Book Reviews – Do You Really Know Your Dog? – Part 1

< A version of this article was published in the November 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

In her book, Inside of A Dog, author and researcher Alexandra Horowitz writes, “We are known by our dogs— probably far better than we know them.” Horowitz is right, and sadly dogs don’t come with a user’s manual. In my 19 years of teaching dog training classes, I have tried to teach my students about more than training; if you want to be a good companion to your dog, you need to know about your dog’s language, natural history, anatomy, emotions, and everything else that makes your dog a dog.

I believe one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to our dogs is a better understanding of who they are. In my columns for November and December, I’ll review the books that everyone who lives with a dog should read. It’s a perfect time to pick one up for yourself or for another dog lover in your family or circle of friends.

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas  – This book and its author, Turid Rugaas, have influenced my understanding of dogs more than any other book or seminar. While this book is few in pages, it is rich in information depicted in great photos. This gentle, kind, woman is incredibly knowledgeable about canine behavior and ethology. She has taught many how to live in harmony with our dogs by helping us to better understand what they are trying to tell us, and in turn she has taught us a better way to express ourselves to our dogs.

Full of photographs illustrating each point, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals focuses on how dogs use specific body language to cutoff aggression and other perceived threats. Dogs use these calming signals to tell one another, and us, when they are feeling anxious and stressed and when their intentions are benign. If you have more than one dog, or if your dog frequently plays with others, or if you are a frequent visitor to the dog park, you need to be familiar with calming signals. This book will help you learn ‘dog language’, for which you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of your pet and its behavior.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If you want your dog to respect you, you must also respect your dog. A good relationship is based on two-way communication, and living together in a well-balanced togetherness. Leadership does not solve anything; it only creates problems, in our lives as well as in the dogs’ lives.”

The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD – Back in the early 1990’s, before I entered into the pet care business, I was fortunate to attend several dog training classes taught by Dr. Patricia McConnell. Her understanding of how dogs and humans communicate and her emphasis on rewarding good behavior made this the first class my dog Gus and I really enjoyed.

The Other End of the Leash is an information-packed, yet readable book. In it you will learn how to have an improved relationship with your dog through better communication. As a scientist who has studied both primate and canine communication systems, Dr. McConnell has a keen understanding of where the communication between humans and dogs often breaks down, creating frustration and stress for both species. For example, she explains how simple innate greeting patterns of both species can cause conflict. We know that when two people meet, the polite thing to do is to make direct eye contact and walk straight toward one another smiling. However, as Dr. McConnell notes: “The oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head.” Direct eye contact and a direct approach is very confrontational to a dog.

Dr. McConnell also emphasizes how dogs primarily communicate visually, while humans are a very verbal species. The picture she paints of the frustrated chimp, jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screeching repeatedly is only a slight exaggeration of the frustrated human, saying “sit, sit, sit, ahhhh please sit” while displaying countless bits of body language. Primates, including humans, “…have a tendency to repeat notes when we’re excited, to use loud noises to impress others, and to thrash around whatever is in our paw if we’re frustrated. This behavior has no small effect on our interactions with dogs, who in spite of some barks and growls, mostly communicate visually, get quiet rather than noisy to impress others, and are too busy standing on their paws to do much else with them.” With these fundamental differences, it’s amazing we can communicate with our dogs at all.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves.”

DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger – This book refutes a great number of the popular myths about the domestic dog with sound science. Dr. Coppinger is a professor at Hampshire College where he teaches evolutionary biology. He and his wife Lorna have over 40 years of experience living and working with all varieties of dogs.

