D O G  N U T R I T I O N

Dedicated dog lovers tend to be very kind people. We share our hearts and homes (and for some lucky pups, even the foot of our beds) with our canine pals. Surely there is nothing wrong with sharing our favorite foods with them too, right? Not necessarily. Many of the foods, such as fruits and vegetables, that humans digest just fine can wreak havoc on a dog’s body, causing severe health problems. On the other hand, some of the foods people eat can be introduced to a dog’s diet just fine, and even provide health benefits such as joint strength, better breath, and allergy immunity.

But before giving your dog foods that you crave, read on and learn which foods are safe and which can send your dog straight to the vet.

Human Foods


No, dogs shouldn’t eat almonds. Almonds may not necessarily be toxic to dogs like pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are, but they can block the esophagus or even tear the windpipe if not chewed completely. Salted almonds are especially dangerous because they can increase water retention, which is potentially fatal to dogs prone to heart disease.

Why Almonds Are Bad for Dogs

While many dogs love the taste of almonds, consuming them can cause gastric intestinal distress. If your dog accidentally eats a few, be on the lookout for these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • General discomfort

Almonds, like most nuts, are high in fat and can put your pup at risk of developing pancreatitis. It’s a serious condition that requires the attention of your veterinarian.


This snack also poses another dangerous problem: obstruction. Almonds can block your dog’s esophagus, intestines, or windpipe, especially in small breeds. These obstructions can be fatal if not treated, and they occasionally require surgery.

Flavored almonds come with unique risks. The spices and flavorings can irritate your dog’s stomach, and the salt in the seasoning can lead to water retention and salt toxicity if consumed in large quantities.


What to Do If Your Dog Eats Almonds

If your dog consumes one or two almonds, don’t panic. Instead, watch him carefully for signs of intestinal distress or obstruction. If your dog devours more than a few almonds, call your veterinarian or local emergency veterinarian for professional advice.



Yes, dogs can eat bread. Small amounts of plain bread (no spices and definitely no raisins) won’t hurt your dog, but it also won’t provide any health benefits either. It has no nutritional value and can really pack on the carbohydrates and calories, just like in people. Homemade breads are a better option than store-bought, as bread from the grocery store typically contains unnecessary preservatives, but it’s best to avoid it all together.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen dogs eat sandwiches, slices, and even whole loaves of bread, and in one notable instance, an entire pack of English muffins. Bread makes up a large part of the American diet, and our dogs seem to get their fair share of it—but should they?

Is It Safe for Dogs to Eat Bread?

The short answer to the question “can dogs eat bread?” is yes. Dogs can safely eat bread in much the same way as humans—in moderation. Plain white and wheat bread is generally safe for dogs to eat, provided they don’t have any allergies, and it usually does not cause any stomach upset.

Feeding your dog bread as a treat now and then won’t hurt her, as long as she is also fed a complete and balanced diet and gets plenty of exercise. It also won’t help her. Bread is essentially a filler food and does not contain any nutrients that are not already supplied by your dog’s food. As anyone who has ever considered going on a diet knows, bread is full of carbs, which can put your dog on the path to obesity if you are not careful.

Risks of Feeding Bread to Dogs

The long answer to the question is a little more complicated. Bread itself is usually not toxic, but there are exceptions. Here is what you need to know about the risks of feeding bread to dogs to make sure your dog stays happy and healthy.

Dangerous Bread Dough

If you’ve ever made bread from scratch, then you know that dough has to rise, preferably in a warm, moist, draft-free environment. Unfortunately for dogs that are fed bread dough, their stomachs offer optimum conditions for rising dough.

The Merck Veterinary Manual lists bread dough as a food hazard for dogs. When a dog eats bread dough, the yeast in the dough continues to make the dough rise, distending his stomach and releasing toxic levels of ethanol into the dog’s bloodstream. The pressure of the rising dough can mimic and cause bloat, but the real danger is from the alcohol toxicosis. If your dog is fed bread dough or you suspect he has stolen bread dough, call your veterinarian immediately and look out for symptoms of alcohol toxicosis:

  • Depressed central nervous system
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Unsteady, drunken gait
  • Hypothermia
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Toxic Bread Ingredients

Unless your dog has an allergy to wheat, plain white or wheat bread probably won’t hurt her. Not all breads are as harmless. Some breads contain toxic ingredients that should never be fed to dogs.

The biggest danger comes from raisins. Raisins are highly toxic and are often found in breads and baked goods. Veterinarians don’t know why some dogs are more susceptible to raisins than others, but even a few raisins can cause problems. Raisin breads should be kept out of the reach of dogs at all times and should not be fed as a treat, even if the part you are feeding does not contain raisins.

Garlic is another ingredient found in bread that can be toxic to dogs. Garlic bread might tempt your dog’s nose, but garlic can cause serious side effects, like abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and collapse.

Some breads contain nuts and seeds, which appeal to humans for their flavor and health benefits, but can cause problems for dogs. The biggest nut danger is macadamia nuts, but even “safe” nuts and seeds can lead to stomach irritation and pancreatitis, thanks to their high fat content.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is growing in popularity. It is most commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum and, more recently, certain brands of peanut butter and baked goods. While harmless to humans, xylitol is toxic to dogs. If you feed your dog bread or baked goods on a regular basis, be sure to check the ingredients, and also double check your peanut butter ingredients before you share your peanut butter and (grape-free) jelly sandwich.

Is Bread Good for Dogs With Upset Stomachs?

You may have heard people tell you that bread is good for dogs with upset stomachs. While this may sometimes be the case, the Merck Veterinary Manual recommends feeding a bland diet of rice and boiled chicken for dogs with upset stomachs, or better yet, calling your veterinarian for expert advice.

As with any table scrap, bread adds calories to your dog’s diet. If your dog is overweight, talk to your veterinarian about moderating her diet and discuss a plan to keep her healthy, happy, and active. Bread packs a high glycemic punch and is high in calories, so feed your dog only very small pieces of bread at a time to avoid obesity-related diseases, like diabetes.


Cashews   Yes, dogs can eat cashews. Cashews are OK for dogs, but only a few at a time. They’ve got calcium, magnesium, antioxidants, and proteins, but while these nuts contain less fat than others, too many can lead to weight gain and other fat-related conditions. A few cashews here and there are a nice treat, but only if they’re unsalted.

Dogs can eat peanut butter, so we tend to assume that it is safe for them to eat peanuts and other nuts like cashews, too. This is not necessarily the case. Some nuts, like macadamia nuts, are toxic to dogs. Others, like cashews, are generally safe—as long as you follow a few basic guidelines.

Risks of Feeding Cashews to Dogs

While cashews are non-toxic, there are some risks associated with feeding these tasty nuts to our canine companions.

The most important thing owners should look out for when feeding a new treat to their dogs is the symptoms of an allergic reaction. These symptoms include swelling, itching, and hives. While the chances of your dog developing an allergic reaction to cashews is relatively low, knowing the symptoms of an allergic reaction is important when giving your dog any new treat for the first time.

Cashews are a high fat, high protein snack. This poses potential problems for dogs, if they are fed cashews in large numbers. High fat diets can lead to pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening condition that requires the immediate attention of a veterinarian.

Fatty foods also contribute to obesity. Regularly feeding foods like cashews to your dog increases your dog’s chances of gaining weight and developing obesity-related problems, such as diabetes and joint issues, and can even reduce your dog’s lifespan.

The largest risk comes from other nuts. Cashews are often sold in variety packs and containers, especially around the holiday season. This poses a health hazard for your dog, as some nuts, like

macadamia nuts, are very toxic. Nuts can also cause obstructions and choking hazards. This is especially problematic in small dogs, but larger nuts are dangerous for large breeds, as well.

Cashews are also usually salted. Excess salt can lead to salt toxicity, which causes vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and seizures.
The Verdict: Can Dogs Eat Cashews?

To make a long story short, yes, dogs can eat cashews, as long as they are roasted and not salted or seasoned in any way. They may not be the best snack for your pup, but a cashew now and then probably won’t hurt him.

If you decide to feed cashews to your dog, remember to offer them in very small quantities, and don’t feed cashews to dog on a regular basis. If you have more questions about feeding cashews or other human foods to your dog, talk to your veterinarian.


Cheese – Yes, dogs can eat cheese in small to moderate quantities. As long as your dog isn’t lactose intolerant, which is rare, but still possible in canines, cheese can be a great treat. Many kinds of cheese can be high in fat, so go for low-fat varieties like cottage cheese or mozzarella.

Very few dogs turn up their noses at an offering of cheese, but should we indulge their taste for dairy? Cheese contains protein, calcium, vitamin A, essential fatty acids, and B-complex vitamins, all of which play an important role in canine nutrition, but too much cheese can cause problems.

What Types of Cheese Should I Avoid Feeding My Dog?

Not all dogs digest cheese well. Fatty, rich cheeses, and cheeses that contain herbs or food items harmful to dogs like garlic can cause intestinal upset. And while cheese contains little lactose when compared to whole milk, dogs with severe cases of lactose intolerance may have adverse reactions to cheese, even in small quantities. Observe your dog closely for signs of intestinal upset after feeding her cheese for the first time, and consult your vet with any questions you may have about adding cheese to your dog’s diet.


What Types of Cheese Are Okay to Feed My Dog?

Some cheeses are better for dogs than others. Low-fat cheeses, such as mozzarella and cottage cheese, are healthier for your pet than cheeses with higher fat contents. When looking for cheese for your dog, seek out cottage cheeses and mozzarella cheeses that are low in sodium. Choosing lower fat and lower sodium cheeses can help reduce the risk of obesity and intestinal upset.


How Much Cheese Is Safe to Feed My Dog?

Cheese is safe for dogs in small-to-moderate quantities and can be a valuable training tool for treat-motivated dogs. It is also a good way to conceal pills for dogs that require medication. As you should when you consider feeding your dog any human food, talk to your vet about any risks associated with feeding cheese to your dog and about how cheese can affect your dog’s pre-existing health conditions.


Chocolate – No, dogs should not eat chocolate. This isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Chocolate contains very toxic substances called methylxanthines, which are stimulants that stop a dog’s metabolic process. Even just a little bit of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can cause diarrhea and vomiting. A large amount can cause seizures, irregular heart function, and even death. Do not have chocolate in an accessible location. If your dog does ingest chocolate, contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as soon as possible

The rumors you’ve heard about chocolate are true. Chocolate might be your favorite treat, but it has deadly consequences for dogs of all sizes and breeds. Chocolate is highly toxic to dogs and can be potentially fatal. Unfortunately, dogs have a way of sniffing out chocolate treats, which means we need to be alert for signs of chocolate toxicity so that we know what to do if our dogs eat chocolate.

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Chocolate contains stimulants called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine. These chemicals can wreak havoc on your dog’s metabolic processes, resulting in chocolate toxicity. The level of methylxanthines varies from chocolate product to chocolate product, but there is no safe amount of chocolate for dogs, as individual sensitivities to methylxanthines can vary from dog to dog. This is why some dogs can eat chocolate and experience no harmful side effects, while others suffer consequences from eating very small amounts.


How Much Chocolate Is Toxic to Dogs?

Not all chocolate is created equal. Dry cocoa powder contains the highest amount of methylxanthines (28.5 mg/g), followed by unsweetened baker’s chocolate (16 mg/g), semisweet and sweet dark chocolate (5.4-5.7mg/g), and milk chocolate (2.3mg/g). Knowing how much and what kind of chocolate your dog ate can help you and your vet determine if you have an emergency situation.

In general, mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a dog consumes 20 mg of methylxanthines per kilogram of body weight. Cardiac symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur around 40 to 50 mg/kg, and seizures occur at dosages greater than 60 mg/kg.

In simpler terms, that means a potentially lethal dose of chocolate is approximately one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight. Since an average Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces, consuming even one chocolate bar can have serious consequences, especially for small dogs. Eating a crumb of chocolate cake or a very small piece of a chocolate bar, on the other hand, probably won’t kill your dog, especially if it is a larger breed, but chocolate should never be fed as a treat.

Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, you should call your vet immediately and watch your dog closely for the following symptoms of chocolate toxicity:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • seizures
  • hyperactivity
  • increased heart rate
  • increased thirst
  • elevated blood pressure
  • tremors
  • collapse
  • elevated body temperature

Preventing Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Most of us don’t like sharing our chocolate bars, brownies, and other chocolate products with humans or dogs. Unfortunately, chocolate toxicity usually happens by accident, especially around holidays like Halloween. This means we have to be very careful about keeping chocolate out of the reach of our dogs, and it is important to instruct children not to share their candy treats with their pets.

Dogs cannot eat chocolate, but there are plenty of other human foods that make excellent treats. Keep a list of the human foods dogs can and can’t eat handy in your home to help you and your family make informed decisions about your dog’s diet.


Cinnamon – No, cinnamon is not OK for dogs. While cinnamon is not actually toxic to dogs, it’s probably best to avoid it. Cinnamon and its oils can irritate the inside of dogs’ mouths, making them uncomfortable and sick. It can lower a dog’s blood sugar too much and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, increased, or decreased heart rate, and even liver disease. If they inhale it in powder form, cinnamon can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, and choking.

Does your dog beg for your cinnamon scones? Has she ever gotten into the spice rack? If so, then you’ve probably wondered, perhaps somewhat frantically, can dogs eat cinnamon? We

know that certain people foods, like chocolate and grapes, can be toxic to dogs, so it makes sense that we should worry about foods and spices like cinnamon, too.

Is Cinnamon Toxic to Dogs?

The good news is that cinnamon is not toxic to dogs. Your dog will not suffer fatal toxic effects from consuming too much cinnamon, but that does not necessarily mean you should be sprinkling it on his kibble. The Pet Poison Helpline cautions that cinnamon and cinnamon oils can cause skin and digestive irritation and sensitization in both pets and people, especially if consumed in large quantities.

Cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, cinnamon essential oils, and cinnamon in baked goods all offer opportunities for ingestion. Chewing on cinnamon sticks and consuming ground cinnamon or essential oil can cause irritation in your dog’s mouth and inhaling cinnamon powder can cause your dog to cough, choke, and have difficulty breathing.

How much is too much? The Pet Poison Helpline states that it takes more than one teaspoon of powder to cause problems for most pets, although essential oils can cause problems in lower dosages, and small breed dogs may be sensitive to smaller amounts of cinnamon than large breeds. The helpline also warns that a large cinnamon overdose can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, changes in heart rate, low blood sugar, and liver disease.

Help, My Dog Ate Cinnamon!

If your dog eats a large amount of cinnamon, you don’t need to panic. You should, however, call your veterinarian. Cinnamon is not fatal to dogs, but the side effects of too much cinnamon can be uncomfortable, and your veterinarian may have additional concerns and suggestions to help your dog recover from her spicy snack.


Can Dogs Eat Cinnamon Baked Goods?

A little bit of cinnamon, like the amount used in most baked goods, is not going to hurt your dog. That being said, feeding your dog baked goods is not necessarily a good idea. Foods that are high in fat, sugar, and unnecessary calories can lead to obesity, diabetes, and complications such as pancreatitis. Some baked goods also may contain xylitol as a sweetener, which is very toxic.

If you do choose to feed your dog baked goods with cinnamon, only feed small quantities on a very irregular basis, and make sure they do not contain other ingredients that could be toxic or harmful to your dog, like xylitol, chocolate or raisins.

Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Cinnamon might not be toxic to dogs, but nutmeg is another common baking spice, and it can have toxic effects. Nutmeg and cinnamon are often used together in recipes, and nutmeg contains the toxin myristicin. Myristicin can cause hallucinations, increased heart rate, disorientation, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, dry mouth, and even seizures. These symptoms can last up to 48 hours, but the bright side is that it takes a large amount of nutmeg to cause problems for dogs. The small amount used in baked goods is generally safe. If your dog consumes a large amount of nutmeg by accident, however, call your veterinarian and keep a close eye on her.


Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is reputed to have a number of health benefits for people, although these benefits have not been proven conclusively. As exciting as this is for those of us who enjoy cinnamon and want an excuse to have more of it in our diets, we should be wary about jumping to the same conclusion for our dogs.

If you want to give cinnamon as a supplement for your dog, talk to your veterinarian about the possible risks and potential benefits. In the meantime, consider exploring other supplements with proven benefits to help your dog.

To make a long story short, yes, dogs can eat cinnamon in small quantities, but it is not necessary or recommended.


Coconut – Yes, coconut is OK for dogs. This funky fruit contains Lauric, which strengthens the immune system by fighting off viruses. It can also help with bad breath and clearing up skin conditions like hot spots, flea allergies, and itchy skin. Coconut milk and coconut oil are safe for dogs too. Just be sure your dog doesn’t get its paws on the furry outside of the shell, which can get lodged in the throat.

We all know that dogs can eat coconut oil, and owners are often encouraged to add it to their dogs’ diets, but what about the coconut meat itself? Should we be giving actual pieces of it to our dogs? The short answer is yes! Coconut meat is just as healthy, if not more so, than the coconut oil alone. They share similar properties since they come from the same place. Coconut is non-toxic to dogs, but it does contain medium chain triglycerides, which may cause some gastrointestinal upset and bloating. You’ll want to check with your veterinarian before giving your dog coconut, of course. But the benefits should certainly outweigh the risks. So if your dog likes the taste of coconut meat, feel free to give him some.

Decreases Inflammation

Coconut meat is high in lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid. In less scientific terms, this basically means that the body is able to absorb the molecules whole, using them as a direct source of energy. Lauric acid is particularly good at fighting off viruses, such as influenza. It also helps treat yeast infections, ringworm, and Giardia. It also holds some major anti-inflammatory properties — it has greatly reduced swelling in rats during laboratory studies. Reduced inflammation will help speed the healing of cuts, hot spots, and other wounds. Inflammation is also the main cause of arthritis, so feeding coconut to your dog might make his aching joints feel a little better, as the inflammation settles down. Make sure to remove the shell prior to giving your dog coconut, as the shell could become lodged in his esophagus and cause intestinal irritation and possible blockage.


Boosts the Immune System

Coconut is packed with antioxidants to support the immune system. It also helps the body form a healthy response to foreign microbes. This means coconut provides the body with an extra defense against bad bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Although the ingestion of coconut hasn’t proven to cure any diseases, there have been studies supporting its anti-viral properties. Along with its ability to reduce inflammation, coconut is a great snack for a dog that’s feeling a little under the weather or healing from illness or injury.


Benefits the Skin

Coconut oil can be used internally and externally, as the oils are very beneficial for your dog’s skin and coat. Even if your dog just ingests the coconut meat, his skin conditions might improve. The anti-inflammatory properties will help reduce any yeast infections, hot spots, flea allergies, and dry, itchy skin, and the fatty acids promote a soft, healthy coat. Topically, the oil acts as a moisturizer and can be used on wounds to help soothe inflammation and promote healing.


Corn – Yes, dogs can eat corn. Corn is one of the most common ingredients in most dog foods. However, the cob can be hard for a dog to digest and may cause an intestinal blockage, so if you’re sharing some corn, make sure it is off the cob.

As summer approaches, so does the season for grilling and backyard barbecues. For the next few months, the variety of smells from all the delicious foods served is enticing to us and also to our four-legged friends.

Foods such as corn, both on and off the cob, are summertime staples and, chances are, your dog is going to want you to share. While some of the foods you’re grilling and serving might be unsafe to share with him, luckily for him, corn is not one of them.

Is it Safe to Feed My Dog Corn?

It’s not unsafe or terrible if you feed your dog corn, a small amount won’t harm him; just make sure that you do so in moderation. Corn is one of the most popular cereal grains in the world and may contain a good amount of several vitamins and minerals, depending on the type of corn.

In fact, you’ll find corn in a variety of dog foods; manufacturers favor this grain because it is relatively inexpensive. Many veterinary nutritionists agree that corn for dogs is not a problem and in fact, can be part of a well-balanced diet. However, you should confirm that your dog is not allergic to corn prior to giving it to him.


Does Corn Have Any Nutritional Value for Dogs?

The answer is yes. It is not just a filler in dog foods, it also has nutritional benefits. It is a good source of protein, carbohydrates, linoleic acid, and antioxidants. Despite that fact that carbs get a bad rap, certain sources of carbs (like corn) also provide essential nutrients, such as protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins. Carbohydrates also can be a good source of fiber, which promotes gut health and motility.


Is it Safe for My Dog to Eat Corn on the Cob?

No matter how lovingly your dog looks at you while you’re enjoying a piece of corn on the cob, do not share it with him. There is a risk that he will choke on it, and if he ingests the cob it can cause a serious intestinal blockage. It is not a food you should have your dog gnawing on. And although it might seem like something he would have a hard time consuming, if he is hungry enough, he’ll have no problem whittling down that cob.

Alarming indicators that your dog might have ingested the cob are: dehydration, lethargy, reduced activity, repeated vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. If you notice any of these signs, seek veterinary assistance without hesitation.

Can My Dog Have Popcorn?

As long as it’s unsalted and unbuttered, a few pieces are fine. Plain, air-popped popcorn, which is light and natural, can be a good treat every now and then; it’s high in fiber, and the additional carbohydrates provide extra energy.

It’s the bucket of popcorn loaded with salt, butter, and other flavors that is unhealthy, so no matter how lovingly your dog looks at you, or how excited he gets over this snack, keep it far enough away that he won’t be stealing pieces behind your back.

If you choose to share some natural popcorn with your dog, make sure all of the kernels you’re feeding him are popped. In most batches you make, there are going to be a handful of pieces that don’t completely pop; for a dog, those are the pieces that aren’t digestible and can cause an upset stomach. Popcorn that gets stuck between their teeth can cause problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease. And just like when their humans eat too much popcorn, it will add calories to their daily intake.


Eggs – Yes, it’s OK for dogs to eat eggs. Eggs are safe for dogs as long as they are fully cooked. Cooked eggs are a wonderful source of protein and can help an upset stomach. However, eating raw egg whites can give dogs biotin deficiency, so be sure to cook the eggs all the way through before giving them to your pet.

Historically, dogs stole eggs from birds’ nests and ate them raw, shell and all. Today, most of us don’t let our dogs wander far and wide in search of unguarded nests, but eggs are still a good source of food for dogs, especially in homemade diets.

Eggs are high in protein and contain many essential amino acids and fatty acids. When boiled or cooked, they make excellent treats or dietary supplements for dogs. Not only are eggs a healthy and nutritious snack for dogs, they can even help settle upset stomachs. Talk to your veterinarian about how many eggs to feed your dog per day. While eggs are generally safe for most dogs, overfeeding your dog can result in obesity and other health problems.

Can I Feed My Dog Raw Eggs?

There are a few concerns about feeding raw eggs to your dog that dog owners should be aware of:


Salmonella – Just like humans, dogs are at risk of contracting Salmonella, and handlers who feed raw eggs to their dogs are also at risk of catching this disease.

Biotin Deficiency – Prolonged feeding of raw egg whites can also lead to a biotin deficiency, as they contain an enzyme that ties up biotin and prevents absorption of biotin into the body. Biotin is a B complex vitamin that supports healthy skin, digestion, metabolism, and cells.

