House Rules (Part 1)

If we want our dogs to listen to us outside, they first need to listen to us inside. The reality is that the majority of our time with our dogs will be indoors so ensuring they have daily passive expectations to meet prepares them to meet expectations as distractions increase outdoors. Having rules that our dogs practice every day allows them to bolster the concept that their behavioral choices have consequences.

Every dog and human is different. Some dogs will leverage couch time with their human to justify their loss of all self regulation in the home. Other dogs will let it get to their heads and need incredibly timely consequences on the mildest infraction or increased severity of their punishments. Some dogs just enjoy the time but have absolutely no behavioral fallout. What is important is that we identify what privileges, affections, & rewards sets our dogs back behaviorally, what we want out of the relationship and what we are willing to do to facilitate that relationship as we balance our affection and accountability.

Here are some of the house rules we apply to every dog who has full access to our home.

Chewing: Every once in a while we have a dog around who chews on something they shouldn’t. We use the “Out” command for these instances. Then, supervision availability permitting, I will send them to place with something they can chew. Sometimes they just want the endorphin release caused by chewing and not replacing that desire leaves them unfulfilled and more likely to test those expectations again. There is a balance to showing our dogs we understand their needs while upholding boundaries within our home.

Human Furniture:

Griff & Genna on “their” couch.

1.) Furniture Policing. If a dog has broken any of my furniture rules, I simply pick up the leash, engage leash pressure, and tell them “off”. Patience and discomfort are the primary motivators for them to follow the leash tension. Prong collars are most beneficial for this follow-through. But slips and e-collars are a great option for families with little ones. As always, we don’t want ongoing pressure that could damage their windpipe. If on slip only, this is an appropriate time to switch to a transitional fit. If you have the time to let your dog test the boundary, feel free to let them. If you don’t, send them to place or the crate. Access to your home is like access to the club… no sneakers allowed.

2.). Furniture should be used as intended. No one(kids dogs or guests) sit on the back of the couch under any circumstance. Furniture is not a jungle gym or a bath tub. Our dogs should not be launching on and off of furniture during play. They shouldn’t be grooming themselves on it. The arm rest is for arms or maybe a head. Seats go in the seat.

3.) No eating or chewing bones on furniture. Shedding is plenty to clean up, let’s not add slobber to the mix.

4.). Just like taking a seat on a crowded bus, our dogs should for permission to join us on the couch or bed once we are already on it. This skill is especially helpful with guests. Permission looks like the interaction we get with our dogs for thresholds(calm, respectful eye contact). If they don’t ask permission and just jump up, the answer is always “off”.

5.) Your house your rules. Our dogs are allowed on the love seat shown above whenever no one else is using it. They aren’t allowed to use the fabric couch without a blanket on the section they are invited to. They are never on our bed since waking up and shaking out in the middle of the night wakes up the baby. That will likely change when our baby moves into her sisters room. Context is everything.

There is much more to cover but you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Aggressive Assumptions

Cerus 30 minutes after growling and baring teeth at lead trainer Bryan.

In a private bedroom in an oversized crate there is a dog who is highly reactive to men. When I crossed through the doorway, I was met with a growl, posturing, and teeth. Cerus would display these charming behaviors anytime a male would enter the room. Of course most male visitors who would see him in rescue would quickly leave his quarters after his not so warm welcome.. His behavior while appearing aggressive is not entirely indicative of an aggressive dog. Words are wind… and so are snarls, barks, and growls.. True aggression would involve seeking conflict absent a stressor and would persist regardless of my cool reaction. Ignoring his signals and forcing interaction would be a terrible mistake, but just as poor a mistake as leaving the room.

Cerus and many other reactive dogs, leverage posturing and threatening to create space from unwanted guests(canine or human alike). By granting them space in these moments, they learn that they can control their surroundings with this type of behavior. For Cerus, it is possible that his past owners allowed him to use this tactic to ward off men even in his own household and attempted to accommodate his dislike of men rather than understanding that he came from a place of fear and needed guidance to grow through his mistrust.

