Warning: This is what you think is in your dogs food…… read this to see what’s really inside the bag

Tonights dinner at the Ranch - free range chicken, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Pears, Apples & Organic Carrots (Green Veg to be added later)

Tonights dinner at the Ranch – free range chicken, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Pears, Apples & Organic Carrots (Green Veg to be added later)

A week ago, I was blessed to meet a wonderful 13 year old Weimaraner, Moose, in the front seat of his car of all places..I was at the Desperate Dogs ‘Paint Your Pet’ night out, and a lady called Kelly came in and asked me to pop out and meet her dog.
This beautiful dog has many of the same characteristics prevalent in Weimaraners today…separation anxiety, lumps and bumps all over his body, binge eating to name a few.
Poor Moose though, has ‘exploding’ lumps on his legs..commonly these are just sebacious cysts that, when they get knocked, open up and exude puss. In some cases these can actually be mast cell tumours, and so your dog must be checked by a veterinarian if any lumps or skin changes occur.
Moose also has regular ear infections and ‘runny eyes’ as he had when I saw him the other evening, and I explained to Kelly that this was mostly down to his diet.
Your dogs behaviour, his health, his happiness, his skin, longevity…in fact every single aspect of his life, are inextricably intertwined with what you feed him.
Feeding a dog a healthy fresh or holistic diet where all of his key nutrients are being delivered in a way that the dog can metabolise them is obviously ging to be far more beneficial than feeding some nasty mass produced dog food. In Moose’s case, the food in question is Pedigree.
Today I thought it might be useful to unpack whats in Pedigree’s list of main ingredients so that we can see how Moose’s needs might be being met, or not, as the case may be.
The way the average bag of dog food is designed, all the pretty pictures on the front will make you think that chicken tenders are falling out of the sky into the bag and that theres more of that in there than anything else..the truth couldnt be further away.
The biggest ingredient in any food is always first on the ingredient list, and so in this case, there’s more corn in this food than anything else. Now corn is not only the poorest and cheapest form of protein available to dog food manufacturers, its also harmful to dogs as it decreases the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin, as you may be aware, is the neurotransmiter responsible for controlling mood, arousal, sensitivity to pain, and, when its deficient, is one of the key elements in anti social behaviours,impulsivity, aggression and learning problems to name but a few.
Quite an important thing to be having around wouldnt you say?
The next ingredient is ‘chicken by product meal’. Most consumers read the word chicken, and dont process the word ‘by product’…in this case, by products of chicken are the necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and possibly small amounts of feathers…basically the nasty bits you wouldnt eat yourself because theyre gross and have no meat on them. Im not talking about organs, it would be lovely if they were included as they are rich in nutrients, however they are not by products and so dont find their way into the dog food bag as they are more valued in the human food chain.
Meat and bone meal…AHH SIMPLY DELICIOSO! Meat and bone meal is the rendered [blasted with high pressure water hoses to get it off the carcass] pieces of hoof, hide, hair, blood, stomach contents etc that have really no nutritional value at all but cost the pet food manufacturer next to nothing as they are the bits that no one else wants, and because they are of animal origin, allow them to classify these parts as animal protein..thus making it seem as though theres valuable protein sources in the food. The non specific use of the term ‘meat and bone meal’ is also a big concern in dog fod as it doesnt specify the animal from which it came..if a company were using rabbit, chicken, pork or beef, they absolutely would say so. Because they dont specify the animal origin, it’s questionable as to whether they are using sources we would be happy about.
In the book ‘Food Pets Die For- Shocking Truths about Pet Food’ by Anne Martin [NewSage Press 2008], the author states that if the term ‘meat meal’ is listed as an ingredient, there is no guarantee that euthanized cats and dogs have not been used in the food.
I can hear you gasping in disbelief. Yes, I really did say that. It is a common practice for thousands of euthanized dogs and cats to be literally delivered to rendering plants at some pet food companies daily to become part of this ‘unspecific’ ingredient.
Im afraid that thats not good enough for my dogs, they’re not cannibals, and I abhor this practise. I hope that you do too, enough to stop feeding foods that list this ingredient.
The next ingredient is rice…now brown rice is good for most dogs, its packed full of B vitamins and is a major help in skin conditions and stress. This however, is not brown rice. Its just rice, which means it has been bleached and has no whole grain in it, in which case it is pure carbohydrate, a filler to satiate appetite at best. Carbs are essential for some dogs, but to even the most energetic dog, too many carbs are harmful as they turn into sugars which can lead to diabetes. Dogs dont process carbs as well as we do, for optimum health, they need protein to be the major part of their diet, and good quality protein at that.
