Category Archives: Training

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

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Having your dog come reliably to you is one of the most if not the most important behaviors for your dog to perform for you.

A good first step is to temporarily eliminate your dog’s food bowl for a few days and place what you feed your dog into your treat-training pouch not into their food bowl.  Walk around your home, start at a short distance then call your dog in a very happy voice and give them a piece of their kibble. Keep walking around all parts of your home and repeat calling and treating your dog until all the kibble is gone. Repeat this process daily for every meal until you have a reliable recall in your home, slowly add distractions and distance away from your dog during this process, starting with low level of distractions and distances then gradually building higher levels of distractions and distances as your dog succeeds. As the distractions increase it may be helpful to add a leash or long line to your dog’s collar to help guide them away from that distraction. Also remember that the higher the palatability of your treat the more incentive for your dog to come and the more power you have drawing your dog to you.

Once your recall is reliable in your home then try a different location, maybe your yard would be the next choice. Repeat this process at various locations and you will eventually have one of the best recalls in town.


Socialization Tips for Puppy Owners

Socialization tips for puppy owners

Even though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, each new puppy that comes into our world must learn about humans. Socialization is the process during which puppies 3 weeks to 4 months of age develop positive relationships with other living beings. The experiences a puppy has during this time will have a major influence on its developing personality and how well it gets along with people and other animals when it grows into adulthood. It is very important for puppies to have frequent, positive social experiences during these early months in order to prevent asocial behavior, fear, and biting. Puppies that are inadequately socialized may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. This is not to say that socialization is complete by 4 months of age; only that it should begin before that time. Continued well-planned exposures to a variety of people and other animals, as the pet grows and develops, are also an essential part of maintaining good social skills. It is also extremely important that your new puppy be systematically exposed to new environments with positive rewards and stimuli at this time (e.g., sounds, odors, locations, sights, surfaces) to imprint in their minds that all these exposures are good and not scary.

Puppy socialization – what to do

It is essential that every puppy meets the sights and sounds with as many new people as possible (including babies, children, adults, and seniors), in a wide variety of situations, but be careful not to overwhelm it. Begin with calm introductions to one or two people at a time. If the pet handles this well, then more people, increased noise, and more activity can slowly be added. It is beneficial to ask each person who meets the puppy to give it a small piece of kibble or a tiny treat. This will teach the puppy to look forward to meeting people. It will also discourage hand shyness, since the puppy will learn to associate new people and an outstretched hand with something positive.

Once the puppy has learned to sit on command, have each new friend ask it to sit before giving the treat. This teaches a proper greeting and will make the puppy less likely to jump up on people. You should make certain that the puppy has the opportunity to meet and receive treats from a wide variety of people, especially those who differ from those in the family home. In the case of puppy socialization, variety is definitely the spice of life. The fear that might arise from the way a person looks, acts, sounds, moves, or perhaps even smells might be prevented by exposure during the socialization period. In particular, every effort must be made to see that the young pup has plenty of opportunities to learn about children. They can seem like a completely different species to dogs since they walk, act, and talk much differently than adults. Running, screaming, bicycles, roller blades and skateboards are also some of the varied stimuli that might be more common when children are around. Puppies that grow up without meeting children when they are young may never feel comfortable around them when they become adults. In addition, if you consider that perhaps you might want your pet one day to be a service or therapy dog, the range of possible sights, sounds, smells, actions, and interactions to which your dog might be exposed could also include riding on elevators, the sounds of hospital equipment, wheelchairs or the patient in a nursing home with a cane, walker, oxygen tank, or IV pole. Lack of experience with a variety of people during puppyhood is a common cause of social fear, avoidance, and biting.

Take the pup to visit friends’ homes to interact with them and with their pets. The ideal home is one with calm children and calm pets that don’t go out to parks or other areas where they might pick up disease organisms and bring them back home, and where the pets have received appropriate immunizations and parasite control. As soon as your puppy is adequately vaccinated, take it on as many walks and outings as possible. Just be careful to avoid areas where stray dogs roam that might carry diseases.