While these side effects are rare, most veterinarians recommend cooking eggs before feeding them to your dog, as long as the eggs are cooked or boiled plain without oil, butter, salt, or other potentially harmful additives.

Egg Shells – Traditionally, dogs and cats have eaten eggs straight from the nest with nary a worry about nutritional value, toxic effects, or whether they might choke on a shard from the shell. But domesticated cats and dogs do not have the same access to bird nests that they once did, so we don’t get to witness them consuming eggs safely. As we worry about our own health and what we put into our bodies, we also worry about what we are feeding to our pets.

So what about one of nature’s “perfect foods,” the egg? There is evidence to support eggshells as an excellent source of calcium and protein for your pet. For strong bones and teeth, crush the eggshells and sprinkle about a half teaspoon into your pet’s regular kibble. And although research does not point to eggshells as a source of salmonella poisoning in cats and dogs, if it is a concern, you can boil the shells first — allowing them to dry thoroughly — and then crush the shells in a coffee grinder, food processor, or with a mortar and pestle.


Fish – Yes, dogs can eat fish. Fish contains good fats and amino acids, giving your dog a nice health boost. Salmon and sardines are especially beneficial – salmon because it’s loaded with vitamins and protein, and sardines because they have soft, digestible bones for extra calcium. With the exception of sardines, be sure to pick out all the tiny bones, which can be tedious but is definitely necessary. Never feed your dog uncooked or under-cooked fish, only fully cooked and cooled, and limit your dog’s fish intake to no more than twice a week.

If you’ve ever taken a glimpse at the ingredient panel of your dog’s food or examined other brands of dog food in the store, then you know that fish is frequently on the menu. Just because it is an ingredient in dog food, however, does not mean that dogs can safely eat just any old fish we throw their way. If you want to add a fishy treat to your dog’s diet, here is what you need to know.

Benefits of Fish for Dogs

Dogs love the smell of fish, and in this case, there is a reason. Fish is a healthy source of protein and is often included in commercial dog food as an alternative protein source. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which according to veterinarians may have health benefits such as decreasing inflammation. Fish is also a good alternative for dogs with food allergies to more common ingredients, like chicken.

Fish can be an important part of a home-cooked diet, but if you choose to feed a homemade diet with fish, be sure to consult your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure you are meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. The first time you give your dog any fish, give only a small portion until you determine if your dog can tolerate that particular fish without an allergic reaction or gastro-intestinal upset.


Best Types of Fish for Dogs

There are many fish in the sea, but the most common types of fish used in commercial dog food are shorter-lived species like salmon, ocean whitefish, lake whitefish, herring, walleye, flounder, and Arctic char. Longer-lived fish species, like tuna and swordfish on the other hand, can contain heavy metals like mercury. Mercury builds up over time in the fish’s system and can lead to heavy metal toxicity, which is why feeding a shorter-lived fish species is preferable to tuna or swordfish. With so many fish to choose from, it is better to be safe than sorry.


Risks of Feeding Fish to Dogs

Fish itself is not harmful to dogs, but the way we prepare it can cause problems. Fish cooked in too much oil can cause GI upset in dogs, or even lead to serious illness such as pancreatitis. Seasonings may also cause serious health problems for dogs, especially if they contain toxic ingredients, like garlic. The biggest risk of feeding fish to dogs, however, is bones.

Fish bones are small, brittle, and dangerous. They can lodge themselves in your dog’s mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines, sometimes even perforating the organ wall. Not only is this painful, it can also result in an expensive visit to the veterinarian. While there are plenty of anecdotal stories about dogs eating fish bones without issues, in this instance, it is better to heed the advice of veterinarians and play it safe.

Can dogs eat raw fish?

Raw fish is at risk of carrying harmful bacteria like salmonella and listeria. This is problematic for two reasons. One, it can make your dog sick, and two, according to the FDA, it can also make you and other members of your family ill. This is especially worrisome for small children, who may come into more contact with your dog’s saliva than adults, and for people with compromised immune systems. If you choose to feed a raw diet with fish, make sure you take the appropriate precautions suggested by the FDA for preparing your dog’s meals, like thoroughly disinfecting all surfaces and bowls after use, and washing your hands.


How much fish is too much for dogs?

Too much of a good thing can become a problem. Plain, cooked, steamed, or grilled fish is fine for dogs to eat in moderation. Too much fish can lead to obesity, so consult your veterinarian about appropriate serving sizes of fish for your dog, especially if you plan to feed fish as a regular part of her diet.

As humans with varied diets, we tend to forget that dogs that are fed a commercial, complete, and balanced dog food do not need additional nutrition unless recommended by a veterinarian. Table scraps, including fish, are not necessary for your dog’s health, but fish can make a good occasional treat for dogs, as long as owners keep an eye on their dog’s weight. A general rule of thumb to follow for portion control is to make sure treats only make up 10 percent of your dog’s daily diet.

So, Can Dogs Eat Fish?

To make a long story short, yes, dogs can eat fish, and fish can be a part of a healthy diet for your dog, provided it is fully cooked without any additional oils and seasonings, does not contain any bones, and is not a species prone to high levels of mercury such as tuna. For more information about dog nutrition or feeding fish to your dog, contact your veterinarian.


Garlic – No, dogs shouldn’t eat onions. Like onions, leeks, and chives, garlic is part of the Allium family, and it is five times more toxic to dogs than the rest of the Allium plants. Garlic can create anemia in dogs, causing side effects such as pale gums, elevated heart rate, weakness, and collapsing. Poisoning from garlic and onions may have delayed symptoms, so if you think your dog may have eaten some, monitor him or her for a few days, not just right after consumption.

The smell of roasting garlic is one of those scents that immediately makes most of us hungry. It’s featured in cuisines around the globe and is found in many of our favorite foods. Scientific evidence even suggests that garlic has medicinal benefits for humans, so it’s perfectly natural for you to wonder: Can dogs eat garlic?

The answer, emphatically, is no.

Is it safe for dogs to eat garlic?

Garlic might be good for us, but dogs metabolize certain foods differently than we do. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, garlic and other members of the allium family, including onions, contain thiosulfate, which is toxic to dogs but not to humans.

Thiosulfate causes oxidative damage to red blood cells, resulting in hemolytic anemia. Symptoms of anemia include pale mucous membranes, rapid breathing, lethargy, weakness, jaundice, and dark colored urine. Garlic toxicity also causes symptoms of gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression, and dehydration.

How much garlic is toxic to dogs?

Studies have found it takes approximately 15 to 30 grams of garlic per kilograms of body weight to produce harmful changes in a dog’s blood. To put that into perspective, the average clove of supermarket garlic weighs between 3 and 7 grams, so your dog would have to eat a lot to get really sick. However, some dogs are more sensitive to garlic toxicity than others, and consumption of a toxic dose spread out over a few days could also cause problems.

This means that if your dog accidentally eats something containing a little garlic, he will probably be okay, but intentionally feeding it to your dog is a recipe for disaster.

Can I feed my dog garlic bread?

Garlic bread will almost certainly catch your dog’s attention, but, along with garlic, it usually contains large amounts of butter, oil, cheese, and herbs that can upset your dog’s stomach. This high-calorie food is also a source of unnecessary calories and fat, and offers no nutritional benefits to your pet.


Can I feed my dog garlic supplements?

Despite garlic’s known toxicity, some websites and well-meaning dog owners recommend garlic supplements for dogs as part of a natural wellness plan or as a flea and tick preventative. This contradiction can be very confusing.

In studies, garlic as a health supplement for pets has not produced consistent positive results. While very small doses might be safe for most dogs, the lack of conclusive evidence and the known risks should be taken into consideration. If you do decide to feed your pup a garlic supplement, always consult your veterinarian. Giving an incorrect dose could have toxic effects, so plan on working with a veterinarian to come up with the best treatment and prevention plan for your dog.


Treating garlic toxicity in dogs

If your dog does ingest a large amount of garlic, your best bet is to take him to a veterinarian. Garlic and onion poisoning are rarely fatal in dogs, but your dog may need supportive care to keep him comfortable. Your veterinarian might recommend intravenous fluids to keep him hydrated, and may prescribe a medication to control vomiting. In severe cases, blood transfusions might be necessary.


Alternatives to garlic for dogs

If you want to give your dog a healthy treat, consider feeding him fruits and vegetables that are high in valuable nutrients, like apples, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, carrots, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.


Ham – Yes, dogs can eat ham. Ham is OK for dogs to eat, but certainly isn’t the healthiest for them. Ham is high in sodium and fat, so while sharing a small piece is alright, it shouldn’t be a continuous habit.

You’re slicing a baked ham at the dinner table or making yourself a ham sandwich, and your dog sits salivating at your side. You may think, “What’s the harm in giving him a juicy slice or two?” Maybe none, but there are things to consider before feeding your dog ham.

  1. Yes, it’s a protein, and dogs need protein. But there are much better sources of protein in other types of meat. There isn’t much agreement on how easily digestible ham is as a protein source. Some sources say it’s highly digestible, while others claim it’s inferior to most other meats and not easily digested.
  2. Store-bought ham, which is what most of us use, contains a great deal of sodium, which isn’t good for people or dogs. Even the preservatives used in ham are loaded with nitrates and nitrites, which are sodium-based. In fact, salt can be toxic to dogs: it can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, lethargy, and abnormal fluid accumulation. Sodium can also cause more serious consequences, such as kidney damage, seizures, coma, and even death.
  3. Ham has a higher fat content than many other types of meat. A high-fat content diet isn’t any better for your dog than it is for people. Although dogs do need fat in their diet, most dog foods have the necessary amount of fat to meet your dog’s needs. A healthy amount of animal fat in dog food is about 15 to 20 percent. The fatty richness of ham is what makes it taste so delicious, but it’s difficult for your dog to digest.


Honey – Yes, dogs can eat honey. Honey is packed with countless nutrients such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, and antioxidants. Feeding dogs small amounts of honey can help with allergies because it introduces small amounts of pollen to their systems, building up immunity to allergens in your area. In addition to consuming honey, the sticky spread can also be used as a topical treatment for burns and superficial cuts.

Simple and sweet, honey contains natural sugars that is reported to have a wide variety of medicinal properties. It also, occasionally, finds its way into the mouths of our dogs.

If your dog has found her way into the honey pot, or if you are contemplating giving honey to your dog for medicinal reasons, you probably want to know if honey is safe for dogs and if there are really any health benefits associated with it.

Is honey safe for dogs?

Honey is safe for dogs to eat in small quantities. It contains natural sugars and small amounts of vitamins and minerals and is used as a sweetener in many foods and beverages.

That sweetness comes at a price. The high sugar content of honey can lead to obesity in dogs if owners feed too much honey and do not provide adequate exercise balanced nutrition. Sugars can also cause tooth decay, so it might be a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth if you do feed him honey.

Raw honey should not be fed to puppies or dogs with compromised immune systems, as it may contain the presence of botulism spores. Honey should not be given to diabetic or obese dogs.

Benefits of feeding honey to dogs

A simple Google search reveals thousands of sites promoting honey as a health supplement for people and pets, including dogs. Honey is purported to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties, reduce inflammation, sooth stomach ulcers and sore throats, and cure allergies.

However, there have not been many conclusive scientific studies validating these claims. Many of these claims are anecdotal, but since honey is relatively safe, they are often enough for owners looking for an additional treatment for their dogs that is affordable and safe.

One of the most common claims made about honey is that it can cure seasonal allergies in humans and dogs. While the scientific evidence is lacking, there is some reason to believe that raw honey could help reduce allergic reactions to flower pollen—assuming, of course, that your dog is allergic to one of the pollens in the honey, and not another environmental allergen.

Regardless of the lack of conclusive research, feeding your dog a small amount of honey to help with allergens won’t harm him, even if it is not guaranteed or even likely to help.

Humans also use honey to soothe raw throats and stomachs. If your dog has a sore throat, and you have already seen your veterinarian to determine the cause and followed her treatment instructions, then feeding a little honey could help soothe any lingering inflammation. At the very least, it will give your dog a tasty distraction.

How much honey can you feed your dog?

If you want to feed your dog honey, talk to your veterinarian about how much is okay to feed your dog. In general, less is usually more when it comes to dog treats, especially for smaller breeds. If your dog has a health condition, such as diabetes, talk to your veterinarian about whether or not honey is safe to feed your dog, and consider offering a treat lower in sugar, like cucumbers, instead.


Ice cream – No, dogs shouldn’t eat ice cream. As refreshing of a treat as ice cream is, it’s best not to share it with your dog. Canines don’t digest dairy very well, and many even have a slight intolerance to lactose, a sugar found in milk products. Although it’s also a dairy product, frozen yogurt is a much better alternative. To avoid the milk altogether, freeze chunks of strawberries, raspberries, apples, and pineapples and give them to your dog as a sweet, icy treat.

We know from adorable videos like this one that dogs love ice cream. But is ice cream really a harmless treat, or will it cause a major bellyache?

Though it may be tempting to share your cone with your four-legged friend, it’s best to avoid giving ice cream to dogs.


Why Dogs Cannot Eat Ice Cream

The first problem with ice cream is that dogs’ bodies are not designed to digest milk after they are weaned, as puppies. Since ice cream is made with milk, feeding your dog ice cream could lead to gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting.

The second problem with ice cream is that it is loaded with sugar, and feeding your dog sugary foods can lead to weight gain, which can lead to other health problems. Even if the ice cream says it’s sugarless, you need to be careful to read the label to make sure that no xylitol is used, as this sweetener is extremely toxic to dogs.

The final problem with ice cream is that some flavors may actually be dangerous for dogs. Chocolate, for example, can be toxic for dogs because their bodies cannot efficiently process a component of the chocolate: theobromine.

While not a major danger if given in small amounts as a treat, for dogs with obesity, diabetes, allergies or dairy intolerance, ice cream could be a big problem. Although some dog owners do feed their dogs ice cream, we cannot say that it is a good dessert for dogs, especially when there are other options that are not likely to cause digestive problems.

Alternatives to Ice Cream

If you want to give your dog a summer treat, frozen yogurt might be a better choice. Because yogurt is fermented, it contains less lactose, so it is easier for dogs to digest. Don’t feed your dog a commercial frozen yogurt, since it will be loaded with sugar. Instead, buy a plain, unsweetened yogurt, and put it in your freezer at home. Use caution when giving it to your dog. Although yogurt is easier for dogs to digest, not all canines can tolerate it.

Another good summer treat for dogs is “nice cream,” a vegan ice cream alternative that is made from frozen bananas. You can easily prepare nice cream at home with only a food processor. This fruit-based dessert is safe for dogs to eat, and it actually provides some nutritional value. The humans in your family might even like it, too!


Macadamia nuts – No, dogs should not eat macadamia nuts. These are some of the most poisonous foods for dogs. Macadamia nuts, part of the Protaceae family, can cause vomiting, increased body temperature, inability to walk, and lethargy. Even worse, they can affect the nervous system. Never feed your dog macadamia nuts.

Macadamia nuts, although not usually an everyday food, are often found in baked goods, including cakes, cookies, muffins, and even trail mix. Are they safe for dogs? Absolutely not! In fact, macadamia nuts are often listed as among the top human foods to avoid giving your dog. The consequences of eating macadamia nuts include vomiting, ataxia, weakness, hyperthermia, and depression.

Veterinarians and researchers have not identified what causes this particular food to be toxic to dogs; it’s perfectly safe for humans and has not been seen to affect cats. As with grapes and raisins, we just do not know the specific toxin or mechanism of biological action that causes the signs of poisoning. But what we do know is that even a small amount of the nuts can cause severe symptoms. A dog can show symptoms from eating as little as 1/10 of an ounce per roughly 2 pounds of body weight. So, if you’re thinking of giving your dog just a little taste, don’t.

Symptoms of Macadamia Nut Poisoning in Dogs

The most common sign is weakness, especially in the hind legs. Other symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, tremors and fever. Some cases are mild, showing only a few symptoms, and resolve themselves within a few days. However, there are serious cases involving constant shaking, high fever, and an inability to walk. If you suspect your dog may have eaten even a small amount of macadamia nuts, consult your veterinarian immediately.


Treatment of Macadamia Nut Poisoning in Dogs

First things first: If you suspect your dog has eaten even one macadamia nut, call your vet as soon as possible. If caught early enough, vomiting can be induced, but only after speaking with your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).

Your vet may recommend close at-home observation and additionally, activated charcoal and/or a cathartic to help the nuts speed through your dog’s digestive system. More serious cases will require care and treatment at a veterinary hospital. If your dog ingested a large amount of the nuts or if another toxicity, chocolate for example, is involved, treatment will be more aggressive. The good news is that generally, if treated, a dog will recover fully and return to normal within several days.


Milk – Yes, dogs can have milk. But be cautious. Many dogs are lactose-intolerant and don’t digest milk well. While it is okay for dogs to have a little milk, owners should be cognizant of the symptoms of lactose-intolerance and might want to stick to giving their dogs water.

Many canine companions love dairy products. But, can dogs drink milk? In short, maybe. Like many human foods, it should only be given to your dog in moderation. It’s also important to note that a lot of pups are lactose intolerant, and drinking milk can cause intestinal upset.

How Much Milk Can Dogs Drink?

Milk is a safe treat in small quantities. A few tablespoons of cow’s milk or goat’s milk on an occasional basis can be a nice reward for your dog without the side effects of overindulgence. But, you should probably hold off on offering your dog an entire bowl in one sitting, as it can cause unpleasant reactions, including diarrhea, vomiting, and loose stools.

The beverage is high in fat and natural sugars, which is another reason to feed it to your pup in small quantities. Too much fat in your dog’s diet can lead to obesity and pancreatitis, which are serious conditions.

Lactose Intolerance in Dogs

Dairy products are a leading source of food intolerance in dogs, and many canines are lactose intolerant, which means they have difficulty digesting milk. Some lactose intolerant dogs have trouble drinking milk, but can handle dairy products like cheese and plain yogurt, which are typically easier to digest than straight milk. Others have adverse reactions to dairy in general.


How to Tell If Your Dog Is Lactose Intolerant

Dogs can have varying degrees of lactose intolerance; some might experience only mild symptoms, while other cases may be more severe. The most common symptoms are:

Many owners don’t find out that their dogs are lactose intolerant until they feed them milk. Trying to determine if your dog is lactose intolerant can also be tricky if your pup has consumed a large amount of milk, as this can also trigger vomiting and diarrhea in dogs that are not lactose intolerant. However, if your dog shows signs of these symptoms after drinking a small amount of milk, you should find a different treat.

Always consult with your veterinarian before introducing anything new into your dog’s diet.


Peanut butter – Yes, peanut butter is OK for dogs. Peanut butter can be an excellent source of protein for dogs. It contains heart-healthy fats, vitamins B and E and niacin. Raw, unsalted peanut butter is the healthiest option because it doesn’t contain xylitol, a sugar substitute that can be toxic to dogs.

Does your dog magically appear in the kitchen every time you open up the peanut butter jar? You are not alone. Most dog owners give their dogs peanut butter from time to time, and this nutty treat does indeed drive dogs nuts. It can be spread inside hollow bones and toys for a long-lasting treat, or just licked from a spoon or finger as a quick reward. From a health perspective, however, there are a few peanut butter facts you need to be aware of before you let your pup clean out that empty peanut butter jar.

Can Dogs Eat Peanut Butter?

Most peanut butter is safe for dogs to eat, and in moderation peanut butter can be an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, vitamins B and E, and niacin. The healthiest option is unsalted peanut butter or homemade peanut butter, as high sodium levels can be problematic for dogs, and as an added bonus, homemade peanut butters do not contain extra sugar and other additives.


How Much Peanut Butter Can Dogs Eat?

Peanut butter is rich in natural fats and protein, but too much of a good thing can lead to obesity and other health complications like pancreatitis. There are two things you can do to figure out how much peanut butter to feed your dog on a regular basis. The first and most reliable option is to call your veterinarian and ask his or her advice. This is especially important for owners of dogs with conditions such as diabetes or with food sensitivity issues.

The second option is the 10 percent rule. In general, treats should not make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s diet. Simply measure how much food your dog gets daily, and remember that it might be a good idea to alternate between peanut butter and healthier treats, such as dog friendly fruits or vegetables.

Health Alert: Xylitol

Most peanut butter is safe, but some can be deadly. Recently, some peanut butter manufacturers switched to using the sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar substitute often found in sugar-free products like chewing gum, toothpaste, breath mints, chewable vitamins and baked goods. It is safe for people, but toxic to dogs.

Xylitol consumption causes a rapid release of insulin in dogs, which results in an equally rapid and profound decrease in blood sugar levels. and can be life threatening if left untreated. This condition, scientifically known as hypoglycemia, can occur as quickly as 10-to-60 minutes after eating xylitol.

Xylitol poisoning is easy to avoid. All owners need to do is check the label of the peanut butter and any other product they plan on feeding to their dogs for xylitol, and keep xylitol products out of their dogs’ reach. If you think your dog has eaten xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately, and keep an eye out for symptoms of xylitol poisoning, such as weakness, collapse, staggering, lack of coordination, and seizures.

Don’t keep your pup in suspense any longer. Yes, dogs can eat peanut butter as long as it is fed in moderation and does not contain xylitol, so get out that peanut butter jar and share the good news.


Peanuts – Yes, dogs can eat peanuts. Unlike almonds, peanuts are safe for dogs to eat. They’re packed with good fats and proteins that can benefit your dog. Just be sure to give peanuts in moderation, as you don’t want your dog taking in too much fat, which can lead to pancreas issues. Also, avoid salted peanuts.

Everyone knows that dogs love peanut butter. Since peanut butter is made from peanuts, most of us assume that peanuts are safe for dogs, too. The answer is not quite that simple, however.

When it comes to your dog’s health, not all peanuts and peanut butters are created equal. Peanuts are loaded with protein, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, niacin, and healthy fats. This means that peanuts and peanut butter offer your dogs a protein-rich snack that they can’t get enough of. There are, however, some risks associated with both peanuts and peanut butter.
What Types of Peanuts Are Safe for My Dog to Eat?

The best peanuts for dogs are not the delicious, salted kind that most people prefer. Dry-roasted (or raw), unsalted peanuts are the only peanuts that are actually safe for dogs to eat, although your dog will probably be fine if he manages to scoop up a salted peanut or two from the floor. However, salted peanuts contain more sodium than your dog needs and can be harmful to his health if ingested in large quantities, so it is best to avoid feeding salted peanuts to dogs. This is a reason why some owners prefer to make their own peanut butter. Homemade peanut butter allows owners to control the amount of oil and sodium that goes into the recipe, and it also eliminates the growing risk of xylitol poisoning.

Peanuts also contain high levels of fat. This can cause digestive upset and even pancreatitis if your dog eats high-fat foods like peanuts on a regular basis or in large quantities.

How Many Peanuts Can My Dog Have?

When it comes to feeding peanuts, moderation is key. Limit your dog’s peanut intake to just a few peanuts, and do not feed peanuts as a treat every day. Honey-roasted peanuts and other flavored nuts are also unsafe for your dog, and make sure you remove the peanut shell as the fibrous material can pose a choking hazard, especially for small dogs.


