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Friday, 27 February 2009

On the pull

I've got two mutts that both look quite Husky-like and they do both like to pull on the lead - I'd love to let them do what comes naturally and pull a sled, but as I live in London it's not something we'd get a chance to do very often!
Is there anything we might buy that wouldn't need a massive snow fall to work? Do you have to have proper 100% Huskies?
Wendy Thompson, Clapham

Dog Scootering is an activity which is rapidly gaining popularity across the UK – dogs love to run and what better way to allow them to; you may have seen somebody in your local neighbourhood whizzing past you on a scooter being pulled by their dog or dogs. It is a great way to exercise and bond with your pet and is suitable for almost any fit and healthy dog.
Dog Scootering is a sport where one or more dogs pull a human riding an unmotorised two wheeled scooter. The human can help the dog along by scooting and together can cover a much wider area than by walking in the same time frame. This is a great way to exercise for both you and your dog. The dog obviously gets exercise by pulling the scooter and running, but people also get exercise, as they have to assist the dog by pushing the scooter, and at times, getting off and running with the scooter, especially up hills! Most dogs take to scootering immediately and need little or no encouragement to run as fast as they can, whilst going out to new and exciting places. As a scootering team get more experienced and confident, you can visit new trails and travel further, and can lead to a stronger bond between owner and dog.
Almost any type of dogs can pull a scooter, from Huskies, to Great Danes, and Schnauzers to Spaniels. The smaller the dog, the more you will have to help out on hills and rough spots. All dogs, regardless of size, must be slowly worked into fitness, along with their owners. Don't expect to run the Iditarod in your first month!
All you need to get started is yourself and your dog, a scooter, a harness and a gangline.
There are a variety of different types of scooter on the market currently, ranging from £150 to £400. Scooters are unmotorised and most have mountain bike type tyres, ranging from 16” to 26”. The scooters have a large footplate to balance, stand upon and kick off from, and usually have a front and rear brake.
You may find some models only have a rear brake, and other models are now incorporating front shocks to absorb the bumps when riding over rough terrain. Most scooters allow the gangline to be connected around the head stock of the scooter, but there are some varieties of scooter which have introduced a “brushbow” attachment, which cover the front wheel. This protects the dogs from the wheel and also allows the gangline to be connected in a direct line to the rear of the harness.
An alternative sport similar to scootering is bikejoring. This is where a bike is used instead of a scooter, although some people view this as a more dangerous alternative, as it can be more difficult to dismount a bike in an emergency. Others feel more secure on a bike.
Scooters are easily transportable. They can fit inside a car (if you don’t mind the mud!), a car boot or can be carried on a bike rack attached to the back or top of a car.
There are two types of harnesses that are generally used for scootering; the X-Back Harness and the Shoulder Harness.
The X-Back Harness is the mainstay product of the majority of professional and recreational mushers. Most commonly seen on pictures of sled dogs around the globe, this harness is the traditional style of capturing a dogs pulling power. It is important the harness fits snugly but not tightly around the neck and extends along the back stopping just short of the tail. As well as sledding and dryland mushing, this harness can be used for skijoring, bikejoring, cani-cross and scootering.
The Shoulder Harness; this style of harness connects around the shoulders of the dog with the hitching point just below the shoulder blades. This has the advantage of allowing all the power generated at the shoulders to be harnessed directly, which is particularly useful when the hitching point is not directly in line with the dogs topline, such as with scootering, skijoring and bikejoring. If the connection point is significantly higher than the dogs topline, then the use of an X Back harness can cause the dogs back legs to be lifted away from the ground slightly reducing the power. Some long distance mushers in the Iditarod have also cited shoulder harnesses put less stress on the lower back and hips of the dog.
Finally, you will require a gangline which is the line that connects your dog to the scooter.
The gangline will usually consist of two sections; the first called a tug line and the second a bungee line. Alternatively, you can obtain a single longer line which incorporates a bungee within. It is important to use a bungee within the lines, as it will absorb any sharp impacts from the scooter away from the dog and make the experience far more enjoyable.
There are double tug lines that are available once you progress to running two dogs. Most double tug lines will come with a neckline, which clips to the collar of each dog, to keep them running alongside each other.
There is no need for any special attachments to connect the gangline to the scooter – the lines can wrap around the head stock of the scooter; alternatively, as previously mentioned, some scooters are manufactured with special connections points for dog scootering.

Besides the equipment stated above, there is plenty more items and supplies you may wish to take with you whilst out scootering:
  • Water and Dog Bowl – dogs will drink lots of water especially after exercise. Always make sure your dog has access to fresh clean drinking water before and after exercising.
  • Treats – you will want to reward your dog after a great time scootering!
  • Poo Bags – most places now request that you use poo bags after your dog. This is a good reason to encourage your dog to go to the toilet before starting your scootering session.
  • Protective Equipment – you may wish to wear a helmet, wrist guards, knee pads and or googles when scootering, depending on the speed of your dog and the type of surface you are scootering on.
  • Dog Booties – Booties protects dog paws from hot pavement, sharp gravel and stones. There is often an adjustment period for the dog's paws, and they may get sore or cut initially if on a longer run, until they toughen up. The owner should ALWAYS carry booties along for cuts and abrasions, and to prevent infection.
Getting started for the first time
For your first run with your dog, choose a familiar route or trail. A good choice is to take the dog to a fun place he's used to visiting, so he has a destination in mind, like the park. A recognised trail is better than an open field because a dog does not know the direction to take when facing an open field. A narrow trail is better than a wide one. If you can, bring a family member or friend on a bicycle, and ask them to ride in front of you.
The dog's first lesson is that the scooter is FUN because he gets to RUN. Keep the run short for the first few trips. Stop well before the dog is tired. Stop while he still wants to go. The first run might be as short as a few minutes or a few miles. Remember that a dog that is out of shape and/or overweight will tire quickly and even can damage joints or pull muscles.
Most people starting out will have just one dog. As always start off slowly. Before you start off on the scooter, walk the dog a little so he has the opportunity to go to the toilet. This will reduce the possibility of your dog having to stop whilst running in harness.
Put the dog into his harness and attach them to the scooter with the gangline. An assistant is useful to hold the scooter (one foot on the scooter pad, both brakes squeezed tight) whilst you hook up your dog.
Once you are rolling, keep your fingers on the brake levers, and use your brakes lightly as needed to keep the gangline tight at all times. Ride to the side, not directly behind your dog and have fun!
Watch your gangline carefully – you do not want to ride over it and get it stuck round your front wheel or the dog's leg. Keeping the lines tight is your responsibility and can be done by using the scooter brakes lightly whenever the dog slows down. Do not let the scooter ride up next to the dog. The dog's job is always to hold the line out tight in front of the scooter. Novice dogs may pull sideways sniffing and lifting their legs. They will suddenly stop to poo as running causes the bowels to move. When first training the dog, steer the scooter to one side of him so that if he stops suddenly, you will miss him if you can't stop in time. Do not ride directly behind him.
If your dog gets confused, you or your helper can run beside him with a leash while the other rides the scooter. Keep encouraging him to pull. Heel trained dogs may be unsure that it's okay to be out front and pulling. Once they catch on, most dogs really love the pulling and running aspects of scootering. Again start off with short distances and build up gradually. Another way to encourage your dog to run is by getting somebody (your assistant!) to cycle in front calling your dog on.
A very important part of the training is command training. Remember, you cannot easily reach your dog without stopping and getting off the scooter and it may be too late to sort the issues, so an obedient dog which listens to your commands is very important. It will also make the experience far more pleasurable if both of you know what you are doing and what is expected.
The basic commands are "Gee" for right turn, "Haw" for left turn, "Straight on" for straight on, "On by" for overtaking or passing a distraction. There are many other commands such as "Hike on" or "Get on" for speeding up, or "Steady" or "Easy" for slowing down. Many people use these commands or variants of these, but the main thing to remember is to be consistent. "Whoa" is essential to get down before hooking him up to the scooter. Having good brakes on the scooter is essential for stopping dogs as most dogs consider the command "whoa" as only a suggestion!
Teach your dog mushing commands even when out walking to get them used to them:

Some basic commands:

Gee = Go Right
Haw = Go Left
Straight On = Straight On
Hike / Pull = Go Forward
Whooa = Gentle Stop
Trail = Stay on the trail
On By = Go past (e.g. past a distraction)
Easy = Go Slower

These are just examples. Use whatever commands you feel comfortable with; just keep them consistent.
The younger a dog is in terms of training, the easier it tends to be to train them. However when it comes to strenuous pulling exercises, it is advisable to let them finish growing and for their hips to have fused before undertaking any serious training or exercise. Many dogs start being trained from 6 months to work in harness, but will not pull any significant weight for any distance until they are at least a year old.
It is recommended to get your dog checked over by your vet before starting to scooter.