Rather than yielding space, I closed towards his crate and waited him out. Once he stopped and I opened his kennel door it became apparent that he was terrified of me as he backed into the corner of his crate. Underneath all of his bravado was an insecure dog hoping to avoid interacting with me at all. It is fair and expected that a dog can bite out of fear, so this change in demeanor does not reflect a massive shift in safety precautions that need to be taken by a professional, but it does reveal that Cerus was not seeking conflict.

Being highly food motivated we worked on his perception of me and got him out of his crate on a slip lead and started working on basic markers with rewards and setting boundaries with spacial pressure. We switched to a transitional slip to better protect his neck while increasing the discomfort of aversive leash pressure without escalating him. The slip will effectively provide valuable information to him at home and provides a soft introduction to leash pressure as a concept in a low stakes environment. We immediately launched into tons of eye contact drills and thresholds all in a span of 30 minutes. In the picture you can see him panting in a relaxed state with his ears tucked back in a receptive space and relaxed eyes. He was happy to be working for food and comfortable with the boundaries I was establishing for him.

Hiding behind the posturing and rough demeanor was a dog who is eager to work and engage. An incredibly trainable and teachable dog. It was patterns of behavior that worked for him which likely landed him out of a home in the first place and a breaking of those patterns that will put him back in another one.

I don’t share his story to garner pity for him, he will thrive in an environment that doesn’t carry his past forward. I don’t share his story because I want people to give dogs a million chances, not everyone is emotionally equipped to become the human and leader a dog like this needs to change. I definitely don’t share this so that you take a misguided attempt at addressing this type of reactivity at home, leave it to the professionals. Cerus is a cautionary tale that represents many dogs whose behaviors both severe or subtle are anthropomorphized and misread, misinterpreted, and mislabeled by people whose good intentions are exceeded by their lack of education and skill set. Unless you are a professional, guessing the why of your dog’s behavior and implementing the wrong behavioral strategy based off your assumption, emotional motivation, or a Google search, is often how dogs like Cerus develop the patterns that land them in the pound in the first place.

Establishing a new relationship

Too often I hear from clients the common mistakes were made out the gate. Prioritizing comfort, friendship, and fun. Yes, dog training should be fun, but like parenthood the goal is to be both someone who your child wants to go to for advice but also a disciplinarian. If you lean to far towards friendship, your advice can fall on deaf ears as it is undervalued. If you lean too far towards disciplinarian, your kids would never come to you for input, especially at risk of getting in trouble. Balanced dog training refers to this equilibrium owners and trainers aspire towards within their relationship with their dog. When you adopt a new dog it is a clean slate. A beautiful opportunity to slow things down and introduce your dog to your world slowly and piece-meal.

While often dogs were at some point kenneled in a shelter, it is not a race to get them as much comfort and access as possible when your bring them home. While often people anthropomorphize dogs, this is a strange example where many people don’t. If you did, imagine a stranger coming into your house and rubbing their muddy boots all over your couch. In no way is that a demonstration of how comfortable they are. They are either jerks or don’t get couches. With dogs, it is most certainly the latter but that’s why we don’t race into access without teaching our dogs how to handle access responsibly first.

The more space we grant our dogs, the more rules they need to understand. The simplest set of rules for our dogs are the crate which is why that is the first thing every trainer teaches a board and train dog. That is the first step you should take as well. The crate should very much be parallel to a child’s bedroom. It is a space away from all of the excitement to relax, reset, and rest. No one else should be going in it, no one else bothers your dog in the crate, there are very minimal expectations in there. The rules of the crate are, no barking, no whining, and no pawing at or chewing the crate(keep in mind we need to look for potty cues from puppies, always adjust to the dog in front of you). If they don’t love the crate day one, feed them all meals in the crate(this can evolve into crate training).