Popcorn – Yes, dogs can eat popcorn. Unsalted, unbuttered, plain air-popped popcorn is OK for your dog in moderation. It contains riboflavin and thiamine, both of which promote eye health and digestion, as well as small amounts of iron and protein. Be sure to pop the kernels all the way before giving them to your dog, as unpopped kernels could become a choking hazard.

Nothing brings more joy to most dogs than helping you clean up after movie night. Popcorn always finds its way into couch cushions and onto the floor, where our dogs are happy to “hoover” them up. The question most of us forget to ask ourselves, however, is can dogs eat popcorn?

Popcorn itself is not bad for dogs. Popped corn kernels actually contain several minerals important to canine nutrition, like magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, along with fiber and trace amounts of vitamins. The stuff that makes popcorn taste delicious to us is a different story. The majority of us prefer our popcorn dripping with butter and loaded with salt, even though we know it is not good for us. The same goes for dogs. Butter, oils, salt, and the other toppings on popcorn can lead to intestinal upset in dogs, and the fats in oil and butter also contribute to obesity and obesity-related health problems.

There is an alternative. Plain, air-popped popcorn makes a nice occasional treat for your dog. But, kernels can get stuck in dogs’ teeth and pose a choking hazard, so it is probably a good idea to keep whole or only partially popped kernels away from curious dogs.

So is it safe for dogs to eat popcorn?

Yes and no. Plain, air-popped popcorn is safe for dogs to eat in small quantities. Buttered popcorn or popcorn with other toppings is not safe for your dog on a regular basis, although eating a few dropped pieces here and there probably won’t hurt him. As with any treat, too much popcorn is not good for your dog, and it is important to keep treats down to approximately 10 percent or less of a dog’s daily caloric intake.


Pork – Yes, dogs can eat pork. Pork is highly digestible protein, packed with amino acids, and it contains more calories per pound than other meats. Pork also may be less likely to cause an allergic reaction in some pets compared to other meat.

Eating meat is very natural for dogs, so it’s no surprise when they’re looking toward their owner wanting to share what’s on the plate. Because of a dog’s carnivorous nature, owners don’t usually second-guess whether giving their dog some meat is a good idea, they just do it. With commercially prepared foods containing ingredients like chicken and beef, why wouldn’t we think all meats, in moderation, are fair game?




Is it Safe for Dogs to Eat Pork?

While this is an area some owners might debate, the answer is a little more involved than just a straight yes or no. It is safe to eat pork, but there are certain conditions that must be adhered to if you plan to feed your dog the “other white meat.” Plain pork is safe for dogs to eat, as long as you keep it simple and leave off the bells and whistles people tend to cook with. Add-ons, such as seasonings and spice rubs that contain the following, are extremely dangerous, due to the fact they are highly toxic if ingested:

  • Onion Powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Garlic Powder

If you like to use condiments such as BBQ sauce, you should be aware that it is not recommended for dogs and should be avoided. Many sauces are high in salt and sugar and contain added flavoring, such as garlic and onion. If your dog happens to eat a piece of pork covered in BBQ sauce, keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms that may arise and if they do develop a reaction contact your vet immediately.

Can I Feed My Dog Raw Pork?

Eating raw or undercooked pork is not safe for dogs or humans, due to the parasite trichinella spiralis larvae, which can cause the parasite infection known as trichinosis. An infection transmitted by pork meat, it can occur when a dog eats the muscles of animals that are infected with the trichinella parasites. This more commonly affects humans than dogs. The infection of Trichinella spiralis will only produce subtle symptoms in dogs:

Not all these symptoms are present in dogs; typically, pets with a weaker immune system will have more severe symptoms.


How Much Pork Can a Dog Eat?

Like any other food you try out for the first time, feed your dog a small amount to see if there’s any reaction. Certain meats are more likely to cause allergic reactions, including pork, rabbit, and lamb.

Pork is also rich with a type of fat that is difficult for dogs to digest, which can lead to indigestion and inflammation of the pancreas.

Can I Give My Dog Pork Bones?

Although it may be tempting to toss your dog that leftover bone after dinner, think twice before you do. Even though dogs love to chew on them, it’s not 100 percent safe. Once cooked, the bone dries out, causing it to become fragile and brittle. When gnawed on, it can splinter off into sharp pieces, causing damage to the esophagus and internal organs, and this can also cause choking. And while uncooked bones have a lower chance of splintering, it’s still possible. If your dog enjoys a good bone, consider a high-quality, edible dental bone as an alternative.


Is Preserved Pork, Such as Ham and Bacon, Safe for My Dog to Eat?

The answer to both of these meats is no! In 2015, the World Health Organization found that processed meats such as bacon and sausage were known carcinogens linked to cancer. Bacon is an incredibly rich and fatty food with a high salt content, which can prove to be too much for a dog’s stomach to handle. Eating a large amount can cause pancreatitis, which can be fatal.

Ham also has a dangerously high salt content, which may cause increased thirst which could lead to a deadly condition called “bloat.” Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach fills up with gas, food, or fluid, making it expand. Due to the high salt content in ham, dogs will become dehydrated and drink an excessive amount of water. Pressure is put on other organs, which potentially can be life threatening. Even though pork, ham, and bacon come from the meat of the same animal, there clearly are differences to be aware of.


What Is an Alternative Meat to Feed My Dog?

Chicken is an extra source of protein to add to your dog’s diet. It is easy to digest and filled with essential vitamins, minerals, fats, and amino acids. Veterinarians recommend feeding your dog plain, unseasoned, boiled chicken when they’re experiencing gastrointestinal issues.


Quinoa – Yes, quinoa is OK for dogs. Quinoa is actually an ingredient in some high-quality dry dog foods. The strong nutritional profile of quinoa makes it a healthy alternative to corn, wheat, and soy — starches that are often used to make kibble.

Quinoa is an extremely healthy food for humans. It’s packed with protein, healthy fat, calcium, and other nutrients. But is quinoa healthy for dogs, as well?

The answer is yes, dogs can eat quinoa.

Quinoa is actually an ingredient in some high-quality dry dog foods. The strong nutritional profile of quinoa makes it a healthy alternative to corn, wheat, and soy — starches that are often used to make kibble.

There is some concern that a type of chemical that is naturally found on quinoa could be damaging for dogs. The quinoa plant produces saponin to protect itself from insects, and some think the saponin may irritate the intestines in humans, as well as canines. However, the amount of saponin found on quinoa is usually too small to cause any problems.

It is possible that dogs’ digestive systems are more sensitive to saponins than humans’ digestive systems. So if you are concerned about the saponin on quinoa, simply wash the quinoa before cooking it. This will remove most of the saponin.

If your dog has never eaten quinoa before, you should start by giving him just a small amount. Though quinoa is generally a healthy food for dogs, some canines may have difficulty digesting it. If your dog experiences vomiting, diarrhea or constipation after eating quinoa, refrain from feeding it to him again.

If you are going to feed your dog quinoa, it’s best to prepare a separate portion for him, rather than feeding him off your plate. The salt, garlic, and onions you add to your own quinoa to cover the bitterness could be toxic to your dog.

Overall, quinoa is a healthy food for most dogs. If you do decide to offer it to your dog, it should be cooked to make it easier to digest and you should start with small portions. And as always, make sure you use caution when introducing any new food into your dog’s diet.


Salmon – Yes, dogs can eat salmon. As mentioned above, fully cooked salmon is an excellent source of protein, good fats, and amino acids. It promotes joint and brain health and gives dog-immune systems a nice boost. However, raw or undercooked salmon contains parasites that can make dogs very sick, causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and, in extreme cases, even death. Be sure to cook salmon all the way through (the FDA recommends at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit) and the parasites should cook out.

Is It Safe to Feed My Dog Salmon?

The short answer is yes. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the immune system, may decrease inflammation, and can keep your dog’s coat looking shiny and healthy. It’s also a good protein source. In fact, salmon is a common ingredient in high-quality dog foods. If your dog is allergic to more common sources of protein, like chicken, salmon may be a good alternative.


How Should I Prepare Salmon for My Dog?

Do not ever give your dog raw or undercooked salmon. It can contain the Neorickettsia helminthoeca parasite, which causes salmon poisoning disease. This disease can be fatal. In addition, raw salmon contains lots of small bones, which are brittle and can choke your dog or lodge in his stomach or intestines.

However, well-cooked, boneless salmon is definitely on the list of people food approved for dogs. Choose fresh boneless fillets, since they’re less likely to harbor small bones. But be sure to check for tiny bones anyway before cooking. Then poach, grill, roast, steam, or bake the salmon with no oil, salt and pepper, or other seasonings, such as garlic or onions.

As with any food, portion control is important. Serve your dog an appropriate portion size, and limit his salmon intake to once a week or less. You may even feed your dog canned salmon, although it’s best to choose one packed with water.

So, the next time you’re putting a fresh piece of salmon on the grill or in the oven, set a small piece aside to cook for your dog. It’s good for him, and he’ll love it. And if you really want to give your dog a special treat, try this homemade vet-approved mini omelette, made with sliced cooked salmon!


Shrimp – Yes, shrimp is OK for dogs. A few shrimp every now and then is fine for your dog, but only if they are fully cooked and the shell (including the tail, head, and legs) is removed completely. Shrimp are high in antioxidants, vitamin B-12, and phosphorus, but also low in fat, calories, and carbohydrates.

Next time you steam up some shrimp, you might want to consider setting a few aside for your dog. Not only can dogs eat shrimp, but a few shrimp now and then may even offer them some health benefits.

Shrimp Contain Beneficial Nutrients for Dogs

Shrimp are not only tasty, they are full of nutrients that dogs need, like vitamin B12, niacin, phosphorus, and anti-oxidants. Vitamin B12 is important for your dog’s metabolic processes and plays an important role in gastrointestinal health. Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is required for proper enzyme function and energy production, fat production, blood circulation, chemical signals, and many other processes. Phosphorus is necessary for healthy bones, and anti-oxidants help fight free radicals and can reduce brain aging.

Shrimp are also low in fat, calories, and carbohydrates, which makes them a good choice for dogs on a diet. However, shrimp are high in cholesterol. This means that while an occasional shrimp is a healthy treat, too many shrimp can contribute to unhealthy levels of cholesterol in your dog’s diet.

Can Dogs Eat Shrimp Raw?

Raw, uncooked shellfish contain harmful pathogens that are easily avoided by cooking shrimp before feeding them to your dog. It is also a good idea to completely remove the shell, as shrimp shells are a choking hazard and can cause obstructions, especially in small dog breeds. Steamed shrimp is the best shrimp for dogs, as fried or breaded shrimp contains unnecessary fats and oils that can be harmful.


How Much Shrimp Can Dogs Eat?

Moderation is the key to adding any new food item or treat to a dog’s diet. Every dog is different, and some might react differently to shrimp than others. One or two shrimp are usually enough for most dogs, and it is a good idea to offer a partial shrimp to small dogs as a precaution. Consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist if you want to add shrimp or other shellfish to your dog’s diet on a regular basis, so they can offer you professional advice about the proper quantities for your dog and advise you of any potential health concerns. Stop feeding shrimp if your dog shows symptoms of intestinal discomfort or illness, and call your vet if symptoms worsen.


Tuna – Yes, dogs can eat tuna. In moderation, cooked, fresh tuna is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promotes heart and eye health. As for canned tuna, it contains small amounts of mercury and sodium, which should be avoided in excess. A little bit of canned tuna and tuna juice here and there is fine – prepared only in water, not oil – as long as it doesn’t contain any spices.

Many dog foods contain fish, because it is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But tuna is not a common dog food ingredient. That’s because feeding a dog too much tuna can result in health problems.

The danger of a dog eating tuna is actually the same as the danger of a human eating tuna: mercury. As you can see from this U.S. Food and Drug Administration chart, fresh tuna has much higher levels of mercury than other types of fish, such as salmon and tilapia. Consuming too much mercury can result in mercury poisoning, which leads to severe, potentially fatal, health complications.

Mercury enters our lakes, rivers, and oceans because of industrial activities, such as coal-fired electricity generation. The mercury then accumulates in fish. The larger the fish and the longer it lives, the higher the concentration of mercury in its tissues. Because tuna are large, long-living fish, their mercury levels are quite high.

Nonprofit organization Consumer Reports has recommended that people limit their tuna consumption based on their weight. For example, a person who weighs 154 pounds should consume no more than 5 ounces of regular tuna per week. Because dogs are usually smaller than humans, and because there are no recommendations for how much tuna dogs can safely eat, it is probably best not to feed your dog tuna.

If you want to treat your dog to some fish, you should choose a type of fish that has lower mercury levels. The safest types of fresh fish to feed to dogs are those that are most commonly used in commercial dog food, including salmon, whitefish, herring, flounder, and Arctic char.

If your dog does manage to snag some tuna off your plate when you aren’t looking, don’t worry. Tuna is not toxic for dogs, and only one portion will not cause mercury poisoning.

If you own both a dog and a cat, be careful about your dog trying to eat the cat’s food, because wet cat food often contains tuna. Because cats are also susceptible to mercury poisoning, you may want to steer toward cat food options that contain other types of fish.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning in dogs include:

  • Hair loss
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Blindness
  • Kidney damage (inability to urinate, abdominal swelling)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of feeling in paws
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting blood
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

So, can dogs eat tuna? The best answer is that it’s safer to avoid it. Although tuna itself is not toxic for dogs, it contains high levels of mercury, an element that can cause serious damage to a dog’s body if it accumulates.

Turkey – Yes, dogs can eat turkey. Turkey is fine for dogs as long as it is not covered in garlic (which can be very toxic to dogs) and seasonings. Also be sure to remove excess fat and skin from the meat and don’t forget to check for bones; poultry bones can splinter during digestion, causing blockage or even tears in the intestines.

Thanksgiving, for most families, is all about the bird. Hours go into the roasting and basting, and once the feast is over, there are turkey sandwiches, turkey potpies, and turkey casseroles to make. In the midst of all of that leftover turkey, it is tempting to slip our dogs some meat, or even to make them up a plate of it as a special Thanksgiving treat.

But can dogs eat turkey? Is it good for them? Are there risks? Here is what you need to know about feeding turkey to dogs to get your dog through the holidays safely.

Can Dogs Eat Turkey?

The short answer is “yes and no.” Turkey is not toxic to dogs. It is an ingredient in many commercial dog foods and is rich in nutrients like protein, riboflavin, and phosphorous. When cooked plain, under the guidance of a veterinarian, it can be an essential part of a homemade dog food diet.

Thanksgiving turkeys, however, are rarely cooked plain. We rub our birds with butter and oils and season them with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices. We stuff them full of stuffing, onions, garlic, and more herbs. To us, this is delicious. For our dogs, it is a recipe for unpleasant digestive upset at best, and pancreatitis at worst.
How to Feed Your Dog Turkey Safely

If you decide to feed your dog turkey this Thanksgiving, there are a few things you need to know to do it safely.

  1. Skip the skin. All of that fat and seasoning is dangerous for dogs. The fat content can cause pancreatitis, and the seasonings can irritate your dog’s stomach.
  2. Make sure you only feed your dog turkey meat. Onions are toxic to dogs, and garlic is potentially toxic in large quantities.
  3. Feed your dog only small quantities of turkey, and talk to your vet about adding food scraps into your dog’s diet, especially if your dog has a preexisting health condition, like diabetes.
  4. Make sure there are no bones in the meat you feed your dog.

Can Dogs Eat Turkey Bones?

Poultry bones, especially cooked poultry bones, are brittle. This, combined with their small size, makes them very dangerous for dogs. Veterinarians caution against feeding dogs bones of any kind, including poultry bones, as they can cause the following problems:

  • Mouth and tongue injuries
  • Obstruction of the throat or intestinal tract
  • Choking
  • Bone fragments can pierce the lining of stomachs and intestines
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding from sharp bone fragments
  • Blockages that require emergency surgery

If you want to give your dog a bone, try a large hardy nylon or rubber chew toy bone or other size-appropriate chew toy. Some of them are even flavored, and your dog will live to chew another day.
The Verdict

Yes, you can feed your dog turkey safely, as long as you follow these guidelines. However, feeding table scraps to dogs on a regular basis can lead to obesity, which causes a host of problems, including diabetes, hypertension, joint stress, and hip dysplasia.

If you have any more questions, talk with your vet about how to feed turkey safely to your dog.


Wheat/grains – Yes, dogs can eat wheat and other grains. Dogs do not have to be grain-free; it is perfectly OK for them to have grains. In fact, grains like wheat and corn are great sources of protein, essential fatty acids, and fiber. If your dog has certain allergies, however, it might be best to avoid grains, but it truly depends on your dog.

A walk down the pet food aisle shows high-end (and high-priced) kibbles boasting “grain-free” formulas. We’re made to feel guilty if we feed our dogs the dreaded grain. But what’s the big deal?

Grain may have gotten a really bad name from the 2007 pet-food contamination tragedy in which wheat gluten imported from China had been contaminated with industrial chemicals used to falsely boost protein-level readings and caused kidney damage when ingested. Thousands of pets got ill and many died. Of course it wasn’t the grain itself that was the culprit, but that’s what many people remember.

Combine that incident with the human gluten-free food fad, and it’s only natural that health-conscious pet owners would consider the same for their dogs. It’s not that wheat gluten is evil. It’s that about 10 percent of people have gluten intolerance. The rest of us are just fine with it. We don’t know what percentage of dogs may have a similar condition, but chances are it’s not all of them.


Do Grains Cause Allergies?

What about the claim that grains cause food allergies? Grains don’t cause allergies. They can, however, be the target of allergies, and some foods are more allergenic than others. Those foods are specific ones, such as wheat, not general categories, such as grains.
The top five allergy-provoking ingredients for dogs are (in order):

  • beef
  • dairy
  • wheat
  • chicken
  • egg

Some dogs can have an allergy to storage mites. Several studies have found that dry dog food that has been opened and stored in non-sealed containers for six weeks often (but not always) grows storage mites. The studies did not differentiate between grain-free foods and those containing grain. One study concluded that these mites can be prevented by storing food in cool, dry environments, in sealed containers, and for not more than a month. They also concluded that while dogs can be allergic to storage mites, more are allergic to household dust mites.

What about GMOs?

Some people are concerned about the use of genetically modified grains. They believe their use can lead to “leaky gut syndrome” in which small fissures develop in the gut lining, allowing bacteria, toxins, incompletely digested proteins, and fats to leak into the bloodstream, triggering an autoimmune response resulting in food sensitivities, fatigue, skin rashes, gas, and bloating. But there is no actual evidence of this occurring—at this point, just speculation. Nonetheless, if GMOs concern you, look for foods with less popular grains, which are less likely to be genetically modified. These include barley, oats, millet, quinoa, teff, buckwheat, and amaranth.
Shouldn’t Dogs Eat Like Wolves?

There’s also the perception that dogs should be eating a diet similar to their wild ancestors’. When was the last time you saw a wolf nibbling the kernels off a corncob? However, dogs are actually different from wolves in this regard; in fact, scientists believe that one of the physiological changes that helped dogs evolve alongside humans was the ability to digest starch. Dogs have differences in 10 key genes compared to wolves that enable them to better utilize grains than wolves can.

Furthermore, grain-free foods don’t mean plant-free foods. Grains are seeds, like wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley, millet, oatmeal, and quinoa. Grain-free diets use other plant sources such as potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, tapioca, peas, butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, spinach greens, and various fruits. These are also not foods wolves are known to eat. In fact, some of these ingredients provide less nutrition than grains. Remember – DOGS ARE NOT WOLVES.

Can Grains Make Dogs Fat?

This idea probably came about from the Atkins low-carb diet popular with humans. But grain-free does not mean carbohydrate-free. Grain-free foods contain about the same amount of carbohydrates as foods containing grains. In actuality, wheat gluten contains more than 80 percent protein, is 99 percent digestible, and has an amino acid profile similar to meat proteins. Corn, when prepared properly, is actually an excellent source of highly digestible carbohydrate, essential fatty acids, and fiber, and can be an especially crucial ingredient in diets for dogs with medical conditions requiring reduced fat or protein.
Are Grain-Free Diets A Waste Of Money?

If you’re feeding them for one of the above reasons, and your dog was otherwise doing well on a grain-based diet, probably yes. If your dog prefers a grain-free diet, is doing well on it, and you can afford it, then go for it. But if your dog is doing fine on a non–grain free diet, and your wallet is hurting, stow the guilt and buy the grains!
If your dog has signs of allergies, this type of food might be worth a try, but so might switching to non-beef or non-chicken foods. If your dog has signs of food intolerance such as repeated diarrhea, a food change might be a good idea, but getting him checked by a veterinarian is an even better option.


Yogurt – Yes, yogurt is OK for dogs. Plain yogurt is a perfectly acceptable snack for dogs, however some canines may have trouble digesting it. If your dog can digest it, the active bacteria in yogurt can help strengthen the digestive system with probiotics. Be sure to skip over yogurts with added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Yogurt is high in probiotics (good bacteria), which are good for the digestive system. But does yogurt have the same effect on dogs that it has on humans? And is it safe to feed yogurt to your dog?

The Problem With Yogurt for Dogs

Although yogurt is not toxic to dogs, many canines will have trouble digesting it. Dogs’ bodies were not really designed to digest lactose after they are weaned off their mothers’ milk. Yogurt has less lactose than milk, because it has been fermented, so some dogs may be able to digest it easily. But if you want to try giving your dog yogurt, you should be aware that it could cause gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.

If your dog has none of the above symptoms after eating yogurt, it’s fine to feed him yogurt as a treat once in a while.

What Type of Yogurt Is Best for Dogs?

If you are going to give your dog yogurt, it should be free of any added sweeteners, both natural and artificial. Added sugars are not healthy for dogs or humans, and some artificial sweeteners, like xylitol, are toxic for dogs. A comprehensive list of products is available here. VCA Hospitals reports that xylitol is 100 times more toxic to dogs than chocolate.

You should also look for a yogurt that has lots of live cultures (bacteria), because they help digest the lactose in the yogurt.

Can Yogurt Benefit Dogs?

Do the probiotics in yogurt benefit a dog’s digestive system the way they benefit a human’s digestive system? While it is possible for a dog to get this benefit from yogurt, there are better sources of probiotics for canines.

Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets FortiFlora® is a probiotic supplement designed for dogs and cats, which is frequently recommended by veterinarians. FortiFlora® provides the good bacteria that can help improve your dog’s intestinal health, without the lactose that may be difficult for him to digest.

Should You Give Your Dog Yogurt?

For some dogs, yogurt is fine to eat once in a while, but many dogs cannot digest it. If you want to give your dog a special treat, you are better off choosing foods that are easier on his digestive system, like these fruits and veggies./


LettuceFor a lot of Americans, salads are a popular meal option. But can dogs eat lettuce? In general, yes. Lettuce of the romaine, arugula, and iceberg variety do not contain anything that can really harm your dog. After all, it is 90 percent water. It’s also a low-calorie snack that could be a good training treat for an overweight dog. Plus, there’s just something about that crunch that dogs love!


Is Lettuce Safe for Dogs?

While you can feed your pup greens, there are possible risks. If you give him too much, it could cause diarrhea, so moderation is important.

