Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Food Bowl Woes

 I'll admit that we use a plethora of things to feed Roxie and a regular food bowl is at the very bottom of the list closet. Literally, in the floor of the hall closet collecting dust when our son isn't fishing it out to use as a boat for his animals.

We have a couple of food dispensing balls that she can roll around, a Buster Cube to roll around, a handful of Kongs and two Kyjen Slo-Feed Bowls that we alternate. We generally stick with the slo-bowls for her meals because her (human toddler) brother likes to help feed her and these are the easiest for him to help with. The Buster Cube we only use if we are heading out for a few hours since it's a little noisy. Her food-dispensing balls are used every other day or more and the Kongs are used a few times a week when I actually have the forethought to fill and freeze it before I leave- room temperature peanut butter is way too easy for her.

Sometimes, during a voyage with animals, the plain food bowl gets left out and our son is amazed that it can also be a vessel for Roxie's food, "like OUR bowl, mom?" Unfortunately, the novelty stops there. If we dare to feed the brat-queen with this strange stainless steel creation, she looks at the bowl and then I swear rolls her eyes before looking at it again and eating. Don't get me wrong, she loves food and this exchange lasts about 18 seconds, but I'm pretty sure she's ticked off about the bowl.
When we use any of the alternative food delivery methods, she jumps around a bit before sitting with her tail wagging so hard her whole body is wiggling around.

Why does she get so excited about eating her food in a different way?
Because it is a more natural way for her to eat. I am not saying she is a wolf and needs to hunt for her own food or that she would be able to catch her own food if she had to, but there is a level of predatory drive that just isn't provided by a plain, easy to eat out of bowl. When she uses the food-dispensing toys like the Buster Cube, the food falls out randomly and she smells around on the floor for it. This may be the messiest way to feed her, but definitely keeps her busy the longest. When she eats out of a Slo-Bowl, she gets to lick around and catch the little pieces of food as they slip away from her in the maze of a bowl. Sometimes, she goes back a few minutes later to see if there were and pieces that she missed. When she eats out of a plain, boring bowl, she comes to find us and glances longingly at her empty bowl. She gets the same amount of food no matter what we use to feed her, but 30 seconds of food feels like less than 10 minutes of chasing it around the living room.
Back to the natural way to eat thing. Dogs have evolved as scavengers in their many years living with people, so having to do a little more than scarf it down from an easy bowl is only natural.
You know what else it is? Mental and physical exercise. Mental and physical exercise are two of the most important things you need to provide your dog to help them be happy and healthy!! As a scavenger, she would have to search out food in all kinds of places and it would not be as easy as finding a bowl with food waiting for her three times a day. Even waaaay back when the common ancestor of current domesticated dogs and wolves was loping around, they were hunters and scavengers- they had to work to get their food.

Also, she eats slower so she is less likely to choke or get bloat or eat so fast that she pukes it all up (she's done this a few times in the past). Now, she's not a large breed so bloat really isn't a concern. I will say that with some dogs, the Slo-Bowls are not ideal to help with bloat because they get so excited/frustrated trying to get each piece that they take in more air, which really isn't what you are after. If your dog swallows a cup of food all at once, try feeding a little at a time and waiting a few minutes before giving more. Of course, with anything medical you should always consult your trusted veterinarian before reading anybody's blog. The food-dispensing balls and food puzzles are great though.

This week, do your dog a favor and recycle or donate that old food bowl and get a new way to feed! There are tons of different kinds out there and there is bound to be one that works for you and your dog.

Please, remember to always supervise your dog with any new toy or feeding device the first few times, so you are certain they won't eat it in addition to the food!

References/some of my favorite alternative feeders:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Picking a Winner (part 2)

Last week, I went through the reasons why you should care about the breeder you choose if you are going that route with your next puppy. This week, I have put together the things you should look out for so you know exactly who to avoid and what questions to ask. 
Whatever your reasons for wanting a purebred puppy, you should start with your veterinarian, trainer, groomer or even a breed-specific rescue. Typically they can point you in the right direction, or at least tell you who to avoid. A rescue may give you a little grief about not choosing them, but if you have good reasons, they will probably listen and offer advice.
We start with red flags; if you experience any of these with the breeder you choose, put on the breaks and ask more questions. If a breeder doesn't like you asking questions, you probably want to go elsewhere. 