Puppy Play Date

Puppy classes

Puppy Sitting In Puppy PreschoolAttending puppy classes during the primary socialization period (which begins to wane by 12 – 14 weeks of age) is another excellent way of ensuring multiple contacts with a variety of people and other dogs. This relatively new concept in training involves enrolling puppies early, before they pick up bad habits, and at an age when they learn very quickly. Puppy training and socialization classes are now available in many communities where, with the proper health-care precautions, puppies can be admitted as early as 7 – 10 weeks of age. These classes can help puppies get off to a great start with training, and offer an excellent opportunity for important social experiences with other puppies and a wide variety of people. For further guidelines on puppy socialization and puppy classes, visit

Avoid unpleasant experiences

A young puppy’s interactions should always be supervised to ensure nothing happens that might make it afraid of people. Go slow with socialization exposure, and if the pet ever seems anxious, take some time out and then re-expose it to people in slightly calmer situations.

In addition, avoid all physical punishment. Harsh scolding or punishing a young pet will damage its bond with you and weaken its trust in people. Techniques such as swatting the pup, shaking it by the scruff, rubbing its face in a mess, and roughly forcing it onto its back should never be used. Pets that are raised using these methods may grow up to fear the human hand, and are more likely to display avoidance or become fear biters. In general, any interactions with people that might make a puppy anxious should be avoided, particularly during the early months of its life.

Socializing takes time and patience, but the benefits are worthwhile, so be sure not to miss the opportunity to guide your pup through this important process. Proper socialization will help ensure that your pet grows up to be social, friendly, and well adjusted.

At Misty Pines we have a unique center offering many socialization opportunities all within our 25 acre complex. Our Puppy Pre-School program introduces puppies from 7 – 12 weeks of age to various stimuli and situations that most puppies may not experience until later in life. Puppies are also introduced to other puppies, men, women, children, and obstacles. All of this creates positive associations in a controlled environment ensuring that your puppy develops happily and is less likely to develop fears, anxiety or behavior problems as they get older.

The unique sky lighted pavilion exercise yards within our complex gives puppies the opportunity to run and play with other puppies of a similar age while being supervised to ensure the play remains appropriate, fun and safe for everyone. While at Daycare all dogs are given periodic breaks to relax and mentally process what they have learned socially and also giving them an opportunity to positively experience being kenneled with all the new sights and sounds that go along with it for future boarding if you would require a home away from home while you are on vacation.

For over 40 years Misty Pines has striven to be the “Complete Pet Company” and when it comes to early socialization of puppies, you’ll find nowhere better. We encourage you to come for a visit and make use of our entire facility; with Dog TrainingPet BoardingDog DaycareDog Park Grounds, and Pet Grooming services all in one place, Misty Pines Pet Company is designed to serve many of your pet’s needs. Our goal is to help you and your pet build a happy and healthy relationship.


– Landsberg G, Hunthausen W, Ackerman L. 2013 Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat.

Clicker Training

Clicker Training


Clicker training originated in 1940 with Marian Breland Bailey and Keller Breland, who as graduate students of psychologist and eminent behaviorist B.F.Skinner while working in a lab taught wild-caught pigeons to “bowl” (push a ball with their beaks) during military research. After World War ll Marian and Keller bought a farm and founded Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE). Bob Bailey joined in the 1960’s, after leaving his position as director of Training for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. When Keller’s dogs would win blue ribbons at shows, the other competitors were much more interested in knowing who had bred the dog, rather than what training methods Keller had used. It would be several decades more before clicker training and positive reinforcement methods would begin to catch on in the dog training community. After Keller’s death in 1965, Bob and Marian ran ABE together, and are well known in the dog training world because of their world famous “chicken camps,” or, by their proper name, operant conditioning workshops. Thirty years later, in 1992, Karen Pryor, Gary Wilkes, Gary Priest, and Ingrid Kang Shahallenberger held the first Don’t Shoot the Dog! Clicker training seminar in the Bay Area. That’s when things really took off in the world of clicker training.

What Is Clicker Training for dogs?

“Clicker training” is a fun dog training method based on rewarding any desirable behavior instantly with the sound of a metal spring little box that when the thumb squeezes down on it makes a metallic click sound. This clicker sound is referred to as a conditioned (secondary) reinforcer. The clicker sound, once learned by pairing food with the click a number of times becomes a signal to the dog that the behavior was correct and a treat (primary reward) is soon coming. This was Ivan Pavlov’s major finding with his slobbering dogs. The dogs began to drool when they heard the food bowls clanging, even before the food was present. At first the sound has no meaning, but after a number of pairings with food, the dog will react to the click in nearly the same way he reacts to food.