It should be noted that spinach, while containing large amounts of Vitamins A, B, C, and K, is also very high in oxalic acid, which blocks the body’s ability to absorb calcium and can lead to kidney damage. Kale also contains several potentially harmful natural compounds, including calcium oxalate — which could lead to kidney and bladder stones — and isothiocyanates, that can cause mild to potentially severe gastric irritation.

Because it is very fibrous, lettuce can also be hard to digest in big pieces. Chopping it up is better than handing your dog a whole leaf, especially for smaller dogs or those that are prone to gulping down their food.

Make sure it’s washed thoroughly and that you know where your lettuce originates. Due to recent recalls of lettuce contaminated by E. coli or listeria, you should be extra cautious about the lettuce you buy so that no one in your household (including your pet) gets sick.

Is Lettuce Good for Dogs?

Given that it’s 90 percent water, lettuce’s nutritional content is somewhat low, especially the iceberg variety. But it does contain beta-carotene (a red-orange pigment that’s converted into Vitamin A) and is a great source of fiber. Exact nutritional value varies between the different types of lettuce.

However, be aware that just because your dog can eat lettuce doesn’t mean you should give him your leftover salad! It could include other ingredients, such as onions, that may be toxic. But, generally speaking, it’s okay to sneak your dog a piece of lettuce from time to time.


Grapes – Can dogs eat grapes? The answer (and this goes for raisins, too, which are just dried grapes) is easy: No. Grapes and raisins are known to be highly toxic to dogs, though research has yet to pinpoint exactly which substance in the fruit causes this reaction. Because of that, peeled or seedless grapes should also be avoided.

Gender, breed, or age of a dog has no influence on the risk of being affected, and since there is no proven amount that is safe, you shouldn’t be giving your pup grapes or raisins at all.

Unfortunately, grape/raisin toxicity can even be fatal. Ingesting the fruit could potentially lead to acute (sudden) kidney failure in dogs. According to ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, they received a total of 3,722 calls involving grapes and raisins in 2016.

Here are the signs and symptoms that may occur after a toxic ingestion:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy, weakness, unusual stillness
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, often within a few hours
  • Abdominal pain (tender when touched)
  • Dehydration (signs include panting; dry nose and mouth; pale gums). A quick way to test for dehydration is to gently pull up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. It should spring back immediately.
  • Increased thirst and/or urine production or diminished amount of urine or complete cessation altogether
  • Kidney failure (which can be fatal)

If your dog has ingested grapes or raisins, treatment is absolutely critical. Contact your veterinarian, who may suggest you induce vomiting as soon as possible. However, you should not induce vomiting if your dog is having trouble breathing, exhibiting signs of distress, is unconscious, or if you’re not sure what he has eaten.


BonesRaw bones can be both safe and healthy providing you follow some guidelines which I’ll discuss shortly. You’re probably aware your dog’s ancestors and counterparts in the wild have been eating bones forever. Canines in their natural habitat eat prey, including the meat, bones and stomach contents. In fact, your pup has a biological requirement for the nutrients found in bone marrow and the bones themselves.

Dogs love to chew raw bones for the yummy taste, the mental stimulation, and also because all that gnawing is great exercise for the muscles of the jaw.

Two Types of Raw Bones

At my clinic, Natural Pet Animal Hospital, we recommend to all our dog parents that they separate bones into two categories:

  1. Edible bones
  2. Recreational bones

Edible bones – are the hollow, non-weight-bearing bones of birds (typically chicken wings and chicken and turkey necks). They are soft, pliable, do not contain marrow, and can be easily crushed in a meat grinder. These bones provide calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals which can be an essential part of your pup’s balanced raw food diet.

Recreational bones – big chunks of beef or bison femur or hip bones filled with marrow — don’t supply significant dietary nutrition for your dog (they are not designed to be chewed up and swallowed, only gnawed on), but they do provide mental stimulation and are great for your pup’s oral health.

When your dog chews on a raw recreational bone, especially a meaty one with cartilage and soft tissue still attached, his teeth get the equivalent of a good brushing and flossing. This helps to break down tartar and reduces the risk of gum disease. Dogs in the wild have beautiful teeth and healthy gums. This is because the prey they eat requires a lot of chewing, and the sinewy composition helps to clean each entire tooth.

Guidelines for Feeding Recreational Bones Safely

The health risks listed above for cooked bones can also apply to recreational raw bones if your dog has unrestricted, unsupervised access to them. The following are do’s and don’ts for feeding recreational raw bones (and yes, they have to be raw, not steamed, boiled or baked):

Do supervise your dog closely while he’s working on a bone. That way you can react immediately if your pup happens to choke, or if you notice any blood on the bone or around your dog’s mouth from over aggressive gnawing.

You’ll also know when your dog has chewed down to the hard-brittle part of a knuckle bone, making splinters more likely. When the bone has been gnawed down in size throw it out. Do not allow your dog to chew it down to a small chunk he can swallow.

Do separate dogs in a multi-dog household before feeding bones. Dogs can get quite territorial about bones and some dogs will fight over them.
Do feed fresh raw bones in your dog’s crate, or on a towel or other surface you can clean, or outside as long as you can supervise him. Fresh raw bones become a gooey, greasy mess until your dog has gnawed them clean, so make sure to protect your flooring and furniture.
Don’t give them to a dog that has had restorative dental work/crowns.
Don’t give them to your dog if she has a predisposition to pancreatitis. Raw bone marrow is very rich and can cause diarrhea and a flare-up of pancreatitis. Instead, you can feed a “low fat” version by thawing the bone and scooping out the marrow to reduce the fat content.
Don’t give a recreational bone to a dog that’s likely to try to swallow it whole or bite it in two and eat it in huge chunks.

My pit bulls tried to do this the first time I fed them recreational raw bones – they bit them in two and tried to eat both halves whole. So, I got knuckle bones the approximate size of their heads, and they couldn’t open their jaws wide enough to bite down and crack off big chunks of the bones. Over time, I trained them to chew smaller femur bones less aggressively.

You should be able to find raw knuckle bones at your local butcher shop or the meat counter of your supermarket (labeled as ‘soup bones’). When you get the bones home, store them in the freezer and thaw one at a time before feeding to your pup. I also recommend giving your dog a bone to chew after she’s full from a meal. Hungry dogs are more tempted to swallow a bone whole or break it apart and swallow large chunks. This increases the risk of an obstruction in the digestive tract.

  • Don’t feed small bones that can be swallowed whole or pose a choking risk, or bones that have been cut, such as a leg bone. Cut bones are more likely to splinter.
  • Don’t feed pork bones or rib bones. They’re more likely to splinter than other types of bones.

A Healthy Alternative to Feeding Raw Bones

If one of the above conditions prevents you from offering raw bones to your dog, consider a softer alternative: a high quality, edible dental bone. A fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew provides mechanical abrasion to help control plaque and tartar, and is similar to the effect of eating whole, raw food in the wild.

Many popular chew bones cannot be broken down, and if your pup swallows one whole, or a large enough portion of one, there’s always a risk of intestinal blockage. In addition, most traditional dog chews contain unhealthy ingredients like gelatin, artificial sweeteners, and other additives and preservatives that are potentially cancer causing.

I highly recommend a high quality dog dental bone, that is 100 percent natural and contain absolutely no corn, soy, gluten, extra fat or sugar, or animal byproducts.

Whether you go with raw bones, a high quality dog dental bone, or a combination, the important thing to remember is your canine family member is designed to chew. She needs your help to insure she gets regular opportunities to brush and floss as nature intended, and to exercise those jaw muscles

Can dogs eat steak bones


Dogs can NOT eat steak bones!

Do you feed your dog regularly with steak bones? Do you consider giving bones to your canine friend healthy? It is true that your dog will love chewing and playing with bones, but have you ever wondered the dangers related to bones?

Bones, the rich source of protein is always considered to be healthy for your dog’s gums. Haven’t your pet dog ever faced any trouble with steak, beef or chicken bones? If not, then you and your canine friend are lucky enough.

If you haven’t faced any trouble doesn’t mean that your dog will never pose any threat from bones. Do you know steak bones can be highly dangerous and can create life threatening situations?

Basically, when you cook steak bones it becomes very brittle and breaks down too easily. There is no doubt to the fact that your pet dog will love the delicious and yummy taste of steak bones and you cannot risk his/her life by giving bones simply because your pet loves it.

Since steak bones become brittle and breaks down there is every possibility that the broken-down pieces of the bones get struck in your dog’s throat. Can you even imagine the condition of your canine friend?

This is an extremely serious situation and if immediate medical attention is not given, your pet might die out of breathlessness and pain. Sometimes the brittle bones also get struck in the intestinal tract of your dog that needs surgery to cure. Look at the dangers you call when you treat your pet with steak bones. Avoid giving steak bones to your canine dog.

Complete List of People Foods Dogs Can’t Eat


Bread Dough

Chocolate (Especially Dark and Baking Chocolate)

Caffeine (Coffee, Tea, Soda, etc)

The stems, leaves, peels, fruit and seeds of citrus plants contain varying amounts of citric acid, essential oils that can cause irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression if ingested in significant amounts. Small doses, such as eating the fruit, are not likely to present problems beyond minor stomach upset.



Grapes and Raisins


The main danger of cherries is that their pits, stems, and leaves contain cyanide, which is poisonous and potentially lethal if consumed in high enough quantities. Cherry pits can also get lodged in a dog’s digestive tract and cause intestinal blockages.

What about maraschino cherries, which already have the pits removed? They may be pit-free, but maraschinos are not a good dog treat because they have been sweetened with tons of sugar.


Macadamia Nuts

Moldy Foods

Onions and Garlic

Xylitol (Sugar-Free Candy, Mints, Gum, Toothpaste)

Xylitol is deadly to your dog!

Seeds of most fruit (Apple, Almond, Apricot, Cherry, Peaches, Plums, Persimmons, Pear, Prunes, Tomatoes & similar fruit)

Raw Eggs


Corn Cobs

Bones that can splinter




By James Turner

I was both aghast and frighted. I have two dogs, one a Great Pyrenes, the other a Catahoula. I love them both dearly. However, the behavior of Dexter, my Pyrenes, has committed some impertinences up with which I will not put. I will list these for your pondering. As I lay in bed Dexter, who is no small dog, jumped up on the bed, stood over me looking down straight into my eyes. It startled me as he looked like white wolf. It immediately came to my mind that Cesar said, “Never allow your dog to be higher than you as it is an attempt to dominate.” I screamed and pushed Dexter away and sat-up breathing heavily. Second, I was eating breakfast and Dexter, sitting beside me, lifted his paw and placed it on my leg. The same thing happened when he was beside me on the couch. He unceremoniously placed his paw on my leg. I pushed it away from me and scolded him. I told him “No. Never do that again.” He looked away from me knowing I was in command. He knew he had done something wrong. This is what topped all this off and instilled in me the awareness that I had to get Dexter under control. I was sitting in my rocking chair. Dexter approached me straight from the front, from the front. He placed one paw on the chair between my knees, then the other, pulling himself up. Now he is no small dog. Dexter, on his back legs stands tall about six feet. He looked down directly into my eyes. Those bright brown eyes set in that large white head just seemed to look right into me. I froze. Was he going to grab my throat and tear my larynx out? I couldn’t move. I read somewhere that when something like this happens one should just play dead and maybe the wild animal will leave. So I closed my eyes and played dead. I felt Dexter move. I knew it didn’t work. Then Dexter further shocked me. I felt a wet tongue on my face and he got down. I guess he didn’t like what he tasted because here I am, writing about these frightening accounts.

Well, you guessed it, the above is a parody. An attempt to exaggerate the silly, misguided thinking traditional trainers across this country espouse. Thinking that became popular through Colonel Konrad Most (1910), traveled through Barbara Woodhouse of the 1950s, and was the persuasion of traditional dog trainers down through Cesar Millan, the New Skete Brothers and seen on TV with those who make “instant” behavioral changes. It is the attempt to convince you that your dog, from the Chihuahua to the Saint Bernard, is out to dominate you. Your dog wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today I am going to dominate my master. I will unseat him and become the alpha of this relationship.” Does he? I mean, it sounds so reasonable. He is a direct descendent of the wolf. Wolves have a despot as a leader. He ferociously keeps his subordinates in line. Not! This is all a fallacy that has been sold and bought. The fact is, now we know this not only to be untrue, but that looking at the lives of wolves scientists have found little behavior to apply to domesticated dogs. Most of the comparisons that are made are from observing the North American timber wolf which is a distant relative of the modern-day dog, so distant, that they do not even factor into the dog’s behavior. The Eurasian gray wolf is directly in the ancestral line of the dog. However, the grey wolves studied to make sense of dog behavior is the modern day grey wolf. The dog traces back as far as 20, 000 years or further. There is no comparison of the grey wolf from which cam proto dog to the grey wolf of today. That grey wolf had to be different and is forever gone. The fact is proto dog remains a mystery. It begs the question, “What was proto grey wolf like?” That species must have been of a more tamable disposition. That wolf must have had a propensity to become familiar outside of itself. Now tamable does not imply domestication, but it does make domestication possible when the right time and the right environment is present. It is my persuasion that even before there was a split to what led to the modern-day wolf and the modern-day dog there was a different kind, a different breed of wolf. From that tamable wolf came the split of the modern-day wolf that remains wild and the dog that would become our modern-day, domesticated dog. That process was over thousands of years, but the potential was at that point of split.

Why is all this important? What is important is this. If we keep misapplying the wild wolf paradigm to our dogs, many methods we apply to prevent them from being “dominant” will damage and destroy the human/animal bond. To pursue these outworn, unscientific and aversive methods of control is to insure a dog that is fearful, conflicted, cheerless, possibly distressed, no matter how well you provide physically for him. Why, then, do many trainers continue to espouse these techniques? Well, in reading Cesar Millan’s writings, he said he gained his methods from watching how wolves behaved. That’s a pretty-narrow window of resource. His methods of training “stopped” the unwanted behavior therefore the methods were a success. People then bought into his wolf paradigm of interpreting the dog. If one’s purpose of training is to “stop” certain behaviors any aversive method will work. The more the dog resists just increase the level of aversive until the dog surrenders. But you will not have a companion which adores you, cooperates with you, or has a meaningful bond with you. Remember, quick fixes are not always lasting fixes. I learned early in my animal behavioral career, “You cannot train what you just traumatized.”

Catherine Waters, of Bro & Tracy Animal Welfare offers this list to let you know if your dog is “dominant.” Comments in red are mine.

Dominant dogs are pushy, unresponsive to training and may not have good house and company manners. They will try to have everything their own way.

This is simply an untrained dog. Sounds like the reward used is not high enough.

Pushing through doors, inside or outside, before you.

Meer excitement, natural. It is your choice, but for safety should be trained. Can be modified in 5 minutes.

 Jumping or reaching for food or treat before it is put down or in reach.

You’re kidding. My granddaughter does this. Just withdraw it until he sits.

 Putting his or her feet on you, standing on or pawing at you.

That’s right! Correct all of his expression of affection out. Just ignore the behavior. It will stop.

Barking at you when told to do something or when he or she wants something.

Sounds like he might be confused. Sometimes WE need to listen to him. Clarity, on our part, eliminates some of these behaviors.

 Trying to be physically taller than you.

If this is a bear he doesn’t want to dominate you. He wants to eat you. If it is your dog this is so silly I have no answer. Tell this to an owner of a Great Dane. If you don’t want him on your lap or shoulders, move. He will stop. Teach “4 on the floor.”

 Getting on furniture before you or before being given permission.

This is the owner’s choice. If not wanted on furniture just don’t start it.

Reluctance to move from a spot you want to sit on, walk through or put something in.

This is funny. I always say to me Great Pyrenes, “Don’t move, Dex. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”  But I also know he has arthritis. Give me a break! If you feel this is a polite issue, teach, “excuse me.” Not at all difficult. But don’t punish the dog.

Staring at you; prolonged eye contact except when you ask for it in a training or working situation.

Again, give me a break! I want to encourage eye contact. If you knew dog talk you’d know he is trying to tell you something. You’re not listening.

 Reluctance to obey simple, normal commands such as sit, go-out, get-off, etc. May be a refusal or slow compliance.

I’ll bet it’s not reluctance. I’ll bet the owner is not being clear. “Get off” sounds like a frustrated owner who needs training him/her self.

Marking (urinating or defecating) in house, marking your personal belongings or bed.

This calls for a vet visit and putting those undies away.

 Sexual behaviors, such as mounting, with an inappropriate partner.

Mounting in this context is not a sexual behavior. What is an inappropriate partner? That shows the absence of logic. Unless you’re married and it’s your mate who is the offending party.

Putting her or his head on or over your head or shoulders.

I encourage this from my dogs. It is like a sleeping pill.

Eating before you.

I have not the words to express how stupid (That’s a technical term for unintelligent) this one is.

To be honest, every one of these is more about power on the part of the owner than it has to do with dominance or power struggle on the part of the dog. This list should be titled, “How to Develop a Conflicted, Insecure Dog.” Or maybe, “A Shortcut to Developing a Schizophrenic Pet.” Talk about peddling nonsense.

Dogs do not want to dominate, they want to cooperate. And when we approach training in a force-free, caring manner the dog will cooperate. He is a dog not a wolf. He, long ago, made the decision to be with humans. This is not something we have to teach him, it’s instinctual. Many say, “I didn’t choose my dog, he chose me.” Then what makes us think we need to punish the wild wolf out of him. A wolf doesn’t choose you. A wolf avoids humans.

Let me suggest that it is not about dominance. Your dog is not your adversary. He doesn’t want to eat you or run the house. He wants to fit into your life. He wants to know the boundaries. He wants to live a fulfilled life. You need to know his breed. It is your responsibility to know his breed or non-breed make-up. If you don’t want a dog pushing you, or your children then don’t get a Border Collie. If you want a calm dog don’t get a Jack Russel or a Lab. Think. Ask, “Why do I want a dog?” “What kind of dog do I want?” “What is my lifestyle? Will a dog fit into it?” I had a client that lived in a three-room apartment. He got a Great Dane. A beautiful dog, but my client worked 10 hours a day. A cage wouldn’t fit and he didn’t want his dog to be bored. Do your homework.

Well, I guess what I’m trying to say is this. Don’t call a trainer who applies wolf behavior to dogs. The dog will not build a bond based on the inevitable methods of training that will be applied, or I should say misapplied. The dog trainer you want is the one your dog can’t wait to see and hates to see leave. I tell people all the time, “If your dog doesn’t act like this to his trainer, GET RID OF THE TRAINER!



By James Turner

Several years past, when I took my animal training and behavioral program my teacher, Julie Shaw, asked me (in front of the whole class) “What is the importance of a cue?” I had to trust it was not a question to trick me up because Julie always set us up for success. But it did rattle me. I mean, I stood there with my dog, leash in hand, everyone focused on me and I was about to be embarrassed. I dug deep into the training Julie had already given me and, somehow I found three thoughts which I expressed and hoped they would be what she was looking for. When I was finished Julie sat back and said, “You should write something about that.” Wow, Julie, my teacher, the best of the best in the animal behavior world, said that to me. Me, a student. The novice of my class. Everyone else in my class had dog backgrounds and for them, I felt this was a refresher course. For me, well, what does a former pastor, therapist, and law enforcement person know about four legged animal behavior? I felt like I had “behaviorally stupid” stamped on my forehead.

Well, I have written on several different subjects since I graduated, and I did graduate “the most improved student” in Julie’s classes. Now, I’m telling you, one did not graduate Julie’s class easily. She was no push over. To graduate Julie’s class gives one high standing in the Karen Pryor Academy. Julie told me one time, “I will not graduate you if I cannot feel confident to refer someone to you. You will be a reflection of my making a referral.” I thought, “I’d never graduate.” Well, I did and I value every challenge Julie gave to me.

So, cues. My answer. Pet owners do not always realize the importance of the words they use with their pet. Our words carry more importance, both negative and positive, than we realize. Do you know, you should never use your pets name in a scolding manner? If Fido does not like his bath and you have everything ready, you should never call, “Fido, come here.” then turn on the hose or put him in the water. Guess what Fido is going to do when you call his name three hours later? Run to you? Think again. He’ll run from you to under the bed or behind a chair, or he’ll crouch low and almost crawl to you. Then what do I do? You slowly walk to Fido and gently lead him to his bath place, reward him before you begin, during and after. Then you can say his name, “Fido, go play.” Never use his name in an aversive way.

But this is not about a pet’s name. Primarily it is about words. In the human world words have meaning and consequences. In the dog world it is no different. This is so important because dogs have a predisposition to humans. It is proven that dogs would rather be with their owner than with their counter. Dogs understand us, they come to understand our words and how we are feeling. They interpret that slight raise of the eyebrow or furrow of the forehead. Their behavior is often the result of how and what we speak. Now, I’m not going to write anything new, anything we trainers do not already know, but I do hope that I can give a different flavor, a fresh importance or awareness to pet owners.

So, what is a cue? A cue is any action, verbal, visual or auditory sound that produces a corresponding behavior Fido performs. Some cues are intentional, others are not. Often I have a client believe that their verbal cue is eliciting a particular behavior only for me to help him or her realize the real cue is a movement. When a dog performs a behavior when new do, say, or sound something, it is because that dog has paired that behavior with that word, sound, or action. When a dog sits when I say, “sit” it is because I have successfully paired the action of sit with the word. The word doesn’t matter, the pairing does. So I could just as well say “pepper” or “banana.” I could capture Fido’s sitting, reward that, and Fido repeats the sit. Now I could begin using the word “banana” when he sits. Banana then becomes the cue for sit. Someone can tell Fido to sit and Fido looks clueless. The friend asks you, “Can I have a banana?” and Fido sits.

But what I am more interested in here is not the definition of a cue, but rather the transaction of the cue. What does a cue express? What is it about the cue that the animal wants to respond to? The operative word here is “want.”  Some cues can be ominous and foreboding. Fido can perform a behavior out of fear or out of respect. I can train either as the boss or a partner. I can make a dog obey anything I say, but that is not the criterion. So my thoughts here are strictly and solely a force-free philosophy and perspective. These thought will not fit into a traditional or balanced training outlook. And, if you are an owner, but not a trainer, I want you to understand that if one advertises themselves as a “positive” trainer that does not mean they are a “force-free” trainer.

Here are the three dynamics of a cue. Others could list five or eight. I am not trying to be psychologically thorough here. I am not writing for a behavioral journal. This was my attempt, in class, to grasp the concept of a cue and its importance, because the cue is not just a passive transaction. Something happens when a cue is given to Fido and I hope that something is not just about “getting” a behavior but is something very good for both the one giving the cue and the one receiving the cue.

So, “Jim,” Julie asked, “What is the importance of a cue?”

First, when I give a cue it expresses to Fido that I have CONFIDENCE he CAN perform it. Therefore, I know and Fido knows that he is familiar with the behavior for which I am asking. I also know Fido has confidence he can perform it. When I give the cue I know Fido is mentally moving into familiar territory. This is the value of Operant Conditioning or Behavioral Modification. We first train the behavior. When Fido is offering to us that behavior 8 to 10 times a minute, all depending on the difficulty of the behavior, we then begin pairing a word to the behavior. All communication flows in a loop, from me to Fido and back to me.