The main premise of this book is that humans did not create the dog by taming and domesticating the wolf, but instead the dog self-evolved from the wolf. Tamer and less energetic wolves started hanging around human settlements for the discarded food and over time these wolves evolved into today’s village dog. Only in the last few hundred years have humans become involved in consciously, and not always responsibly, engineering the village dog into the many breeds we see today. The Coppinger’s have studied village dogs (feral dogs living in human communities) as they exist in the world today in places like Mexico City, and Pemba.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Dogs as a species are most likely less than fifteen thousand years old, which is a barest instant of evolutionary time. Wolves as a species are maybe five million years old, and they need protection from extinction. … [There are] four hundred million dogs in the world – that is a thousand times more dogs than there are wolves. If wolves are the ancient ancestors of dogs that means dogs have achieved a biological coup, successfully outpopulating their ancestors by a lot.”

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Adopting/Getting A Pet – Before You Adopt A Dog…

< A version of this article was published in the October 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Whether it is your first dog or you have had dogs your whole life, whether you have no other pets or lots of other pets, whether you live alone or live with a large family, adding a dog to your life is a big decision and requires careful thought and planning. As a pet care professional with over 19 years of experience, I have heard countless stories of what can happen when you bring a dog home on impulse. Yes, it might turnout just fine, but there have also been many times where being impulsive leads to heartache. I suspect that there is a “right dog” for most every situation, but not all dogs will be right for your situation. So before you start thinking about which breed you want, whether you’ll get a rescue or purebred, a puppy or an adult, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions.

What is the primary reason you want a dog? – Companionship is probably the most typical reason people get a dog. Other reasons might be so that you can compete in dog sports or to do therapy dog visits at nursing homes and hospitals. Perhaps you want a dog as a hunting companion or to help you on the farm. Some people will even think they want a dog to teach their children responsibility or for protection. If it’s either of these last two, I’ll try to talk you out of getting a dog for those reasons. Alternatively, you might be looking for a dog to be a service/assistance dog for yourself or a family member. In this situation your best option is to let a qualified and reputable service dog agency select and train the dog for you. Most dogs, even the ones specifically bred to be service dogs, do not have what it takes to develop into a reliable service dog. My point is that there are several reasons you might want a dog and how you answer this question will determine what breeds you should consider and those that would be out of the question, whether you want a puppy or an adult dog, and whether or not you should consider a purebred or a mutt.

Where will you be 15 years from now? – Depending on the breed and individual dog, your new canine friend will hopefully be with you for 12-15 years, perhaps longer. Your life, where you live, who lives with you, the amount of free time you have, your financial resources, your health and physical abilities, and your dog’s health can and will very likely change a great deal in 15 years. When adding a dog to a family I believe you need to plan for it being a lifetime commitment. That means you need to think ahead and be sure that the reason you want a dog today will still be the reason you want a dog several years from now. When we recently added our new dog my wife and I knew we needed a smaller dog. We both have back issues, and carrying our 16 year old Golden up and down the stairs was difficult at best and we knew we would not be able to do that 15 years from now.

What are your deal breakers? –  Even though we make a lifetime commitment to a dog sometimes things happen and it is in the best interest of you and your dog to part ways. This can be heartbreaking for all involved. One of the best ways to prevent that heartache is to spend some time before you welcome a dog into your home deciding what would be a reason you would not want or be able to keep a dog.  Some reasons that people have given for ending the relationship; the dog bites someone, you need to move into town and the dog cannot adapt, the dog kills another animal, someone in the family develops allergies, the dog urinates and defecates inside and cannot be trained, the dog has separation anxiety and you work 14 hours a day, the dog barks excessively and the neighbors are complaining, you move in with a new life partner and your dog hates their dog, etc.. The point is that unexpected things happen, sometimes beyond our control. If you can identify these deal breakers before you choose a dog, you may be able to select a pet that decreases the probability of these unfortunate situations developing.

What happens next? – After you have answered these questions for yourself, I recommend you share them with at least a few pet care professionals; a veterinarian, a dog trainer or behavior consultant, a daycare/kennel operator or a dog groomer. You want someone who can give you an objective opinion based on extensive experience with many breeds as well as individual dogs. Breeders, rescues, and shelters can provide useful input; however, remember that they are hoping you will choose one of the dogs that they have available. This is not to say that we do not all have our share of biases; for this reason talking to several people will give you a broader perspective.   At Green Acres Kennel Shop, we will gladly sit down and have this discussion with you at no charge, because we know it’s going to result in a good match.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Events – Helping Pets and Their People In Need

<A version of this article appeared in the September 2014 Down East Dog News>

If you read DownEast Dog News I have no doubt that you understand and appreciate the companionship of a pet. Unfortunately, not all pets are so lucky, which is why I’m going to use this month’s column to highlight three organizations with three very important events that will be occurring over the next three months.