When and where can I do this?
Depending on your dogs overall demeanour and your general control, this can be done on virtually any off road trail that is firm enough to cycle on. Generally pavements and roads are not advisable as the hard surface will put impact pressure on the dogs joints and the risk of incidents with traffic and pedestrians is high.
The best time of year and weather to scooter in will heavily depend on your dogs coat and temperature tolerance, while it is typically a winter activity for densely coated northern breeds, other dogs with thinner coats would be able to run at virtually any time of year as long as you avoid particularly warm days.
NEVER scooter in hot weather. Cool weather is best for your dog. In warm weather, scooter in the cool of the day.
There is a fair bit of information available online on the sport and I would recommend anyone seriously looking into the sport to read “Dog Scooter: The Sport for Dogs Who Love to Run” by Daphne Lewis.
Further information can also be sourced from a free internet forum for dog running enthusiasts. Equipment is available from as well as other stockists.
Lastly, but most importantly – have fun scootering! Your dog will love it, you will love it; you’ll become a team and you’ll get fit too! Dog scootering is addictive!
Matt Hodgson, Snowpaw Ltd

New pup new food

I'm about to pick up my beautiful Labrador puppy and I've been reading up about nutrition. The breeder feeds something very cheap and full of E numbers. I'd like to move on to something much healthier but I'm too nervy to take the jump to raw feeding and to be honest I don't think I can commit to the shopping!
What healthy puppy foods can you get and how do I change her diet over.
Jerry Sampson, Stow-on-the-Wolds

Bringing home a new puppy for the first time is a thrilling experience for everyone concerned.
By the time you acquire your puppy he will already be weaned on to solid food. Changing your puppy’s diet should be done gradually over a period of a few days. Any sudden changes in diet could upset the puppy’s digestion or deter him from eating. Breeders will usually provide you with some of your puppy’s usual food which will help him settle into his new home. When changing the diet to a new type of food, mix the old and new food together gradually increasing the amount of the new food he receives and decreasing his old diet over a week or so.
It should be remembered that for the first six months of life puppies grow at an astonishing rate, a growth that we humans take up to 14 years to achieve. This rapid development requires a high calorie intake to enable the dog’s full growth potential to be achieved. At peak growth this feed intake can equate to as much as twice the requirement of adult consumption. Though this should be split across at least three meals per day, as puppies’ stomachs are small and only able to cope with small frequent meals.
The higher the quality of nutrition at this stage, the better chance the puppy has of developing to its full potential. Feeding your puppy correctly is essential to support resistance to the initial challenges of life, ensuring long-term health and providing solid foundations for adulthood.
A feed especially formulated for puppies should be your be your first choice.
Naturediet Puppy/Junior has been developed specifically to meet the nutritional needs of the growing puppy. Like all Naturediet feeds, Puppy/Junior is 100 per cent natural, with at least 60 per cent real meat content and no artificial preservatives or ingredients. The feed contains all the nutrients required for growth, while ensuring that your puppy’s body condition does not develop too quickly for his bone growth.
For more information on Naturediet Puppy/Junior click here
Carl-Michael Carey, Naturediet PR

Puppies have higher energy needs than adult dogs (up to twice as much weight for weight). But this does not mean that puppies should have large amounts of high energy food. Many health problems of growing and adult dogs are caused by excessive energy intake in the growth stage. For example, it is well known that overfeeding puppies contributes to skeletal and joint problems particularly in larger breed dogs. Your Labrador comes into that category. Hip dysplasia is a real concern.
For a long time it was believed that hip dysplasia was purely a genetic defect which could be eliminated by selective breeding. That failed to work and it is now accepted that over-nutrition is a major contributing factor. In spite of that, most commercial foods for puppies and growing dogs contain high levels of fat and protein which encourage too-rapid growth and excessive weight gain. The aim is to keep your puppy lean. But beware - If you do people will stop you in the street and tell you he or she is too thin; there are so many overweight dogs that this has become the norm.
Slight underfeeding is not harmful whereas overfeeding causes lasting problems.
Of course you don’t want his bones sticking out.
The Burns Puppy Guide may be helpful.
John Burns, vet, Burns Pet Nutrition

Unfortunately most pet foods don't list all the artificial additives, colourings and chemicals they put into the food they produce as there is no legal requirement to do so. It means the customer has no idea what's in the pet food they are buying. The only guarantee that you are buying a pure food is if it's certified organic. I emphasis certified as the law currently also allows pet food companies to call their food organic even if it isn't - so you must look for certification on the pack!
The word 'natural' on the pack is no longer an indication of something good, as this word is used all over the place by marketers and can mask all sorts of unnatural things!
A good thing to do is to take a good look at the food you are buying - how does it smell? Does it smell rancid or just yukky? That's a clue to what's being used. Do the kibbles look very dark? This could be a sign that they are full of fat. You can also do a 'home test' on this by putting a small handful in a bowl of water and waiting for about 30 mins - if it's very greasy you will see a very thick film of grease on the top of the water. There should just be a very thin film on the top.
A good food should smell delicious, not overpowering and if it's a wet food, you should be able to see nice pieces of ingredients, rather than a brown mush!
Henrietta, Lily's Kitchen

Although diet is crucial in maintaining good health in all dogs, at no stage is it more important than during puppyhood. This is when the foundations are laid for the rest of the puppy's life in terms of the puppy's immune system, bones and joints and temperament. The sheer number of options available can be daunting for a new puppy owner, and since every food claims to be the best, the whole issue can become a bit of a minefield. There are both good and bad dry and wet foods alike but price is rarely the best indicator of quality. When choosing a new food, always start by looking at the ingredients list. Firstly and most importantly, each entry should be clearly defined and should not leave any room for error. Ambiguous terms like cereals, by-products and derivatives are usually a bad sign. If you're looking to feed naturally you'll want to steer clear of any foods with ingredients like preservatives, flavourings, colourings, E numbers or EC permitted anything. The order of the ingredients on the label reflects their abundance in the food - the first ingredient is the most plentiful and so on. Most natural nutritionists agree that meat should be the primary ingredient in a dog's diet and should therefore be the top ingredient in your puppy's food. There are also a number of ingredients that are well known for being problematic in dogs - wheat, soya and dairy products are usually best avoided.
Once you've chosen a food for your puppy you'll have to make the switch.
Changing the food can be a stressful experience for the puppy, so don't try changing until the puppy has had at least 2 weeks to settle into its new home. For a healthy puppy the change should be made over roughly 3-5 days to allow the system time to adjust. Start by replacing a small amount of the current food with the new food and day by day increase the proportion of the new food until only it remains.
Alan Creaser, Director, Natural Dog Food Company

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Retraining a deaf dog

I rescued a seven-year-old Neapolitan Mastiff with severe ear problems about a year ago. He has had a number of chronic ear problems in the past, left untreated by his previous owners, which have now caused abnormalities in both ear canals. Yesterday the vet had to perform a bilateral TECA/LBO and he is now completely deaf.
Does anyone have any experience of retraining an older dog who has lost his hearing? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Kim Stock