Because I know Fido knows the behavior when I pair with it a word, visual or sound, then when I offer the word I have confidence Fido can do it. The only reasons he might not is 1. Physical, 2. Mental. If he is incapable of performing the behavior then I need to change what I am doing. If I persist I will set Fido up for failure. If Fido won’t sit I need to figure out why. I need to take Fido to the vet and find the reason. I cannot persist in a behavior that is causing Fido pain or discomfort. Ruling out physical or mental conditions then I have look at what I am or am not doing. I am either not being clear enough, my reward is not high enough, or my reward rate is not often enough. The sure fact is, the problem is not Fido so don’t punish Fido. Like my good friend, Dave Thatcher says, “Roll up a newspaper and with it, hit yourself.”

When I give a cue, if I have properly set the behavior up, there is a MUTUAL CONFIDENCE THAT FIDO CAN PERFORM WHAT I ASK.


Second, there is a TRUST that Fido WILL perform it.

He now trusts I will not ask him to do something he cannot perform.

By the time the cue is introduced I have worked out all the imperfections of the behavior. Most of those imperfections have been mine and I have corrected my poor communication or faulty expectations. There is no, “I want him to sit and…” I work out what is not clear communication on my part. I have worked out what is rewarding and what is not. Fido decides what is rewarding, not me. So I have to really work to understand Fido. I have figured out what works for Fido and what doesn’t. I know him and he knows me. He knows I am fair and correct myself. Because he knows that Fido begins to correct himself. He may begin to lay down when I say “sit.” On his way down he suddenly changes his movement and pushes himself up into a sit. I didn’t have to say, “No no,” or “Uh uh.” When that happens I get a big smile, give him 4 or 5 treats, a lot of praise, and he sits looking at me with a big smile and sometimes celebrates with a few spins. I never see Fido crouch with ears laid back, mouth closed, embarrassed and fearful. We party together.

So by the time I introduce the cue I not only have confidence that he can do it. I TRUST that he WILL do it. This is why this method is so enjoyable. Fido responds because he wants to, often times Fido can’t wait for the cue. I have seen Fido get so into the training that he literally shakes waiting for me to give the cue. His eyes are bright, his mouth is open, and when I say, “sit,” he quickly sits looking at me as if to say, “I did it. Aren’t you proud of me?” And of course I am. On looking owners are surprised, often shocked, that Fido responded to the cue. They had given the cue, yelled the cue thinking Fido didn’t hear, jerked on a chain while yelling, to make him do the behavior, and walked away cussing Fido. I work a few minutes, always a soft gentle voice. Patient when Fido is reserved or afraid and in a few minutes he is responding. I have had owners with tears ask, “How do you do that? I can’t believe what I just saw.”

What happened was, I communicated with (not to) Fido. We had a conversation. Fido had a Eureka moment, “This person is actually listening to me. I can trust him.” Because I communicated my trust in him he began to demonstrate his trust in me. Some dogs have never felt trust. I can see it in the dog’s eyes. They suddenly glisten and look straight at you, making eye contact. A lightbulb turns on behind those beautiful eyes. I got so excited about this one time that I had to call Julie Shaw and share with her my excitement

You see, it is not just that I trust Fido because of my work, Fido trusts me because of our work together. And it is work. When I leave a home Fido goes to his bed and sleeps like a puppy because he has worked hard and is tired. He has studied me and has had to process a lot of materiel. He knows me now and trusts me. He trusts me when a behavior is challenging or uncomfortable, but Fido knows I will not ask of him anything that will hurt him or is dangerous. He is willing to work hard for me. So there is a MUTUAL TRUST THAT FIDO WILL PERFORM THE BEHAVIOR I ASK.

Thirdly. There is REWARD when he DOES the behavior. Even now with my Nekayah, when I give her a cue she is relaxed in doing the behavior. There are reward for both the human and the dog when they have that relationship of partnership. We call it “THE HUMAN ANIMAL BOND (HAB). There is nothing like it. Fido begins to anticipate the cue. In a store I can ask Nekayah to “lay” and before the word is out she is on her way down, mouth open, looking at me and waiting for the next cue. I feel one with her and she feels one with me. Nekayah has learned to go potty on cue. Before we go into a store (she is a service dog) I take her to go potty. She sniffs and goes then runs back to the car, jumps in, gives me a kiss and we go park and go in the store. She is happy. Nekayah is emotionally well balanced and we are both rewarded with her doing the behavior and my seeing the behavior performed. We are one, partners. She feels it and I feel it. Cues are communication in a loop. It is not me “telling” her to do something and she does it or else. I ask (cue) her to do something communicating confidence and trust in her, she listens and performs the behavior I request, communicating back to me her confidence and trust in me. Then she bounds back to me happy and content as we move on together into the store or wherever we go.

If Nekayah does not perform the behavior I know something is wrong. I take her to have her checked. She knows I will not push the issue and will take care of her. This has happened and when the medical issue was resolved, she responded to my cues without hesitation.

In training a dog there is one I have one inexorable law. It is this. The HUMAN ANIMAL BOND. Anything, an act, a word, a training technique, a training tool that would threaten that bond is anathema. I will neither incorporate it, nor allow it to be incorporated. There is no behavior worth getting if it harms the dog in any way. I have actually seen dogs look at me with that “thank you” look in their eyes.

This is my interpretation of what transpires when I give a cue to mu dogs or a dog I am working with. I try to help the owner understand this transaction so he/she can appreciate what is really going on. Training is never a one way communication. I hear the dog I work with. He/she is talking to me. We are having a conversation from the second I enter to the second that I leave. Often times the communication bring tears to my eyes and makes my heart swell.

My hope is that this will give your interactions with Fido a new dimension. If you do not have this relationship with your Fido examine what you are doing. Figure it out. If and when you do your relationship with your one in a million Fido will be fulfilling to both of you, and you will find your training to be much less a struggle but actually enjoyable. Not only will you be giving cues to Fido, but you will realize Fido is giving cues to you, making your relationship mutually enjoyable and fun. A good indicator is that if it is not fun for you it is not fun for Fido and if it is not fun for Fido the training needs to stop. He may be sick or hurting. And you will have a wonderful, fulfilling bond of mutual trust and respect.

After all. Isn’t that the reason we acquire Fido. If you do not have that believe me you can and more. That’s why I do what I do.





by: James Turner MCL, KPA-CTP, SVBT

 Two Years past I was contracted to reorganize and restructure an animal shelter here in Indiana. It was a huge task that required my working with a 10 member board. With the nature of the issues I had to have the board covenant with me that I was in charge, my decisions would not be rescinded, and with the workers a new policy manual would be written. I terminated some people, some people quit, and all forms of aversive techniques were eliminated. All employees were trained in force-free techniques. If an employee could not make the change that person was let go. One of the actions I took was to clear the office wall of all collars that were not fabric. There must have been 50 pounds of choke chains and prong collars. I was told that it was a waste of money. I replied, “I fully agree with you, but the money was wasted, not in their discard, but in their purchase.” Nothing more was said and the new policy prohibited aversive collars. The local newspaper had a front page story, “LOCAL SHELTER GOES FORCE-FREE.”

Choke Chains, Slip Collars, Pinch Collars? What’s the problem? When I have a referral call me one of my questions is, “What kind of collar do you have on your dog?” Many of them tell me, “A Slip Collar, or Choke Chain.” My friend and colleague, Deb Dolak told me, “Sometimes a client will ask if they can use a choke or prong collar.  My response is, ‘Only if you are willing to wear one and let me correct you when you make a mistake during the training session.’  That usually gets the point across.” One shelter worker said, “Choke chains are okay to use on dogs. The choke chain is not used for punishment, it just stops the behavior.” WHAT? In dog training lingo if it stops the behavior or weakens a behavior due to a stimulus, that stimulus is a punisher. So her statement showed a basic ignorance of the subject. A client told me a shelter worker said, “Choker collars are fine on dogs.” My retort was, “That is because she hasn’t worn one!” People don’t wear choker collars. Then I had a bit of insight.

With this insight my mind took me back to the days of the old west. If a cowboy committed a crime, stealing a horse, or borrowing someone’s cow without permission he was taken out under a tree branch, sat on a horse, and had a slip collar (or a pinch collar if you prefer) put over his head and around his neck. Someone would slap the horse which would run out from under the convicted, the slip collar tightened and, well, the end seldom had a good outcome. Now, if the slip collar was not properly fitted and placed just right on the thief’s neck the collar would bind causing prolonged agony. The poor man’s larynx would crush, his ocular nerves were damaged, his trachea was injured, and his neck was broken. Now, if this collar as properly fitted all of these injuries still occurred, but it was all over faster. I think this would qualify as punishment as it certainly stopped the behavior. In the process it stopped any good behavior as well. The law makers determined this to be cruel and inhumane treatment and in 1972 this use of punishment with a slip collar (noose) was banned in the U. S. By the way,did you know that for the same reasons, choke chains are banned in Quebec, and Amazon has stopped listing them in the UK?  Yep, that’s true.

Men and women still wear collars. We call them necklaces. They are collars properly fitted, some loose some snug. But I never see “slip necklaces” where another person has control of the one wearing it. If I came home with a slip collar for my wife to wear… Well, we won’t go there. I’ll just say there wouldn’t be much affection demonstrated. We like necklaces as long as they are comfortable to wear. I like my dogs to wear a nice looking necklace (collar) that is comfortable, yet functional.

I hope you will Google the anatomy of a dog’s neck. The position of a choke chain is directly behind the ears (just like the hanging noose). This pinch collar/choke chain or prong collar pinches all of these nerves and muscles. There are dozens of potential and certain physical injuries that a choke chain or a prong collar can and will cause. This is not to mention the emotional damage choke chains or prong collars cause. Because this is an animal, and animals have to be controlled and/or dominated these are okay to use. I suggest these are not okay to use. They cause physical damage, often irreparable. They cause emotional damage that requires the specialized involvement of a force-free behaviorist. And, these medieval instruments of torture cause serious damage to the human-animal bond. Calling these the lesser reference of “slip collar” does not change the terrible impact of that “snap” one is instructed to use in the dog’s “training?.”

The unintended consequences of using a choke chain (i.e. slip collars, pinch collars) and/or prong collars are well documented in numerous veterinary journals.

Here I list the most common.

  1. Tracheal damage
  2. Sprained necks
  3. Asphyxiation
  4. Spinal cord injuries/paralysis
  5. Bruising of larynx
  6. Esophagus damage
  7. Thyroid gland damage
  8. Vertebrae damage
  9. Whiplash
  10.  Prolapsed eyes
  11.  Dislocated neck bones
  12.  Brain damage
  13.  Fainting
  14.  Skin and tissue bruising
  15.  Organ failure
  16.  Sharp headaches

Any of these medical conditions can lead to aggressive behaviors that usually results in more punishing use of the choke chain or prong collar. With these possible consequences are the psychological effects. Dogs are extremely intelligent. One jerk, snap, or pop of the chain, causing pain, will never be forgotten by the dog. When you get the collar and leash out the dog will cringe or run the other direction. I have had clients whose dog snaps at their hand when they put the choke chain on to go for a walk. If the dog is on a walk and sees another dog it is natural for him to pull toward the dog. The handler “snaps” the chain to correct the dog. Fido feels the pain of the snap and attributes the pain to what he is looking, the other dog or a child. Now Fido becomes aggressive to other dogs or children. If Fido attributes the pain to his handler he may become aggressive to the handler.

Traditional trainers will argue against everything I am writing. But this information is not mine. I didn’t imagine these to be facts. This information, again, can be found in any number of journals. Do the research yourself. Don’t just trust me or some other pop star in the animal behavioral world. If you do your own research I can guarantee you will come out very close to my conclusions. Punishment never has a positive result with your wonderful dog. Punishment shuts down the dogs learning. The really negative result is that punishment breaks the human/animal bond. You want your dog to respect, trust and love you. Punishment will damage that. You want your dog to trust you. Punishment will destroy that. Can those be regained? Yes. But you must stop the punishment NOW. Reinforce the behaviors you want and ignore the behaviors you don’t want. Then get in touch with a force-free trainer or behaviorist. Be careful. A trainer may say he/she is a positive trainer. That may mean he/she uses positive methods mixed with aversive methods. Most “positive” trainers are really “balanced” trainers.

I was called to help with a dog that was out of control. The dog was afraid of its own shadow. What happened was that this “positive” trainer took a wonderful little Sheltie and in just a couple of months the dog was so reactive that it would wake up at night, every night, crying as if in severe pain. Its daily training included the use of a choker chain. The once sweet little Sheltie was now physically and psychologically damaged.

I don’t believe owners intentionally hurt their dog. They don’t know better. They read books by trainers who wrote in the 60s or 70s. These “traditional” trainers are still around. They “stop” behaviors, but at what price for the dog and the owner. It often costs an owner hundreds of dollars to restore their damaged pet. Or, and sadly, the pet gets placed in a shelter and/or euthanized, not because of what the dogs is doing, but because of what has been done to the dog. Now the dog suffers the consequences of a trainer’s malpractice.



Today my frustration level reached about, oh, a 6 on a 1 – 10 scale. A young man in his early twenties has a Pit Bull Terrier tied in his backyard. The Pit Bull, which to some, has become the signature of virility and machismo. For many, to own a Pit Bull, is to say, “I’m a bad a..” Here I am writing about IRRESPONSIBLE ownership.

Anyway, this sweet Pit Bull, a female, maybe 1 year old, had her chain twisted in a chain link fence. She had about 2 feet of tether so she had no freedom to move. The temperature today was 100 degrees. She was forced to lay in the sun, her water 30 feet away. How long she had been like that, I have no idea. I know she was in distress. It took me several minutes to untangle her as she was jumping and climbing all over me, scratching my arms and face with her unattended nails, anxious to be freed. When I loosed her she ran to some water and some shade to rest. She was exhausted, overheated and alone. All I could do was walk away with an ache in my heart.

Why? Why do people acquire a dog to take home and tie it outside to live alone in the elements? Simply, I don’t know.

We have Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, and Nekayah, a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard. Both are large dogs. When we come home they greet us with tales wagging and smiles. They are very happy and emotionally healthy dogs. I have never seen a happy dog chained in the backyard. The dog in the backyard is often excited to see its owner, but that is because it is so lonely and depressed, not because the dog is happy or emotionally healthy.

My back yard is fenced. In my back door we have a dog door. My door is kept closed, but my dogs can go in and out as the wish. Dexter loves the winter. He goes out and lies for hours. Sometimes we cannot see him as he lets the snow cover him. They go in or out as their comfort dictates. They have water both outside and in the house. We can go and come knowing both dogs are comfortable. They are never thirsty, overheated, or unduly cold. If I could not provide for them in this manner I have no business having them.

Think about this from the dog’s perspective. I can do this because that is my specialty. I am the Dog Listener. Dogs tell me what they think and how they feel. A study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1996, by Michael Hennessy, show how dogs prefer human companionship over other dogs. That was a study, cutting edge research, almost twenty years past. Since that study there have been a myriad of research that have made this former hypothesis a fact.

This, alone, being true, why would one tie a dog outside to suffer loneliness, fear, confusion, isolation and whatever the elements delivered? Why? What rational argument or defense can one mount for doing this? Much education and advocacy is essential regarding this cruelty. The thinking many have is that a dog, being a dog, can be happy and healthy just being in the backyard. I have seen hundreds of these “back yard dogs” and I have never seen a dog, tied in the backyard that is either happy or healthy. Again, because they jump and bark when the owner appears is not an indicator that the dog is happy or healthy.

We know the negative effects when a baby is born and left without attention, affection or interaction. The effects are both myriad and terrible. So it is with dogs. Dogs are very social animals. Dogs do not develop healthily without human interaction. To leave a dog to live and survive alone, outside in ones backyard is one of the most psychologically damaging things one can do to a dog. Any responsible dog owner is charged with providing a safe, secure, quiet place to live as part of a family. Only in this place does the dog have the opportunity to develop an emotionally healthy life and experience a secure human animal bond.

As I write this, Dexter, my Great Pyrenees, is laying beside my chair, his head oriented toward me. As I smile with affection and periodically stroke him my brain and body respond in a calming emotion. This is very important for Dexter also. He is calm, secure, has no fear, no uncertainty, and is very important to his mental, emotional health and is evidence of a bonded human animal relationship. I cannot imagine Dexter tied up outside, dirty, insecure and both of us alone. I would consider that cruel and inhumane.

I work with many of these outside dogs. They tend to be less responsive to training, requiring more work. They develop stereotypical behaviors, compulsive disorders and have little to no socialization skills. These outside dogs have more stress related illnesses, infestations and mental issues ranging from mild to severe. Many of these maladies also range from hard to impossible to overcome. I hate to admit it, but many of these dogs, by the time they get to me, are too damaged to be restored to a healthy, emotionally balanced life. There are times when less than the best has to be settled for. These are the dogs that end upin shelters and, very often, euthanized. Not because of something the dog has done, but is the end result of what an irresponsible owner has created.

Most people, responsible pet owners, acquire a dog for the purpose of relationship. A relationship is not two or more just living together. Ask any wife and she will affirm this proposition. There needs to be positive, loving interaction. Violate this and I can think of no faster way to destroy a relationship. Enhance a positive, affectionate interaction and two will build a bonding relationship. I can think of no better way to build a bonding relationship with a dog than through force-free, marker training. This kind of interaction builds quickly the human animal bond resulting in a reciprocal loving relationship with one’s pet. Dogs long for this kind of relationship, thriving in this environment and become emotionally healthy members of the family.

I have been asked, “What about working dogs, Border Collies or Great Pyrenees? They work outside, often for long hours. How does this apply to them? Rather than give a long answer to this question, which is a valid inquiry, I would make this referral. One can begin understanding this concern by reading Patricia McConnell.
For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. These two books are a good place to begin to understand the premise of this article. Dogs, any dog, are about human relationships. This is in their DNA. There is no other animal in the human world like a dog. Humans are healthier both mentally and physically because of a dog in their life. Did you know that a dog is the only animal that will follow our finger pointing or our eye movement?

The other day my Great Pyrenees, Dexter, was laying on the floor. I thought I would test this point. I stood a distance from him and the front door. Now all Dexter has to see is his leash and he is up and at the door spinning in excitement. I stood very stoic. All I did was shift my eyes from Dexter to the door, back to Dexter, then the door. His head cocked, his ears came forward. He looked at the door then back at me. I repeated the process. His paws shifted as his head raised. “Does he mean what I think? Is he going to take me for a walk? Oh I hope so!” Now, without hesitation, Dex lifted his 100 lbs. went to the door saying, ‘Let’s go!.’” A dog records our every move, eye brow shift, smile, glance, and gesture. They miss nothing. The dog often knows what we are about to do before we have decided.

Unless you want this kind of relationship, for heavens sake, do not get a dog. If you get a dog don’t be an irresponsible dog owner and chain the wonderful thing outside. To do that is callous, cruel and abusive.

Now, about Cecil the Lion. What a beautiful specimen of its breed. He stood out with his coal black main and his slow lumbering pace. He was the attraction of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. Millions, knowing of him came to see this King of the forest.He was 13 years old and had developed his own pride. Somehow Cecil knew he was special and could play to the camera. Cecil wore a collar so scientists could track his every move. Cecil provided information to science that otherwise would have taken years to acquire. He was a protected Lion. He waas not a candidate for hunting, legal or otherwise. I understand the need for culling wildlife heards. It is for the health and balance of nature. Culling is a process that is strictly controlled by law. To violate these laws is to poach, the illigal killing of a protected species. I will not get into PETA or other groups who raise either pros or cons concerning culling. Culling is a part of protecting wildlife just as death is a part of life.

That said, Cecil wore a tracking collar and the information gleaned over those 13 years led to the safety and protection of thousands of cubs growing to adulthood. He was famous in the animal world. Cecil’s death will now insure the killing of his 6 cubs by the new dominante male.

Cecil died as the result of poaching. He was lured beyond the border of the park and senselessly killed. His head with that distinctive main was severed and his body left to rot in the African sun. His head and main were wanted as a trophy. Now, granted his death, the death of one lion in Africa, doesn’t affect my daily life, except as this leads to the issue of how callous man can become. “Cecil is just an animal. He is good for just a trophy. He is an animal without feelings or emotions. He is a mindless creature, a robot of nature.” This is also what we hear about dogs. “It’s just an animal. Dogs have no feelings or emotions. They are incapable of feeling love.” This is the argument of gaming people in the blood sports who cruelly fight dogs to the death. And if a dog isn’t killed in the ring, the owner kills the dog for being weak.

Descartes, as with thousands, believed because a dog is soulless they are just machines of nature. As a result of that philosophy Descartes could nail a dog to a board and ignore the howls because the howls emanated from a mechanical response and had nothing to do with feeling or pain.

My point? If we can reduce a dog to nothingness, to an animal without feeling or the capcity to feel, then we can perpetrate any evil upon it without conscience. Thus killing Cecil or a dog is no different that dicing a carrot or slitting a tire. This changing of something to nothing can be applied to animals or the subject of abortion.

Think about it!





Une vie de chien – Partie II
by pinkchapals



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

Wow. I bet you thought I’d disappeared. I did, into the abyss of a semester back after a sabbatical. But… I’m baaaaaaack!
As promised, this is part two of my discussion on service dogs, and this post is all about the training process. As I mentioned in Une vie de chien – Partie I, Max and I trained together for a year before he graduated from “service dog in training” to “service dog.” That’s it. That’s all it took. Boom. Done. Mic drop.
Kidding. Kidding. It was one of the most intense experiences in my life, and that includes grad school and the dissertation years.
Beyond picking out a rescue dog (of course) who had the necessary qualities (I worked with a behaviorist for this part, though this post gives you the idea), I had to pick a trainer. This is difficult business. There aren’t many trainers out there who do service dog training, and even then, you have to mesh with the trainer as much as you do the dog, and the dog with the trainer. I was lucky enough to find a one Mr. Jim Turner, an amazing behaviorist AND trainer. He’s got a blog right here on WordPress.
I can’t say enough about Jim. Right from the beginning, he let me know what to expect from the process and let me know, more than once, how difficult the task that lay ahead. This was a commitment. To Max. To myself. To training. To Jim.
This commitment meant beginning with three sessions per week, lasting usually about 2-3 hours, on top of my already full work schedule and long commute. Three days per week, I traveled from Indy to Muncie to Richmond. Often, I did not get home until 9pm or 10pm, and then I had to turn around and go right back to it the next day. In between training sessions, I did training at home, at the office, in stores, in restaurants. At home, we had regular formal sessions. Out and about, every moment was an opportunity. Beyond my chic purse, I got to add the additional bling of a clicker and a handy treat bag, filled with desiccated hotdogs (no nitrites, of course) and other such yumminess.
At the beginning, when Jim met with me and Jeevan, he had said (not verbatim, creative license here): “You know, this is going to be tough. You’ll always be training. You’re going to carry treats, and you’re going to train whenever you see a moment. Things are going to take longer, and it can get frustrating. It will be frustrating at times for Jeevan when he sees your relationship with Max grow and when it’s difficult for you to pay attention at a restaurant because your mind is always partially on Max. You have to be ready. Go home. Think about this. If it’s right for you, and I’m right for you and Max, call me, and we’ll start.”
It was daunting to be sure, but we were ready. Jim evaluated Max, and though he was a wild child then, he had potential. He asked what I thought a service dog could do for me. At that time, I was struggling with a failing shoulder and needed help carrying things, and I could really use something under my legs when sitting in chairs. Jim’s response? “A dog as an ottoman? Hmmmm.” Turns out, Jim was right: I never did train Max as an ottoman. Though, from time to time, he likes to get under my feet and rest his head on my shoe, but that’s not one of his service tasks; it’s just because he loves his mama.
We began with the basics that all dogs should have. Max was a blank slate and could only “sit,” so we had to begin with: down, stay, wait, leave it, loose leash walking, etc. Those are fairly easy, but service dogs have to have these skills down pat before they can even move on to service skills.
We did clicker training, which is a form of positive reinforcement training. You first teach the dog that a click means a reward (treat, love, kisses, “good boy”). Then, you mark a desired behavior with a click and reward. Eventually, you mark the behavior with a command. The real trick is to click at the right time and with the correct behavior.
For example, when we were training Max to “stop” on command (mid-walk, mid-trot, whenever). As SOON as Max stopped for any reason, “CLICK!” TREAT! At the beginning, the stopping is pretty much when you stop, but you CLICK! and TREAT! The wheels start turning in the dog’s head:

MAX: “Oh, I get a treat, if I stop. I’m going to stop.”
MAX: TREAT!!!!!!!!!! I’m a good boy! Good Max! I love stopping! Stop. Stop. Stop.
Then, you start adding the command: “STOP!” “CLICK!” (if he stops). TREAT! “GOOD STOP!” Rinse, lather, repeat.
This is marking desired behavior. We used this to train Max such commands as: stop, wait, fast, slow, leave it, etc.