Many of the following Tips for Getting Started with the Clicker are excerpts and suggestions from Karen Pryor

Clicker training is a terrific, science-based way to communicate with your pet. You can clicker train any kind of animal, of any age. Puppies love it. Old dogs learn new tricks. You can clicker-train cats, birds, and other pets as well. Here are some simple tips to get you started.

Push and release the springy end of the clicker, making a two-toned click. Then treat. Keep the treats small.

Click DURING the desired behavior, not after it is completed. The timing of the click is crucial. Don’t be dismayed if your pet stops the behavior when it hears the click. The click ends the behavior. Give the treat after that; the timing of the treat is not important.

Click when your dog or other pet does something you like. Begin with something easy that the pet is likely to do on its own. (Ideas: sit; come toward you; touch your hand with its nose; lift a foot; touch and follow a target object such as a pencil or a spoon.)

Click once (in-out.) If you want to express special enthusiasm, increase the number of treats, not the number of clicks.

Keep practice sessions short. Much more is learned in three sessions of five minutes each than in an hour of boring repetition. You can get dramatic results, and teach your pet many new things, by fitting a few clicks a day here and there in your normal routine.

Fix bad behavior by clicking good behavior. Click the puppy for relieving itself in the proper spot. Click for paws on the ground, not on the visitors. Instead of scolding for making noise, click for silence. Cure leash-pulling by clicking and treating those moments when the leash happens to go slack.

Click for voluntary (or accidental) movements toward your goal. You may coax or lure the animal into a movement or position, but don’t push, pull, or hold it. Let the animal discover how to do the behavior on its own. If you need a leash for safety’s sake, loop it over your shoulder or tie it to your belt.

Don’t wait for the “whole picture” or the perfect behavior. Click and treat for the small steps towards the goal behavior in the right direction. You want the dog to sit, and it starts to crouch in back: click. You want it to come when called, and it takes a few steps your way: click.

Keep raising your goal. As soon as you have a good response- for example, when touching their retrieving article, start asking for more. Wait until they touch it stronger and or pick it up. Then click. This is called “shaping” a behavior. The practice of shaping small steps to finally retrieving the article to you is also known as successive approximation.

When your animal has learned to do something for clicks, it will begin showing you the behavior spontaneously, trying to get you to click. Now is the time to begin offering a cue, such as a word or a hand signal. Start clicking for that behavior if it happens during or after the cue. Start ignoring that behavior when the cue wasn’t given.

Don’t order the animal around; clicker training is not command-based. If your pet does not respond to a cue, it is not disobeying; it just hasn’t learned the cue completely. Find more ways to cue it and click it for the desired behavior. Try working in a quieter, less distracting place for a while. If you have more than one pet, separate them for training, and let them take turns.

Carry a clicker and “catch” cute behaviors like cocking the head, chasing the tail, or holding up one foot. You can click for many different behaviors, whenever you happen to notice them, without confusing your pet.

If you get mad, put the clicker away. Don’t mix scolding, leash-jerking, and correction training with clicker training; you will lose the animal’s confidence in the clicker and perhaps in you.

If you are not making progress with a particular behavior, you are probably clicking too late. Accurate timing is important. Get someone else to watch you, and perhaps to click for you, a few times.

Above all, have fun. Clicker training is a wonderful way to enrich your relationship with any learner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why does clicker training work?

Clicker training uses a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behavior in real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward. Because animals understand precisely which action earned the click and their reward, they learn new behaviors quickly, easily, and enthusiastically.

Why is clicker training better than just using my voice, positive attention, praise, food, or other training methods?

Lots of important reasons. The click pinpoints the behavior exactly so your dog will learn desirable behavior amazingly quickly—often from one, two, or three clicks. The clicker provides a consistent, non-emotional marker so your dog always receives the same information. Your dog has been hearing your voice for a long time and often tunes it out. Also your voice changes depending on your mood and doesn’t display the consistent quality that a clicker does. The clicker is also distinct from other signals in the environment.