I'm sorry to be a bit late picking up on this, Kim. I am a former dog trainer and APDT member. I had a deaf Border Collie who died of cancer aged 14 years having led a 'normal' life. As well as training my own deaf dog I have also helped loads of other owners to train their deaf dogs. I have written a book, 'Hear, Hear' details of which are on my website It shouldn't be so difficult training a dog that has lost his hearing so I've outlined some important things to bear in mind and some training exercises.
Hand Signals
The primary form of communication will be hand signals. They must be:
- Consistent. Everybody in the family must use the same hand signal for the same command.
- Simple. The dog will have much to learn without confusing him with over-complicated hand signals.
- Clear. Ensure the dog can see the hand signal. If the hand is held away from the owner's body as much as possible, the owner's body won't silhouette the signal.
- Exaggerated. Eventually, when the dog is off-lead, he must be able to see the hand signal from some yards away, so use exaggerated, and expansive signals.
- Structured. With a hearing dog, an owner can use a normal, soft tone of voice to 'ask' the dog to sit, for example. Assuming the dog knows the verbal command for 'sit' but chooses not to obey, the owner can use a firmer tone of voice to 'tell' the dog to sit. With a deaf dog this is not an option. Hand signals should therefore be structured so that an ordinary signal is used to 'ask' and a firmer signal used to 'tell'.
- Commands. As well as the commands the dog is expected to obey, a hand signal for 'good dog' and 'bad dog' must also be developed.
Body Posture
- Relax. A relaxed body posture is essential during training. A dog may read the signs of stress or anxiety in its owner and consequently may not respond as well as it might.
- Bending Over. Some dogs are intimidated by an owner bending over it, particularly when the owner is 'calling' it back. The owner bends over and the dog stops a few yards away, not wanting to go underneath the owner's body. Alternatively, some dogs see bending over as a sign of play and will jump up towards the face. If it's necessary to get down to the dog's level, it's best for the owner to crouch down rather than bend over.
- Leaning Forward. Leaning forward slightly is part of the two-stage structure of 'asking' and 'telling'. When 'asking' the dog, the owner should be standing up straight. If the dog chooses not to obey, assuming he knows what the signal means, the owner 'tells' the dog by leaning forward slightly, taking one step towards the dog and using a firmer hand signal.
Facial Expression
- Happy Face. When training a particular exercise, if the dog gets it right, smile and say 'Good dog'. This will automatically brighten up the owner's face and the dog will eventually associate a happy, smiley face with the face he's done the right thing.
- Blank Expression. While the dog is still working out what is being asked of it, the owner must have a blank facial expression, so as not to give away any emotion. The owner is not pleased because the dog is not doing what the owner wants so there's no happt, smiley face. Neither is the owner displeased because the dog is still learning and is not choosing to ignore a command so there is not harsh, scowling face from the owner.
- Scowl. A harsh facial expression is used only when the owner is certain the dog understands a command but is choosing not to obey. A scowl, leaning forward slightly and the firmer hand signal will then all be used to 'tell' the dog rather than 'ask'. The harsh facial expression will also be used when the dog is getting into mischief and the owner needs to communicate his displeasure.
With a hearing dog, the dog learns by associating what he's doingwith the verbal command being used by the owner at the time. So when the dog is in the processes of sitting and the owner says, 'sit', the dog pairs its action of sitting with the word 'sit'. In addition, the consequence of the dog sitting is rewarded by a food treat and if a dog finds a behaviour rewarding, he is more likely to repeat the behaviour. With a deaf dog, the process is the same except the dog associates his action with a hand signal. However, to get the desired response from the dog, it must be motivated, and whatever is used as a motivator, is used to reward the dog for correct behaviour.
Most dogs are motivated by food; toys motivate others and just being stroked motivates a few dogs. The first task for an owner is to find out what motivates their dog. If it's food, it shoudl be a high-grade motivator like cheese, sausage or frankfurters rather than its normal dog food, which it will have every mealtime. If it's a toy, it must be the dog's favourite toy.
Having found what motivates the dog, the owner can use it to get and keep the dog's attention. This is essential for training. If the owner hasn't got the dog's attention, training will be impossible.
Show the dog a food treat and place it in the palm of the hand with the fingers out stretched. Place the thumb over the food treat and turn the hand over for the palm is facing downwards. Position the hand just over the dog's nose and move it slightly back over his head. As he looks up and back towards the treat, his rear end will go down. As soon as he's sitting, give him the treat, smile and stroke him. When the dog is consistently following the hand with the food treat, move the treat to the hand not being used to give the signal and try the same hand signal. As soon as he sits give him the food treat from the other hand, smile and stroke him. At this point the dog has paired his actions with the hand signal.
With the dog sitting, lower the hand with the food treat slowly to the floor positioning it between or just in front of the dog's paws. The dog will lie down in an attempt to get the food treat. As soon as he is lying down, give him the treat, smile and stroke him. Gradually the dog will understand that the hand on the floor will be the signal to lie down. At this point, lower the hand to wihin, say, two inches off the floor and wait for the dog to lie down. When he's doing that consistently, lower the hand to within, say six inches off the floor, so eventually the hand is lowering les and less leaving the owner standing and pointing to the floor as the signal to lie down.
During training the dog must be walked consistently on either the left or right of the owner. It doesn't matter which. It's important to keep a loose lead because if there is tension on the lead, the dog will pull against the tension, hence teaching the dog to pull on the lead. Having the dog on the left, for example, the owner should hold his left hand with the food treat down by his left leg and in line with the dog's nose. As the owner walks off the dog will follow the hand with the food treat. After two or three steps, stop, give the dog the treat, smile and stroke the dog. Repeat the process but walk four or five steps before rewarding with the food treat. When the dog is consistently following the hand with the food treat, move the food to the right hand but still keep the left hand as if it still had the food treat in it. After a few steps, stop and reward the dog with the food treat. At this point the dog has started to pair his action with the 'heel' hand signal.
If the dog starts to pull ahead, change direction or do an about turn, give the 'heel' signal and start again. If the dog pulls ahead again, it may be necessary to walk two steps, change direction, take another two steps, change direction and so on. The dog will start to realise he has to pay attention to its owner, as he doesn't know where he's going. If the dog jumps up, stop. Do not look at or touch the dog and wait for him to calm down before setting off again.
Eventually, the hand signal will be a straight left arm held downwards with the fingers of the hand also outstretched.
It's important the dog is looking at the owner, so stand in front of the dog and raise an arm as though taking an oath in court. At this stage it doesn't matter if the dog is sitting, lying down or standing, providing he's staying. Later, once the dog will sit or lie down on command and understands the 'stay' signal, the two can be put together for a sit/stay or down/stay.
Take one step back and immediately return to the dog. Smile and reward him. As the dog becomes more competent at staying, gradually move further and further away. The hand signal will alter slightly the further the owner goes from the dog so the arm is outstretched and the hand is vertical, like a policeman stopping traffic. If the dog wanders off during the exercise, just return to him, put him back and start again. If the dog looks away from the owner, stop and get the dog's attention before continuing backwards. Don't forget to smile all the time the dog is staying to reinforce what he's doing.
This is probably the most important exercise any owner wants to teach their dog. There are two components to getting the dog to come back to its owner. First the dog must understand and obey a 'recall' signal. Second, the dog must be taught to voluntarily pay attention to his owner.
The recall signal must be expansive and exaggerated. Have all the members of the family in the garden each with food treats. To start with, the dog may have to be lured with the treat to go to the first person but when he gets there, hold the collar so he doesn't run off, and give him the food treat. The next person then 'calls' the dog. When he arrives, hold the collar and
give the food treat. The dog will soon get the idea that going to each member of the family is fun and rewarding and will soon pair his action of going to someone with the 'recall' hand signal. Remember to smile when he's doing the right thing. Also remember not to bend over the dog until taking hold of his collar.
When the dog is going to each member of the family consistently, move to unfamiliar but secure surroundings, like a neighbour or friend's back garden.
The next stage is to teach the dog to voluntarily look at his owner. With the dog on a long line, walk around the garden holding food treats or his favourite toy, allowing the dog to wander wherever he wants. Eventually the dog should look back towards his owner and when he does, give the recall signal and when he arrives, give him the food treat or a play with the toy.
If the dog doesn't voluntarily look at his owner, walk into the dog's line of vision to get his attention and give him the 'recall' signal. Once the dog knows the owner has something he likes, he should start to get the idea
to look to the owner in the hope of getting food or a play with his toy.
There are two things to remember. First, the line is only on the dog to stop him wandering off. It is not there to tug him back. Second, only reward the dog when he has fully returned to the owner and has not returned just part of the way.
When on a walk change direction frequently to keep the dog guessing where he's going. If he doesn't know where he's going he is more likely to keep an eye on the owner. Also take a toy and play with the dog for a few minutes then take it away before the dog gets fed up playing. A few minutes later, take the toy out again and play for a few minutes more. This will keep the dog guessing when he's going to be played with and he's then more likely to keep an eye on his owner.
All this and more is explained more fully in my book, 'Hear, Hear' but in the meantime I hope this has been some help.
Good luck - and have fun!
Barry Eaton