The extra interesting part of training was the complex behaviors, and this requires shaping behavior using successive approximation (that’s what it’s called, right Jim?). Jim is extra awesome at figuring out this part. You begin by naming the desired task and then figure out the steps to get there.
EXAMPLE: Pushing a button to open a power assist door
Desired behavior: pushing button
Required skills: 1) recognize object to push; 2) push; 3) apply pressure.
For this, Jim knew that Max needed to first offer a paw. For this, we waited until Max placed a paw near us.

MAX: “Wha? What did I just do? Hmmm. I’m going to randomly do tricks and see what happens. Sit. Down. Kisses. No? Hmmm. This guy is dumb. I’m going to poke him.”
MAX: “What? Weirdo. Not sure what I did again. Sit. Down. Kiss. Sit.
JIM: ….
MAX: “NOTHING? Man! Poke.”
MAX: “Dude! It’s the paw! Paw!!!!! Poke.”
MAX: “Awesome! Poke.”
MAX: “That’s it! Poke. Poke. Poke.”
JIM: “CLICK!” TREAT! Good touch!
You get the idea. Once you mark the behavior with a command (“touch” in this case), you begin clicking and treating ONLY when the behavior is offered AFTER a command. The idea has to be yours, not the dog’s. To make sure this is the case, you can test it with multiple commands. For example, if you say “sit,” the dog should sit, not offer a paw. Try a couple of different commands, then say the new one. Once you consistently get the correct behavior, your dog has got the idea. Even so, go home and PRACTICE!! I had to keep a log of our home practice sessions: I had to log: 1) each skill we practiced; 2) How long we spent on each one 2) How many times the correct behavior was offered; 4) any distractions; 5) notes.
Wait. How is this related to pushing a button? A hand is not a button, and “touch” is not “push.” This is the cool part.
Once Max had the idea of touch down, we added a target. We’d say “TOUCH” and, with a yellow square in our hand, we’d click any time he’d offer a paw near the marker. The idea is that you reward the behavior, being lenient at first, and getting stricter as you move on. Eventually the dog only gets a CLICK! when it puts the paw on the marker. Then, you move the marker. On the floor. On the wall. On your thigh. The dog eventually associates touch with a target.
Wait. That’s still not pushing! Ok, ok. I’m getting there!
In the end, we want Max to apply the correct amount of pressure on the target. This is “PUSH!” Jim had me buy an “easy” button for practice. You know, one of these:

We put the target on the button and began clicking and treating when the button was pushed hard enough to get the trademark, “that was easy!” Then, we marked that behavior with the command “PUSH!” We eventually moved on to doors, door openers, grocery carts. Now, Max can PUSH! this:

And this:

And even this:

It’s true, some doors are too heavy for him, and it’s too heavy for me, but he gives me that extra power. We do it together!
For a more visual idea of how this happens, look at this cool little example:

You can see that it is quite the process. Now imagine this for every complicated skill Max and I had to learn together. Now you know why I spent the better part of a year exhausted!
Here is a list of the skills Max has (totally forgetting some). Don’t confuse the skill with the command. For the most important commands, I chose words that aren’t always obvious to others because I can’t have other people trying to tell my dog what to do. Sometimes people feel that they can tell me he doesn’t mind very well because he doesn’t listen to them. The mark of a good dog on duty is that he doesn’t mind anyone but the handler!
Leave it
Watch me
Greeting behavior
Refocus behavior
Go to X (bed, rug, towel, mat, etc).
Get it (keys, pencil, paper, credit card, bottle)
Give it to X (a person, me or anyone else)
Drop it (on floor, in garbage, etc.)
Hold (keep whatever he has in mouth until I say so)
Push (cart, button, door, etc.)
Pull (door, wheelchair, cart, coat sleeve, socks)
Crawl (good for getting into small spaces)
Under (table, chair, etc.)
Up (onto something)
Off (off of something)
Brace (stiffen his front legs to act as a sort of cane)
Help mama (i.e. go into service mode when he’s not actively on duty – mostly at home)
Bark on command
Spin right (helps to get into tight spaces)
Spin left (helps to get into tight spaces)
Sideways right
Sideways left
Follow (usually when I am in my wheelchair and am being backed up; he follows in front).
Pee on command
Poop on command
Go find
Step up (bracing for going up step)
Step down (bracing for going down step)
Dance with mommy (just for fun)
Command to get harness on
Command for service position
Command to finish service
Command for bedtime
Let’s go
Thank you!
Up up: Get in car and wait for harness to be attached to security belt before getting all the way in
Not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Here’s another list for your perusal.
But… there’s more to training than that. There’s public access training. This means that, once your dog has a good skill set, it needs to be able to perform these skills EVERYWHERE and with distractions, like: kids, walkers, wheelchairs, food on the ground, other dogs, squirrels!, people he loves, loud noises, people talking to you… etc.
This is the most important, and perhaps most frustrating part of training, and I will get to that in Partie III! Also, there will be more about the wonderful Jim because he helped me not lose my mind during this crazy part of the training. I promise not to wait so long until the next post.

pinkchapals | March 25, 2015 at 13:30 | Tags: service dog | Categories: disability studies, dwarfism | URL:

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Une vie de chien: Partie I



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

January 3, 2015 6 Comments

I’m ending my holiday hiatus with a post about life with a service dog. Well, several posts probably, because there is way more to life with a service dog than you think. Sure, it’s great to have your best bud with you everywhere you go, but it’s about more than that. Way more than that. It’s about partnership, responsibility, a deep bond, and an ever deeper gratitude.
Today’s post is going to concentrate on the paradox of my life with Max; or, the way in which having a service dog mediates my disability, while also making it more visible. A dwarf more visible, you say? Yes, ’tis possible. I’ll get there, but let me digress, as I am wont to do.
Just before the holidays, I did two things that got me settled on this being my next post: 1) traveled to New Orleans on vacation; 2) read Susannah Charleson’s book, The Possibility Dogs. Charleson’s book offers profiles of several psychiatric service dogs and their handlers, interspersed with her own story of training a “demo” dog, the ever clownish Jake Piper. It got me to reminiscing about my own experiences training Max, who is also an eternal clown.

Jake Piper, the demo service dog.
Like Jake Piper, Max is a rescue, whom I trained one-on-one with a certified canine trainer and behaviorist. It was one of the most intense endeavors I have undertaken, yet also one of the most rewarding. I don’t think I would have truly appreciated the effort that goes into training a service dog without doing it myself first. Another post will go into my training days with Max, but I think it’s worth mentioning here that service dogs are amazing animals whose training goes beyond skills and into behavior and compassion. Before I get where I’m going (yes, I’ll get there), I want to urge you all to respect these dogs and their work and to respect them and their handler when they are working. Do not talk to them, pet them, or even look them in the eyes. These are open invitations for a dog to break their concentration, which could be harmful to the handler if their safety depends on the dog. Part of the dog’s job is to focus on his partner; the partner’s job is to look out for the dog. Sometimes, that means being harsh with well-intentioned people who try to interact with your dog.
Although The Possibility Dogs is about psychiatric service dogs (Max is a mobility service dog), it offers some valuable insight into daily life with a dog:
Another handler notes: “And here’s the kicker: It’s a kind of trade. For all the good help a service dog gives, that same dog makes you visible. If for you a ‘normal’ life is about being able to be anonymous, good luck. You and your dog and your disability had better be prepared for stares and questions . . . and sometimes accusations. It’s not all bad. A lot of the attention on the dog is supportive. But there’s almost always a spotlight. It slows you down.”
Charleson, Susannah (2013-06-04). The Possibility Dogs: What I Learned from Second-Chance Rescues About Service, Hope, and Healing (p. 38). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
It’s the notion of being in the spotlight that I want to talk about. In my post “Welcome to Lilliput,” I wrote about how having dwarfism necessarily puts me under the spotlight, but having a service dog has not changed that so much as it has shifted the focus. Obviously, my disability is not an invisible one; on the contrary, it is one of the most outwardly visible ones you can have, as my body is so far from the norm. However, it is very easy for people to assume that the disability stops there: with height. I’m short, so I can’t reach things, and I can’t walk as fast on those short legs. Full stop. Think again. For some dwarfs, this is the end of the affair, but for a great number of us, there is a lot of complicated anatomy inside that odd, squat body. (You can read more about dwarfism and disability in one of my Dwarfism Awareness posts). (You can learn more about The Possibility Dogs project on their website).
I like to say that being a dwarf, or at least my particular experience of it, is to live in a liminal space, to inhabit the realm of both the visible and invisible disability. For, I am so visibly different, yet to many, so invisibly “disabled” by my body. I spent a good deal of time in college and grad school attempting to repress the disabled part of my persona. I walked with crutches for 10 years, but leaving for college offered me the opportunity to shed those walking aids in a place where few people knew me from my life before. Where my crutches helped me with speed and distance, I used a bike on campus to get from here to there. In grad school, I used the T or a car. This worked well for me until the long gap since my last major surgery started to close in on me in my late 20s, when my hips, which had long been severely arthritic, began to protest in earnest. This was the beginning of a new phase of my life, and what I now see as the moment when I needed to start “owning” my disability. I’ve had 5 artificial joint replacements in 9 years. I’ve learned that the gap from my last osteotomy to my first replacement was the exception, not the norm.
Accepting the toll that my lax tissues take on my body has been a difficult journey, but to be honest, it started with the decision to get a service dog. My husband had been kindly nudging me to get one for a long while, but I was always “looking into it.” I don’t know what clicked, but I finally acquiesced in 2011, around my birthday. Ironically, Jeevan and I were at the local shelter looking at some potential candidates, and I was walking a ginormous, yet gentle, St. Bernard (can you imagine that?) when my shoulder just gave out in pain. No reason. I had reached for my bag, and it just gave up on me. I had been struggling with “bursitis” (self-diagnosis) for years but had begun weight training in hopes of strengthening the muscles. In the end, those strong muscles did put off the inevitable for a while. The X-Rays showed the truth: my shoulder joints were gone. Who knows how long they had been like that? When you have arthritis everywhere, it just creeps from one place to the next without you knowing, taking secret root in your psyche. Just another thing that hurts. You don’t notice the toll it takes on your health. The fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. Again with the digression! But, I spend time on the background info because it’s essential to my service dog story. I had to come to terms with these things, to take stock of them, before I was ready for life with a service dog. To get a dog was to admit that I couldn’t do it all on my own, or that I could, but at a dear price.
After the “shoulder incident” at the shelter, I ramped up my search for a service dog candidate. I contacted a behaviorist to talk about what kinds of behavior a dog needed to show service potential. Any breed has potential, she said, but it’s true that Labradors and Goldens are very successful mobility dogs due to their retrieving instinct. Furthermore, with a breed rescue, you are much more likely to know the dog’s history than from a shelter. This is so important for a service dog because even thorough evaluation at the shelter doesn’t tell you everything that a life with a foster can. This is a dog who will go everywhere you go, who will encounter reactive dogs, people, and children. This dog will be an ambassador for other service dogs. Everything’s gotta click.
I found my match through Lucky Lab Rescue. This is truly an amazing rescue, entirely run by volunteers. Not only did I end up with the best service dog a girl could have, but we have now fostered three dogs with them, and I have seen the work that goes on behind the scenes, and these people are amazing. They are dedicated, and so organized. And compassionate. They led me to Max. I filled out an application and was forthright in my intention to train the dog for mobility work, and I hoped this would not go against me in the end. It did not! An adoption coordinator called me and said that there was a list of dogs who would probably work, but I had to meet Max. And, meet him I did. He had me at woof. He was 1 year young and a clown even then. But, he was also confident, self-assured, but kind. He was unflappable. Four men banging around in a large truck with a lift? Whatever. I got this, lady. You want me to meet your other dogs? Even the crazy cattle dog rescue who hates everyone? I’m a charmer, lady. A charmer, he was, and is. He’s the best.

The day I met Max. Look at that face!
Again, I’ll get into the actual training later, but I want to talk about what Max does for my disability. As the handler in the excerpt said, having a service dog puts you in the spotlight. I’m used to the spotlight, but I’m used to the kind of spotlight you can pretend to turn off. Someone staring? Oh, I’ll just pretend I don’t see it. Some kid just pointed me out to their mom (who pretends it didn’t happen)? I can pretend it didn’t happen, sometimes. (You’re lucky if I do). I can just go on with my day if I desire. With a service dog, it’s different. As I said before, he’s an ambassador for all service dogs. When someone makes what they think is a hilarious comment about how “hard” his job is when he is sleeping in a restaurant, I think it is my duty to say, “how many dogs do you know who could sleep while people step over him with steak?” It’s his job to be good while we aren’t working. Sometimes, it’s his job to sleep, to lie down, to let people step on his tail, to let a chip fall by his face, to ignore the world that is not me. This is tough, and many people seem to think it is their job to tempt him or to get him to break his service and then make a comment when he does. What would you do if someone kept calling your name and telling you how pretty you are? You’d wag your tail, if you had one.
I have to admit that I was too friendly about this behavior in the beginning, and so I let it slide, and now there are a lot of people around my small town who talk to Max. Mostly, it’s when we’re not actively working, but I’m sorry I let it happen anyway. It’s not fair to him to turn back now; he wouldn’t understand. I’m lucky that he resets very quickly. He’s got a greet command and a command to get back to work. I’m lucky he listens, really lucky. Believe me, with my next dog, I will not do this again. For the love of all that is right in the world, don’t pet the damned service dog. Don’t make kissy noises. Don’t talk to it. Don’t even ask. It’s hard to say no, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Make it easier for everyone: resist.
It’s also true that having a service dog slows you down. It is a huge responsibility. Just “running in” a store is darned near impossible. You have to gear up the dog, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, drive to wherever, get the dog out, stop and educate people, get your stuff, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, get in the car, driver home. It’s a bit easier when, say, I want to run in my favorite coffee shop (go Roscoe’s!); they know him there, and they know he’s a service dog. I can just put on his gentle leader and run in for coffee because I know I don’t need to use his bracing harness. Sometimes I brave places without his harness if I know I won’t need him to brace, but it makes me nervous. There is no requirement that a service dog wear a vest or harness, but it helps. Max does have a little badge that hangs off the leash, but I’m always risking some questioning when he’s not fully geared.

Max fully geared, under my feet on a plane.
The other thing I have to put up with is the famous question: What does your dog do for you? This is fine from a business owner or employee, but it is intrusive in any other context. It feels like I am constantly justifying my need for Max. I am sure that that is not the intent, but it gets old, fast. The ADA has this to say about service dogs:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
I usually respond to random people asking this question with, “he’s a mobility dog, and I use him to brace., but he knows well over 50 skills.” I don’t try to elaborate on what’s wrong with me. Sometimes people push, but mostly they respect that. I just wish they wouldn’t ask. It’s personal.
Traveling ain’t a picnic either. I have to pack for me, and for Max. He needs food, treats, a ball, some chews, extra poop bags. I have to remember peanut butter for the airplane to help pop his ears. Security is a nightmare. New cities mean new people, and new service dog cultures. Colorado is a dog place. It seems everyone has a dog, and in the mountains, people let their dogs hike off-leash. I hate this. I hated it before, but I really hate it now. Yes, your dog is friendly, but please, he cannot greet my dog. He’s working. See that slippery rock in my path? He’s going to help me over it, but if your dog distracts him, he’s not concentrating and not bracing. Put your dog on the leash! New Orleans is also a dog city, and there are a lot of homeless people with dogs off-leash. Makes me nervous. I hope your dog is friendly, but if not, does it have vaccinations? Also, one bad encounter with a dog could ruin Max for service. He cannot become afraid of dogs. Paris is also a dog city, and my Lord, there are a lot of yippy dogs out there. They tried to get Max every friggin’ day.

Max helping me snowshoe! This is one of the ways he helped return me to a fuller life, even if people don’t leash their dogs.
All this being said, I have to also say that having Max is worth every annoyance. He has made my life easier on so many levels. Traveling is a pain, but less of a pain than it was before. Paris used to be so tough on me with its uneven sidewalks and steep curbs. I prefer busses over the Metro because there are no stairs to navigate into subterranean stations, but there is that one big step, and the crowds. I always hated getting places. People never thought of me as disabled, so they wouldn’t offer seats or help. This last time in Paris, though, people offered to let me on first, and offered to help me up that step, even as Max was there to brace, and they offered me a seat. He braced all over the cobblestones and awkward curbs. He braced me all the way down the Pantheon steps, which don’t have railings. This was, in fact, the first time I have been to the Pantheon. I have always avoided it because of the steps. Thanks to Max, I got to see my beloved Hugo, Césaire, and Zola in their resting place.

Max enjoying the Eiffel Tower.
Max takes me out of that liminal space and puts me firmly in the disabled camp. He mediates my disability by making my world wider, safer, and more mobile. He also helps to mediate the fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. He mediates stares. People are usually way more excited to see a service dog than a dwarf, and that is fine with me, in the end. I’d much rather have to educate people about Max than be the object of curiosity. Children love to see Max (often mistaken for a horse, due to his saddle-like harness). I’ve always had to educate people about disability, it’s just shifted somewhere else. It is tough to always be in the spotlight, but I guess I prefer the gaze to be cast on my Max. He’s a ham and loves to wag his tail coyly as I explain why he can’t be petted to a little kid. It takes time, but it’s a worthy moment. I’d really like to live in a world where I didn’t have to explain any of these things, but that’s a bigger job. That’s why I write this blog.





I received a call from a lady, in a nearby city, inquiring about training a dog for service. I asked what services she wanted this dog to perform and she told me, “I have dwarfism and it would be helpful if the dog could lay under my feet.” I thought, “A dog for an ottoman?” “Do you have a dog yet?” I thought that was important. She had three dogs, all of which were special needs. This wonderful couple made it their practice to adopt dogs no one else would want. But for a Service Dog she needed a dog with all four legs, good hearing, and healthy eyes. None of her present dogs had all of those. I did not hear back from the lady, Amy, and I thought my requirements and expectations were too high. Then came another call, “I have a dog. Will you evaluate him to see if he will work?” We set a time and they drove to my city and my home. They opened the hatch of their car and there was the goofiest looking, ill-mannered Lab mix, with a grin on his face saying, “Here I am!” This adolescent dog was everything adolescent implies. This dog was anything but bashful, and was everything un-socialized. “What do you think?” Amy anxiously asked. “Give me three minutes with him and I will tell you.” This dog certainly appeared to be a project. But he showed me he had promise and I agreed that I would work with him. I explained that this was not an inexpensive program and that at some point we may rule him out and need to find another dog. We agreed. I told Amy and her husband I have two rules for this to work.
1. They would only take their raining counsel from me. They were to ignore TV, books, or another trainer. No Cesar, no training books. Just me.
2. This has got to be fun. No rushing, no frustration, if we want Max to not be stressed, we could not be. If it is not fun for the dog, it is not fun.
With those two understandings we would begin.

I gaged Max’s training according to Amy’s need. With dwarfism Amy had increasing trouble navigating stairs, inclines, and slippery surfaces. Amy’s shoulders functioned with difficulty, and her knees and hips made a more than three or four steps impossible. Where Amy worked she had to walk all the way around the building to a ramp to enter. Being four feet tall shopping and shopping carts were avoided. Wow! Not only would Max have to fit in the Service Dog role, he was going to have a lot of needs to be attentive to. Not only would he have to perform his tasks perfectly, but he would have to anticipate Amy’s needs in every situation. He could not see a squirrel and take off after it with Amy’s hand in the leash. That would not be pretty. We made a list of needs and we guessed Max would have to learn more than forty (40) behaviors, all of which had to be fluent.

Now, more about Amy. Amy has her PHD and is the Chair of the French Department at IU. She travels around and out of the US. This meant that Max had to function in other cultures as well.
Amy’s husband, Jeevan, is a Medical Doctor and serves in the cancer field. They are both loving, considerate and giving. As I said, Amy has many medical issues. Not only would training Max be a long process, but I knew it would be very hard on Amy. I needed to be aware of her endurance as well as Max’s. Amy was a trooper and was a perfect Service Dog handler.

Another concern I had for Amy and Jeevan was Jeevan’s feeling left out of the process and create an unintentional gap in their relationship. When they brought Max to me in our first meeting I told them, “This is Amy’s dog. Every good thing comes from her. Feeding, treats, affection, all from her.” Jeevan would be kind to Max, but Max could not bond with him. It was important for Max to bond with Amy. I knew this would be hard. Jeevan could only be a part of the training if there was something he needed to have part of. Things like, showing affection to Amy. Max had to be aware that was okay. Helping Amy, Max had to know that was okay. If Jeevan, for some reason, needed to take Max’s leash, Max needed to know that was okay. When we were training, Jeevan could not offer suggestions. Outside of the session we could talk, but in the session Max had to know he could only listen to me or Amy. The best way to address this, so Jeevan did not feel left out, was to talk about it, and talk about from time to time. It worked out just as it needed to.

So we set a date to start. In the meantime I did not want time wasted. Amy was to take Max home and begin implementing my instructions. It was she who would take Max from the car. She was to limit Max’s time with the other dogs. She was to in control of his play time. Only she could feed, treat, or walk Max. From now on, no treats because Max is cute. Max had to work for rewards, including praise. To eat, he had to sit. To be petted (only by Amy) he had to sit. Max would not be on welfare, no freebies. If he begged, nothing. If he wined, nothing. Max was now in the labor force without a union to advocate for him. His only handler, director, and advocate was Amy. If you could know Amy you would discover she is no pushover, but she did have her weak moments with Max. She held her own, most of the time. When I train behaviors, if I get 80% out of the dog, I consider that acceptable. That includes the handler. In this case they were both at about a 95%.