The information the click provides is retained. Behavior is remembered from one training session to the next, so training sessions can be short and flexibly designed. Also, unlike word cues, clicker training does not convey emotionally loaded approval or disapproval to the animal—it is simply information the dog can use to earn a reward or try again.

And because clicker training doesn’t rely on punishment, force, aversive methods, sprays, or choke collars to get results, it is the only method of training we know of that is safely and effectively used with puppies’ even weeks old. As a result:

Basic obedience, good manners and fun games can be easily self-taught even in busy family households, where time is short and schedules hectic.

Training can be woven into daily activities including walking to school, making dinner, or even watching TV

Everyone in the family—children and adults—can participate and share in the fun both with puppies and adult dogs

Breeders can raise puppies that are already “clicker wise” and home-ready.

What results should I expect and when?

We often talk about the “lightbulb moment.” It is the moment when your dog and you connect through the sound of the clicker. Communication has been established and it is as exciting for the animal as it is for the trainer. Most dogs will have the lightbulb moment—you can see it in their eyes—in lesson one! Teaching fun but simple behaviors like shaking hands or coming when called can be accomplished in one or two sessions. More complex behaviors can be trained a piece at a time, building or shaping the action over a series of sessions. For example, teaching your dog to “Find the Remote Control to Your TV” may take a several sessions, yet each session will only be 5-15 minutes long!

Do I have to continue clicking and treating forever?

No. Clicker training is used to teach/learn new behaviors. Once the behavior is learned, the clicker isn’t needed any more for that behavior—although praise and treats will always be appreciated. Whenever you want to train a new behavior, or fine-tune an old one, use the clicker.

Is a lot of experience required to clicker train successfully?

Absolutely not. (Sometimes it even gets in the way.) Clicker training is easy to learn with the right instruction. A part of clicker training that may take some practice is timing the clicks to capture the exact behavior you are seeking. Clicker training is so forgiving and so much fun for everyone that you don’t have to worry about mistakes. They won’t interfere with training in the long run.

Will clicker training work with my dog?

Yes. Clicker training works with all breeds, all ages, all types of dogs, purebred and rescue, champions and house companions. With deaf dogs, substitute a light flash for the clicker.

My dog isn’t food motivated, what do I do?

Food is the most popular reward, but anything your dog loves can be used as a reward. Throwing a tennis ball or a quick game of tug are both highly motivating rewards.

If you would like to use food treats, be sure that your tidbits are especially yummy (bits of hotdogs, for example) and that your dog’s meals do not immediately precede a training session.

Won’t my dog get fat if I feed him every time I train him?

No. Tiny amounts pieces of food are used a treats. Small is important because you want your dog to be able to eat it and be “ready to play clicker” some more. Clicker training is also good exercise and highly stimulating. Dogs work when they clicker train! You may also wish to substitute a clicker session for one of your dog’s regular mealtimes.

Can a dog that has been trained “traditionally” be “crossed over” to clicker training?

Absolutely. Crossover trainers are often amazed at the change that comes over their dogs when they switch to clicker training. Previously hesitant and shy dogs become enthusiastic and creative learners. To try clicker training with a dog previously trained with traditional methods, don’t begin with a behavior the dog already knows—try something completely new and fun.

Join us Saturdays February 18th and 25th for Clicker Class 101 and 102, respectively, to begin clicker training with your dog. Call our office at 412.364.4122 or register online.

Fixing The Winter Doldrums

This time of year we look out the window and into the winter’s ravages: it’s cold, dark, snowy and icy, and we have a hard time environmentally exercising the dog in the outdoors. We want to cozy up in front of the fireplace instead working the dog. This often means that Fido may lose or have shorter daily walks and become bored, and unruly.

Misty Pines can help! We have training programs designed to keep your dog fit and in top condition all winter long. Exercise is essential for the general well-being and mental health of our canine companions, not to mention for healthy weight management. Bring your dog in for Daycare and indoor facility to visit with staff and other friendly dogs that are visiting Misty Pines.

If you aren’t able to take advantage of our facility’s services then we have some recommendations for you. Engage your dog and provide the mental and physical stimulation he or she need at home. Dogs that have jobs are more content than those that don’t.


Why a treadmill you ask? You can infinitely exercise your dog indoors, which means that you are no longer governed by the weather. At Misty Pines we say that a well-trained and well-exercised dog is a good dog and by working your dog on a treadmill you are accomplishing both at the same time; working your dog mentally and physically.