Manic Morph

I’d like some advice regarding my recent family addition; a two-year-old neutered male Border Collie called Morph, who’s been living with us for seven-and-a-half weeks. I know very little of his history as he was a stray.
We discovered he was microchipped, but when we spoke to the people he was registered with they told us they had lost him four months previously, had seen him walked by someone else and he looked so happy they didn’t want him back, which sounded a bit suspicious to me.
I decided to give him a trial and he hit it off with my Border Collie bitch, Ebony. It has become evident, however, that he has received very little training or stimulation of any sort. He pretty much has every problem an under-stimulated collie could have. He chases everything (including my cats), he stalks cars and sometimes he tries to catch them, throwing himself at them. Ebony also had this problem when we first bought her and I managed to stop it, but she was younger and a lot easier to hold on to than Morph!
He also takes food from the worktops and barks constantly when he’s in the car. I’ve tried a humane collar that shoots out air when he barks. It was fantastic at first, but then he discovered that it was just as fun to bark at the air coming out of the collar. When he’s not barking he’s licking the windows or grating his teeth on them. I don’t know whether this is because car journeys are stressful for him or whether it’s because he wants to chase the cars.
When excited, Morph tends to use us as springboards. He also fixes his sight on various things (quite often light bulbs) and just stares at them and jumps straight up at them. He also chases his tail; in fact he’s chewed the end of it off.
I love him to pieces and I know that he hasn’t been with us very long, but I’m wondering if I’ve taken on a dog that’s too much and if he would be better off with someone who had more time to devote directly to him. I’m self-employed and the dogs are with me as much as is possible. They also have a three-hour (minimum) walk each day.
I know he’ll be the most fantastic dog once he’s trained. I just want what’s best for him. I’d rather rehome him sooner or later if I have to, but directly, and not via a rescue centre. Is there any advice you can give me with his multitude of problems?
Amy Britcher, by email

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Ashes to ashes?

I'm wondering if anyone else has read what's in their dog food and has gone ugh!
I feed a really top notch food that's meant to be really healthy - yet even that has 5% Ash in it.
What is Ash and why is it in seemingly in every prepared dog food? Is it just something to bulk it out - surely it can't be healthy eating ashes?
Will Holmes, Weybridge

It is a legal requirement that the amount of ash is listed although I don’t see the point myself.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

What's a Belly Band?

Just heard that the KC have concerns about the misuse of belly bands, I'd never even heard of them before then. What are they, what are they meant to be used for and how could they be abused?
Sarah Stevens, Slough

A Belly Band seems to be an American invention - it's a wrap secured by velcro that goes around a male dog's middle stopping them weeing or even mating! Correctly used they stop dogs from scent marking - particularly useful for hard to housetrain dogs or dogs that may be incontinent. Incontinence pads can be used inside the wrap. The KC are worried about these wraps being too tight or being left on for too long.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Heavy price to pay

I had to change vets recently due to having no transport to travel to the practice I have used for 20 years, which is 10 miles away.
The medical records were transferred for my dog Millie who has a heart problem. She has been taking Fortekor 5mg, for which I have been paying £26.54 for 28 tablets. After a consultation (as a new patient) I was given the usual tablets but was charged over £42 for them. When I questioned the price difference I was told that this was the price they were charged from their supplier. I explained I would find it difficult to afford this price and she then said that perhaps they could do a 'deal' and suggested £31.50.
Is it a common thing for medication to vary so much in price between different vets? I find it quite shocking.
Deborah Lyons, Leicester

Worm worry

Help! I have just seen some sort of white rice grains on my dog’s tail. They seem to be moving and I though I could see one actually coming out of my dog’s backside! It’s gross! What are they? What should I do?
Mary Harris

What you are seeing is tapeworm segments, which are indeed leaving your dog’s gut via the anus, and have found their way onto his tail. I have to agree that it really is a most unpleasant sight.
There are two main issues to be addressed:
a) Are they a health risk? That all depends on the type of tapeworm involved. For your dog, it is a sign that there is an adult tapeworm living within his gut, which is deriving nutrients and shelter, as is the way of parasites, and should therefore be eliminated. For yourself, tapeworm segments are not a health risk; those tapeworm species causing disease in us are picked up as eggs from faeces of an infected main host.
b) How do I treat my dog? There are two main approaches to take in order to take control of the situation: direct action on the tapeworm – drug administered as tablet, injection or spot-on; indirect action – strict flea control (pets and environment). It is certainly easier than in cats, which will be picking up tapeworms from prey they catch ‘on the hoof’. However, there are some dogs who will eat undesirable snacks whilst out and about and who may therefore inadvertently pick up tapeworms in this way.
Alison Logan, vet

Obviously, prevention is better than cure. What worming products do you use and how effective are they?
Julia, Dogs Today

Re-programming needed

I have a five-year-old Westie bitch who has increasingly taken to attacking the television whenever a programme or an advert comes on that has a dog in it (sometimes other animals too) – in fact there is one advert in particular that really sets her off – the Specsavers sheep shearing one! She actually launches herself at the television, barking and growling and trying to paw at the dog or animal. I have tried to use a distraction but to little avail, even the odd food treat when she leaves it alone has no impact; I have even shut her in another room until she calms down as advised by another dog walker. If I put her on the lead she does calm down and settles almost to watch it but I do not want to keep having to do this to her every time I have the television on. Any suggestions would be most welcome!!!

The issue you describe is an increasingly common one, I think this is because TV is becoming more realistic and there are even more dog-related and animal related shows. My dogs and I do enjoy that Specsavers ad!
There are a number of options, one is the process of flooding. This needs to be done very carefully so as not to cause your Westie any stress and also to prevent the issue becoming worse. Initially switch the tv on or that advert specifically if possible. When your Westie reacts, leave the room, leave the advert playing. You should stay out of the room until your Westie comes to see what you are doing. This may not happen immediately. Allow about 10 mins, if after this time of the advert continually playing your Westie is not coming to see you and not calming down you can add to the mix picking up your keys and
behaving as if you are going for a walk. This should attract her attention. As soon as she comes to you make a big fuss of her, go back in the room and turn the TV off. You need to repeat this as much as possible.
Another option is to use noise aversion therapy or a sports water bottle to interrupt your Westie's behaviour. Calmly approach and spray (or squirt) then use a command such as quiet. After a few goes you should find just approaching your Westie will stop her. At this point use the command before you activate the pet corrector or squirt the water. This process is shaping.
Try not to avoid the issue by shutting her out as this may make things worse.
Amy Hatcher, behaviourist

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Food for thought

I don't understand protein levels in pet foods - if you look at dry food and wet food it just looks completely different. I'm guessing dry food has the moisture taken out so the protein level looks much higher. What formula do you need to use to compare like with like? And are all wet foods the same - what about whole foods like tinned fish? Aren't they different to ones with added carbs?
What I don't get is even if I look at a tin of something like sardines for human use, the protein percentage is really low - like 10%. There's nothing else in the tin but fish so far as I can see - so what's the other 90%
But then I got to thinking hold on isn't that normal? Aren't we 90% water? Why should we expect 'real' food to have any less moisture than we have?
Is there someone who could explain it to me what we should look for in a food which presents bits of an animal we can still recognise as opposed to ones with ash and feathers and all sorts of other things?
I'd like to feed my dogs and cats a protein source that is as unmessed with as possible. If so how much protein should I be aiming for ideally and what other ingredients should I add to make the mix perfect?