When outside the crate, there are a ton of rules to master. Things like the couch or the bed are complex. They should be asking permission to get on, respectfully get off as soon as asked, never bring toys up, never sit on the arms or back of the couch, never use it like a jungle gym. Rather than delving into such a gray territory up front, hold off on access to stuff like couches and beds until you can teach all of those nuanced rules. To keep them off you will want them wearing a drag-leash(any light weight leash that won’t hinder their movement around your home while it drags on the ground) any time you are awake and supervising them. If they aren’t used to the leash and decide they want to try to bite it or turn it into a game of tug, we highly recommend correcting them for that behavior with a technique that does not use the leash.

Slow and steady wins the race. Learning a new space can be overwhelming for a dog, don’t rush to teach them the complexity of your entire home day one, do one room a week. Keep things simple and straight forward(so don’t start with the kitchen).

When the Crate command is going really well, transition to using mealtime to focus on obedience commands. Tricks like giving paw provide no value when it comes to teaching your dog the rules of your home. Obedience commands on the other hand are what you can always fall back on when your dog makes a poor choice about something that is nuanced. We want to correct dogs for things that are incredibly black and white, like don’t chew the leash. We want to fall back to structure(switching from free access to an obedience command) when our dogs do things that are gray like bringing a toy on the couch. Saying “Out” and “Place” tells them to drop the toy and go to their bed. They lost access to the toy and to the couch. You can bring the toy back to them in place or put the toy away and invite them back on the couch. Having the toy is okay and being on the couch(with permission) is okay. It was the combination that didn’t work. We want our dogs to be apprehensive about biting the leash but not apprehensive about their toys or the couch. Understanding that obedience commands open the door to teaching our dogs how to navigate the nuanced rules of the world around them is one of the greatest keys to success for any dog owner.

Why have all of these crazy rules for your dog in the first place, it is your house so who cares? If you don’t want your dogs jumping on guests or crawling on the back of the couch while your relatives are on the couch, don’t start implementing rules that have never existed before when it is convenient. If you want your dogs to listen to you outside where there are so many unknowns, they should probably practice listening to you in an environment that is relatively simple. You spend far more time with your dog in your house than out, so that is the best time to give them complex expectations and show them that you are someone they should look to. Moreover, we want to balance our affection with our expectations. Participation Trophies are a tried and tested parenting technique and is equally effective with our dogs.

1. Use meal time to train your dog(starting with crate training and then obedience)
2. Attach a leash to your dog and supervise them whenever they leave the crate
3. Introduce your dog to one room a week during supervised time(kitchen last).
4. Its a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush that hike, super long walk, or socialization. Train first, then do the fun activities.

Choose your sacrifice

In the words of Jordan B Peterson, as we go through life we are presented with various opportunities and challenges that require sacrifice. He leverages the story of Peter Pan to remind us that we must all choose sacrifices along life’s journey in order to find success or choose nihilism. You do not become the world’s best brain surgeon by studying HVAC. Somewhere along the way you have to choose where to invest your time and what opportunities to forego through that decision.

One of my former managers along the way looked at me and said, “you are missing your calling”, after we talked about my part time dog training work and his personal dogs. He further clarified, you are a good underwriter but dog ownership is on the rise and it is rare for any one of us to have opportunity and passion align. I heard what he had to say but stuck with the conventional route and continued to pursue a career in insurance. Risk assessment and looking for subtle nuances that can indicate a bigger picture is interesting whether on paper or in working with a highly reactive dog.

