Behavior is a Gemstone

One of the worst traps we all fall into is thinking that behavior is a simple mathematical equation.   That if we do A+B we'll end up with C.  What we forget is that our dogs are living beings.  So before you decide a behavior is truly taught, or a naughty habit is fixed, or buy into the "magic" that a trainer sells you....take a giant step back.  Make sure that you look at the whole picture.  A perfect settle without regard to all the facets of behavior can turn into a hot mess.  And a lot of handlers get caught in this trap, especially when marketing comes into play or we get fed up with a certain behavior we are seeing from our dogs.

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We don't always see the whole picture.  Behavior is like a gemstone and all the facets of the gemstone can make it shine differently. Every facet effects the shine and every facet adds a layer of color.  So what facets do we see when we look at our dogs?

Genetics/Breed Choice: The breeds we choose are picked for a reason.  Usually people that choose herding breeds are looking for that extra fire, they want to spend 1-2 hours a day training, or they have a back acreage full of stock that they need to move. Our dogs have certain inherited traits and so it's important to know your breed.  The other thing to know, is if you are getting a dog from a breeder you had darn well better meet and know the parents.  If a puppies mom is stressed, not good with people, not good with dogs, etc....well that can all affect your behavior down the road.  This facet is important and one people often miss.

Age: Age plays an important part in any behavior.  There are significant developmental stages in any dogs life.  Especially for our puppies, from 10-16 weeks our puppies experience a critical sensitive period where they learn all about the world.  From 4-8 months we see the flight period where our young puppies push to create boundaries.  6-12 months is the adolescent period where we start to see sexual maturity, a bit of flakiness, a bit of push, and usually when most dogs end up being re-homed due to behavioral issues.  12 - 18 months is young adult, where our dogs are learning to work within this new world they've found themselves in.  Don't be shocked if you see some young scampy behavior still and be patient, some dogs take extra time to reach true maturity and adulthood.

Socialization and Experience: Did your puppy have a crappy experience with other dogs or people?  Did they receive no experience?  Was your dog attacked by another dog on a walk?  Was your dog attacked by another human in your household?  This all matters.  Experience matters when we look at behavior.

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Relationship: Does your dog respond if you ask for something?  Can you even ask for something or is it a "you must"?  Do yourely on a leash, or do you have verbal cues? Do you learn together often, or is it on rare occasion?

Exercise: What type of exercise?  How often?  How long?  Are you truly meeting your dog's needs mentally and physically?

Food Choices: We could all live off of snickers, cotton candy, and beer with the right vitamins.  It doesn't mean we would be healthy or feel well.  Often we take advantage of the fact that our dogs have the ability to live off of crap.  It doesn't mean that they should be eating crap, you know what I'm saying?  How we support our dogs day to day matters.

Health: This is a broad one, but do you know how often to vaccinate or if you can titer for certain vaccines?  Is your dog super itchy or fidgety when you handle a certain spot?  Is your dog not moving correctly?  Is your dog getting too sore from certain activities?  Do they have something going on with their eyes?  How they feel, affects how they act.  Don't assume just because they aren't crying in pain that they don't have underlying issues.  This is so important and anyone that has struggled with chronic disease understands how horribly wrong that can make anyone feel overtime.

Management: Is your dog given full range of the home?  Do they fence run?  Do you share your home with another person?  Do they have conflict with others in the home?  Have other people influenced your relationship and everyday life with your dog?  Are you hiking in high volume areas with an off leash dog that shouldn't be off leash? 

Know that behavior is a big gemstone and all the facets MATTER.  They matter to your dog and they should matter to you.  Don't go for the quick fix, dig deep and look at the whole picture. Life with a dog is so much more than obedience.  The next time you want a behavioral change, don't forget to look at all the facets of the gemstone, rather than just the gemstone.  Our dog's aren't creatures we can press into molds for perfect results. So go forth today and just appreciate your dog for the gem that they are!

Raw Feeding doesn't have to be a pain - and it's worth every minute!

