Will Work for Food

By Heather Mishefske

Giving your dog a way to work for their food can improve its behavior this holiday season.

Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers. We humans are not good at catering to our dog’s hunting prowess due to safety concerns. We do not allow them to chase squirrels, indulge in road kill, stalk squirrels, or hunt the songbirds at our feeders. These are all activities that they would LOVE to indulge in, but due to the potential for parasites, hunts gone wrong, and safety, we deter them from doing so. And rightly so!

There are safer ways to allow our dogs to bring out their huntress side without the risks. The world of canine enrichment has exploded in the past several years. There are many gadgets, games, and toys that recreate a game that allows your pooch to engage its inner hunter. Our dogs have it pretty easy. We buy baked kibble in perfect little nuggets and deliver them to our dogs in raised feeding stations. While some of us make our dogs “work” for their food, by requiring a skill before their food or treat is presented, eating the food out of their bowl is a very easy task. So, let’s use their food to fill a puzzle or interactive toy and make them REALLY work for it! And use their most highly developed organ, their incredible NOSE! By making your dog work for its food, we utilize some brain power on those days when scheduling or Wisconsin weather makes it tough to get outside for exercise. And why not feed them out of a food puzzle or toy–they have to eat anyway, right? Food puzzles and enrichment toys provide an outlet for dogs to scavenge, root, uncover, and find their food. By doing this, we give our dogs a job, help alleviate boredom, assist with confidence building, and provide a chance for them to do some serious problem solving. Many toys or puzzles are made so that the dog must tip them to get the kibble out, move parts of a puzzle, turn the toy a certain way, or uncover sections to access the food. Once your dog understands how to access the food, he or she becomes a problem solver of all puzzles that you will present them. And there are SO many options out there to explore.

An excellent place to add enrichment toys into your dog’s life are the holidays. The unpredictable days, the added stress of unfamiliar guests, the lack of routine, travel, late nights, and possible lack of physical exercise often lead to increased anxiety in our canine companions. Giving them a simple task like “find your own food” can help. Doing this uses their most developed organ, their nose. Make feeding time into a job.

Some of our faves here at emBARK are:

  • StarMark Bob-A-Lot
  • Starmark Treat Dispensing Ball
  • Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Mazee
  • Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Snoop
  • Omega Tricky Treat Ball
  • Pet Safe Tug-A-Jug OR Magic Mushroom
  • Any of the Trixie puzzles
  • Any of the Nina Ottenson puzzles
  • Kongs (the original stuffable food toy!)
  • Kong Gyro
  • Snuffle Mats – find them on Etsy or make your own!

The main rule of enrichment toys is that they are meant to be used under our supervision. Many are made of plastic or resin, creating parts that could easily be chewed off. If you pup attempts to chew the toy, simply help a bit by moving it until they understand that motion of the toy is the way that food is delivered. Once your dog understands that they have control of the food delivery, he or she will begin to enjoy the game. Dogs who eat too quickly also benefit from these food puzzles, as treats/food is delivered slowly.

For most dogs, their biggest enriching activity is learning new tricks, skills, and going to new outdoor environments to use their nose. Using food puzzle toys can quickly become something that they look forward to. Add some interactive enrichment toys to your dog’s holiday gift list—it will benefit both of you!

Heather Mishefske is a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of emBARK, LLC. She has been involved in the dog scene in the Chippewa Valley since the age of ten, and professionally since 1998. emBARK offers training classes, dog daycare, dog grooming, canine massage, and workshops. To check out the Midwest’s Hippest Hang Out for Hounds, check out www.embarkdog.com.

How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?

By Margaret Meier Jones, DVM, CVSMT, Animal Wellness Center of Bullalo Valley

 

Is it just me or does reading this make you want to break out in the Pattie Page song by the same title? In that song she wants to buy the dog for her sweetheart, singing, “If he has a dog, he won’t be lonesome, and the doggie will have a good home!” We all have certainly been tempted to buy a pet for a loved one, especially during the holiday season, but is this really a good idea? Does our sweetheart have the space, time, energy, and financial resources needed to properly care for that doggie and ensure it will truly have a good fur-ever home?

 

So many considerations must be made when we look to add a pet to our homes, and the family members who will be involved with the pet’s care really need to be part of the decision as to whether or not this should happen. Should we get a cat or a dog? A bird or a lizard? A guinea pig, a hamster, or a ferret? A fresh water or a salt water fish tank? Or should we settle on something even larger, like a pony or a pot bellied pig?

 

Settling on one of these species then brings even more questions such as which breed matches our family best? What health problems is that breed prone to? Does this breed have any special needs or other things that add to our financial commitment? For example, if it is a brachycephalic breed (i.e., Bull dog or Himalayan), the soft palate is functionally elongated so they snore and have increased anesthetic risks during surgical procedures. Or, are we getting a giant breed, such as a Great Dane, that has larger spatial requirements and a shorter life expectancy?