What kinds of dogs do well with treadmill training? All dogs! Honestly. From large dogs to small, dogs can benefit for a variety of reasons. The training program can vary depending on breed, ability and age.


Retrieving is one of the handiest behaviors you can teach your dog. When your dog will reliably retrieve an object there is no end to what you can do. This goes beyond simple playing fetch with a ball, this is locating, picking up and bringing objects to you.

Sitting on the couch and the remote is across the room…Fetch it up!

It’s double over-time, next point wins the wins the cup, you’re borderline dehydrated and your bottle of water is in the kitchen…Fetch it up!

There’s a lot more you can do than just have your dog bring you things but this opens up a whole world of possibilities that were previously unexplored. One fun idea would be to teach your dog to put away its toys. It’s a good practice to put all your dog’s toys and bones away every few days and let them work their mind as they get them out to play, and it would be even more stimulating to have them put them all back as well!

Scent Work

Every dog is equipped with an amazing tool: their nose! Olfaction, the act or process of smelling, is a dog’s primary special sense. Dogs have more than 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose, while humans have only 5 million! Teaching dogs to use their nose to identify a target odor offers many benefits.

Why scent work? This fun, stimulating activity can be enjoyed by dogs of any age, breed, or temperament and owners of any experience level or physical ability may participate. This is one of the few activities that can be practiced inside in small areas; it’s great for winter or foul-weather training plus your dog will learn a skill that has practical value in real-life.

Examples of targets include: Birch, clove, and aniseed oil (used in scent work trials), deer antlers, plants or mushrooms, a missing sock, a favorite toy or your kids

Tight Quarters Heeling

When working a dog in a tight space the heel can become sloppy because the handler is focused on the obstacles and path rather than working on keeping the dog where he needs to be. Take this winter to work on a heel when walking around the house, perhaps even setup a course to navigate through consisting of tables, chairs, couches and other furniture. Though this may sound like a novice exercise, with the proper creativity, this can be a very challenging task. When Spring rolls around you can show off your improved heel when taking back to the streets and trails and be proud of your accomplishment.

Parlor Tricks

Everyone loves to show off their dog’s best skill or trick, that’s why every dog friendly event has a Best Dog Trick competition. What is your dog’s best trick?

Army crawl under the table? Put down the toilet seat? All of these behaviors/tricks and more are possible. Whether it’s a useful trick or just for fun the goal is to keep your dog mentally stimulated and physically worked when the great outdoors aren’t so great.

Prolonged Release Interactive Food Dispensing Devices

Other cures for the winter doldrums that we recommend are prolonged release interactive food dispensing devices. These help give your dog a work-out while doing something when eating their breakfast or dinner. Our domestic canine’s ancestor, the Canis Lupus, works hard both mentally and physically for each meal. How hard do our canine companions work for their meals? Problem solving work outs can be more tiring than physical exercise so switching between a few different prolonged release interactive food dispensing devices could be a good way to keep your dog mentally sharp while giving them some much needed stimulation. We recommend Bob-a-Lots, Kongs and a few other specialty items that can be found in our retail store.

A private lesson with one of our trainers will help you learn to work your dog and minimize the winter doldrums. Enjoy this winter and remember to continually integrate training into your daily lives.

How Does Diet Affect Behavior In Dogs?

Picky eaters, excessive barking, loose stools, gassy tummies, mood swings, restless sleep, hot spots, compulsive disorders, reactivity, aggression, hyperactivity, and biting can all be symptoms of a poor diet.

Obviously these guys don’t have a problem being picky!

Yet, until recently, the question of whether food can affect a dog’s behavior has been a long debated subject amongst behaviorists and trainers. Fortunately, there is more and more evidence and study to show that what you put into your dog, can and does have an influence on how your dog behaves—just like what you eat can top or topple your own moods.

To avoid nutritional pitfalls, take time to do your homework. Start your research with a close look at nutritional models for humans. This avenue can help you to learn about better food choices that positively influence how humans behave, and as you will see, points to affecting the way your dog behaves as well.