So before we dive into raw feeding I'm going to preface this with something: This is not meant to shame anyone feeding kibble to their dogs, but rather to give you a glimpse into raw feeding if you are interested.  Moisture content is lacking in kibble, so even adding a tiny bit of raw to a kibble diet can be extremely beneficial to our dogs.  Plus, our dog food industry is not transparent.  When I make my own food, I have no doubt about the source of meat and what I am feeding my dogs.  That is a great thing!

There will be a future article with supplemental things you can add to your dog's current diet to give it a kick start.  In the meantime, let's delve into the raw food making process in my house.

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First off, stuff toget you started:

  • meat grinder (I have a separate article on choosing grinders here.  Since grinders warrantied for bone run upwards of $700 I have yet to buy one.)
  • Bone meal (as stated above I'm not grinding bone so we need to balance the phosphorus with calcium)
  • Storage containers - These are plastic, glass is typically best as greasy residue can form on plastic.
  • Scale - This is extremely helpful for folks just starting out.  It allows you to get a feel for what certain pounds look like.  As you get more comfortable, you'll be able to "eyeball" your mixture.
  • Meat pans for processing - These are so handy for big grinds. I shoot for 10-15 pounds per grind.
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Next get your ingredients ready.  Now for folks brand new to raw there are two books I've used to begin: Real Food by Dr Karen Becker and Raw Meaty Bones by Tom Lonsdale.  I also have a couple new ones I'm going to read through this winter just to learn more.

So for a grind, I start with my muscle meat.  When I first started raw feeding 7+ years ago I used the following percentage: 75-80% Muscle, 10-15% Meaty Bone, 10% organs (5% liver in this.)  As I've learned more that percentage has only shifted a bit.  My blend is now as follows: 5-8% vegetables/Fruits, 10-13% organs (5% liver always), and 79-85% muscle meat with added bone meal.  If I have some raw meaty bones such as turkey necks, chicken necks, or chicken quarters around I may feed those as part of a meal or a meal as themselves depending on the day and my dogs.

If I had a rockin' high power grinder, my percentages would probably be closer to: 5-8% vegetables/fruits, 10-13% organs (5% liver always), 20-23% ground raw meaty bone, 65-56% muscle meat.  Ball park, again depending on my dog and what they need.  Raw feeders become aquainted with dog poop and what they are watching for.  Hard stool that is white isn't good but soft unformed stool isn't good either.  Happy mediums are a good thing!

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This blend was comprised of a bit of lamb stew meat (discounted heavily at the store so I picked it up...lamb is expensive), some ground beef picked up from Blue Dog Provisions at a discounted price, chicken liver, beef heart, kale, spinach, oregano, blue berries, raspberries.  To be honest this is a very ritzy mix as I typically feed about 65% chickenin the dog's diets. It is darn affordable - thigh and leg meat deboned runs $0.98 a pound so that's my favorite go-to muscle meat!

I usually blend my whole meats first, followed by organs, and finally vegetables/fruits to smoosh all the meat out.  This is a quick process, I timed myself and it took 45 minutes to make 15 pounds of food for my dogs.  This included weighing my portions (I wanted to be accurate), taking beautiful pictures for this post, packaging the mixture up, feeding my dogs, and also cleaning!  Whoop!  That's an easy meal for sure.

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This is the end result.  I probably would add a couple other vegetables to this blend like a bit of yellow squash or butternut squash but overall it turned out pretty good.  Remember raw is all about balance overtime.  So my next mix will have some squash and probably zucchini along with carrots, celery, broccoli, banana, and other stuff. It will also have chicken thighs/legs, beef heart, beef liver, chicken gizzards, and a bit of venison trimmings given to me by a friend last fall.  Which brings up a great point: If you have friends that hunt, beg for trimmings, ask them to keep undamaged organs, or birds that they aren't going to smoke.  This is a great-affordable way to feed raw to your dogs.

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For sake of sanity, before you start your grind, have a clear table space AND a clear sink space to rinse/wash everything.  Otherwise you'll end up with stitches at 11 PM on a Saturday after you drop a grinder part on a glass and injure yourself.........but that's just hearsay.....I'd never do such a thing to myself.....ever.  And if I did, I would certainly giggle through the whole ordeal and tell my husband it's the price of good food while he rolled his eyes.