 

Next we must ask ourselves if we are going to get our new pet at the pet store, shelter, rescue group, breeder, Craigslist advertisement, or through friends and family via Facebook? Will they join our family as a puppy/kitten, a young adult, or would a senior citizen work better for us? I know what you might be thinking: does each answer really just lead to more questions? I like THAT doggie in the window I see right now! Why can’t I just buy him and take him home!? You certainly can, but…..

 

Do you have the supplies he needs? Good food and bowls, leashes, kennels, and space inside or outside your home that’s a safe shelter for him? Litter boxes, scratching posts, and age-appropriate toys? Are you ready to deal with accidents that might happen in your new environment with potty training and/or separation anxiety? Do you have friends and family willing to let you bring your new friend with you when you visit them this holiday season or do you need to secure space at a boarding facility? Are they current on the immunizations that the kennel requires and does that facility have vacancy?

 

Have you asked your sweetheart these questions? When you do, and the answers come easily, we congratulate you and look forward to meeting your new furry friend too!

 

What’s in that Pet Food Anyway?

By Margaret Meier Jones, Animal Wellness Center of Buffalo County

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen a commercial advertising a dog food that is “New or Improved.” Or perhaps you’ve seen a blog or a news report through social media that states a particular food was the demise of a friend of a friend’s dog. The latest and greatest today seems to be that every manufacturer seems to have a “grain-free” food that you should rush out and buy. Is this really important or just the latest, greatest marketing strategy?
Dogs, like people, are omnivores, which means their metabolism is based on meat, fruits, and vegetables; whereas cats are truly carnivores and need a diet based primarily on meat. So those commercials showing how your cat is dreaming of carrots and tomatoes aren’t actually based on biological facts. And, perhaps your cat actually does love tomatoes, but your sister’s cat only wants sardines. Why is that, exactly? One of the best answers may come from the Chinese “archetypes” of personalities and metabolisms based on the five seasons, a system that can be applied to our pets as well as ourselves. The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D., is a great book to read if you’d like more detailed information on diet and the Chinese theory of the five seasons.

So, does my pet actually need to eat “grain free”? Like many questions, the answer to this one is it depends. In general, however, grains are not typically the villains they are made out to be. The quality of the food and how much it is processed should always play a major role in determining if we should feed it to our pets rather than whether or not it contains any grain. Unfortunately the pet food industry is not as regulated as it is for humans, and pet foods aren’t even required to be balanced and nutritious to be sold to the consumer.
So, how do I navigate the world of pet foods? I strongly recommend that you compare the food you are feeding your dog to others on the market at dogfoodadvisor.com. This website uses the familiar “5 star” rating system to rank foods based on the following seven criteria according to their website:

1. No controversial chemical preservatives
2. No anonymous meat ingredients
3. No artificial coloring agents
4. No generic animal fats
5. Substantial amounts of meat-based protein
6. Fat to protein ratio of 75 percent or lower
7. Modest carbohydrate content

Notice that they refer to it as carbohydrate content, not grain free. The most common misconception I hear from my clients is that grain free equals carbohydrate free, which is far from true. Unfortunately, sometimes the grain-free version of a food can be much higher in carbohydrates than any other ingredient, which leads to weight gain and health issues related to obesity. So, check dogfoodadvisor.com, and while you’re there, be certain to register for the free food recall alerts. This way you’ll know what food you feed your pets is not only the best, but also the safest out there!

Purr-fectly Purr-tect Baby from Allergies with Pets

By Margaret Meier Jones, Buffalo Valley Vet Clinic

 Bringing home your new baby is a time of great joy and celebration. As you’ve gone through your pregnancy, no doubt you have received countless tips, suggestions, and various opinions regarding raising your baby with pets in your home. From the old wives’ tale of cats smothering babies in their cribs to increased risks of vivacious dogs harming your baby; you may have been encouraged to re-home your pets before your baby’s arrival. The good news, however, is that children raised with pets have a stronger immune system and are actually less likely to be allergic to animals as adults!

In the study led by Ganesa Wegienka, PhD, and published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy,[1] researchers concluded “the first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats influences sensitization to these animals.” Wegienka went on to say, “Dirt is good. Your immune system, if it’s busy with exposures early on, stays away from the allergic immune profile.” Interestingly, the study did not show a substantial reduction in adult pet allergies if the children were first exposed to pets after the first year of life.

