Archive for September 2011
Nutrition affects behavior in both dogs and people. Just as too much sugar can cause kids to become hyperactive, cranky, and out of control, poor nutrition can contribute to canine behavior issues. Dogs who are anxious, fearful, “hyperactive” or aggressive are likely to be even more so with excess sugar and unhealthful chemicals flooding their system.
There are so many dog foods on the market that it can be confusing to figure out which ones are truly nutritious. Learning to read labels will allow you to bypass exaggerated advertising claims and get a realistic idea of a product’s quality.
By law, dog food manufacturers must list ingredients in descending order by bulk weight. For example, a bag of dry kibble that lists the first three ingredients as “chicken meal, chicken by-product meal, rice” has more chicken meal than any other ingredient. Because dogs are primarily carnivores, the first two ingredients should contain meat.
The most common meat sources are chicken, turkey, lamb, and beef. There are three grades of meat: using chicken as an example, the highest quality is simply labeled “chicken.” This indicates a whole meat source—the clean flesh of slaughtered chickens, limited to lean muscle tissue. A step below that is “chicken meal,” made from rendered muscle and tissue. (Rendering separates fat-soluble from water-soluble materials, removes most of the water, and may destroy or alter some natural enzymes and proteins found in raw ingredients.) If “meal” is listed, the source should be identified (rather than the vaguely descriptive “poultry meal” or “meat meal”).
The lowest level of chicken would be “chicken by-products.” Chicken by-products may contain heads, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. Dog foods that contain by-products, especially when they appear high on the list of ingredients, are not of high quality.
Avoid dog foods that contain large amounts of corn. Corn is a common allergen that has been known to cause itchy skin as well as hyperactive behavior (through a series of chemical reactions in the body, it actually lowers serotonin—the neurotransmitter that contributes to calmness—levels in the brain). Other ingredients to avoid include artificial colors or flavors, and any that are not identified by source (for example, “animal fat” rather than “chicken fat”). Also, read the ingredient line that begins “preserved with…” The desirable preservatives are vitamins E (sometimes listed as “mixed tocopherols”) and C (often called “ascorbic acid”). Unhealthful, potentially cancer-causing preservatives to watch for are BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin.
Beware! Some sneaky manufacturers break down less-than-ideal ingredients into parts so they can be listed separately and therefore appear lower on the ingredients list. For example, the list might read “chicken meal, ground corn, corn meal, corn gluten meal.” In reality, if all the corn products were grouped together, there would be more corn than chicken by bulk weight, so corn would have to be listed first.
In general, supermarket brands are of lower quality than those found at pet supply stores. Higher quality foods are more expensive, but because they contain more nutrients, less is fed per meal, so it balances out. And because the body is able to absorb more nutrients, less waste is produced! Feeding a high quality food is an investment in your dog’s health. Spending a bit more now might well save you the cost of veterinary visits in the future.
How to select a training treat of the food variety
Obviously, the training treat must be something the dog loves. You may have purchased a 10 lb top quality prime rib roast for your dog, but if he doesn’t like it or want it, then it’s not a good training treat.
Have a variety of training treats on hand. Whether you go to classes, or are going for a walk, or a hike, or a visit to the pet store or to visit friends, having a variety of treats on hand will keep your dog interested. If your dog is thinking “what do I get next, what do I get next” as opposed to “yea yea another piece of steak” he will be more attentive during training.
Food treats should be cut up or broken up into small pea sized pieces. You want your dog thinking about earning his next piece rather than taking 20 seconds to eat the one he just got and not remembering why he got it.
Packaged treats or home cooked treats? BOTH!! Definately both!!
Packaged treats provide convenience and shelf life and variety in flavor and texture. Watch the labels! Just like we can eat a few potatoe chips now and then but shouldn’t make a meal out of them (at least not often) your dog should not be eating 2 cups of junk food on a daily basis. Single ingredient training treats are the best. Many of the top shelf training treats sport labels that show just “beef”, or just “chicken” etc. These treats are optimum as far as healthy treats go. Some treats include other healthy ingredients as well. Learn to read labels and learn what ingredients to run away from.
Home cooked training treats are always a good choice. Left over meats make nice training treats. Cut them up into small pieces and either put them in a dehydrator or even in the oven on very low setting to dry out a lot of the moisture.
Some other considerations when selecting a training treat for your dog is shape and texture. Why is shape important? You don’t want your treats to bounce and roll around. Treat placement during training is important and sometimes downright crucial. During loose leash walking for example, if you are dropping the treats on the floor next to your left foot or a little behind you, and the treats are bouncing and rolling all over the place then the dog isn’t maintaining a nice position or getting his paycheck in that nice position, rather he is getting excited by the rolling and bouncing treats and not learning what you are trying to teach. (In that example, the dog is actually learning to ignore you and chase treats!) Texture is important too, for you mostly. Wet or greasy treats can be slippery and cause the dropsies which means the dog is getting freebies.
What are you training? What you are working on can also be a factor in what treat to use. Fast work such as Name Game, 4 on the Floor, initial sit training, etc when you want the dog to get paid and get back to work just as quickly requires a treat that the dog can eat in a fraction of a second and keep on thinking about how to earn another. Treats that take longer to eat, such as a dehydrated crunchy chicken breast for example, can be used for getting duration in a stay in the early stages of down-stay training. Or, treats that take longer to chew can be used to keep your dog busy while listening to a lesson so that he is not pestering you, especially important for young dogs in training or newly adopted dogs who are new to training.
So give some thought to what you are teaching, what your dog loves, taste, texture, size and variety and the importance of treat placement when you are selecting your training treat for the session.
Training treats of the non-food variety
Tug toys, balls, squeaks etc can all be used as a training treat. Some dogs are more toy motivated than they are food motivated.
Disadvantages of using toys for training is that they are difficult to hide. Treats can be put in a bait bag or pockets and be out of site but most toys are difficult to hide. While food is easier to work with, toys make a great training treat in many situations to teach impulse control, patience, etc.
If you are going to use toys as a training treat, it’s important that the dog never get his toys for free.
So give some thought to what you are going to use for training, and remember that every time you interact with your dog you have rewarded the behavior being exhibited in that moment.