Let’s talk about canine nutrition! Last night Jeff and I were settling in after another busy day. We were both exhausted and almost ready to call it a night, when Ellie, our 7 year old Bullmastiff started initiating play with Lexi, our 4 year old Newfoundland/Shepherd mix. Ellie was full of life at 8pm at night, doing play bows, letting out little barks, sneezing, and wagging her tail into oblivion! Lexi absolutely loved the play session, too, and they both enjoyed a healthy and fun interaction. It was so fun to watch and Jeff and I looked at each other and both said, “she hasn’t acted like this in years!” Ellie has always been low energy, low drive, and would almost always prefer to go to bed than go outside. She is, after all, a mastiff. However, after attending the IACP Conference in September and learning some incredible tidbits on nutrition and the vital role it plays in our dogs’ lives, we knew we had to make some changes. The results have been incredible!
The first thing we did was cut the dogs’ kibble almost in half. What we learned from Rodney Habib’s “Bio Hacks” presentation at the conference was that the guidelines on the bags of kibble are vague. Rodney cited a study of Oliver – the dog who went over 100 days without food and was still jumping over walls and otherwise very agile and full of energy. By no means are we advocating you try and replicate this study, we absolutely are not! What Rodney explained to us is that since dogs have the genetic makeup of wolves, they do not need to eat as much or as often as we humans are feeding them. Think about wolves and what their routine is. They rarely stumble upon food in the wild. First, they must work together as a pack to hunt. They are natural born predators. They put all their energy into the hunt and a large percentage of time, the hunt is not even successful. They can go days and sometimes weeks or longer with no substantial source of food. Domesticated dogs on the other hand usually have easy access to food and treats without having to work for them at all. This goes against their very nature and without an outlet to exercise their muscles, brain, and creativity, they start to gain weight, lose energy, and lose their zest for life. (Giving dogs free access to food and other resources without having them work for it is also a surefire way to create behavioral problems, but that is a post for another time!)
Look at your dog’s mid section – can you see the lower couple of ribs? Can you see the outline of their ribs at all? If not, they are overweight. It is important to look at your dog’s physique everyday before feeding them, and adjust portions accordingly. Our habits are to feed them the usual one or two scoops without even thinking about it, but a little mindfulness here can go a long way.
Another important fact worth talking about is the link between the prevalence of canine cancer since the inception of kibble 100 years ago. The rise of commercially processed dog food and the rise of canine cancer are nearly parallel. Now while feeding your dog raw food is one of the best things you can do for them, we understand that is just not possible for many dog owners. Luckily, there are many ways to improve the quality of food we feed our dogs without breaking the bank.
Think back to years ago when dogs weren’t domesticated and lived in the wild – what did they eat? What was available? Experts believe they consumed vegetables, nuts, meats, and organs, among other things.
A 2005 study found that dogs on a diet of dry commercial pet food that were also fed leafy green vegetables at least 3 times per week were 90% less likely to develop cancer than dogs that weren’t. That same study also found that dogs that were fed yellow and orange vegetables at least 3 times per week were 70% less likely. (Pet food study: http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/why-adding-human-food-to-your-dogs-diet-is-so-important/) These are important facts to know, since today’s experts claim that 60% of dogs will develop cancer. Another study found that dogs who were fed 25% less food than the average dog lived 15% longer (average of 2 extra years). They have also found that adding in coconut oil and omega 3s significantly improve cognitive functioning. We learned all of these facts from Rodney’s presentation. We urge you all to follow him on Facebook here and also keep informed with the Truth about Pet Cancer series here.
As a summary, this is what we have done to our dogs’ feeding routine to optimize nutrition:
Cut their kibble by ¼ – ½
Added ½ cup of vegetables like kale, spinach, brocolli, yellow and orange peppers
Added in omega 3s through supplements (you can also use sardines)
Added 1 teaspoon of coconut oil
Raw vegetables can be difficult for them to digest, so we steam them up and then puree them. We then pour the batches into ice cube trays and put them in the freezer. When it’s feeding time it’s so easy to pop a few veggie-cubes out and put them in the food bowl! Sometimes life gets crazy and I run out of time to make the puree, so I always have bags of frozen veggies to fall back on – brocolli, peppers, and spinach that I just pour over their food. It doesn’t get any easier than that! We also use Advocare’s omega 3 supplements. They are 3rd party tested (watch this video) and passed with flying colors. We became Advocare members and you can purchase them through this link here. Whatever brand you choose, just make sure they are safe and 3rd party tested, and watch for mercury levels. The supplements expire within 30 days of opening the bottle.
There are so many ways to help our dogs live longer, happier, and more fulfilled lives. These 5 “Bio Hacks” as Rodney refers to them are a fantastic start:
1. Add veggies 3x/week
2. Increase the amount of exercise
3. Caloric Restriction
4. Add coconut oil and Omega 3s to their diets
5. Switch to raw food (even 1 day of raw per week significantly reduces disease markers)
On top of all of the benefits, these hacks lower insulin levels, which takes pressure off their brains, which increases cognitive functioning tenfold. Isn’t that amazing? Your dogs will lose weight, feel better, have more brain capacity, be more eager to learn, and be more playful, just by changing their nutrition. All of these attributes make for a much more trainable dog! We have found all of these things to be true with our dog Ellie. She has been happier, more engaged with the family, more willing to play, keeps up with us when we bring her hiking, and is all around a more present and fulfilled dog. What a wonderful gift to give our best friends.