The Child Wisdom website has great information about how food affects human children. The following is noteworthy since many of the problems revealed here are the same problems routinely mentioned when counseling pet parents about their dog’s erratic behaviors: “Food Sensitivities/Allergies – Some people get depressed or behave irrationally after they eat (often unknowingly) something to which they are sensitive or allergic. This phenomenon, sometimes called a “brain allergy” has been widely reported and sometimes appears in patients who display mental health symptoms. True classic food allergies involve an antigen-antibody immune response (IgE-mediated) and are relatively rare. About 5% of children and about 2% of adults are reported to have these “true food allergies.” In contrast, food sensitivities, sometimes called food intolerances, are reported by almost 25% of Americans. Usually missed by traditional antibody blood tests, these food sensitivities are most often identified through elimination. (If a symptom disappears when all sources of a certain food are eliminated from the diet for several days and then reappears when that food is reintroduced, the symptom is likely to be related to sensitivity to that food.) Any food may cause a reaction, but the most commonly reported food sensitivities involve wheat gluten, dairy products, yeast, corn, eggs, soy, grapes, oranges, chocolate and synthetic food additives.”

Looking at human models can offer interesting comparisons; however, watching dogs in their natural habitats is truly reveling. As of late, the behavior community is trying to understand more about the innate behaviors of dogs, including their eating habits: Dogs scavenging in trash cans, dumps and other locations of “plenty” are all very common—not hunting, as was believed for many years. The small amount of hunting these feral dogs do is mostly comprised of catching lizards, small rodents and birds.

Dogs are classified as omnivores, eating both plant matter and meat, but based on field observations, scavengers might be the more fitting description of their dietary practices. It’s no wonder that dogs will eat just about anything you put in their bowls! Still, just because most dogs will eat whatever you put in their bowl, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for them— or nutritionally sound.

Feeding to behavioral health— what’s in your dog’s bowl?

As pet parents and providers, it’s important to give active thought to what you feed your dog, since different foods will lead to different results – not just medically but behaviorally as well.

According to many veterinarian and behavior experts, we are producing future generations of health and behavior problems for dogs by feeding overly processed, chemical and dye-laden commercial dog foods that appear wonderful to humans, but often have nutritional deficits and long-term toxic effects.

Part of this problem starts with the companies producing many of the popular name brands of food. In the January, 2003 issue, the Whole Dog Journal made this statement: “Mostly, the giant companies, corporate cousins to the human food manufacturing industry, serve (partially) to spin figurative gold out of the “straw” leftovers from the human food side. The human food processors use the good parts, and the food fragments that would otherwise be wasted are put to good use in pet foods. The result is a consistent, inexpensive, but not particularly healthy food that is readily available anywhere in the country.”

To further make the point, consider this: “The “whole grains” used in many dog foods have had the starch removed and the oil extracted (usually by chemical processing) for vegetable oil; or they are the hulls and other remnants from the milling process. If whole grains are used, they may have been deemed unfit for human consumption because of mold, contaminants, or poor storage practices” (The Allergy Solution for Dogs, Messonnier, D.V.M., p156)

Another problem is corn. Used as a protein source to save money in many popular foods, corn presents a completely different set of difficulties for dogs suffering from behavior issues, or stress related problems: “A common protein source in dog food is corn. Corn, however, is unusually low in tryptophan and represents some risk to animals sensitive to serotonergic under activity.” (The Canine Aggression Workbook, O’Heare 2000, p215)

Serotonin is what keeps dogs well balanced and helps to control moods, arousal, and sensitivities to pain, sounds and touch. It is also the major component in healthy sleep/awake cycles. An imbalance of serotonin can cause sleep problems which frequently exacerbate behavior problems during times when your dog is awake; thus making training or modification that much more difficult. Many behaviorists now recommend the complete elimination of corn in the diet because of this problem. It’s always better to start out with an even playing field to ensure that your dog’s diet is not creating any underlying problems that could make living with your dog more difficult.

How does Food Effect Behavior?

Author and behaviorist Bill Campbell (Behavior Problems in Dogs, 3rd Ed., 1999) believes that the high-carbohydrate, (junk carbs, not complex carbs) ingredients found in many commercial dog foods are directly related to problems such as hyperactivity and hypersensitivity to normal stimuli in everyday life. Campbell points to the fact that there has been little study done on dogs in this area, but that there is some procarbohydrate information to be found, even though it is a well-known fact that dogs do not need any grains at all to survive. Campbell discounts the studies by saying, “We must bear in mind that most of the studies you may have read on this subject, if not all of them, may have been funded by high-carbohydrate diet dog food manufactures” (Webtrail, April, 1999).