Next ingredient? Corn gluten meal….ah, that old chestnut! This is just dried residue of corn after it has been removed of the starch and the germ. The pet food manufacturers label it differently to plain old corn so that they can make you think that its an extra ingredient, whereas its really just MORE CORN,however you look at it.
Animal Fat… notice it doesn’t say chicken fat, turkey fat or beef fat, just animal fat. Thats because either they don’t know and can’t specify which animal it came from, or because they know you won’t like it if they do. Think about ‘meat meal’ as discussed above.
Natural poultry flavour…… Hmm, if they were using real poultry, would they need to add poultry flavour? This is to disguise the smell of the ingredients and to fool the human consumer that there is real chicken in large quantities in the bag.
Dried beet pulp……. This is added for fiber, but is really just sugar. Beware of this ingredient in dogs with diabetes and older dogs more prone to develop the disease.
Salt…..I never saw a wolf with a salt and pepper shaker. Ever.
Wheat mill run…….This is another way of saying ‘the scrapings off the wheat mill floor’. What are they doing feeding wheat to dogs anyway? Answer; its cheap, its filling and most humans don’t understand that dogs shouldn’t eat too much grains.
One of the other ingredients creeping in to dog food, as it is on this bag, is caramel colour. Its listed as a carcinogen in the State of California, although other States find it innocuous.
Something you will commonly see in cheaper dog foods, as with this bag of Pedigree, is BHA [Butylated Hydroxyanisole] and BHT [Butylated Hydroxytoluene]. These are the preservatives that give your pet food endless shelf life even under the harsh lights and heat of pet food stores and stop any fatty contents from becoming rancid. Leading veterinarians have stated that these chemicals can cause birth defects and liver and kidney damage. It is also used in the human food chain [look at your sausage when next you buy it] although, because we don’t ingest it at every meal as some poor dogs do, its hopefully not as disastrous for us. Hopefully…eh?
This article wasn’t written with intent to make you want to vomit; it was written with intent to make you angry. I firmly believe that you want better than this for your pet. I believe that you adore your dog and want him to live a long, happy, healthy life and that you never for one moment thought that people could get away with this kind of thing through clever marketing.
Well, I’m here to tell you that they can and they do.
So, to bring it all back to Moose, what does this all mean for him?
Moose has had very poor nutrition when you look at all of this, but the good news is that its never too late to make a change. Just as we, when we change our diet as humans, notice dramatic changes in our bodies, our strength and mental acuity, so it is for dogs.
I would suggest a holistic dog food, with a high percentage of well sourced protein, white fish, chicken or turkey for digestibility but as he’s an older dog, perhaps just one or two protein sources, not more than that.. with some low GI carbs, like sweet potatoes, or even white potatoes as they are full of vitamin C and so are a useful anti inflamatory. Some fruits to bolster the vitamins and beta carotenoid value of the food [don’t just stop at apples and pears and tomatoes, think blue and red fruits also as they are rich in these], herbs for digestive health [dogs in the wild use herbs for digestion every day], probiotics to help break down the food more efficiently and thus help it to get where its needed for cell renewal and repair. Brown rice for a big whallop of B vitamins which would help this boy with some of his stress issues. Flax for linoleic fatty acid which is so useful for skin health and wound healing. Garlic to block cancers and inhibit the production of tumours…the list is endless in all honesty.
There are some great dog foods out there, and also we can make our own dog food using good quality fresh meat and vegetables, fruits and spices.
As many of you know, the food we use here as a base food at the Ranch, is Acana single protein food; we use mainly the lamb and apple blend or the chicken and potato, duck for dogs who need an unusual protein as they have food allergies. To this we add our own dog food..a blend of beta carotenoid rich foods [anything brightly coloured in the vegetable kingdom is rich in beta carotenoids] from the ‘safe for dogs’ food list, fresh meat or fish, yoghurt for digestive health, some seeds and lentils on occasion, fresh turmeric for arthritic dogs..to name a few ingredients.
Really checking out what goes into your dog, not only affects his physical health but greatly affects his mental health too, so read those labels and don’t be fooled by cheap marketing ploys and pretty pictures. If it doesnt sound like it would come from your kitchen, why give it to your dog?

The Problem with Prey Drive

DSC_0260
One of the biggest problems I come across in the behavioural consultancy side of DD, is a very high prey drive.
