-name herbicides, such as Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, and by 2011, the use of herbicides on GM crops in the US was 24% higher than for non-GM crops.
Even more herbicides will soon be used because Canada and the US have just approved GM soy and corn plants that are tolerant to the older herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. These GM crops will increase the use of these harmful chemicals.

Corporations made a lot of promises for the benefits of GM foods such as higher nutrition, but these benefits don’t exist yet. Almost all the rest of the GM crops on the market are genetically modified is to be toxic to insects: if pests try to eat these “insect-resistant” crops, they will die. While these GM crops can replace the use of some chemical insecticides, the plant itself now functions like a toxic pesticide.

Choosing Non-GMO

Finding pet food that doesn’t have GM ingredients is a major feat, but it’s made easier thanks to organic farming and products that are “Non-GMO Project Verified”.

Choosing certified organic food means choosing non-GM because organic farmers don’t use GM seeds or chemical pesticides. Organic farms are inspected to make sure that farmers are following national regulations that prohibit GM and pesticides, and require a whole range of other important environmental practices including animal welfare standards.