There were several “firsts” to begin with. However, every behavior had a process and each behavior was designed to build on the previous behavior. I would not allow Max to become overwhelmed. So, the place, in formal training, to begin was Max’s public access. Oh my, his first trip to the Mall was like a kid in the candy store. If I told the Security person that he was a Service Dog in training, I think he would have walked away, having a good laugh. All we could do was walk Max to acclimate him to the new environment, one he would be spending a lot of time in. From this experience it was obvious, a simultaneous behavior we needed to work on was Max walking on a loose leash if we didn’t want to lose Amy.

Max was smart. It did not take long for Max to realize he was doing something very special. He very quickly understood, when we came together, it was training time. He also knew that that clicker thing meant good things. Max became extremely serious about our work. In fact I always had to be sure Max’s stress was eustress and not distress. I do not think there was any session of our over 125 that Max did not have fun. Well, there was one. Max was trying so hard to work, but I sensed something just wasn’t right. I ended the session on a high note, and told Amy something was wrong with Max. I asked her to take him to her vet for an exam. Sure enough, Max had a virus. Bless his heart, he was trying so hard. After that it seemed he trusted just a little bit more.

Max responded to my methods with seriousness. If there was a lull he would sit, lay, and sit again. He was saying, “Hey, do you see what I’m doing. Why isn’t that thing making that noise?” When Amy took the leash and ask something of Max, Max would take the leash in his mouth, jump up and down. He just was not taking Amy seriously. Amy was getting frustrated because with me he was serious, with her it was always play time. My cues were responded to, her cues aroused him. A good trainer is already guessing the cause of this difference. Amy had a high pitched voice, mine is low pitched. Mine was a commanding, hers was “let’s play.” I told this to Amy and instructed her to lower the tone of her voice. This did not come naturally for Amy. She had to consciously change the pitch of her voice. As she did this, the problem completely resolved. Amy’s lower tone was still high, but Max understood the difference and we never had this issue again.

Max was doing really well on his loose leash. He was staying beside Amy, but we had to teach Max that staying right beside her was the best place in the world. We had to train Max to be on Amy’s right side because her left shoulder was not strong. If Max lurched at something it could worsen her left shoulder. What we needed to work on now was “stay.” Oh boy. Max had learned his “rest” cue. But Max has springs in his legs. He thought rest meant his belly touched the floor and he was to bounce back up. “Stay” was not in either his vocabulary or intention. This seemed to take Max forever. Amy was his job, he understood that. So every time she moved, he moved. If she stepped back, he stepped forward. If we put him in a down by a kiosk and she stepped out of sight, he was up. He was smart, as he would come from the opposite direction and greet Amy. If Amy back around the kiosk she would not see him following her. “Success,” she thought, until she turned around. There was Max with the “I caught you,” grin. There were some things Max could do, but he just didn’t understand the purpose, so a few things took a little longer. When Amy was finally able to take two steps away from Max and he stayed in his down, we celebrated with Max. After that his stays became perfect and for great duration.

One of the behaviors we needed to teach Max was “pulling.” We wanted to be able to hook Max to Amy’s grocery cart and Max help by pulling it. This was not easy for Max although he caught on quickly. It was scary at first. I hooked his leash on a bicycle rack. The rack was aluminum and was not heavy, but that thing following Max was a different concept. There were a couple of approaches to this, Max got through this exercise, and became a perfect “puller.” If we were going to have Max pull a grocery cart he would have to learn his directions. Amy could not see over the cart so Max also had to be her eyes. We taught Max “left turn” and “right turn.” This was easy for Max to grasp and Max understood left and right. He learned slow and faster. He learned back and forward. He learned “side step, right and left.” This meant he would move sideways by moving his two side legs in the requested direction. People thought that was funny. Sometimes, to help Max, Amy would move as if dancing and Max would follow.

The stairs for Amy and Max was a bit more complicated and had to be trained separately.
Going up stairs for Amy was a different protocol than coming down. It was not as complicated for Max as I was afraid. He was now beginning to anticipate Amy’s different needs. Max now, instinctively, understood how Amy “would” move and position himself accordingly. Like in the car. When Max was taken to the car he would jump in and Amy would have to streeetttch to hook his safety strap. After a few times, Max decided on his own, “It’s better for her if I put my front feet up, leave my back feet on the ground, until I hear that “snap,” then bring my back feet up into the car.” Max was developing the ability to think and anticipate.

Targeting was another behavior Max caught on to right away. I wanted Max to open the handicap doors for Amy. I started by placing a target in my hand, then slowly move it up the door I placed it about a foot from the bottom of the door. This door had a push bar. He said, “Oh, I get it. You want me to do this.” And he stood up and pushed the door open. That was that. All we had to teach him was the word for the behavior. He knows that “open” means doors with a bar on it, and “push” means the circle or square on a post. Max hardly needs cued. When he comes to an entrance and sees a push button on a post of the wall, he just goes ahead and opens the door. Max can push light switches, grocery carts, and he can help push an item Amy needs help moving.

Max learned to stop at curbs, place his front feet on the street so Amy can balance herself on his shoulders, then step down. Then Max brings his hind feet from the curb and waits for Amy’s, “Let go.” In one session Max learned to brace his front legs for Amy to balance herself. She would say, “Brace” and you could see his legs stiffen and his shoulder muscles flex. It was amazing and wonderful because Max new what his job was.

Max’s recall was one of his favorite behaviors. Max had to respond immediately to Amy’s call to “come” or “come aside.” We trained this in a variety of ways. Each method was to teach Max that responding to Amy, and responding quickly, meant something wonderful. His favorite game was Ping-Pong. Amy stood on one side of the room, I on the other. I would call Max. As soon as Max came and got his treat, Amy would call. To increase his speed he would not receive reinforcement if he was slow. He caught on to this very quickly, and it was hilarious to see him get his treat, Amy call, and Max’s whole body whirl in motion and head for Amy.

I have to include another of Max’s favorite training, retrieving things. We taught him two different retrieves. One was for him to pick something up and place it in Amy’s hand. This was for something Amy needed. Bending down was difficult. So Max could pick up pencils, a paper. Oh, picking up a paper was hilarious. Max wanted to tear the paper apart. He would pounce on it and kill it. He enjoyed that and it took a while for him to get, “Oh, you want the paper in one piece? Shoot!”” But we got through that. The other behavior was for Max to pick something up, hold it, and deliver it to the nearest trash can. We started with “drop it,” then moved to where to drop it. This went well with most items, except for the Styrofoam cups. Do you know how much fun it is to hear that crunching sound when you tear a Styrofoam cup apart? Max finally got the concepts. He now delivered things whole to its designated place, according to the cues. He never lost his enjoyment of retrieving. Of course, for all his behaviors, he performed with gusto. Max just plain enjoyed life.

Max was taught not to take food from strangers. One day, long after Max graduated, Amy was in a Mexican restaurant. A man across from Jeevan and Amy’s table reached down with a tortilla chip, placed it between his paws. Aside from the stupidity of doing that, Max turned his head and ignored the chip.

Often, Amy needs the use of a wheelchair. We incorporated her wheelchair in a session of training at the Mall. We wanted to teach Max, “aside,” as well as, “front.” The reason we needed “front” was that going down a ramp, she needs to go backwards. I know, I thought that odd also. That just shows how much we understand the needs of a person handicapped. We couldn’t have Max back-up for that distance as that would have been dangerous for both. I held Max’s leash, Amy called him, he came to her frontally, and she began to back down the ramp with Max following. We showed this to Max one time without a cue, but marking the behavior. He caught on so quickly that we gave him the cue “front,” and after that session Max had it down fluently. Perhaps this was so well learned because we had also worked with a motorize cart at a grocery store. There were times Max absolutely amazed me. Max also had to understand what it meant to gage his distance from Amy’s feet, and her wheelchair. This did take a little work because Max wanted to stay close enough to touch Amy. He would get his paw stepped on or rolled over. He caught on to keeping himself close, but safe.

This brings up a very good point. Some dogs are so smart and catch on so quickly, a good trainer knows he/she must stay ahead of the dog. Example, when I trained Max to target door bars and openers. I started out with a target on my hand so he would touch the target with his paw. Suddenly Max understood what I was moving toward and opened the door. On a scale of 1 to 5, Max went from a 2 to 5. I would have been a poor trainer had I taken Max back to a 3 because he jumped ahead of me. My training plan has to be such that I understand that possibility and I must be ready to jump ahead of his understanding. If I don’t factor that in, Max will get bored while I’m trying to redraw my plan. A dog may surprise me, but he cannot get ahead of me. Max had a habit of doing keeping me on my toes.

When Max’s session was over, Amy and I would bet something to drink and decompress and let Max come down also. Max would lay and sleep. He was always worn out. When Amy would put him in the car he would kiss me, lay down and sleep all the way home. He was tired but fulfilled.

An important thing we needed for Amy was the possibility of her falling. I wanted to teach Max “bark” and “quiet.” He had fun with this exercise. But, if Amy fell, she needed to be able to cue Max to bark to summon help. Also, for Amy’s personal safety, I want her to be able to cue Max to bark if she was uncomfortable with an approaching person. Max was not aggressive, and I would never train a dog to be aggressive. But the approaching person does not know that and that is a good deterrent.
Another thing I had to teach, this time to Amy, was the ADA laws. Merchants, Mall security people, even Law Enforcement officers are not always informed of the laws pertaining to Service Dogs. Because I have a Service Dog, I know the problems the handicapped can have. Amy, Max and I met at Panera’s. Amy had not yet arrived. I went to a lady who was with a friend and introduced myself. I explained to her what I was doing. I asked her if, when my client got settled with her dog, to come over and ask her to remove Max because she had allergies. So I had that set up. Amy was settled and the lady came over, “Mam,” she said, “Would you please remove your dog? I have awful allergies.” Amy’s face went blank. She looked at the lady, looked at me, looked at Max, and was lost. I shook the ladies hand, said, “Thank you,” and she left. Amy told me, “That was mean.” That was the best thing I could have done. The experience was a good teacher. The handicapped endure so much unnecessarily. The fact is, a business or person can ask a person with a dog, two questions.
1. Sir./Mam, is the a Service Dog?”
2. What service is your dog trained to perform?
They cannot inquire about a handicap or if the person has the handicap. If a person has allergies, that is not cause to remove the dog. They cannot ask for the dog to be seated away from the public. Amy and her husband had the experience of a restaurant manager asking them to take a table away from the customers. Amy politely said, “No. We want that table there.” Remember, Amy is not one to be intimidated.

The other challenge a person with a Service Dog encounters. People think the dog is adorable and just cannot exist without that person’s petting. A person may be polite enough to ask if they can pet the dog. We say, “No, he is a working dog. Thank you.” Of course it is on the dog’s jacket, “WORKING DOG. DO NOT PET.” Since Amy travels to France, she has this in English and French. Some people cannot read and they just have to ask. We want to be polite and educate people. However, some people will not take “no” for an answer. Some will approach and reach out, determined to pet. I taught Amy she must use her body and step between the dog and the person, and kindly but firmly, say, “Please do not touch my dog.” The person may take offence, but it is her being offensive rather than me offending.

Amy was getting ready to take a flight. I am friends with the Chief of Security and the Indianapolis International Airport. He was kind enough to assign an officer to us for a visit. The officer was very kind and allowed us to go where the public could not. We was able to take Max through the TSA in a mock experience. The agent allowed Max to stay with Amy. Max observed the agent placing hands on Amy. The agent searched Max, and placed his hand under Max’s back pack. Max was a little anxious, but handled this experience well. Amy reported how perfect Max was in all of these airport situations after the Indianapolis session. This session was very important in Max’s training because Amy and Jeevan have flown several times since. Max has never had one problem.

A few days after the airport session Amy flew to another city for major surgery on her shoulder. Max was with her before as well as after the surgery, but not during. Amy was laid up for 6 or 8 weeks. I kept close to Amy and Max during this convalescing period. Amy reported that Max, after about a month, was getting rusty. I asked where Max was being fed to which she said he eats in the kitchen. I told Amy I wanted his food and water beside the bed, and only treats came from her. She could ask small things from Max to keep a sense of working. This brought Max right back to his serving Amy in just a couple of days. Max has not been lax since then.

Max’s 11 months of training was done with a clicker and operant conditioning. In all of those months there was not one act of punishment, coercion, or manipulation. He was never scolded. If he was not doing what was being asked, we understood the problem was US, not him. We had to adjust how we were approaching the training. There were times Max taught us how best he would respond to a request. Max was never wrong and we had to listen to him. When we came to a session Max was always excited and anxious to learn. Max came to trust every request. He may have been a little unsure once in a while, but he never resisted learning one behavior.

One last point. Max fell in love with me. His trainer. I always say, “If your dog isn’t this way with your trainer, get rid of the trainer.” But there can be a downside to that if the trainer is not aware. There was a point where I realized Max was bonding to me and I to him. In this kind of extensive and intensive training there will be some unavoidable bonding. But I realized Max was looking to me more than to Amy. I had to change my relationship with Max. This was not easy on me or on Max, but it had to be done. For two months I was strictly, trainer. Max was always “over the moon” to see me. It took 5 minutes to calm him and get into a session. I was as bad about this as Max. What I did was this. When Max and Amy came in to wherever we were that day, I would not even look at Max until he was calm. If I approached him and he got up from a sit or down, I turned and walked away. He would cock his head in wonderment. It just about killed me. I wanted to go hug him and apologize. When I finally greeted him I was very detached. When he did what was wanted, I had Amy praise him. I did not. This worked very well. Max loved me, but he was definitely bonded with Amy. This taught Max a lesson, “You like other people, but Amy is master and focus.”

Now Max can love on me all he wants, because I know he knows my place. One day I made a visit to IU. I saw Amy and Max, but Max had not yet seen me. As I got closer Max gave me a glance. It was hilarious because when he glanced at me like I was just another person, he turned his head back to Amy, and just as quick, he jerked his head back to me. Max is the only dog I have seen take an actual double take. He could not compute me being there in his territory. Several times, he would look to Amy and turn back to me. Then, when he could believe what he was seeing, Max was excited from nose to tail tip. We loved on each other and when we calmed down, his attention went back to Amy and he served her needs. That is what I wanted. That is what we worked on together.

Max graduated, certificate and all. Now he is on the job every day for Amy. The most significant thing Amy said to me in all this time together was, “Now (with Max) I feel like a normal person. When Amy said this, my eyes filled with tears. That is why I train Service Dogs and Companion Dogs. This is the real payoff.

I must say something about the dog being trained. I have discussed this many times with my professor and mentor, Julie Shaw. In some ways what we do in training a Serviced Dog, however necessary and needed, is unfair. What we do is condition the fun out of the dog. We are asking the dog to ignore being a dog, ignore other dogs when in public, to ignore the squirrels, not to chase the ball that rolls by, not to approach people, to lay under a table for an hour while we eat, and ignore children. This was extremely hard for Max, because Max loved children. It took a long time to get him to ignore children that were close by. I’m not saying this is harmful to the dog. The Service Dog does not miss what it does not do. We still condition the fun out of the dog.

Our Service Dog, Nekayah, is a prime example of this. Our Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, will go outside, especially if there is snow, and lay for long periods of time. If another dog is here, Dexter will go out and play, run and romp. Not Nekayah. Nekayah is a Hearing Impaired Service Dog. She alerts my wife to many things in the house and outside. She even alerts when someone is behind her in a store. There are 7 or 8 buzzers, dings, and rings to which she alerts. Nekayah is on the job all day and night. If she hears the smoke detector she will wake us up. In her head she is never off duty. We can tell her to go play. Sometimes we tell her, “Go get the rabbit.” She’ll run out the doggy door, run the perimeter of the yard, and come straight back in. She will not allow herself to be where we are not. She is relaxed in the home. She is not anxious, waiting for the next buzzer. She just chooses to be with us. Right now she is laying on a chair, on her back, head hanging over, tongue lolling out, resting. Oops. The oven buzzer just sounded. Nekayah is up, going to the next room to tell Linda, “Whatever you are baking, it done.” She did her job and now is resting on another couch.

What I am saying is this. This is not bad. These are very special dogs who give up a lot to serve one person for all of its adult life. The dog is highly educated and is able to think for itself. It was Max’s idea to start going and getting sox for Amy in the mornings. When Amy steps off the curb and tells Max, “Let’s go,” and Max stays where he is. Amy looks up and sees a car. We call this in Service Dogs, “Intelligent Disobedience.” The dog knows to move is dangerous for my master. The handler has to learn to trust the dog. I told Amy many times, “Max is never wrong. Listen to him.”
I have had this with our Service Dog many times. Every time I thought Nekayah must be wrong, she was right. Once I told Nekayah, “Find mommy.” Nekayah sniffed the air and headed forward. I just knew Linda didn’t go that way and I would direct Nekayah another way. I frustrated her terribly. I found that the direction Nekayah was going was exactly the way Linda went. Another time, Linda was leaving the Mall. She walked out, Nekayah beside her. Nekayah stopped at the curb, Linda stepped into the access drive. Nekayah immediately jump in front of Linda, and pushed her aside. Linda did not see a car coming. Nekayah saw it and placed herself between Linda and the car. We handlers can get so used to the routine that we don’t always look. Nekayah is trained to always look, to always be ready for what is not the norm, and to act accordingly. Intelligent Disobedience. Always trust the dog.

There are people who feel, when we train a Service Dog, that we are placing the dog in bondage. I have had a few who have actually said that to me. I don’t know what they would suggest to the handicapped person as an alternative. We are discovering, more and more, the capabilities of dogs. Not only dogs, but small breed ponies are now showing promise, as a guide animal for the blind.
Is it wrong to use dogs for hunting? What about agility, or sports? Is it bad to train dogs for Search and Rescue? These dogs are not mistreated or abused. They save and protect countless lives each year. I wish these people, although well intended, would demonstrate their outrage at the blood sports dogs are forced to be a part of. There is where the energy should be expended, to stop that horrific abuse.

Well, this is Max’s story. That dog with that goofy smile. That dog who didn’t know what to do with those hind legs, who was so full of life and love. That beautiful, shiny haired dog with glistening eyes, who was so fixed as if he was afraid he would miss an instruction. This dog who finds joy in serving Amy every day, and does so for no other reason than devotion, is the textbook dog for Service Dogs. There are no words to that can fully tell others about Max. He is the model of all Service Dogs, but a mold like no other. He is the perfect ambassador for Service Dogs. He is the perfect Service Dog for Amy.

In a few months I will do a follow-up with Max and Amy. We will meet at the Mall and do some evaluating, but I am sure Max will pass that evaluation with amazement.

What I hope with this article is that my readers gain an insight into what is poured into the dogs that are wearing service jackets. For many reasons, not every dog qualifies for this training. Max was one that did, and he excelled. To be able to tell Max’s story is an honor.





 A couple weeks past I was riding my scooter, on my way to an appointment. A man seeing me, waved me down. He introduced himself and said, I hear you work with dogs. I explained to him that I am a Behavioral Consultant and yes, I work with animals. Mr. Cunningham explained that he had a Wirehair Terrier, Murphy, who is very ill. He asked if I would come and take a look at him. I, very clearly, let Mr. Cunningham know that I work with the behavior of dogs, not the health of the dog. I am not a veterinarian and I do not do the work of a vet. Understanding that, Mr. Cunningham again asked if I would come and meet Murphy.

Murphy is a beautiful brown with a large amount of grey throughout his coat. He is 16 years old. His flanks are concaved, his ribs are showing, there is virtually no meat on his pelvis, and his back legs are very unsteady. Three years past he was diagnosed with kidney failure and was placed on a protein free diet. It was hoped Murphy could live another year or two. He has now lived three years longer than his prognosis, but after his blood exam in December, he was given three to six months. He is hard of hearing and his sight is not the best. He is also diagnosed with dementia. He will not lie down to rest until he is worn out and his legs cannot hold him up. He paces hour after hour. The problem is that his brain no longer tells him to lie   down. He has lost that function of the brain. In spite of his health Murphy seemed to have more good days than bad, until this last week.

When I entered the house Murphy came right to me. I don’t know how aware he is but he seemed to relax as I petted him. He stood for a few seconds then walked away and continued his pacing. With tears in his eyes, Mr. Cunningham talked about Murphy’s history. Murphy was gotten from ARF as a puppy, and has been loved all these 16 years. Murphy has been a faithful, loving, affectionate companion. “He has been the perfect family pet.”  I offered no evaluation and felt my place was to let Mr. Cunningham talk about his one-in-a-million, four legged, family member. I knew Murphy was living his last days. I gave my card to Mr. Cunningham and told him to call me any time if he needed to talk or if Murphy took a turn for the worse. I then left with a very heavy heart.

Mr. Cunningham lived just three blocks from me. As I rode past his house I would stop just to see how Murphy is doing. He remained pretty much the same, no better and no worse. This last Monday morning, early, my phone rang. It was Mr. Cunningham. I could tell immediately he was crying.  “What’s wrong with Murphy?” I asked. He proceeded to talk about Murphy deteriorating in health. I told him I would be up in just a little while. Again, my heart was heavy.

I began my day and went to Mr. Cunningham’s home about an hour later. Both Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham were in the back yard with Murphy. Murphy, sensing I was there, came to me. As I scratched his chest he stood there, but it was obvious he was looking at me but not seeing me. I sat in silence for a few minutes, and then the silence was broken. “I don’t know what to do, Jim. When I think I should call the vet and put Murphy to sleep, then he’ll do something normal and I don’t think he is as bad as I thought. How do you know when to he needs to be put to sleep? I need someone to tell me what to do.”

“Mr. Cunningham, I can’t tell you what to do, neither can your vet. I do believe you will know. Murphy is sick. He is not going to improve, but you and Roberta need to make that decision together.” Mrs. Cunningham said she felt it was time, but Bob just can’t let go. I raised the question of quality of life. They talked about Murphy’s quality of life not having much quality and, “We know that is hard on Murphy.” Then I said, “I am not talking just about Murphy’s quality of life, but your quality of life.” I talked about the amount of guilt in these end-of-life decisions. We discussed how dogs completely depend on us to resolve their issues, take care of their health, their shelter, food, all of their needs. Now, at the end of life the dog depends on us to read the signs and make the right decisions. We often shrink from that responsibility because it is so painful. I said, “At this moment it is not about you making the decision, I think is about you giving yourself the permission to make the decision.” Mr. Cunningham said “I give Murphy permission to give up often. “Murphy doesn’t believe you,” I said. “I believe our dogs often do not give up the fight because he is still doing his job of caring for the owner.” This often happens with humans in the end-of-life days. Another question I felt Mr. Cunningham had to answer was if he was hanging on to Murphy for Murphy or himself. Mr. Cunningham said, “He will often come to me and just stand there looking at me and I wonder, “Is he trying to tell me something? Maybe he is telling me he wants to quit the fight and I’m not listening.”