One of these came from a reputable breeder

Red Flags:
-Meeting anywhere other than at the breeder's home
-Not being questioned about your lifestyle and family, including hobbies, work (hours per day and per week outside of the home), whether or not you have a fenced in yard, children in the home, etc.
-Not meeting with the breeder prior to getting the puppy
-An advertisement in a newspaper for litter 
-Little or no knowledge of the puppies lineage and personality
-No vaccination or de-worming records
-Dogs (including puppies) are kept exclusively outdoors or exclusively indoors*
-Puppies are wary of people
-Shipping puppy unattended
-Offer multiple breeds for sale
-Offer puppies for sale under 7 weeks of age
-Puppies available year round- litters are born many times each year
-Unhealthy looking mother, puppies or father- a nursing mom should be allowed sufficient food to maintain body weight and feed her puppies. If she is malnourished, her puppies probably are too. If she is sick, her puppies probably are, too. If the sire is on site and looks ill, ask questions. He may just be under the weather- which is fine, but you need to think about genetic problems that you may be taking home. When in doubt, ask questions (see a trend?)
-Offers 'designer' breeds 

*some toy breeds are kept indoors when young so they aren't carried away by prey birds

A good, reputable breeder will show you that they care about their puppies and the breed, so these things usually mean you are on the right track.

A good breeder will:
-Provide lineage of your puppy (and probably have it memorized)
-Want to meet you in person, before you get your puppy
-Have a puppy or a few puppies for you to choose from based on your lifestyle and the puppies' personalities- odds are you will not have your pick of the litter
-Have a waiting list
-Want referrals from you (veterinarian, trainer, groomer
-Have referrals from their veterinarian and a close relationship with their veterinarian
-Have clean and adequate space inside and outside for the puppies and at least the mother
-Only have a couple litters per year at the most
-Have a contract for you to sign, including requirement to spay/neuter and to return the puppy to them if you cannot care for them in the future for any reason, among other requirements
-Have at least as many questions for you as you do for them
-The earliest puppies will be available is 7-8 weeks, and if you need to postpone pickup because of work, vacation or a family emergency; they will hold the puppy for you
-Decline to sell you a puppy because of your long work hours, many kids or small apartment- depending on breed
-May offer "working quality" vs "pet quality" pups*

*Working quality dogs include any sporting or working breed that has been bred to do their job. A working quality hound is not what you want in your condo. A pet quality dog is just as healthy and well-bred, but does not posses (either by intentional breeding or genetic chance) the traits preferred for the breed specific work.

Keep in mind the breed you are selecting and your lifestyle; these things have to mesh well and your breeder will want to be sure that they do. Some breeders only breed working dogs, and may not often have "family pets" for sale. As frustrating as this is, it's a sign of a good breeder. If you have 5 kids under age 10, you really don't need a working quality Cattle Dog or Border Collie, trust me- it will be more work than you have time for to keep that dog happy and well exercised. If you really like a breeder who focuses on the working dogs, talk to them and explain that you would love a puppy who is pet quality. Not every pup in every litter will be working quality, so you can probably get what you want eventually. Some breeders focus more on family pet quality pups, and if they have any pups in a litter who are more working quality, they may have a special contract or a home already lined up that is appropriate for them.

A final note, remember that you are applying to buy this puppy, you are interviewing to have this pup. A good breeder may come across as snobby or rude, but they may have good reason for being selectively friendly. They aren't trying to make a sale, they are finding a home for one of their babies, so be kind and patient- it will pay off. Most good breeders do it as a hobby and to better the breed. not to make money.

For an example of a good, local breeder her on the shore, check out Marshy Hope Labradors. I'd love to come back as a puppy born here in my next life. In the meantime I'll have to make do with visiting when she has her next litter.