My new grind with some wild salmon added for additional nutrition and omegas.

My new grind with some wild salmon added for additional nutrition and omegas.

Having some awesome nutrition available to my dogs really feels good.  It's certainly a learning process, and it does take time.  However, it doesn't have to be as daunting as people make it out to be.  The expenses can be managed by buying in bulk and catching discounts on meats when you can.  Overall, the improvement in my dog's well being, behavior, and their teeth makes me happy to keep working at raw feeding.  And based on how excited they are to eat, the dogs aren't complaining either!

Choosing A Sport For Your Dog

Our dogs aren't always made for the sports we choose. Unfortunately, this happens.  Depending on our dog's genetics, size, drive, age, and physical limitations certain sports may not be right for them.  The issue is, as handlers, we occasionally get caught up in our own addictions rather than honoring the dog in front of us.  So before you jump into a sport, take a step back and look at the whole picture of your dog.  What type of training do they enjoy?  How drivey are they?  What breed do you have?  Are they physically sound?  How old are they?  Here are a few different sport options to think about along with what they entail:

Agility - an obstacle course performed by dogs at high speeds.  Having a dog that loves to work and the energy to GO is a must.  Dogs in agility need to be physically sound and conditioned appropriately. Owning equipment and trialing can be expensive.  Also note that a dog that is comfortable in big crowds with high energy and noise is important.

Treibball - a great sport for most dogs.  Large balls are returned to the handler at top speeds.  It involves teamwork, directionals, and lots of training time.  Treibball has venues that allow people to compete in their own backyard making it easy on the pocket book.  It also makes it easy on dogs that prefer to work in their own back yards rather than traveling to competitions.

Scent Work - is a fantastic sport many dogs including dogs with concerns, reactive dogs, and dogs in between.  A dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose (we humans have a mere 5 million.)  Scent work builds off of the naturally accurate nose of a dog and teaches them to move independently to search for scents.  Many trials now allow reactive dogs to participate and folks that choose not to trial can play scent work in their own homes.  The other benefit to scent work is that it can be played year round indoors and outdoors.

Musical Freestyle - a handler and a dog dancing together.  There is nothing more magical than a dog and person moving to the perfect music.  If you have a physically sound dog that enjoys movement, teamwork, and tricks, musical freestyle could be the perfect sport for you and your dog! 

Trick Titles - a fun way to work your dog’s brain and keep them mentally stimulated.  Tricks can be as simple as shake, or as complicated as wrap yourself up in a blanket.  Trick titles are an affordable sport and allow you to film in the comfort of your own home.  Tricks can also help timid or shy dogs gain confidence.

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Rally FrEe - a relatively new sport that combines musical freestyle and rally.  There are 4 signs in every course that allow the handler to choose their own tricks.  Participants also get to play music as they perform the course which gives it a bit more pep.  Rally FrEe is a wonderful way to try musical freestyle with some structure.  It’s also great in that it can be filmed in your own backyard, making it very affordable.  Rally FrEe does require some precision and patience since it emphasizes verbal commands rather than physical ones.

AKC Rally - Unlike Rally FrEe AKC Rally focuses on left hand work only.  It also involves less tricks and more precision in movement together.  AKC Rally trials can involve multiple rings, and people surrounding the ring.  Participants in AKC Rally trials must be well prepared for crowds and a high energy environment.

Parkour - This sport is perfect for sound dogs that enjoy exploring, climbing, and jumping in new environments.  This is a wonderful starting place for teams looking to get started doing something new.  It's an affordable sport since no equipment is required and dogs use their surrounding environments to perform for titles.  If you have an interest in keeping your dog busy while on hikes, walks, or otherwise this would be a great option.

Have fun exploring the options or new sports with your dogs while you think about honoring them for who they are.  At the end of the day, it really comes back to the relationship you have together.  No ribbons, titles, or fancy alphabet soup behind their names will change the time you and your dog spend together.  So keep it all in mind as you move forward and enjoy the time spent together!