You’re quite right, dried foods will always ‘seem’ to be higher in protein because they are low in moisture. A wet food may be 10% protein but 75% water, so the non water ingredients are relatively high in protein (in other words after you take the water out, 40% of what is left is protein). On the other hand a dry food that is 25% protein and which has virtually no water in it is still 25% protein in comparison.
However, it’s much more complicated than that because how much protein the dog takes in depends on how much volume of food is eaten and then to confuse matters more, not all of the protein is actually digested equally well. On the label of a bag or can of pet food the ingredients are listed in order of weight. If the first ingredient is chicken or lamb you can take it as being a good quality protein source. ‘Chicken by-product’ or other meat by-products are not as good; meat and bone meal are poorer yet. If grains are listed, they are not as digestible a source of protein and contribute heavily toward the carbohydrate load. Even after digestion there are more differences. Different proteins have different nutritional values. The ability of a protein to be used by the body and its amount of usable amino acids is known as the biological value. Egg has the highest biological value and sets the standard for which other proteins are judged. Egg has a biological value of 100. Fish and milk are close behind with a value of 92. Beef is around 78 and soybean meal is 67. Meat and bone meal and wheat are around 50 and corn is 45. Things like hair and feathers would be very high in protein but would be down at the bottom of the list for biological value.
So all in all go for fresh real food where possible so you know its good quality; if you are giving processed food look for meat rather than meat by products and meat meal; and above all avoid like the plague foods with high carbohydrate content. In principle, the more (high quality) protein the better, some fat is fine, and the fewer carbohydrates the better.
A final point about ash. Ash is not cinders from the fireplace and cigarette ends added to bulk out the food. It is simply the inorganic matter (minerals, vitamins, trace elements) in the diet. Ash content is calculated by incinerating the food; the ash is what’s left (which explains why it is called ash!).A diet containing bones would be, naturally, high in ash, but very healthy all the same.
Richard Allport, alternative vet

Richard Allport says that the diet should be high in protein, some fat is OK and carbohydrate should be avoided like the plague. He mustn’t be allowed to get away with that. What is the merit in a high protein diet? How can you feed high protein without high fat too? They go together in most meat sources. There may be cases where a high protein and low carbohydrate diet is important but there cant be many. In my experience excellent health benefits are achieved when the diet is high in complex carbohydrate (whole grains), and low in fat and protein.
The correct way to compare wet and dry foods is to compare by dry matter (DM) content. Look first at the declared moisture content.
Let’s take a wet food with 80% moisture and 10 % protein.
Subtract 80 from 100 to get the dry matter content which is 20%.
Think of this as 20 gr of DM in 100 gr food.
10 % protein means 10 gr in 100 gr food
So the food has 10 gr protein in 20 gr DM i.e. 50% protein on a DM basis.
With a dry food
Say 10% moisture and 20% protein
This means on a DM basis 20 gr protein in 90 gr food
This equates to 22.2% protein on a DM basis (20/90 x100)
So the dry food which seems to have twice as much protein actually has a lower protein content on a DM basis.
As Richard Allport says, protein levels don't mean much unless you also consider digestibility.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Get kitted out

I'm going away for a weekend away to Dorset with my dog in a couple of months and want to put together a doggie first aid kit. What items should I be including?
Emily Davies

A canine first aid kit is a very useful thing to have, not many commercial ones are available but we have our own made up by our supplier. They should contain: a small quantity of saline eye wash capsules for cleaning debris from eyes and wound cleaning, disposable gloves for prevention of disease transmission, conforming bandages of two or three different sizes, crepe bandages which can also be used as an improvised muzzle while treating a sick or injured dog, sterile wound pads in varying sizes and a roll of micro pore tape. Splints can be improvised from card board tubes from kitchen roll, rolled up newspapers or magazines and it's always a good idea to get training in how to use them.
You should always clean wounds thoroughly and apply a sterile dressing, when bandaging a leg always ensure that you include the foot whether it's injured or not as this prevents the foot swelling below the bandaged injury site. If a wound is in an area where it's impractical to apply a bandage keep direct pressure on the wound and use a sterile pad to begin the clotting process. If bleeding continues add more pads on top of each other, don't remove the soaked ones, again it helps the clotting process, then evacuate to a vet for advanced medical treatment.
Mike Jones, MJ First Aid Training and Canine Rehabilitation

I think it's a good idea to have a basic first aid kit on-hand in the home, as well as to take with you when you are out and about with your dog. There are a number of ready-made kits on the market, but it's relatively simple to put one together yourself.
My own DIY pack includes:
Dressing materials, such as bandages, cotton wool and adhesive tape
Latex gloves
Antiseptic solution
Tea Towel
Tick remover
List of emergency contact numbers
If you are going away from your usual area on holiday or a day trip it is useful to do a bit of research and make a note of the local vets' details, just in case your pet needs emergency treatment.
Tell us your essential first aid items.
Julia Owen, Dogs Today

Very sensible to ‘Be Prepared’ and think about having a first aid kit specifically for your dog. It will be useful to have with you whenever you are out and about, near home or away on holiday.
Julia has covered most of the items I would consider essential. When it comes to scissors, sharp-ended are fine for cutting dressing materials, and better than no scissors at all, but I do like round-ended ‘curved on flat’ scissors which you may have seen your vet use when clipping away fur, because they minimise the chances of accidentally cutting the skin.
Additionally, I would suggest taking your dog’s vaccination certificate whenever you go away in case he has to be kennelled for some reason.
Is your dog currently on any medication? If so, then remember to take sufficient for while you are away, plus two or three days to cover all eventualities. It is a good idea to have a note of your usual veterinary practice’s name, address and telephone number with you; if you have to take your dog to a vet whilst you are away, then it will be easy for further information about your dog’s health such as previous history and medication to be obtained.
Is your dog micro-chipped? If not, then I would recommend it because he will be in a strange area. Should he stray and lose his way, he might also lose his collar with dog disc, or just the dog disc. A microchip registered with the national database is a form of permanent identification which is fine provided the details logged against it are kept up-to-date. You may be able to register temporary contact address details against his microchip for the period that you are away. Do check that any mobile telephone number recorded is still applicable.
If you plan ahead, then hopefully none of it will be needed! Have an enjoyable weekend in Dorset!
Alison Logan, Vet

First class

I have a 12-week-old German Shepherd puppy. I know how important it is to socialise her so I have been taking her out to familarise her with all the sights and sounds of the modern world. However, as soon as she sees another dog she starts to bark and jump about on her lead and it's very hard to calm her down. I would like to take her to puppy classes, but am afraid how she will react to a class full of strange dogs.
Mark Williams

It sounds to me as if your puppy is desperate to be allowed to play with other dogs! Has she been able to unteract with other dogs since you have had her? This is so important especially whilst she is under 14 weeks of age - a critical socialising time. Have you any friends who could bring their dog to visit you - or whom you could visit - in order to let your pup have some off-lead contact with another dog?
I have been running puppy classes for many years and have had many owners at class who were really concerned about letting their puppy loose when it seemed to be over-excited. The trainer running your local class will have seen this before as well. You will be amazed that when the lead is taken off the chances are that your pup will stop all the leaping and barking nonsense and start to greet the other pups calmly and probably quite tentatively. Being on the lead restricts the natural greeting behaviour of dogs and often results in what you are describing.
You do have a GSD, which is one of the noisiest breeds in my experience. They like to 'have the last word' and 'talk' back to you, which is part of the charm of the breed! But we do not want her barking constantly. Start to work on a 'Quietly' command. When she barks, decide how many barks are to be allowed - perhaps three woofs - and then hold a smelly food treat in front of her nose and say 'Quietly' whilst she sniffs the treat. Dogs can not bark and sniff at the same time, so sniffing interrupts the unwanted behaviour and gives you something to praise. I have found that it can help to make the point about being quiet by running your other hand gently down her throat whilst she is sniffing the treat. After about eight seconds let her have the treat. The eight second sniff means that she will associate the treat with being quiet rather then being rewarded for barking. Also start work on 'Sit' and practice it any time, any place, anywhere - in the lounge, in the kitchen, on the front path, on the pavement, at the gate of the park, on the grass in the park etc. Asking for a 'Sit' will help you control the leaping about.
Lynn Aitchison, Dogs Today Advisor

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Break-in has robbed Boxer of her confidence

On Saturday night I was victim of an attempted robbery.
It would appear that it was only an attempted robbery because Poppy my three year old Boxer alerted the burglars of her presence before they were able to get away with anything. Which is great, I was working a nightshift, and it's great to know that my wife and two children are safe.
Unfortunately the whole episode seems to be bothering Poppy around the house and she has really lost her spark. She spends most of the day in her bed, where she would only normally go if bribed with a tit-bit. On walks she is very uninterested and she appears very frightened and has run home on two occasions. If I take her to other locations for walks she is fine which only highlights the change in her when she is at home. She is eating well and still sleeps in our bedroom but she doesn't come and join us in the front room like she used to. She is definitely not herself.
I wondered if she was stressed? But wouldn't know what to do if she was. Apart from that I don't know what it could be? Have you heard of anything like this before?
Thanks Nick and Poppy

I've asked Nick for some more details, for example if the burglars entered the house. If it's possible Poppy was hurt by them and not just frightened. I've suggested getting a vet check just to make sure there are no physical problems. Think Tank Behaviourist Amy Hatcher is hoping to visit Poppy and Nick shortly to try and help her recover her sparkle.
Keep watching for updates.