Did you choose a specific breed, and why?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Picking A Winner (part 1)

This is actually the next in my series on choosing the right dog, but since this evolved into two parts, I used a different title. My mind works like that, are you telling me yours doesn't?
I'm not gonna lie, I started typing this two weeks ago and when reading it over today, I realized that it was going to be a two part post. My bad. I could have totally had a post last week and not been a slacker.
This is clearly part 1, which outlines the importance of choosing a good breeder. I am not in any way supporting breeders as opposed to rescue or adoption, just trying to help out people who choose to go that route.
When I meet with a new client, one of the many questions I ask is where they got their dog. I don't ask this so I can give a lecture on the impacts of buying from a breeder as opposed to rescuing a dog or the pitfalls of choosing a puppy from a pet store. I ask because the first environment that a dog has does make an impact on their personality. I have worked with dogs from reputable breeders, puppy mills and those found on the side of the road- the good news is that with time and patience, they can all be great dogs.
If you have the choice and you want to buy your next pup from a breeder, I'm not going to stop you and direct you to the nearest shelter, but I think you should be educated in choosing that breeder. There are some red flags that you should be aware of when selecting a breeder for your next companion and knowing ahead of time can save you a lot of headache and potential heartache.

First, why should you care about the early environment and bloodlines that your puppy comes from? The first obvious factor is genetics. A responsible, reputable breeder will have vast knowledge of the lineage of your puppy. The breeder cares about this because they want healthy dogs and they want to better the breed. Appearance and conformation are great things to be aware of and should be taken into consideration, but alone they do not make a great dog- good breeders select for demeanor too! Health concerns are another genetic factor- many purebreds are predisposed to health problems- your breeder should know about all the specifics for that breed and do what they can to avoid keeping these health problems in the bloodline. For example, large breed dogs generally will come with PennHip X-Rays, which are done to check for hip dysplasia. At the very least, both parents should have had these done.

I'm not going to delve much into the physical effects of poor breeding programs, but I will tell you that I have seen 8 week old puppies with grade IV heart murmurs and severe hip dysplasia- yes, at that age the entire litter of 9 puppies was diagnosed. These puppies were the result of extremely poor breeding; we found out during the course of the appointment that the parents of the litter were mother and her son (from a previous litter obviously). The person had no idea that this was not a good way to breed- the veterinarian explained.

As far as personality, it is very difficult to predict what exactly will happen in a given litter- it's a breeder, not a mind reader. What a breeder can do is know the two dogs they are pairing for a given litter and select them based on demeanor in addition to health and appearance. If either parent has a history of serious behavior problems, they should not be selected to breed because it could very likely be passed on to puppies.
Aside from genetic factors, the early environment that a puppy experiences can have a huge impact on who they become. Dogs who are abused, neglected or otherwise ill-cared for show that as adults.


Time for a super quick, simplistic review of puppy development.
For the first 12 days, the puppy is completely reliant on the mother for their care and can't do much more than poop, pee and nurse.
Around 2 weeks, the puppy begins to control bodily functions, the eyes open and they start to wag their tail.
Starting around 3 weeks, puppies begin to develop awareness of their environment and begin to learn some canine behaviors. At this stage, they can also differentiate between human and canine behaviors (if exposed to both).
At 7-10 weeks, most puppies are ready to wean and go to their new homes and begin learning some manners and basic cues, as well as how to bond with people and other animals (using reward based training, of course).
At 5 weeks, the fear imprint period can begin, though it typically peaks at 8-10 weeks. Scary things at this time will remain scary for a long time.
There are more development periods, but that is for another post.

These periods matter because if a puppy is in a less than ideal environment, it will have an impact on their development. If a puppy is born to a mom who is young, inexperienced and unhealthy, they may not have the care they need in that early stage when they are vulnerable and dependent. As those puppies spend more time in that stressful environment, they will learn all about stress and how to respond to it. Those responses vary from cowering and hiding from stimuli to barking, growling and biting as a response. The problem is that they may be in such a stressful place that their responses are excessive and they retain the behaviors into adulthood. Any fearful experiences are made worse by not having a good coping mechanism. If that early environment is not clean, you will have the special joy of potty training a puppy who does not mind pooping and peeing where they sleep and eat (I see this a LOT in puppies from pet stores).

It's not just scary experiences that can shape behavior- lack of experience with new things can be just as detrimental. Puppies who don't see people with hats, other animals or hear loud noises tend to over-react to these is introduced suddenly later in life.
I am hoping that by now I have you convinced to go for a good breeder if you are going to go that route.
Tune in next week for the red flags to be on the lookout for when you are selecting your breeder!