What we do know is how junk carbohydrates and junk food affects humans, and it doesn’t take much of a leap to believe that products affecting our behavior or moods, also affect dog behavior. According to Prevention Magazine, (September 2005; pg. 77), recent studies have linked together higher homicide rates and omega-6-fats. Omega- 6-fats are found in corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed and sunflower oils. Murder rates were 20% higher in countries with the highest intakes of omega-6. It is believed that the “Western diet” may overwhelm omega-3’s which are known for their calming effects.”

Edmund R. Dorosz, BSA, DVM also believes that dog food can cause hyperactivity and unusual behavior patterns in dogs. In a NetPets article, he states: “We hear of many dogs today being allergic to meat. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and other meats are being fingered as the culprits. This is something hard to believe, for a species that has been carnivorous for millions of years to be now allergic to meat. Maybe it’s something in the meat or in the ‘complete and balanced’ diets that are foreign and new to our dogs that are causing the problem” (“Heredity and Environment – What Role Does Nutrition Play?”, 12/14/02).

What to do with this information?

So what’s a pet parent to do? The bags of food at pet stores and supermarkets look amazing, and they all claim to meet the nutritional needs for your dog. Many also claim to benefit the maintenance/health of different body types and specific groups such as large-breed puppies, overweight dogs, or senior canines. So which ones are telling the truth, and how do you choose the best possible food for your dog’s needs?

The most important data required to understanding dog food is to thoroughly read the labels. Dog food labels are similar to those on human food products: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The first three ingredients make up the bulk of the food, so those are the most important to look at when selecting a dog food brand.

Meat or a specific type of meat meal should always be the first ingredient on the label. Choose a product that identifies the type of meal; such as “chicken meal,” or “lamb meal,” as opposed to those that say “poultry or meat meal” which can contain just about anything that fits under that title, including road kill and diseased animals, as long as it’s a bird in the case of poultry, and any animal (domestic or otherwise) in the case of meat meal.

Falling into the meat meal category was the recent discovery of Phenobarbital (the drug used to euthanize animals) found in a number of commercially sold dog foods, including some popular “brand names.” It was suggested that the remains of euthanized domestic animals are rendered into animal feed – the likely source of the Phenobarbital. Phenobarbital is a hearty compound that is able to survive the cooking process, which is why, it was detectable in the tested food. Since there has been a recent uprise in the cat version of “Mad Cow’s Disease,” this may very well prove to be the case.

As your investigation continues, also look to make sure the first ingredient is not a meat by-product. By-products are not muscle meats, and can include leftover animal components such as lungs, kidneys, brain, spleen, liver, bone, blood, fatty tissue, stomach, and intestines freed of their contents. There are mixed feelings about the use of by-products in dog food, but the fact is, some dogs have trouble digesting these, and according to Ann Martin (Food Pets Die For, pg.2), “Livers can be infested with worms (liver flukes) or diseased with cirrhosis. Lungs can be filled with pneumonia. If an animal is diseased and declared unfit for human consumption, the carcass is acceptable for pet food.” Given there are many great foods that don’t include by-products, it might be best to shy away from those that do.

The next step in selecting a good food is to look at the type and amounts of grains listed on the label. Grains are usually used to keep production costs down, and while certain grains are beneficial to good health, others are known to cause allergies.

These higher grain contents will also mean you will need to feed more cups of food, since it takes a lot more grain than meat to reach the nutritional levels required to satisfy a dog’s needs. For this reason, you can actually end up spending more per cup for many of the “cheap” brands than the high-end foods, not to mention you will have an increase in the amount of bowel movement that could lead to housetraining problems or stress as your dog’s need to eliminate increases. If your dog does not have free access to his potty area, he may develop anxiety problems as he tries to “hold it,” so as not to have an accident in his crate or the house.

Vomatoxin which is a chemical compound produced by Fusriaum molds is another concern. These molds are found in the following grains: Wheat and wheat products, corn and corn products, peanut meal and peanut products (Aflotoxin), soybean meal and hulls, and cottonseed (Aflotoxin.) These mold spores can present a myriad of health (including death) and behavior problems if your dog develops an allergy to them.