Here's Amy's report:

Experiencing a break-in is more than just an inconvenience, it can be incredibly traumatic and frightening for all – including the family dog.

It can make any human feel their privacy has been invaded but the difference for us is that we know and understand what has happened. For our canine family members it is a different story. Having a total stranger arrive at the territory without the other pack members there is an exceptionally stressful time and can lead to canine depression and all sorts of other stress related issues. In extreme cases the nature of the dog totally changes.
A dog is able to detect through smell that something isn’t right with the situation, which is how dog walkers are able to enter client properties without causing most dogs any stress. An intruder will give off an unfamiliar odour, not just their usual smell but also a mix of adrenaline and other hormones connected with fear, anxiety and excitement. This will be a scent that most dogs will be very unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. This alone can often provoke a reaction from a dog that leads to stress, anxiety and frequently depression.
My first conversation with Nick involved some negatives - this is unusual for me as I first build a relationship with the owner and ensure I have their trust and confidence before I talk frankly with them. However it was very apparent in this case how much Nick and his family love Poppy and how badly it was effecting them. With this in mind I advised Nick that fixing Poppy was going to take a little time and a lot of patience.
On my drive over to meet Nick I was wondering what I would face, I couldn’t quite picture a Boxer without her sparkle. I wasn’t quite expecting what I saw - Poppy gave me a quick sniff then retreated to sit on Nick's feet- a clear sign of anxiety and a little bit of defensive behaviour.
Poppy wanted to stay in her bed all day, was suspicious of me when I was welcomed into her home and looked like she had almost lost the will to live. Poppy had lost her Boxer exuberance. This, I am sure was a result of the shock.
Change of routine would also have its influence, it is therefore vital after any trauma to try to keep the routine the same and not over-compensate for any trauma as this can confuse dogs even further. Over-fussing the dog will cause added anxiety if this is something unfamiliar to them. Dogs rely on routine in order to be able to exist and live happily along side humans, within the human life style. A dog will adapt to pretty much any life style he is used to but this takes time.
We began by going over how Poppy used to react to various environments and situations. It was early days and some of the stress Poppy feels will gradually disappear - time is the greatest healer - for all living mammals. It was vital that I saw Nick and Poppy before too much change set in as this can become a habit and at this point it is much harder to correct.
We developed a new training regime for Poppy. Fortunately Nick was going to be away with work in the Fire Service for the next week. Poppy was to stay with her usual friend and playmate a chocolate Labrador. This will really help her confidence and help her to forget the trauma of the break-in. It will mean a clean start. With that new start Nick needed to introduce some extra time for Poppy in the form of 5 or 10 minutes training. As Poppy is very driven and bright I have recommended Clicker training as it encourages focus and also allows for the opportunity to problem solve which is a superb way of building confidence.
Whilst this was underway the walks had to be addressed. Poppy no longer wanted to go on her usual route and so Nick had started to change the location of where Poppy was exercised. I advised doing a combination of locations so that Poppy was allowed the opportunity to accept her familiar routes without feeling anxiety.
The greatest concern aside from building Poppy’s confidence back up to normal is the potential for future aggression. Poppy’s confidence has been knocked for six and as a result she is showing signs of fear and anxiety around new people. This can quickly turn into aggression because for an adult dog the best form of defence is attack. To ensure this did not happen I put Nick and Poppy on a similar programme to dogs with aggression issues. Lots of meeting strangers and lots of dinner parties with guests. This way Poppy would still trust people in her home, around her family and always accept this as normal.
Nick really enjoys training Poppy so I am confident that with a little bit of TLC and a whole lot of extra training time Poppy will return to her normal fun-loving self.

Reaction or just a coincidence?

Is it possible to have a reaction to other injections - not just a vaccine?
I have heard of a dog developing a lump on the site of an anti-biotic jab. What could cause that? Is their any other ingredients in an antibiotic jab that a very sensitive animal could have a reaction to? Or could the antibiotic itself set off a lumpy reaction? Or could it just be a coincidence?

Fading away

I've noticed that sometimes my dog's nose and lips can become less brown. It's usually when she's about to come into season. Is it an old wives tale or could this be a sign of a lack of iron?
An old breeder friend says to give her kelp - but where do you get it? Someone else recommended Brewer's Yeast. But how much and how often? (She's a Springer Spaniel)
Should I go to my vet and get her checked out? Could this be a symptom of something more serious? I read on a forum that autoimmune can be linked to fading pigment.
Sarah Stevens

This loss of pigment is indeed related to the bitch’s season. It is a sign that accumulated wastes (toxins) are being eliminated. This is a “good thing” although it would be better if the excess of toxin were not there in the first place. It is difficult to advise as you do not say what you are feeding but a better quality diet or a reduced amount of the existing food (or both) should help. It is not a deficiency of iron or anything else.
There are other circumstances in which this type of pigment change occurs. At Burns we occasionally see changes in pigmentation of the nose or the skin when dogs change to Burns food. White dogs turn pink; black dogs turn brown. The first time it happened I was alarmed that the food might be deficient in zinc. As I’ve already said, it’s a cleansing process, a discharge of toxins and is a sign that the health of the body is improving. Similar changes occur in some dogs when they moult which is itself a cleansing process.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Eye don't know!

My dog has quite unusual eyes, but they seem to have changed colour as his coat has got lighter and darker. Is this just an optical illusion? Or is it possible for dogs eye colour to change?
My dog is a Beardie which is one of the few breeds to have the greying gene which means their coats change colour all their lives. Could this be true of the pigments in his eyes, too?
Beverley Cuddy, Editor

The big sneeze

Can dogs catch colds? I have had a very heavy cold over the past week and now my dog has a runny nose and keeps sneezing.
Karen Hughes

Bloat concern

I have recently welcomed a three-month-old Dogue de Bordeaux puppy into my home. She has a wonderful temperament and is responding well to training, but I have been told that the breed is prone to a condition called bloat. Is there anything I can do to prevent her from getting this condition and if not, are there any symptoms I should look out for?
Sue Butler

Anonymous says that if you feed raw you won’t have to worry about bloat, anal glands etc… I could say the same about Burns and perhaps some other dry foods.
Another (EMS) had bloat on raw food. Interesting that EMS blames dry food yet her dog bloated on raw food. Is it not extremely simplistic to think that all dry foods are the same.
I think the most useful way to look at bloat is to realise that it is the result of indigestion however caused. This means it can occur on any food if fed improperly i.e. fed to excess. An important consideration is to feed food which contains high quality ingredients which are highly digestible. High digestibility means that the feeding amount will be lower which is helpful.
I don’t think a raised feeding bowl will not make any difference at all (no harm though) but it is a good idea to split the daily feed into two and certainly not feed prior to exercise.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Monday, 9 February 2009

Milk of human kindness?

I have just adopted a gorgeous two-year-old Labrador cross, who is settling in well. However, her previous owners used to give her milk to drink, and as such, she is reluctant to have much water. I have heard that milk can cause skin and digestive problems in dogs. Is this true? Should I be trying to wean her off the white stuff?
Rebecca Jacobs

Personally, I would wean her off milk for three reasons, each related to a different component of milk:
- some dogs with food hypersensitivity are reacting to protein in the milk;
- as puppies mature, they often lose the ability to break down the milk sugar lactose which results in diarrhoea. This can also occur temporarily in people following a bout of gastro-enteritis. Presumably, your dog is not having diarrhoea since you have not mentioned it so she can still digest the lactose. If, however, you think her faeces are looser than expected then this is one likely explanation, and easily remedied by avoiding milk and dairy products;
- being a Labrador-cross, I wonder what your dog’s waistline is like? Milk is essentially a baby’s food, and cow’s milk is very different from bitch’s milk! Being two years old, your dog is certainly no longer a puppy (although the Labrador in her means that she probably still plays as if she was still a puppy!)
Dogs are not social drinkers like us so they will drink sufficient water to match their needs, generally 40 – 50ml per kilogramme body weight over a 24 hour period. Drinking milk is taking empty energy onboard; if your dog is overweight, then being able to cut out the milk should give you a fairly simple way to restore her to a healthy body condition. I have had overweight patients who have been resistant to all my efforts to lose weight, until it has transpired that the cat is being elbowed away from his milk! (Mind you, milk poses similar problems in cats, and yet we all picture a cat lapping at a saucer of milk …)
If in any doubt, your usual veterinary practice may offer a weight or nurse-led clinic so that your dog can be weighed and her body condition scored.
Alison Logan, vet