Every week I get emails from people asking me  to come and consult on what to do about their dog that wants to chase the neighbor’s cat/rabbit/guniea pig or charges after motorbikes or chases deer etc. I had a request for help last week from a family who have a Weimaraner and they are at their wits end because of his need to chase birds while out on a walk.
Prey drive is probably one of the more difficult things to fix because most dogs are natural born hunters, and asking them not to chase something is like asking a guy not to feel attracted to Pamela Anderson as she struts along the beach in a red Baywatch swimsuit!
Some things are just meant to be as far as dogs are concerned… it s very hard to tell a dog whose very breed dictates that he go hurtling after a hare, to sit there nicely as one walks past him, and not want to do anything about it. ‘Apples don’t come from Orange trees’, as the saying goes, and a dog that has a couple hundred years of breeding to chase birds, is not going to sit back while one flies by past his eyes.
I find it staggering the amount of people who go to great lengths to procure a fantastic Springer Spaniel or a gorgeous Weimaraner, and then complain to all and sundry that their dog chases everything and never wants to sit still on the couch. Hmmm..go figure!
Having said that, all is not lost if you have a dog with a high prey drive; there are ways to manage it and to get to grips with the problem. Trust me, I speak from experience.
I have a silver Weimaraner called Nelson or Nelly, as we call him. I adopted him when he was ten months old, from a couple who had just come to the end of their tether with his separation anxiety, his prey drive, his binge eating, the list was endless….
As I tell people all the time, he is the very reason I became a behaviourist; if I could fix him, I can fix anyone, I thought.
When I started out on my quest to fix Nelson’s prey drive it was because I just found it irritating…I’d rescued this beautiful silver dog with wonderful blue eyes and had given zero thought to what lie beneath the skull before I said yes to taking him on. I just thought he’d be a great companion to our family.
Well, on day two of owning Nelson, he ran after a sheep and pinned it to the ground. Dogs are mostly off leash in England and there are sheep fields everywhere, not a great combination if you have a dog with a high prey drive, is it?
Add to that the fact that farmers in England are at liberty to shoot dogs that scare their sheep and this becomes a VERY serious problem.
On day five of owning Nelson, we were in a woods where I knew there were no sheep so he was, yet again, off leash and he, lo and behold, found the only deer stupid enough to come close enough to the highly prey driven Weimaraner. I searched for him for an hour, I don’t think I had ever been so angry.
Anybody spot the completely stupid thing I did there from the get go?
Well…… seriously, what the heck was I thinking letting my dog off leash in the first week of owning him? He didn’t even hardly know me by sight by day two, and here was I letting him loose to run the countryside with some ‘Lassie-fied’ romantic notion that he’d race back when I called, happy to be with his new mum! Man, was I stupid!
I stumbled along for a while, trying training tips from various dog trainers, reading umpteen books and even asked a farmer if I could get Nelson put in with a ram so that he could ‘learn his lesson’, I’m ashamed to say. Thankfully he refused.
It wasn’t until about six months later that I had my breakthrough, and that was given to me by top British behaviourist Kendall Shepherd, who explained to me in depth what Nelson’s drives were and how I should be managing them. From that point on, I researched the breed ((perhaps I should have thought of this sooner, lol?) and started to study dog behavior in depth.
Over the years,  since I started working with dogs professionally, I have worked with many many dogs with high prey drive and the number one thing I do now is first of all, research the breed and find out what is likely to drive the dog.
This may seem like a no brainer but it isn’t…not all dogs are food driven, so merely having a meatball handy when you see a rabbit is not going to cut it. Some dogs are ‘thrill of the chase’ dogs who don’t actually need to kill something, they just want to have the fun of the catching of it. Some dogs are very relationship driven and people pleasers, like Pitt Bulls. Some dogs are very play driven, like terriers and labs. Each dog and each breed has a unique drive that one needs to fully understand before we attempt to change a behavior.
Once I have that foundation in my mind, I start to actually work with the dog and build a relationship wth him that is based on mutual respect and having good old fashioned fun together. You can’t rush this, it takes time and practise…dogs affections aren’t bought that easily I’m sorry to say otherwise all prey drive problems would be fixed easily in hours rather than days.
I’m never going to ask a dog to do more than he can give me, so I operate on what is called the ‘swimming pool effect’; I let the dog ‘dip his toe in the water’ of the situation that’s a problem. Throwing him right in at the deep end is asking too much of him and gives him no practise time to get mentally ready for a situation. Yes, both of us are going to step out of our comfort zone during this time, but we do it gradually, consolidating and then upping the ante, as we do with everything here at the ranch.