While we talked Murphy’s back legs gave out a couple of times. We talked about how dogs will not show pain, that it is instinctual. I told them about my brother’s dog who was hit by a school bus. Buddy’s leg was severely damaged. He did not express pain, even after his leg was amputated. The last thing I felt needed to be said was, “The burden of guilt mainly comes because we think that we are doing something “to the dog” rather than “for the dog.” I think that thought gave Mr. Cunningham a new perspective of the situation. Mrs. Cunningham said, “This is the last dog we will have. I can’t do this again.” I didn’t reply as I understand that feeling. That feeling may change later and it would be inappropriate, foolish, and unfeeling to challenge that expression in a time like this.

“I would like the vet to come here to put him to sleep,” said Bob. I affirmed that and if his vet couldn’t or wouldn’t do so I know a vet who will. He called his vet and left the area to talk to her. I don’t know what that conversation was, but he was on the phone for about ten minutes. Mr. Cunningham returned to ask his wife if Thursday afternoon, 5:30 would be alright. Now each of us had tears in our eyes. They agreed that the time would work. It was a solemn moment. I reminded them that God cares deeply about their pain and weeps with them in this heart crushing time. To try to lift the moment I said, “You know, God was asked, one time, why he created the dog. God said, ‘I didn’t. I already had one.’” I told them that it is in keeping with my theology that dogs will be in heaven, and someone asked Billy Graham that question. Billy Graham said, “God knows what will make me happy in heaven and if that includes my dog, my dog will be in heaven.” I believe that, and I comforted my daughter when, as a child, our family dog died. I told Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham I would plan to be there with them Thursday. I then, with my hands on Murphy, said a prayer. With a heavy heart I excused myself.

That afternoon I called Mr. Cunningham and asked if I could run up for just a minute. I have CDs of music from Through a Dog’s Ear. There is one titled, “Calm for Elderly Dogs.” I explained how to use the music over the next couple of days. I also suggested that 15 minutes before the vet’s arrival that Murphy can be made comfortable and play the music which will insure he is relaxed and leave this world with an environment of love, calm, comfort, and dignity. With that, and the assurance that I will be there with them Thursday, I left.

Today, Mr. Cunningham called and asked me not to come to be with them this afternoon. He said his children called and wanted to be there and he asked them not to. He and Roberta wanted this to be a private time. In asking the children not to be there he felt he should call me and make the same request. I assured him that he did not need to explain, I understand completely. He thanked me for the use of the player and the CD, “Calm for Elderly Dogs.” He later told me the night before they put Murphy to sleep, they played the music, and it was the only night, for weeks, that he slept all night. They began playing the CD 20 minutes before the vet arrived. The music did what it was produced for, and relaxed Murphy. Murphy, very calm and relaxed, passed very peacefully.

This is one of hundreds of stories involving the end of life of a families pet, be it a dog, a cat, or a horse. For most of us our pet is a family member. We say they are like one of our children, and the fact that dogs retain their neotney, we are not far off. People often compare the death of a pet with the death of a child. I can’t fully explain the connection humans have with their dogs, but the bind is both relational and spiritual. We develop oneness with our one-in-a-million dog. The means by which our beloved pet is taken will vary, but that bond is strong. The story about Murphy is about our adored pet becoming terminal and having a lingering illness. As time goes on it is understood that the prognosis is dismal and the illness will most likely take our beloved’s life. Murphy developed multiple maladies, any one of which was terminal, but together left him with no hope and very little time.

Now, my friends were faced with an excruciating decision. It is a heart wrenching process. We wrestle with our emotions. Is it time? How do I know? Just when we make the decision he does something a normal dog would do. We question our self. Maybe he is not as bad as I thought. Maybe I am rushing things. He is not showing pain. We go on and on rationalizing, explaining away, hanging onto hope, not wanting to let go because of a mixture of love and guilt. We vacillate between denial and acceptance. We ask, “How do we reconcile the end-of-life decision with a loving, caring act?”

The hardest step in this decision process is the step we have to take beyond the emotional self. It is natural to want to do everything to keep that life with us. This pet has been a part of our life, our family, for five, ten, eighteen years. He has been there when I leave and excited when I come home. This dog has comforted us in bad times, shared our joyous times, and aided our healing when we were sick. He goes to get my socks, picks up what I drop, and picks up and puts away his own toys. I can’t imagine a day without him. I just can’t let go. The very first question we have to ask and answer is, “Am I keeping him alive for ME or for HIM/HER?”  There is a point at which our caring becomes selfishness rather than consideration for the suffering our beloved pet is experiencing. I don’t say this judgmentally, but understandably. However, it is our pet that is physically and emotionally suffering. How do we get beyond our self and our grief so we can make that final decision to end his/her suffering and life? After all, our dog has depended on us for everything, and is now depending on us, to do what it cannot, to make his/her end-of-life decision.  None of us feel up to this, but we cannot delegate this to someone other.

As a behavioral consultant I am often asked to tell the owners what to do. I never take that responsibility upon myself. I always refer to the owner’s veterinarian. The vet will address the medical issues, but unless the animal is showing suffering or he/she is dying on the table, the vet will help the owner to be fully informed, but the final decision has to come from the owner. In the long run this is the way it should be. If I have to look back on the death of my beloved, one-in-a-million dog I don’t want to reflect on someone else making that decision. When I took her into my home and family, I accepted the full responsibility for her, including her end-of-life needs. She trusts me for everything, including this, and as excruciating as that will be, it is mine and my wife’s decision to make. There are helps and considerations that will help me know when it is time to say, “Goodbye.” Hopefully, this will help you.

As a former pastor and therapist, I have been involved with hundreds of end-of-life experiences. Often a parent, a child, or mate, lingered because the grieving of the family made it difficult for the dying person to take that last breath. Many times I have talked to the family that perhaps it would be helpful if they gave their loved one permission to give up the fight. Other times it was the ill person giving the family permission to let them go. I remember the child who told his parents it was okay to let him die because Jesus was standing near to take him to heaven. My personal rules were, 1) I would never intimate, suggest or direct a family to make the end-of-life decision. 2) It was my place to stand with, support and affirm those who needed to make that decision. 3) I would never intimate, suggest, or direct how or how long one should grieve loss. For me, I would never get between one’s doctor, the family, or the patient. I carry that protocol with me into my animal behavioral career. This is one reason one’s veterinary is a part of my team building. These emotions are very complex and deep, these times very difficult. But this time can be a blessed time as well. If you have never read, Merle’s Door, by Ted Kerasote, I highly recommend it to you.

When I have had an owner ask me how they will know when it is time, I often say, “He will let you know.” I believe, many times, this is true. In the story above, Murphy would come and just look into the eyes of his master. The old Murphy had already left. What was he trying to say? What was he asking? Many times Murphy would go to another room by himself. He would pace for hours, as if he had someplace to go, but couldn’t leave. An animal cannot understand what is happening to his body. How much money and emotion are you prepared to spend just to give him a few more months with you? Our Nekayah had a Mast Cell Tumor on her leg. We spent several hundreds of dollars to have it removed. Chemo was recommended as a precaution. When the process was explained to us we could not bring ourselves to put her through those months of suffering. We have now had three years more with her and, as far as I know, she is doing fine. Did I make the right decision? At the time I wasn’t sure, but I had to gather all the information and my decision had to be one informed. My head said, “Maybe.” My heart said, “No.  Don’t do that to her.” I’m glad we made that decision. Medical procedures may extend a life, but to what kind of life?

There comes that time when we have to stop wrestling and vacillating with the inevitable decision and bring it to a conclusion. The essential question we have to ask and answer concerns one’s quality of life. Certainly the quality of life for our beloved pet, but also the quality of life of the owners. This is often forgotten. Consider these,

  1. The family has to take shifts, one stays home while the other leaves for needed errands.
  2. We takes shifts during the night.
  3. We are exhausted each day.
  4. We can’t eat, our hearts are so broken.
  5. Vacation is postponed or put off all together.
  6. It is hard to impossible to have friends over.
  7. What finances are involved (vet visits, medications, treatment)
  8. We can’t agree on what to do, it’s hurting our home atmosphere.

Loving owners don’t want to be selfish and relegate their pet to a financial decision, but all of these factors have to be considered. It is never selfish to rationally ask the hard questions, and to honestly answer them. If you are not taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, you cannot care for your sick pet well. The quality of life for you, the owner, has to be considered. There are times when our grief is so expressive that it is hard for the pet to let go. His job, for all these years, has been to take care of you. We can add to our pet’s weakening condition by making his letting go more difficult. There are things we can do to help us comfort our self.

During this time of our beloved pet’s weakening, one thing that could help is to begin a pictorial album. Allow him/her to live again by arranging the album from puppyhood to his/her senior years. Caption all the photos and laugh and cry together. Write a daily journal of his/her daily progression. Note the things he/she was able to do, but how each day is taking its toll. Both of these activities will help you stay clear in the decisions you have to make. Bring in a “baby sitter” so you and your mate can go out together. You need to take time for yourselves and step out of the emotional environment in the home. It’s okay. Give yourself permission to step away for a few hours or a day.

Murphy loved car rides. No matter how sick he was, if he could go for a car ride, it made him feel good. Does he/she love ice cream? What about a cheese burger? Maybe a peanut butter pop cycle? Ice cubes? When you think you can’t do anything for him/her and you feel helpless, perhaps there is that one thing that will make you both feel good. Fix a place for him/her with those favorite, soft blankets, a soft bed, perhaps her bed. If she will be immobile for several days the softness will prevent soars. Place her water nearby. Place near him/her the favorite 2 or 3 toys, and a favorite chew. He may be too weak to interact with these, but he knows they are there.

You will want to check him/her often to see if she is becoming incontinent. He/she has not peed in the house for years. This can be very stressful. Have some diapers available, and reassure her it is okay. If he/she can still move around a bit, you can make a sling out of a towel and help him/her go outside.

Here are some factors you can consider in determining quality of life.

  1. Is “Marley” irritable, restless and/or confused?
  2. Perhaps “Marley’s” appetite has decreased or is lost. Is “Marley” drinking less water, or drinking water excessively?
  3. If there are other dogs in the home, are these attacking or picking on “Marley?” Very often this happens when one becomes the weakest in the home. It doesn’t mean the others are cruel. Do not punish, but mange. It is a natural behavior in the wild.
  4. Does he/she go off alone? Maybe removes himself and goes off to another room?

These are signs of a deteriorating life due to untreatable conditions or aging. These are ways in which the dog is “telling” its owners that its quality of life is vanishing.

What about pain? How can we tell if he/she is suffering pain? This is a little more difficult because animals hide their pain. In the wild an animal doesn’t show pain as that signals being a weak one in the pack.

  1. Has he/she begun to snap at you when you touch him/her in a certain area? This has never happened before. Well, he/she has not just become mean. This is information that there is pain in that area.
  2. Are certain activities avoided? Jumping up on the bed, catching a ball, or turning his/her head. These can be signs of pain. Maybe he/she won’t lift the paw and put it in your hand. Don’t make or coax these behaviors if he/she is avoiding them.
  3. Perhaps he/she has become reclusive. Often an animal will go off by itself to suffer or to die.
  4. He/she may not eat the same diet. Kibbles can be too hard to swallow. Softer food and less may be the new diet norm.

Every new sign of deterioration will be painful to watch. One thing that might help is, again, to journal what is happening. Write how this makes you feel. Do not hide or bury how you feel inside. To do so will not take your pain away, but if you pent-up all that grief inside it can cause you to become ill (or snappy). Watch your pet as irregular patterns of behavior are often the first signs of illness and pain. No one knows your pet better than you and these things are telling you something is not right. Make an appointment with your vet.

Grief is a very real emotion and a natural response to loss. I do want to mention, so you will be prepared, not everyone will join you in your grief. There are those who will say, “It was just an animal.” As insensitive and ignorant as these may be, I don’t believe they are trying to be cruel. They just have no understanding of how deep the human/animal bond is.  They have missed out on this wonderful, joyous, experience of life. They will never understand and I will not waste my time or theirs trying to explain my grief. To do this will only result in one’s feeling worse.

Grief is the healing process that helps us accept and live in our new normal. In the Peanuts cartoon series, Charlie would often exclaim, “Good grief.” It doesn’t seem like it when we are going through it, but grief is good. It says a lot about you and it says a lot about your beloved pet. It speaks to your deep love, connection, and attachment to that which is lost. I will recount the grief process here.

  1. Denial
  2. Bargaining
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These are the familiar five stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, Death and Dying. Robert Kavanaugh, in his book, Facing Death, expanded these five stages to seven. I refer to these seven stages in my counseling because they allow for more inclusiveness to the process of adjusting to loss and transitioning to one’s new normal.

  1. Shock & Disbelief
  2. Denial
  3. Bargaining
  4. Guilt
  5. Anger
  6. Depression
  7. Acceptance & Hope

Regardless of the model, remember, these are not a fixed sequence. A person may shift up or down in these emotions. The important point to make is that there is no fixed way a person is to grieve. There is no fixed time for one to grieve. There is no fixed resolution or new normal for one’s grief. If you get “hung-up” in one of these stages then talk to someone. Here are some suggestions that can help us heal.

  1. You can have a memorial service for your pet. I am an Animal Chaplain. I have held a memorial service for horses and dogs while I was in Law Enforcement. Some people may think this is silly because “it’s just an animal.” So, don’t invite them. Invite those who love and understand you.
  2. Make a scrapbook to honor the life of your beloved pet.
  3. Write a poem or a letter, or a song for your pet.
  4. Volunteer your time at an animal shelter.
  5. Make a donation to ASPCA or local shelter in your pet’s name. Include his/her bio.
  6. Plant a tree in your pets name on your property.
  7. Make a collage of your pet’s name, collar, tags, toys, blanket, etc.
  8.  Have a special memorial urn for your pet’s ashes.
  9. Locate and attend a Pet Loss Grief Group. In my area we have a group called, HEAL (Healing Every Animal Loss). Each of us that lead this group are professional therapists and we want a person to come and share their story, pictures, and the loss of their pet. Some people come who are preparing for the loss and others come who have already experienced their loss.
  10. If you do not have a grief group in your area begin talking to others who have a heart like yours and begin a Pet Loss Grief Group. Research, find and talk to others who have begun a group, gather information and form a group. You will honor your pet and you will touch the lives of others who are grieving.

Many times a person will say, “Never again. I will not have another pet.” I never answer this. They may or may not, but at that point this is a real feeling and there is no right or wrong. Once the person has worked through their grief this may change. My only counsel is not to think in terms of getting another dog just like “Marley.” Some people, in their grief, may run out and buy two or three dogs to fill that void inside. Because I did this one time, I do try to guide this if possible. However, the person needs to do what is right for them.

“How do I know when it is time?” I don’t know how to answer that, because your situation is unique. But if you have read this you will have more information to help you make an informed decision. Deciding what to do is agonizing. Actually deciding the how leaves you feeling guilty. You can’t explain your decision to “Marley,” so you feel like a murderer. And when it is “that time,” you hope “Marley,” or God, or yourself, will forgive you. Hopefully you will know it was for “Marley’s” best and that your decision, as painful as it was, it truly was for him/her.

It is normal for owners, in this situation, to feel they are doing something “TO” their beloved pet. If that thinking can be shifted to knowing you are doing something “FOR” your beloved pet the guilt will be minimized, leaving you to deal with the pain of your loss. Remember again, your pet has to trust you to make these decisions for him. You have to protect him from further sickness, further pain, and further suffering. When we took him/her into our home, our family, and our hearts, this was part of the unwritten contract.  To make this end-of-life decision is not a nefarious act. As excruciating as this is for any of us, you are doing the most loving and unselfish thing you can do. Making this decision is to give the ultimate gift of love to end your beloved pet’s deterioration and suffering. As you have been faithful to each other for all these years, you are being faithful this one last time.

I would like to write about after the death of “Marley.” It would take another paper the length of this one. I will say this, I do not believe that love ends. I believe as Billy Graham said, “God will provide our every need in heaven. If God knows our “Marley” is needed for us to be complete in heaven, then “Marley” will be in heaven.” I believe this is included in that “hope,” which is the seventh stage in the grief process.

Someone asked God, “Why did you create the dog?” God said, “I didn’t. I already had one.”

God bless.




 As much as we love our dog/s barking can be a source of irritation for us. Many owners are embarrassed when a neighbor calls Animal Control to complain about Fido’s barking. Owners go to the door and shout, “Shut up.” Some use spray bottles or hoses to spray the dog in the face. Others roll up a newspaper and smack Fido on the butt. Some use the extreme (which I consider both unnecessary and abuse), the E-collar or Shock collar.  The only things these efforts accomplish are, 1. You instill fear in Fido. 2. Causing Fido to distrust, 3. Perhaps, instilling fear aggression in Fido, 4. Your possibly causing Fido to become reactive to newspapers. Anytime one applies punishment there are unintended consequences. There is a better way.

 I will illustrate what you can accomplish. I have a Great Pyrenees. Barking is a part of the Pyrenees DNA. He lays in the back yard and barks at everything that moves. His job is to keep the coyotes away from the sheep (us). He takes this job very seriously and I love him for it. His barking is to summon everyone, “I think you need to come and check this out.”  Now, I don’t want to stop his barking. What I want to do is let him bark on my terms. Here is how I did that.

As I explain this process, remember, I am a clicker (marker) trainer. When I click to mark the behavior I want, it is always followed by at least one treat. Having our clicker ready we also have treats in a pouch around our waist to hold the treats. You can use a bowl to place your treats in. To mark the wanted behavior I “click and treat.” I will use “C/T” to indicate this.

The first thing I needed to do was put “bark” on cue. Here is how I did that. Remember, Dexter does not know what the word “bark” means. So I need to capture that “bark” and C/T that behavior. I set up my training time. No phone calls or other distractions. I needed to focus on Dexter. When he barked, I would C/T. Dexter knows the clicker so for me he responded quickly. “Bark,” C/T. With a couple of times of this order Dexter would bark, look at me, C/T. Be sure you are clicking the bark. If your timing is off, you will click the head turn and that will confuse both Fido and you. When he barks, C, you would then treat if he turns his head. What you want to mark is the bark.

Once Dexter was barking intentionally, I changed what I was doing. Now it was time to set my training to 2 or 3 minutes. I would count out my treats, 20 or 30 treats accordingly. This way I knew Dexter’s rate of barks. When I felt comfortable that he was barking, C/T 8 to 10 times a minute it was time for me to introduce my cue, “Bark.” As Dexter would bark, I timed the word “bark” with his bark. In the next session (2 to 3 minutes) I would say “bark” with his bark, but I would then switch and say “bark” just before his bark. I would do this in a couple of sessions until I could back the word “bark” to before his “bark” and him bark in response to my cue. Now, I can say, “bark” and he barks. He doesn’t bark if I don’t say, “bark.”

I want you to understand, this is only in the training session. Outside of the training session he can still, and will, bark as he needs to bark. Be sure and not correct or punish him for this or you will poison your efforts. You have a goal here, do not get ahead of the process.

Now, you are going to ratchet things up. In your training session you will cue Fido to bark, C/T. You wait a couple of seconds (no more), if Fido barks you do not C/T. What you do is immediately cue Fido to bark. He will and you C/T. You do this for a couple of sessions until Fido understands that you want him to bark on your cue, but not when you do not cue him. This  process will not take long. He will understand.

Here is another point. When Fido barks, without your giving the cue do not say, “No,” or “uh, uh.”  We call those a “no reward marker.” Just don’t say anything. Also, if you get frustrated because things are not going the way you want, then stop. You will only make Fido frustrated and he will shut down. However, don’t just walk away leaving Fido to wonder what he did wrong. End EVERY session on a success, even if you hold your hand down, say touch, he touches your hand with his nose, C/T. At the end of EVERY session, put your hands in front of you and say, “finished,” then toss some treats on the floor. This way, you ALWAYS end on success, and with something wonderful. Fido will always anticipate you getting the clicker out for another session.

Now you have “bark” on cue. The goal of this exercise is the second part. Quiet. Again, set up your training session, 2 to 3 minutes. Have your clicker and treats ready. With Dexter, he knew we were training, so he would sit in front of me. I cued him to bark, then I waited after the bark, one thousand one, C/T. Cue him to bark, one thousand two, C/T. I keep extending the time AFTER the bark until I can count, one thousand five, C/T. When I could have Dexter bark, quiet to one thousand five 8 times a minute, it was time to introduce the cue, “quiet.”

I would cue Dexter to bark, then he would be quiet, I would count to one thousand four, say, “quiet” C/T. I wanted to move this forward until Dexter would bark, I could say, “quiet” and he would not bark again until or unless I cued him to do so. Now I want to ping pong bark and quiet. Sometimes I would want to really reinforce Dexter by giving 3 or 4 treats. Not every time, but once in a while. You do not have to limit yourself to just one treat following the click. Just be sure you are clicking one time as a mark. Also, when you cue, you give the cue ONE time. Let Fido process your cue. If he can’t do that, then you introduced the cue too early. Always end your session on a success.

You will want to train in a different room, outside, so Fido can generalize his bark/quiet behavior. When Dexter had this down I will let him bark 2 or 3 times at something, then I will say, “Good bark Dexter, now quiet.” And guess what, he quits barking and usually turns to walk with me. I had a guest in my home not long ago. We were sitting at the kitchen table, and Dexter was barking at something. It was summer and the sliding door was open, so I called out to Dexter, “quiieet,” Dexter stopped barking and my friend said, “No way.” So you can begin adding distance when you cue.

Early in Dexter’s training for bark/quiet, if he did not stop barking I would take a few steps toward him to close the distance, cue him again, and usually he responded. Never close the distance in a threatening way. If you are frustrated just go calmly and quietly, take Fido’s collar and walk him away from his interest. He will usually stop barking as you walk away. Now tell him, “Good quiet” and reward him.

I also want you to understand in teaching Fido quiet, you are not C/Ting him for not barking. You are C/Ting his quiet. We are teaching Fido two distinctive behaviors, bark and quiet. I do not C/T Fido for not doing something. So it is not that Fido is not barking, but that he is being quiet. This distinction is important for your thinking and avoiding Fido becoming frustrated and confused.

One last thing. When you are cuing Fido, do so in a calm, controlled voice. Louder is not better. Fido is not deaf (although you will at times think he is). Do not repeat the cue. “Fido, quiet—quiet—quiet.” Or, “Fido, quiet—-QUIet—QUIET!” If Fido is not responding there are three reasons, 1. You introduced the cue too early, 2. The value of your reinforcement is not high enough, 3. The rate of reinforcement is not often enough. You may need to go back to establishing the behavior with no words, just Behavior, C/T.

Fido is not being “stubborn.” Dogs do not know “stubborn.” They know when they are confused. They know when they are conflicted. When Fido is confused or conflicted, that is my not being clear.

You goal, in this exercise, is to teach Fido quiet. To do that we put its counterpart “bark” on cue so we can then put “quiet” on cue.

Here is just one valuable time this can be used. A lady is taking her dog for a walk. There is a man approaching and you have feelings of being uncomfortable. You can cue Fido to bark. This will usually deter someone with whom you are not comfortable. You now have a safety feature in walking Fido.

Have fun training because you are strengthening your relationship with Fido in the process.