I think Alison Logan says it all here. Cut out the milk; it’s unnecessary and the dog will start drinking water in a few days when she gets thirsty.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Balancing act

I have three dogs that are fed a good quality food 'Arden Grange' lamb and rice. combined with Nature Diet's chicken and rice stuffed in Kong’s when I leave them.
Although my dogs are in fantastic condition regarding body and coat shape, (they get plenty of exercise and stimulation), I have found that when young (apart from the crossbreed as I got him at 18mths of age) they have all suffered bouts of runny poo frequently. My Labrador who is now three years old was fed on Burns originally, then James Wellbeloved and then Arden Grange chicken and rice. However, as his coat was prone to dandruff, I changed to Arden Grange lamb and rice and since then he has been alright.
My youngest one at 14mths has regularly had bouts of diarrhoea with blood (once every couple of months), which eventually clears up. The vet just gives me tablets and thinks she will grow out of it! She has also frequently (though I think it may be settling down a little bit now) suffered from a really rumbly tummy, usually around 4am, which she finds uncomfortable. Eventually after a couple of hours it subsides but during that time she won't eat.
Today again she has suffered runny poo with a bit of blood in. I will try her with boiled rice and cooked egg but if it continues tomorrow I will take her to the vet again. Do you think I should ask them to check her stool sample?
I was wondering whether it would help them both if I fed them more naturally, but I would prefer to feed a cooked diet rather than raw. I would ideally like to do a combination of this and the Arden Grange kibble as I like my dogs to work for their food by either doing trick training, agility etc and be rewarded for the correct responses. The kibble works out well for rewarding them with and once a day they get fed a portion of their food in a roll a ball, and they love these, so i wouldn’t like to stop this method of feeding them.
Is it possible to create a balanced diet (although I am sure my diet is not totally balanced) by doing this? Is there anybody or any book that will tell me exactly what I should be feeding them? My Labrador weighs about 25kg, the 14mth collie-springer cross about 17kg and the 11yr old crossbreed about 15kg.
Also what treats can I feed for training that are more natural instead of their ordinary kibble? Though they all work really nicely for these, I would like to go as natural as possible. I couldn't feed raw chicken wings to my Labrador because he would swallow them whole.
Kath Charlton

Well, if I had to suggest ten non-organic commercial foods that I thought were the best quality, healthiest and safest to feed, I expect I would put Nature Diet, James Wellbeloved, Arden Grange and Burns in that top ten, so you have made some good choices so far. I'm not quite sure from your question whether you want to feed a combination of cooked food and kibble or raw food and kibble. Either way, don't worry too much about a balanced diet. As you imply, we don't constantly worry about whether our own diets are balanced. As long as you are feeding a variery of foods, balance will be achieved over a period of time - a diet doesn't have to be balanced every single day to be healthy. I would give as much fresh food and as little kibble as possible. If you don't want to feed raw, just lightly cook whatever you feed, but do give some real meat, offal if possible as well, and your own leftovers too for that matter.
Another choice is to look at organic commercial foods. Although I give my own dogs a mainly raw food diet, I do sometimes give them a terrific organic food called 'Lily's Kitchen' which I think is the best thing since sliced bread as far as dogs are concerned. Their dry food is produced as very small pieces that are ideal to give as training treats - organic and healthy too.
Now, your dog with the rumbly tummy and bouts of diarrhoea. This sounds rather like colitis to me. The symptoms fit, it is intermittent in nature, and there is no obvious cause, just what you find with colitis. It is true she might grow out of it, but if it is colitis (and of course I can't diagnose this at a distance for certain) it could persist or even get worse with time.
I find that most dogs with this kind of syndrome are helped by a daily dose of Slippery Elm - this is a herb that soothes and protects the intestinal lining. Artichoke is another herb that can help, and there are many homeopathic medicines that would be beneficial too. I would certainly advise that if the problem persists you ask your vet to refer you to a holistic vet for treatment with natural medicines.
Richard Allport, alternative vet

Your story raises a great number of issues, all of which should be considered in the round rather than separately.
1) I think you should give priority to the health of your dogs.
2) I believe you can achieve the desired results by correct nutrition but you cannot do it yourself without professional advice. This is what you have trying to do. Even your vet cannot sort it.
3). You ask if there is a book which can tell you precisely how to feed. There is none and there cannot be one; every dog is different and food and feeding amounts have to be adjusted for each individual.
4). This follows from 3). A major disadvantage of home prepared food, whether cooked or raw, is that it will inevitably involve variations which make it harder to get the feeding right. Changes in food from day to day and fluctuating feeding amounts cause confusion if something goes wrong. It also makes it difficult to give advice.
5). Provided you are feeding a fixed formula, commercial prepared food, it is easier to calibrate and to make minor adjustments to achieve the desired result. It is also easier to give advice.
6). The more variety of foods whether main food or treats and rewards, the more likelihood of introducing something to which the dog has an intolerance. A “hypoallergenic” diet has few ingredients in order to reduce the likelihood of introducing something which will cause a bad reaction.

Dandruff is a sign of excess of waste matter in the system. This suggests too much fat and/or protein in the diet. If it happens when Burns is the main food, this is probably due to overfeeding, giving supplementary foods such as treats or feeding one of the Burns high-energy foods.

The colitis/ lower bowel disorder/rumbly tummy are probably due to overfeeding or food intolerance or both.
[I am intrigued when you say he has a rumbly tummy at 4 a.m. which lasts for a couple of hours during which time he won’t eat. I don’t think you should be trying to feed him during the night, and certainly not when he has digestive discomfort.]

So my advice is to keep things simple for a few weeks at least. Hopefully, one of the Burns range of foods should be suitable for all your dogs although that is not guaranteed because of individual variation. .All are highly digestible, low in fat and protein. Initially, the feeding amount should be less than the recommended amount.
As I mentioned earlier, you will need expert guidance and the Burns nutrition team can offer advice on which food and amount to give. For the time being you should avoid treats and supplements.
I also recommend reading my Guide to Natural Health Care which explains the principles I have mentioned here.

John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Westie that needs direction?

I have a problem with a barking Westie. He was a brilliant dog with no aggression or any behaviour problems until he was six months old we had him neutered and when at the vets for a check up a spaniel came out and went for him (for no reason he was just sitting quietly) and I honestly believe that was the last time he sat quietly! He barks constantly at anything and everything, he barks at other dogs while out and he won't stop for anything. He is fine with the other dogs we own (two Staffordshire Bull Terrier bitches) and was fine with our older Alsatian Rottie x who we lost in December but very aggressive with any other dog and we have tried both on lead and off lead with dogs we trust. He barks at my neighbours dogs both sides have JRT's one one side two the other which is a real pain especially last thing at night and early morning (in fairness they often start the barking which negates any training I try and do with him). He barks at anything that drives or walks past our house and any dog that barks within a five mile radius. He is getting to the stage where he isn't a pleasure to walk and I have to force a happy smile and make myself calm to walk him I now walk him separately to our other dogs as they are happy quiet girls who love all other animals and its very frustrating to them that they can't play with other dogs as he barks which unsettles everyone. I spend most of my life trying to quiet him, I have tried the teaching him to speak and then quiet which didn't work for me because he is aggressive I have no desire to make this worse with squirting him with water or anything else I lavish praise on him whenever he shuts up and reward him for any silence. He will be two years old on March 1st and I have literally spent the last 18 months of my life with constant noise. He is cage trained and sleeps in his cage and is left in there if I go out (never for more than two hours) he is fed in there too as he is also food aggressive (again not something that any of my other dogs are or have been) he is fed on Davies Ranger lamb and rice dry complete food to limit any skin problems he may have. I would never re home any of my dogs I love them too much I have four children who adore them and vice versa but I'm literally sitting here in tears writing this down I feel like I've failed him but don't know why he would be so different to the other dogs as they have all been bought up the same way. the only lighter comment on all this is the look on people's faces when you tell them that your two Staffies love dogs but can you avoid the Westie as he is dog aggressive....any help or advice anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Was posted as a comment elsewhere on this blog - don't have writer's details

Dear Troubled Westie Owner. It sounds like your westie has a few issues caused by a combination of things. Westies do have a tendency to be vocal, I have trained many for barking problems. However, they are not all like that and there is certainly no reason why we cant fix him. Starting with the barking, this behaviour and the way your Westie displays it is known as reactive, due to the fact that he is reacting to anything and everything. You need to start by introducing some house rules if you dont have any, this will help you gain more respect from him. Although he is not barking for any reason relating to you, he isnt stopping when you request it which shows a lack of respect. I don't know your individual dog but Noise Aversion Therapy quite often works well with barking problems. It works by interrupting their barking with a loud unpleasant sound and prevents your dog from receiving any attention- even negative for barking. You simply spray or rattle without looking at him. Once he starts to respond to the noise aversion item you can add in a command. I favour Pet Correctors for this but there are many home-made devices you can use such as an old can with some nails in it- make sure the top is sealed.