BARKK To End The Silence -5K Walk, Run Or WOOF! – Sponsored by Mutt Nose Best and the Paw It Forward Foundation and in its second year, this event is meant to raise awareness of domestic violence and to raise funds that will help to equip local domestic violence shelters with designated “pet friendly” rooms that have separate ventilation and outside fenced areas. Funds will also help pay for veterinary care and emergency “get out” kits for families in violent relationships. Currently, in the state of Maine, there are no Domestic Violence shelters equipped to house family pets. That means that people don’t leave a violent situation for fear of what may happen to their pets, or if they do leave, they and their pets face being separated at this critical time. BARKK wants to change that.

Taking place on Saturday September 27th on the Bangor Waterfront, this is a dog friendly walk or run. Last year over 500 participated, raising a total over $7,000. You do not need to participate to donate. All contributions are welcome.

For more information, or to donate or to volunteer to help at the 5K run, call Mutt Nose Best at 207-262-8773 or muttnosebest@gmail.com. You can also find information online at: – https://www.facebook.com/BARKKMuttNoseBest and http://www.muttnosebest.com/.

As you may be aware, BARKK To End The Silence was the focus of Green Acres’ first Cash for Your Cause fundraiser held from June 1st through July 5th. We raised $3187, but equally important we raised awareness of this critical issue with our clients, the community and our staff. In fact many of our staff will be participating in this event, some running, some walking, and we hope to see you there!

Bangor Humane Society Paws on Parade – The Bangor Humane Society was founded in 1869, making it the oldest Humane Society in the State of Maine. They are also Maine’s largest animal shelter both in terms of the total number of animals handled and the geographical area they serve. They care for approximately 5,000 owner released and stray animals each year. Their ability to do so depends on generous donations from people like you and me.

Paws on Parade is the Bangor Humane Society’s largest fundraising event of the year. This year’s Paws will be the 21st and is scheduled for Saturday, October 4th on the Bangor Waterfront. Last year, Paws on Parade raised over $70,000 and drew a crowd of over 700 two-legged and four-legged participants!

Paula and I didn’t purchase Green Acres Kennel Shop and move here until October of 1995, but we’ve participated in every Paws on Parade since then and will be there again this year. Having previously served as the President of the BHS Board of Directors I know how critical this event is to BHS. I hope that you can help!

Eastern Area Agency on Aging Furry Friends Food Bank – This organization is all about keeping pets and seniors together and healthy. No one should have to choose between feeding their pet and feeding themselves or being able to afford heat or their medications. The pets in these homes play a vital role in the physical, mental, and emotional health of their human companions, especially those that are isolated and live alone. Sometimes a pet may be the only living thing a person interacts with on a daily basis. By helping people feed their pets, the Furry Friends Food Bank helps keep pet and person together and keeps both healthier.

During the month of November, Green Acres Kennel Shop will be holding its annual fundraising drive for the Furry Friends Food Bank. Last year we raised $1387 from clients and added a $1000 donation from Green Acres. This year our goal is to raise $2000 from clients and the community. If we reach that goal, Green Acres will contribute $1000. You may follow the activities of the fundraising drive on the FaceBook page for the Friends of EAAA Furry Friends Food Bank at (https://www.facebook.com/GAKS.FFFFB)

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 3

<A version of this article was published in the August 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Last month Don discussed how to evaluate the brands of food with a company’s offerings. This month he talks about the ingredients panel.