It came time to choose my sacrifice. My wife had pretended to dispatch her little bother on a tricycle using walkie talkies as a young child and she had attained her dream career as a 911 dispatcher after years in early childhood education. To make things more complicated, we were having this baby in the middle of a global pandemic. I know a lot of people were forced to juggle parenthood and their careers during COVID 19 and were offered plenty of flexibility by corporate to accommodate those needs. The problem was, my wife works 12 hour shifts and there is no one besides her who I wanted to be a cornerstone in raising our baby, and I certainly wasn’t about to ask her to leave her dream career. Our daughter was suffering from silent reflux which included apnea in the early months. We didn’t know when that would go away and my wife’s insurance through the union was leagues better than what the insurance company was offering. I was going to have to choose my sacrifice, the quality of parenting I could offer my daughter(distracted with work throughout the day), sending her to childcare in the middle of a pandemic, ask my wife to leave her dream career, or abandon the career I spent thousands of dollars and years of my education dedicated towards.

The interesting thing about parenthood is how it shifts your perspective. I do not regret the critical thinking, analysis, and autonomous discipline I gained from college, but my daughter’s well being and my wife’s dreams were more valuable than the time and money I had already committed or even my pride. The reality is that time is our most valuable asset and the present is worth more than the past or future. I can’t control what has happened or what will happen, but I can control what I am doing now. I chose to be a full time Dad and build up our dog training business around fatherhood. I still work during naps once I have scrubbed the high chair and cleaned her bottles, and I still work late at night after cooking dinner and running the laundry, but I never have to compromise time with my daughter. It’s not conventional, but the conventional sacrifices simply weren’t for me.

Whether it is working on training your dog, developing your career, or trying to enrich the relationships in your life, it all starts with self-awareness and making mindful sacrifices. Know yourself and choose your sacrifice.

Are you ready for change?

We often get requests for addressing “that one thing” that they want to change about their dog. Sometimes it’s house breaking, other times it’s that pesky jumping on guests and everything in between, but the reality is that the root of those unwanted behaviors requires a bigger change than many people are prepared to make. Truth be told, if you are looking for a band-aid for that one issue, we would not be the trainer for you. Our goal is to address your underlying relationship with your dog which the misbehavior is a symptom of.

The bottom line question is, “Are you ready to commit to a lifestyle change to reset your relationship with your dog?”. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to become a leader who is worthy of being followed, and that is a much more complex task than teaching sit or stay. This type of change is more similar to the type of lifestyle change that people commit to when they get a personal trainer at the gym and a nutritionist. There isn’t a number of crunches that you will do in the gym that won’t get undone by the pizza you eat every night when you get home. It takes a ton of discipline and daily commitment to make yourself believable to your dog. Some of the toughest questions are:

  • Are you emotionally prepared to see your dog work through their challenges? When presented accountability and follow through after a relationship lacking those things, dogs respond with fight, flight, avoidance, or acceptance. The last one is often a result of patience and consistency. Dog training like therapy in that the results can be beautiful but they often start with tears and frustration.
  • Are you ready to reflect on your own efforts with honesty and accountability? Dog training is primarily built on patterns so a lack of follow-through and consistency are the biggest detriment to facilitating change. If you are a person who always feels like their is extenuating circumstances to the challenges in your life, consider this quote from Jim Rohn, “don’t wish things were easier, wish you were better”. There is always someone who came up with tougher circumstances than you and leveraged this mindset to create their own success.

What changes might you have to consider before you decide to train with The Knotty Dog. While every situation is different, here are some of the most common practices our clients implement.

  • Your dog will wear a leash whenever they are awake and you are home with them
  • Have structured meal time(this means no free feeding).
  • Your dog will need to ask permission to access furniture.
  • You will foster a relationship of calm with your dog rather than a relationship of excitement
  • You will no longer repeat your commands once your dog knows a command.

Additionally, depending on your situation, you should be ready to:

  • Have a ton of patience for your dog while they are learning.
  • Be willing to provide them leash guidance when they are confused.
  • Be willing to use tools like slip leads, prong collars, e-collars, and food responsibly.
  • Lead your dog through life rather than follow them.
  • Withhold undue affection or rewards.
  • Make the time to practice active training (IE obedience training)
  • Prioritize passive training whenever your dog is out of their crate (ie holding your dog to task on duration commands or following through any time you give a command even when it’s not convenient for you)
  • Hold your dog to the standard you know they are capable of (picking your battles is not an option).