We then need to address the aggression which I suspect stems from nervousness, but it is hard to diagnose and therefore correct without understanding your dog. Are your other dogs ok with other dogs? How much did he socialise with other dogs as a pup? Attacks by other dogs are always stressful and this causes many owners to keep their dog away from other dogs, at least for a few days. My dogs have unfortunately been attacked by many dogs, probably between them over 30 dogs. This is partly due to the rural community in which I live, most of the dogs in the village don't get to met any other dogs and so attack any others they see- namely mine! My dogs are, however, still very sociable with all dogs, all shapes, all sizes, this is because even straight after an incident I continue my walk and ensure I meet as many other dogs as I can. Of course it may be a frustration bark, in which case I have a few more questions.
Amy Hatcher, Think Tank resident dog trainer

Westie owner please contact us ASAP - Amy would to talk to you further and try to help you more

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The lawn ranger

We have a two-year-old neutered male Labrador who enjoys the run of our back garden. However, after he wees or poos he kicks up great lumps of turf with his back feet. I understand that he is marking his territory, but how can we stop him from digging up our lawn?
Megan Owen

The whole tooth

My year-old crossbreed has got bad breath and his teeth are quite stained. Should I be following a dental hygiene routine for my dog?
Tina Searle

The simple, short answer is “Yes, you should be following a home dental hygiene routine.” In the wild, a dog’s teeth would clean themselves naturally whilst eating. Assuming you are feeding manufactured food, then that natural role of the diet has been removed, and the responsibility for keeping our dogs’ teeth clean comes down to us owners.
In an ideal world, we would brush our dogs’ teeth every time after he or she has eaten, or at least twice daily. It is best to start when your dog is a puppy because brushing the teeth is not a normal behaviour. It should be a pleasant experience, but you will need to set aside time for it because it can seem like one big game, as with so many things when training a puppy!
A dog’s mouth is not only differently shaped from ours but also varies between breeds. Specifically-designed canine toothbrushes are available so you should be able to find one which matches the size and shape of your dog’s mouth. The toothpaste we use when brushing our own teeth is not suitable for dogs not only because is it designed to be spat out but also because it is flavoured to suit our taste-buds. Again, veterinary toothpastes in different flavours (for example, poultry, malt) can be found.
Start by letting your dog taste the toothpaste, then introduce the idea of brushing by rubbing the teeth and gums gently with your finger. If your dog does not take to an actual toothbrush, then a finger brush might be more acceptable, which simply slips over your finger so that it mimics rubbing the teeth and gums with your finger.
If your dog will not tolerate having his teeth brushed, there are other ways of helping his dental hygiene. These include:
- special powder added to food to reduce plaque build-up;
- dental chews and biscuits – a pleasant and convenient way for your dog’s teeth to be brushed, but beware of the extra energy content; you do not want your dog to gain weight! Reduce the amount fed of the main diet to allow for them;
- dental-care foods (routine and prescription) – instead of all the crunch being at the surface of the teeth, as happens when a dog eats standard dried foods, the nuggets of these foods are formulated to allow the teeth to sink into them, enabling their abrasive nature to help clean the teeth, so it is rather like eating a toothbrush!
- there are also drinking water supplements designed to improve oral hygiene (rather like drinking water with added mouth wash).
You mention bad breath which can certainly reflect poor dental hygiene. Do bear in mind that there could be another underlying reason such as:
- infected broken tooth;
- caries;
- gum disease;
- foreign body wedged in mouth and/or abscess;
- eating malodorous material such as faeces, decomposing food materials and so on (yuk!);
- is your dog washing his rear-end excessively? Impacted anal sacs are a common finding in my experience; although many argue they may be a red herring, I find that the bad breath often clears up once they have been expressed.
Although your dog is a year old, one should not overlook the effects of an underlying health problem. In particular, I am thinking of kidney failure which can develop in young dogs and can be the sole reason for an owner seeking veterinary advice. I would therefore suggest that if your dog’s breath does not improve after attempting any of home dental hygiene measures mentioned above, then I would have him examined by a veterinary surgeon.
Alison Logan, vet

What do you use to keep your dog's teeth clean and their breath smelling sweet? Tell us about your favourite dental products now.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Is it normal for dogs to moult all year round? I thought it was usually a twice-yearly occurrence, but my Labrador, Shadow, moults constantly. Sometimes it just comes out in clumps and when he shakes there is always a shower of hair. I brush him regularly and his coat is shampooed once a month, neither of which seems to make any difference to his hair loss. Is there anything I can do to slow down the moulting?
Jane Baxter

I am in exactly the same situation myself with my Labrador. Although she does not moult all the time, it does seem as if I have barely heaved a sigh of relief at the end of a heavy moult before I start finding huge piles of fur accumulating once more in the corners of the kitchen and hall, together with retrieving huge amounts of dead fur at grooming. What a shame the wild birds are not nest-building all-year-round!
I had thought that having a Labrador would be much easier than the situation with the border collies of my childhood. When they were moulting, they would readily yield a carrier bag of fur at a single grooming, and the same again the next day and the day after that. Labrador fur may be shorter than a border collie’s, but it is much finer and spreads to the edges of rooms with smooth floors (for example, tiled or floor-boards) where it collects in a tell-tale fashion. No skipping the vacuuming when Pippin is moulting!
My clients often ask me about this apparent all-year-round shedding. Generally, we do not allow a seasonal variation in temperature within the home. Instead, we strive to maintain a temperature which is warm enough in winter to enable us to remove outer layers (coat, hat, gloves), then cool enough in summer to offer respite from high external temperatures (except in East Anglia in past summers!). Additionally, there can be extreme fluctuations on a daily basis, given the UK’s highly variable climate. Dogs cannot remove or add layers at will so they end up very confused if living indoors.
Dogs living outside in kennels will grow a thick winter coat which is shed in the spring in favour of a lighter coat for the summer.
We are being told to turn down the thermostat on our central heating by one degree to help ease global warming. I suspect this will not be enough to lessen your dog’s rate of moulting!
Constantly moulting may well be affecting the quality of your dog’s coat, so it would be worth trying adding evening primrose oil to his food. On the plus side, provided he enjoys being groomed then you have the ideal excuse and opportunity for close contact and quality time together.
Alison Logan, vet

You either love it or hate it...but is it bad for dogs?

My young and healthy Jack Russell, Wilf, loves Marmite. My question is, due to it's salt content, is it likely to do him more harm than good? I don't give him too much- I smear about a quarter of a teaspoonful on a Bonio for him about twice a week.
Sara Marlow

Marmite - well, you either love it or hate it, as the saying goes, and Wilf obviously loves it. Marmite is mainly made of yeast extract and is a good source of B complex vitamins and minerals such as Zinc. It does have a relatively high salt content (about 11gms of salt per 100gms Marmite), but how harmful this is depends on how much you give. I believe a quarter teaspoonful will contain about 0.5 gms salt, which given twice a week will cause no worries, unless Wilf’s diet is exceptionally high in salt. You might be just as concerned about the ingredients in Bonio –

Bonio with Marrowbone. The ingredients are cereals, derivatives of vegetable origin (marrowbone 4 percent minimum), meat and animal derivatives, oils and fats, sugars, minerals, coloring (iron oxide), and antioxidants (BHA and BHT).

- such as its sugar content, the ‘derivatives’ and the antioxidants!

Richard Allport, vet