After you have selected a few companies and brands that you feel you can trust and that are right for your pet, then it’s time to start looking at the information on the bag. The new buzz word is “grain-free,” and while the foods labeled as grain-free are in most cases, better than the dry dog foods of twenty years ago, the whole “grain-free” phenomena has become more marketing hype than sound nutrition. When lamb was first introduced as a protein source it was erroneously marketed as “the best” protein source and everyone wanted their dog on a lamb based diet; the same thing is now happening with the “grain-free” craze.

Grains are not inherently bad. The ingredients that have replaced them in dry pet food (potatoes, various legumes, etc.) are still basically carbohydrates. That being said the grain free formulas, depending upon the manufacturer, do often have fewer carbohydrates than the standard formulas that do contain grain. However, keep in mind that dogs and cats have absolutely no need for any carbohydrates in their diet. That is why the “Guaranteed Analysis” panel on a bag of pet food does not list carbohydrates. Pet foods contain carbohydrates because they are required by the process used to manufacture kibble. The carbohydrates are the glue that holds the fat and protein together, and in order to do so the food must typically be at least 40% to 60% carbohydrates. Also recognize that carbohydrates, whether from grains or other sources, are also added to commercial pet food to keep the cost down; the carbohydrates used in dry pet foods are always less expensive than meat.

The most important information on a bag of pet food is the list of ingredients. By law, all ingredients must be listed in order, by weight. This portion of the label must indicate if the food is preserved and if so, how. One loophole here however, is that the preservatives only need to be listed if the ingredient is added at the manufacturing plant. For example, meat meals such as chicken meal, which is simply the chicken processed once to remove the water, may arrive at the manufacturing plant typically in a powder formula. If there has been a preservative added to this meal at a different facility which processed the meat meal, the preservative does not have to be listed on the bag. Often people wonder why meat meals are in dry formulas; they are necessary to get the protein levels sufficiently high for the optimal health of the animals. All ingredients on the list are defined by AAFCO, a quasi-regulatory body for pet foods.

When recommending a dry pet food we always look for a clearly identified protein source as the first ingredient. Foods with a single protein source are most appropriate for pets with food intolerances or allergies. They also make more sense with our rotation philosophy. We avoid dry foods that contain by-products in whole or meal form, as well as animal digest.

Another thing to be wary of are foods that list the same ingredient in multiple places on the label. This process, known as fragmenting, makes a food look better than it is. For example an ingredient panel that reads as “Lamb Meal, Ground Rice, Rice Flour, Rice Bran, Sunflower Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of natural Vitamin E), Poultry Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of natural Vitamin E), Natural Flavors, Rice Gluten, Dried Egg Product, Dried Beet Pulp” creates the impression that Lamb Meal is the predominant ingredient, clearly what the manufacturer would like us to believe. However, if we were to add the weight of the Ground Rice, Rice Flour, Rice Bran and Rice Gluten together, they could very easily outweigh the lamb, making rice the main ingredient in this food.

Finding the right pet food can sometimes feel like a daunting task and requires a willingness to learn and constant diligence, but is well worth the effort. All of us at Green Acres are always ready to discuss pet nutrition and to share what we know; all you need to do is ask

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 2

<A version of this article was published in the July 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Last month Don discussed how to evaluate the companies making the pet food. This month he discusses how to evaluate individual brands and formulas within a company.

After selecting companies you are comfortable with, the next thing a pet parent should do is to look at the individual foods produced by a company. In this day and age most pet food company’s manufacture and market multiple lines or brands of food. For example, the Natura Pet Food Company, which is currently owned by Proctor & Gamble, manufactures 5 brands of pet food: California Natural, Evo, Healthwise, Innova, and Karma. They do this to meet specific needs (hypoallergenic and grain-free formulas), marketing niches (organic) or various price points (good, better or best).

Pet food companies recognize that budget does matter to pet parents, and they try to offer a food brand in multiple price categories. Unfortunately, because people focus on the price per bag and price per pound, instead of the cost per feeding, these categorizations aren’t always logical. It really can save you money if you learn how to calculate the true feeding cost of a pet food (click here to read: Determining True Pet Food Costs). You will often discover that the actual difference in the feeding cost between the categories is often negligible and the food that costs more per bag actually is a better value.