As your relationship with your dog shifts and your dog earns your trust with different environments and situations, you can start to play with each of these items to see what sets your dog back behaviorally and what is less important to their long term success. In general, less is more, but since our dogs behaviors are driven by patterns, setting yourself up with the best ability for follow through and repetition is critical for creating long term change.

Holding Space

To be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone and make them your focus. During this time, it is important to manage judgment while you are present with them.

One of the many wonderful things dogs do for us is to hold space for us. They don’t understand what is wrong, but they can simply be there for us in this caring but otherwise neutral and judgment free way. It is one of the many reasons we feel such a deep connected bond to them.

When it comes to when our dogs having a hard time, many humans have failed to learn how to return the favor for our dogs the same way they do for us. We pet them, console them, provide affection, and unintentionally validate their worries. Like our dogs do for us, it is often better for us to acknowledge that we don’t understand why they are upset but are present, focused on them, and otherwise neutral. We may know that it is a trip to the vet, fireworks, or a thunderstorm that is upsetting them, but we are not worried, so by showing our dogs that we don’t understand their worry but support them is a really important way for us to teach them that there is nothing to worry about. It also sets them up to look at us as though we may in fact know a little something about what is worrisome and what is not. The dog across the street, not a problem, the chocolate we dropped on the ground… oh no!!!

When it gets right down to it, our dogs seem to know how to support us better than we know how to support them, but they are showing us how they would like us to do it, it’s just on us to master the skill of being present and being neutral. Next time your dog is nervous, skip the petting and try to find a more neutral approach and see how your dog responds… it may just be exactly what they need.

Flip the switch 💡

Who do you allow to influence your perspective, your decisions, and what do you accept as true? Who do we trust based on their credentials and when should we question that?

This morning there were three posts from 3 very different people who are influencers in my world, all of them challenging us to dig a little deeper into what we read. We are pleased to share their ideas with a quick summary. Each of these people are a great follow.

Who influences the people you trust? Just because someone is considered reputable doesn’t mean they aren’t fed misinformation from their sources.
Ryan Yamka of NoBL
Ryan points out in this post that it is difficult to provide an unbiased medical recommendation when veterinary groups house regular advertising space for groups like Hills. Imagine if your pediatrician had McDonalds ads… wouldn’t you question the sources of their nutritional advice?

How to know if someone reputable has allowed influencers to create an agenda to manipulate you as a consumer?
Nicci Decrisantis of Northpoint Pets

Nicci highlights how the term “science” can be misleading, even from reputable sources like the AVMA. She points out how the AVMA put out an article making bold claims about raw pet food and pathogens citing non-peer reviewed abstracts that did not share the AVMA conclusion or lacked the data to support the AVMA conclusion.

How are you manipulated into believing statements without checking citations or understanding how to be critical of the citations?
Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog
Sean warns people looking for dog trainers to watch out for things that play on your emotions. People who challenge balanced dog training with lines like “don’t train with pain” and “science has proven punishment is harmful to your dog and your relationship”. They describe their own training as “Modern Science Based Training”. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it doesn’t parallel your experiences in reality(ie consequence free fun is not why you don’t speed on the high way), chances are that behavior modification science was already vetted and there is no new science, just gimmicks. Sean puts endless balanced dog training videos of his before and after work and has written multiple books. His proof is transparent and self-evident. Just because someone says science based, doesn’t mean they are any more credible than the aforementioned AVMA article.

All of these ideas tie together. Who is influencing the people you trust? Are you equipped to look for proof behind bold statements? And are you ready to screen the ideas you are presented by common sense and the the first two questions?