This morning I (Gillian) was out walking with my Australian Shepherd/Newfoundland mix, Lexi. We walk off-leash up and down our private road a few times every day. Lexi is well-trained off-leash and has a very consistent recall … except when she spots a squirrel. When she sees that squirrel she loses all control and runs as fast as she can to catch it! It’s pointless to call her back when she is already chasing that poor little guy up a tree. You see, dogs are either in pack drive, or they are in prey drive. When in pack drive, they are calm, they obey, they use their nose to take in information, they are curious, etc. When they are in prey drive, they are on high alert, they use their eyes to take in information, and they are impulsive.
I’m telling this story because I think most people can relate to having a dog be “with them” in one second and “gone” the next. By “gone” I mean they have lost control of the dog’s mind, and the dog is now making his or her own choices. How does this relate to recall? Because it brings up a good point about how to reinforce what you want when your dog hasn’t made the right decision.
Let’s go back to when I was first teaching Lexi recall. When we first brought her home as a puppy, she didn’t know us and we didn’t know her. We spoke two different languages and we needed to form a relationship in order for trust and respect to grow. When we were first teaching her to come back to us, we encouraged it like crazy every time she started moving in our direction. We wanted to make it very clear that we were pleased with what she was doing. We were forming a bond and setting her up for success. We did that a lot – repetition will drive any point home. Once she understood that every time she heard the whistle, she should come back to us, we changed up how and when we were rewarding her. When anything gets too predictable, it gets boring – this is true for both dogs and humans. So we started calling her back to us, but stopped giving her praise or treats every single time. Instead, we made her work for it. She had to keep her focus on us to make sure she was doing what was asked of her, and it was fun for her because she never knew when the treat was coming. It could be the second time we called her back, it could be the seventh. But when it happened, she absolutely loved it.
Fast forward to today. Our languages have been linked and we have a bond and a very clear form of communication. She has been in our lives for over 4 years now and consistent training has solidified these skills over this time frame. So today, I called her back to me a mere second before she caught wind of that squirrel. One second she was on her way back to me and the next second she was impulsive. She eventually did find her way back to me, but I ignored her. She knew what I wanted and instead she chose to make her own decisions. I withheld the reward because I am looking for more precision out of her. She is, after all, still in training and always will be! I did NOT however, punish her for coming back to me. I never want her to see coming back to me as punishment. I simply withheld the reward. The next time I called her back to me, she came right away, sat down, and she got a treat.
I wanted to point this out because it’s all too easy to get confused and too caught up in the many details of dog training. This was the perfect example to point out the hows and whys of rewards. We do our best to set our dogs up for success, but sometimes they make the wrong decisions. The most important thing to remember is to keep your dog’s safety in mind. Knowing that every now and then Lexi chases squirrels, I’m not going to walk her down a busy road off leash, even if I can trust her 9 times out of 10. Remember, you are ALWAYS advocating for your dog.
In summary – we started training recall the day we brought her home. It has been all she has ever known. We encouraged like crazy in the beginning, then we started to make her work for it more. She’s an intelligent dog and loves to be mentally challenged. By doing this our bond grew deeper and our line of communication opened up more and more. We started recall training in controlled environments with no distractions to set her up for success. We slowly integrated distractions one at a time to keep reinforcing how important it was to come back to us. We train her every single day, even if it is only for 10 minutes. Now, in very distracting environments, we consistently call her back to us and reward her when she does. If she doesn’t come back right away, we withhold rewards. There are also times we put her on leash for our walks and do not let her make her own decisions, especially on days that she is tired or lacking focus. A good recall is a great way to manage your dog – with Lexi’s consistent recall we can let her enjoy her off-leash time and then call her back to us when we see other people walking (or any other distraction), then put the leash on her when she comes back to us. It’s a great tool for your toolbox!
Hopefully this has clarified some questions you might have on recall and what it takes to train your dog to come back to you! Keep it in your mind that you need to be that consistent leader for your dog. The bond with your dog will become deeper and more satisfying the more you take the time to communicate with him and offer meaningful engagement when he is correct. We are always here to help in any way we can – check out our Facebook page for more training tips here or our website here. Happy training everyone!
The Scarpinos are compassionate and knowledgable doglovers that will take care of your furry family like a member of your own family. I can think of no better place to bring my own dog or to refer others for their canine needs, whether it be boarding, training, etc. – Michelle Corey
Professional on every level, Jeff and his staff are truly passionate about what they do. Hands down your best choice for boarding and training! – Alexander Savitsky
I’m so grateful for the work that Jeff and the staff at Off the Beaten Trail do. Djengo, my rescue pup, was enrolled in their 2 week board & train. Prior to the class he was hit or miss with other dogs and on his own routine, often making it hard to keep him under control. After 2 weeks with the hard working and patient staff Djengo is walking in the heel position, seldom barks, calmer around other dogs, and hardly strays if off leash. His progress is astonishing. Without the expertise and tools provided at Off the Beaten Trail I’d never be able to have him succeed as he is now. – Leah LaRobardiere