When choosing pet foods to offer in our store or for personal use, we also look for a brand that offers multiple, adult formulas, with different protein sources that support our philosophy of dietary rotation (click to read Why Rotating Diets Makes Sense). A great example of this would be PureVita’s formulas in which they offer chicken, duck, bison, salmon, or turkey formulas. When we first started talking about dietary rotation many years ago, we quickly became the pariah of many food companies and some local veterinarians. Interestingly, now some food companies also actively promote rotation and many veterinarians recognize that it is not harmful and makes sense.

Other factors to consider are the availability of a pet food brand. The small family owned companies we discussed in my last column typically and intentionally choose to market their products through independent, locally-owned retailers who are knowledgeable and passionate about sharing their knowledge of pet nutrition. They also typically offer a money-back guarantee – if you are not satisfied with the food return it to the retailer for a full refund. They also often offer frequent buyer programs that help that retailer build customer loyalty. Remember when you buy from a locally-owned store you are getting expertise and service and you are also helping your community.

In my next column I’ll discuss looking at the labeling on pet food, specifically the ingredients used.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 1

<A version of this article was published in the June 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

In this first of a three part series, Don discusses the importance of looking at the companies behind the foods.

Not a day goes by here at Green Acres without at least somebody asking us, “Which brand of pet food is the best?” And when pet food companies are in the news, either due to recalls, buyouts or lawsuits, we are asked this question with even more frequency. Unfortunately, there is no single commercial pet food that will be the best food for all pets, despite of what some food companies try to tell us. Individual animals have different needs and these may shift over time. Additionally, pet food formulas and the people and companies behind pet food brands can and do change; today’s great food might become tomorrow’s worst. This is why we choose to offer multiple brands of food in our store and why we are constantly monitoring the foods and the companies behind them. It’s also why taking a close look at the company is the first step in selecting a food.

Our first preference for a pet food company is one that is a family owned and primarily focuses on making pet food as opposed to pet food being a sideline business. These companies typically own and operate the plant where the food is manufactured,  know the farmers that produce the raw ingredients for their food, have tighter quality control measures in place, and also usually only produce their own food. These brands very rarely advertise on TV, preferring to spend their money on the ingredients that go into the bag. They know that when you have a superior product, nothing beats “word of mouth” advertising.

On the flip side pet food companies that we avoid are “marketing only” companies. These companies typically don’t have a plant or manufacturing facility, nor do they have a permanent research and development staff. Instead they contract a nutritionist to develop a formula and then contract out the sourcing of the ingredients and manufacturing of the food to the lowest bidder. Often the plants that manufacture these foods vary from contract to contract, and they are also often the plants making the lowest quality foods in the market; the generic brands and house brands for supermarkets and discount stores. These marketing companies focus on what they are best at, manipulating the masses to believe that their food is the single best food available. They typically do this by creating a website and TV advertisements that tug at your heart. Like a dirty political campaign, they focus their efforts on pointing out why other brands are bad instead of why their food is good.

In the middle are the other types of companies in the pet food business. Often held by conglomerates such as Colgate-Palmolive or Procter & Gamble, these companies will sometimes still produce high quality pet foods and fund R&D in their facilities. That being said, these pet food lines continue to always require close scrutiny because of less than positive histories in the pet food industry. Two huge candy conglomerates, Nestlé and Mars, own a number of pet food brands and by some accounts may hold as much as 78% of the market share for pet food in this country. Other pet food companies are owned by venture capital funds that typically have a goal of developing a brand until they can sell it, hopefully for an enormous profit. Now the fact that they may be investing in the food usually means good things, but that may be temporary.  The reality is that knowing who owns a pet food company and their motivations for being in the business is huge in selecting a quality, healthy pet food.

In my next column I’ll discuss looking at the various brands and individual food formulas offered by a pet food company.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>