In addition, carbohydrates act much like sugar. These high grain-content foods produce excessive energy for about two hours after being ingested by the dog; which is illustrated in the same way athletes “carb up” for an energy boost before they need to perform. The high-carbohydrate dog foods do the same thing to your dog, except most people do not provide their canines with the right combination of mental and physical exercise necessary to work off all that energy. The results of all that energy is often destruction to your home or yard or other behaviors such as rough play and biting.

Behaviorally speaking, everything from housetraining problems to self-mutilation can be linked to poor quality foods, and some of these behaviors directly point to the preservatives, additives and dyes used in kibble. The health considerations of these compounds are plentiful and can lead to a dog displaying his discomfort behaviorally. The chemicals most often associated with cancer and other toxic-driven diseases are the preservatives found in many dog foods. BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) and Ethoxyquin are all known carcinogens and, by regulation, are disallowed in human food but preserve many dog foods and dog treats. If you see these ingredients listed on the bag, put the bag back on the shelf and keep looking.

It is far better to look for a food that preserves with natural ingredients. Some natural alternatives are composed of topherols (vitamin E), citric or ascorbic acid (vitamin C), or a combination of the two. In addition, look for the bags that have manufactured dates on the bag, as this ensures freshness, since food preserved with products that are more natural will not have as long of a shelf life.

Those foods designed for specific age, weight or body-types also seem like a wonderful idea, but feeding a high-end food eliminates the need to buy these specialty products that are often higher priced. These manufactures simply add more supplements (that have been processed and preserved along with the food) in order to make their specialty claims. It is far better to add your own supplements with recommendations from your veterinarian or health-care advisor.

How and when to feed:

When to feed your dog is just as important as what you feed.

The ideal regimen is to feed an adult dog two to three times per day. Glucose levels are greatly affected by food (the same as in humans), so it is important to feed regularly to prevent these levels from becoming erratic as they increase and decrease respectively for those dogs that only eat once a day, or nibbles his food at will without access to expend the on-going energy made available by snacking all day.

As a real bonus for your dog, try feeding in food carrier toys such as Kongs, or Buster Cubes as a way to provide mental and physical exercise (much like dogs in the wild, working to find their food). These are great for those dogs that like to take their time eating. These “food puzzles” will also help slow down those dogs that “vacuum” their food from the bowl in 30 seconds and then have nothing to look forward to the rest of the day.

In conclusion:

Whether it is dry kibble, canned, raw, freeze-dried, or a combination of these, it is essential to do your homework when choosing food for your dog. Try different brands and find several your dog likes so you can switch around since there is now more evidence that it’s healthier to change between several brands of food rather than feed the same for a dog’s lifetime.

The bottom line is…look at the bottom line! Read the ingredients and feed your dog healthy foods to achieve good mental and physical health for the duration of your dog’s life.

Guide to Good Foods:

The Whole Dog Journal (which does not accept any advertising) conducts an annual study of dry dog food brands. They have strict criteria that must be met to be included on the list.

      Here are some of the brands that have made the Whole Dog Journal’s list of recommended brands for several years running:

    • California Natural

  • Canidae
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Paul Newman’s 2nd Generation
  • Flint River Ranch Dry Water (Mail Order)
  • Solid Gold (San Diego based company)
  • Merrick Pet Care–Cowboy Cookout
  • Fromm Four Star Nutritionals
  • By Nature Organics
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Natural Balance Dry Dog Food
  • Innova
  • Raw Instinct (grain free)
  • Wellness
  • Wysong

There are also many great raw diets that are conveniently freeze-dried and packaged.

      Some of the brands on the Whole Dog Journal’s


    “Not Recommended” list are:

  • Diamond’s Premium
  • Eukanuba Adult
  • Iams
  • Nature’s Recipe
  • Nutro Max
  • Purina One
  • Beneful
  • Science Diet
  • Pedigree Prime


» Dogs, a New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, by Ray and Loren Coppinger

» Dog Food Comparison Website — what’s in your current dog food —

» Food Pets Die For, by Ann Martin Prevention Magazine –

» The Allergy Solution for Dogs, by Messonnier, D.V.M

» Whole Dog Journal – for information


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