Staying in the dark is a choice. Are you ready to flip the switch? 💡

Northpoint Nutritional News: FDA and DCM

Grain-Free Diets & Heart Disease Update

Nicci Decrisantis

NorthPoint Pets & Company

May 2019 – updated June 2019*

Before discussing the FDA investigation into a potential association between heart disease and grain-free foods it is important to put this issue into perspective:

Over half of American dogs are overweight1, diabetes rates are rising faster than we can measure and cancer is becoming more prevalent not just in the old, but in the young2. Also common are kidney disease3 and liver disease4 and dogs and cats experiencing more food and environmental sensitivities and allergies than we have ever seen5. Diet-mediated dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) has affected a relatively small number of dogs to date, approximately 500 out of approximately 77 million dogs in the United States – as of the latest FDA report*. While this is certainly a concern that warrants further investigation in a timely manner, it is not by any means an epidemic.

In examining the whole picture, we know that dogs and cats are not “healthy” – a reality that most of us either ignore or don’t believe to be true. Common problems like skin conditions, “dog smell”, and GI problems are not and should not be considered healthy; even though we’ve become to accept them as normal. Some of the reasoning behind “common” problems is because our pets are subjected to many variables over many generations and the consequences of such have impacted the overall wellbeing and susceptibility of varying types of disease. These variables include, but are not limited to: toxins and pollution in the air, water, soil and food supply, overuse of antibiotics and other medication, overvaccination, poor quality diet, poor breeding practices, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and radiation.

The good news is that just because an individual is “predisposed” to a particular disease does not mean that they are going to “get” that disease7 as the expression of these “bad genes” can be altered by a healthful diet and limiting exposure to toxins. – Alternatively, if dogs or cats are constantly exposed to various toxins, fed a diet lacking vital nutrition, moisture and meat protein, over-vaccinated, overmedicated and deprived of exercise and are obese much like how they have been for generations–they have a significant risk of developing the disease to which they are predisposed to. This new field of science, referred to as nutrigenomics, studies the nutrient impact on gene expression and nutritional influences on the Genome, Transcriptome, Proteome, and Metabolome and extract useful biological information on the data collected. This field has melded practices from Nutrition, Biology, Medicine, Genomics, and Bioinformation8.

Let’s imagine for a second that an individual was predisposed to heart disease, but they took care of themselves by consuming a diet rich in fresh foods, moderate fat, and sodium, avoided excess use of vaccinations, limited unnecessary medications, consumed clean water and exercised to maintain strong cardiac function – they would have a lesser chance of developing heart disease. For the sake of not oversimplifying this concept – a healthy lifestyle for us or our pets does not eliminate the risk of disease, but it does make our genes more resilient, or resistant to letting that disease develop or advance. In 2005, the Broad Institute began mapping the canine genome, which allows us to further explore what genetic markers are related to specific diseases. This mapping project will not only help us to identify targeted pharmaceutical and nutritional therapies that may help in treatment for prevention but also help to advance knowledge, treatment, and prevention of diseases for humans9.

Back in July of 2018 the FDA announced an investigation into grain-free dog foods potentially having a link to heart disease in dogs10. Specifically – Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) which is a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and is unable to adequately pump blood. As a result, this condition can ultimately lead to heart failure. This disease is known to occur in dogs and cats, at varying levels of severity and has more than one cause11. Further complicating matters DCM has causation that is likely multivariable such as genetics, environmental, nutritional, infections, dysbiosis, and even other unknown causes11,12. Further commentary articles, not research articles, from experts examining the issue seemed to state that there is no direct evidence showing causation between DCM and grain-free pet foods – and that it will take several years to determine what the issue or issues are. It is important to note – out of some dogs diagnosed with DCM, some improved after a diet change from one grain-free diet to another, and this finding, along with the differences identified between dogs fed various grain-free diets, suggested that DCM was not necessarily tied to the grain-free status of the diet13. In addition, many dogs diagnosed with DCM were initially thought to be taurine-deficient, instead, most whole blood and plasma taurine testing revealed that most dogs were within normal limits.