Starting at the ‘shallow end’ as it were, we use the relationship that now exists between me and the dog where he sees me as the fountain of all good things, and introduce a very light prey stimulus. This could be a ball being thrown, or one of those silly fur toys with no stuffing in, dangled on a fishing line, it depends on the dog. At that point, I start to use the relationship building tool that I have with that dog and encourage the dog to be with me as opposed to chasing the object of his desire.
Food is honestly not a great idea with prey drive; its fine to have as a reward at the end of a training session but in all honesty, theres not a dog alive who’s going to find a Pupperoni as riveting as a Squirrel…but the dog can definately be encouraged to find YOU far more riveting than a Squirrel. ….and that’s exactly the time I start to use a great ball game or a game of tug of war or something the dog loves so much and knows he can get instantly.
Dogs are premium risk assessors….if the Squirrel is moving quickly and he has to catch it to get it, but on the other hand there’s you, the person he adores and finds most attractive and amazing in the entire world and there you are with that amazingly fun game…? Well, you’re right, he’ll choose his human…and if not, then I’m afraid you’re not interesting enough for him! Go back and work on being more dazzling to your dog!
Sometimes we humans don’t understand the very importance we have in the lives of our dogs and don’t pounce on this core thing to problem solve.
People talk a lot about ‘relationship centred training’ and talk about getting ‘check in’ from your dog, they’ll go on for ages about positive dog training, which I am very much in favour of…but nothing, nothing provides a better foundation for your life with your dog than getting to know him, his drives and building a fantastic friendship with him that supercedes anything the world can offer.
This relationship is not anything to do with how much food you can shove down his neck when you re training him…its nothing to do with taking him for a walk and fixing him great food every day, those are things anybody could do for your dog. I’m talking about taking the time to just ‘be’ with him, to sit, to breathe the same air, to rest and to communicate with no words..to play and really be in the moment with your dog, no cell phones, no texts, no interruptions at all. The kind of care you take to build a relationship with a human friend when you get to know each others likes and dislikes, learn to share laughter and have masses of fun togther. Its the kind of relationship with trust and respect at its very core…soulmates.
Combine this with cool calm confident benevolent leadership and you have a recipe for life with your dog that is going to enrich you both immeasurably.
Over time, you can up the ante, and introduce more exciting stimuli in a controlled situation, where YOU know its going to happen but the dog doesn’t, so that you are always ready with your distraction game. The trick is to remember that it takes time and patience and cannot be rushed.
If a clockwork mouse is a level one distraction and a deer is a level 10, then you clearly need to set your dog up for success and go through the different levels, consolidating each one and really ‘owning it’ before moving on to the next.
You will be setting your dog up for complete failure if  on the first day, you expect him to just see you with a ball and think ‘Ahh….Mum wants to play, I’ll completely ignore that chipmunk with a lamb chop tied to his head’!
More serious cases of prey drive do require more stringent measures,  and very often, professional help .
I’ll be honest, sometimes we have to use an aversive to stop the dog from chasing… by the term ‘aversive’ I don’t mean that we use shock collars, or pinch collars or choke chains etc; everything we do here is designed to help the dog, not maim the poor thing!
Normally we would use the depth of the relationship that we have spent so long building as an aversive…just as a child knows and is shamed by his parents disapppointment at his actions.
Finally, I am always telling my clients to be a cool calm confident leader, and then here I am talking about deep relationship building as a way to conquer or even prevent problems..whats that about? Can we do both?
Of course, its no different to being a parent, really.
Our dogs understand and communicate body language very effectively with us and each other, and they are heirarchical creatures, as are we……
A dog is going to respect a being who is cool calm and confident in the same way that we do as humans. Anybody, or dog, who runs around in circles yelling and screaming, acting all agitated and furious is never going to be looked upon as a viable leader. Your dog expects and wants his leaders to be far more like Clint Eastwood than Richard Simmons, that way he can relax and know that you’ve ‘got this’ and he doesn’t have to go chasing down every bike, truck, kid on roller skates etc out of fear.
Even as a cool calm confident leader, you can still have a closely bonded relationship with your dog….your dog would just prefer that you instill and maintain some boundaries though, and preserve the required heirarchy, so that he can relax. Think of it, yet again, in the same way as building a relationship with your child; there have to be boundaries, even though you love them, so that the child doesnt grow up rude, nasty, spoiled and out of control.
Having a dog with high prey drive can be either a life sentence, or an opportunity for you to really take time to build a different better relationship with your dog, and reap the rewards in every single area of your life together.
I know which I would choose………….