Raising your baby with pets has many other benefits for you and your child. As your children grow, having a pet in the household can also help to keep your child active; thereby preventing childhood obesity. Taking your dog for daily walks with your child helps to demonstrate the importance of getting outside and exercising on a regular basis. These early influences help to develop a lifetime habit of activity and provide priceless memories for you and your child.

As your child grows, pets also help develop self-confidence and allow children to become responsible adults. Going outside to play with the family pet encourages one’s imagination and creativity. I remember well watching my daughter, Emilia, develop games she and our dog, Sara Jane, would play for hours on end. She would also carry her favorite kitten, Toupe`, in a small pail telling us he was in his car seat and they were on their way to the grocery store to buy groceries. Finally, pets can also help our children learn how to deal with grief. Several studies have shown that the younger we are when we learn how to process the feelings of grief, the better equipped we are to deal with it throughout our lives.

 

So enjoy raising your baby WITH your pets. The benefits that will last your and your child’s lifetime are yours to create and share.

 

  1. “Lifetime Dog and Cat Exposure and Dog and Cat Specific Sensitization at Age 18 Years,” Journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 2011, Jul 41, (7) 979-986.

Service Dogs and PTSD: Dogs Can Help Address Stress

An Interview with Heather Mishefske, emBARK

A Second Opinion: Do you feel having a dog in general (not specifically trained) can be helpful to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? If so, why? In what ways? Are they especially helpful to veterans?
Heather Mishefske:
Absolutely a dog is helpful to anyone with PTSD. A dog does not need to be specifically trained to provide benefits to people with PTSD. Dogs meet us in the moment, and for people who struggle with traumatic events of the past, this is an amazing trait. Dogs give unconditional love to their people, and support them via multiple senses. While they support our emotional and tactile senses, they are a constant in our life. They do not ask us to explain, they do not ask us to talk, nor do they ask for emotional support back to them. They simply are there. Dogs also are able to create new routines for exercise, provide a first contact in social settings (which may otherwise be avoided), and allow for accountability in keeping the dog’s schedule for eating/letting out/walking.

ASO: In some cases would it be better for a person with PTSD to go through the process of acquiring a trained and certified service dog? Why or why not?
HM: If a person feels they need support while out in public and needs more than just emotional support, it is imperative that a dog be trained to support that person in public settings. Being out in public brings with it extreme distractions, difficult environments, loud sounds, unusual surfaces, and unique settings. A dog needs to have stealth focus to maintain his/her job in supporting its person under all of these circumstances. Some dogs are obtained via service dog organizations, and some are self-trained.  These dogs are trained to be able to provide mobility assistance, physically interrupt and redirect panic attacks, retrieve medications, alert help, provide nighttime support in the event of nightmares, redirect emotional upsets, provide mobility support, and remind the handler of daily tasks. A well-trained dog can work in a public setting around heavy distractions and provide support while ignoring these distractions.

ASO: You have found sometimes people claim their dogs are service dogs, but they really aren’t trained to be. Why do you think people do that? How does that create issues for people whose dogs ARE trained and certified?
HM: There is an alarming amount of dogs out in public who are not truly service dogs but whose owners claim they are. A service dog is defined as a dog who provides a task for the handler that the handler cannot do himself or herself. For many, a service dog is absolutely crucial in allowing these handlers to be able to survive in public. With many claiming that their pet is a service animal, this is hurting legislation allowing real service dogs to come into public settings. There have been examples in the press where seeing-eye dogs have been denied access in public settings due to businesses having had bad previous experiences with “fake” service dogs in that facility.

A service dog in public should be an invisible extension of its handler. They are not there to be petted, to be social, or to interact with anyone other than their person. They should have superb manners, stealth focus, and be completely attentive to their handler. Touting your pet as a service dog under false pretenses is hurting those who really rely on their service dogs, and this is hugely unethical. There is no national certification, no government regulations, or no “vest” requirements for service dogs. Dogs that are trained to perform tasks for disabled people qualify as service animals under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are generally allowed to accompany their owners wherever the public can go. There is also something called an emotional support dog. These dogs support a person emotionally but are not allowed to accompany them in public places under the ADA laws. Emotional support dogs do not need the advanced training that service dogs do, as they do not have public access rights other than travel and housing rights.

ASO: How are dogs beneficial to their humans even if they don’t have PTSD? What are the benefits of having a dog?
HM:
There are SO many benefits!  Research has proven that being present around dogs or owning a dog can lower blood pressure, raise levels of feel-good hormones, get people out exercising, create social opportunities, help prevent children from developing allergies later in life, provide companionship, and many other amazing things!

Living with a dog requires you to be accountable. They require to us to be responsible for another life other than our own. In return they provide unwavering loyalty, nonjudgmental relationships, and a constant support. They simply walk side by side with us accompanying us through the web that life throws at us.