Tips for Your New Puppy or Dog

Whether you've just brought a new puppy or dog home there are a few things you can do to make your transition together easier.  Here are 10 tips for an easy transition for your new addition:

10) Don't compare your new addition to a previous dog/puppy.  Even if they are the same breed.  Temperament, experience, genetics, and everything in between makes an individual.  So don't expect your new dog to act just like your previous one.

9) Let your new addition be themselves!  Watch, observe, see what your baseline-ground zero looks like.  What are they like in new environments, with new people, new surfaces, new objects, and similar things?  The better you understand your new addition the more successful you can make your outings and training sessions in the future!

8) Management, management, management!  Do not give your new addition full run of the house.  Start with a small area, with no carpet that can be destroyed, and make sure that your new addition is making good choices.  Then overtime, give them more space in the house.     

7) Crate train your new addition.  Crates are a great asset for any household.  And no, I don't think extended crating for over 4 hours at a time is OK.  However, I do think that crating is a great tool for management (because no one enjoys replacing carpet/couches/etc.)  If you plan to do dog sports and attend titling events, you will most likely need to have a dog that is good in a crate.

McCoy and his new brother Poe!

McCoy and his new brother Poe!

6) Take introductions to the other pets in your home slowly.  Do not throw your new dog into the pack with your others.  Take your time.  Plan to have several weeks where dogs are separate when you cannot supervise.  Take long walks with your dogs, giving them space as needed to be successful.  Supervise their interactions and be patient.  Making new friends takes time!

5) Do not make assumptions about your new addition's skill set.  Even if their breeder or rescue says they are good with other dogs, kids, people, and cats, make sure.  Take your time.  Do not assume this to be true.  There are always exceptions, even the biggest extroverts don't get along with everyone. 

4) Be prepared to teach your new addition new skills.  Even if they were house trained, good with recall, or a perfect loose leash walker, these skills may not translate to your home.  So be patient and have fun.  Dogs/puppies all learn at a different pace.  They need time to learn what your expectations are and how you work.

3) Have all the supplies you need before your new addition arrives.  Do you have:

  • Kongs
  • Bully Sticks
  • High value toys and toys that your dog can have anytime
  • Crate
  • Baby Gates
  • Exercise pens
  • Collar, tag, leash, harness, and long line
  • Food
  • and a lot of patience as you both transition into life together!

2) Play together, learn what your dogs loves, what they hate, and what they enjoy doing.  Every dog has a different drive, a different talent, and different favorite toy.  This stuff is where every handler/dog relationship starts.  

1) Enjoy your time together!  If you just brought a puppy home, you'll never get this time back again.  Our dogs age just as quickly. 

Process Goals vs Performance Goals

This post is from my 12 Things I Learned from My Dogs

Process Goals vs Performance Goals: sometimes the best goals are not achieving xyz title by this date or taking 1st place at nationals.  The best goals are often small, very achievable, and a great way to find success. How long does this take to learn?  A LONG LONG time.  Especially if your heart beats for competition, and you just want to BE THE BEST.

That's where conflict starts, conflict with the dog we have, conflict with our training time, conflict with reality.  The reality is that we can't all be the best ALL THE TIME.  Even if you are the very best (way to be humble about it folks.)  So the push begins to accomplish performance goals: taking 1st at nationals, getting this title by that date, etc.  The problem with performance goals is they shouldn't be your only goals.  If performance goals are your only goals you'll set yourself and your dog up for failure.  

Photo Credit Great Dane Photos

Photo Credit Great Dane Photos

Process Goals are one some of the coolest goals you can set for yourself and your dog.  They aren't about a destination.  They are about HOW YOU GET THERE. 

So for example, I want to achieve this performance goal: have a dog that can walk by any distraction.  Some process goals might be: practice turn 5 times today, go to a low stress/distraction environment, take the highest value treat for my dog, leave with a happy dog who isn't stressed, and smile at my dog while we are there. Small - achievable goals that can be met.  This way you and your dog aren't constantly failing to meet your big performance goal.

Process goals get you to where you want to go.  And research shows that you actually accomplish more and stay more satisfied with lots of smaller goals than the big dreams.  So make some process based goals, you may very well accomplish some performance goals along the way with a lot less pressure. <3