DCM is not a ‘new’ concern for dogs or cats, in fact, it has been around for a long time. In the 1970’s -1980’s DCM was prevalent in cats and it was eventually determined that this was due to low concentrations of taurine and animal protein within the commercialized foods14. Pet food companies responded by adding taurine through supplementation and additional meat protein which has since remedied the issue6. However, since dogs and cats are nutritionally different it is unlikely that adding taurine to any diet will be sufficient to solve the problem in dogs, especially since this issue is likely far more complex. Further complicating matters, the only definitive diagnosis for DCM is an echocardiogram, although 24-hour Holter monitoring for predisposed breeds can be very suggestive in most cases. Other methods of screening for potential cardiac disease are whole blood taurine, plasma taurine, auscultation, and chest x-ray it is important to understand that these methods are not reliable in the diagnosis of DCM.

We know that certain breeds are genetically predisposed to DCM and those include (but are not limited to) Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, Irish Wolfhounds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, English, and American Cocker Spaniels14,15. There is no cure for genetic DCM, and conventional veterinary treatment involves the use of diuretics, ACE inhibitors, antiarrhythmic, and other pharmaceutical agents to reduce stress on the cardiopulmonary system and kidneys to allow the body to tolerate the condition. Unfortunately, these options provide limited relief for a generally short period of time16.

DCM can also be closely related to diet – meaning that an individual’s susceptibility can be influenced by diet imbalance. Initially, the assumption with current DCM concerns was a lack of taurine in the diet for varying reasons. However, it was determined that this was likely not true for most cases and instead researchers are now considering a metabolic disorder preventing the body from utilizing taurine – while also keeping in mind that the issue may be something else entirely. Another theory is that one or more ingredients are interacting with others causing a blocking effect on taurine utilization. The truth is that researchers are unsure exactly what the mechanism behind this condition is6. Furthermore – there is no published, peer-reviewed research detailing any findings on this topic as of the date of this article.

In regards to the current issue; unfairly termed diet-mediated taurine deficient dilated cardiomyopathy – there are dogs that have been diagnosed with DCM who have been eating everything from grain-free, to grain-inclusive and even some homemade raw foods. Unlike cats, dogs are able to synthesize their own taurine from cysteine and methionine – which is why dogs eating diets high in grain or low in meat are generally not taurine deficient. While I am not in the position to publicly discuss brands at this time – some trends that have been noticed by those investigating the industry are as follows:

Dry foods that have a high carbohydrate content (grain or grain-free) which can be a problem for two reasons:

  • This can result in an inadequate amount of meat protein which may lead to an imbalance or not enough of various nutrients – in this case, there may not be enough taurine which is what is responsible for helping the heart to beat correctly. Too little taurine (taurine deficiency) can result in DCM.
  • Some plant-based proteins can cause malabsorption and inflammatory conditions in humans17. While insufficient research is available to suggest the same in pets, it is certainly a reasonable theory to explore.  More and more institutions are exploring the similarities in humans and canines9,18–20 – and while some still refute the similarities, the stark similarities in types and rates of disease are unquestionable. Logically, these similarities are not surprising considering that by and large humans eat a highly-processed diet full of chemicals, lack exercise, overuse medication, and live exposed to environmental toxins and pollutions – just like their pets.

Some experts are recommending adding taurine to pets’ diets regardless of what you feed6 – which is sound advice. Adding taurine can be as simple as purchasing a taurine supplement from a trusted source. In addition, since taurine naturally occurs in animal products – not grains –  adding items like chicken breast, beef or other animal heart, sardines, raw goat milk, and other animal products may be beneficial. Some grains do contain precursors to taurine – amino acids cysteine and methionine. Dogs can manufacture taurine from these amino acids. Cats are unable to manufacture their own taurine which is why the solutions are more complicated than they may seem.

Grains within pet food are not the problem per se. Most dogs are able to consume quality grains their entire lives without incident.  Absent from the discussion on grain-free vs. grain inclusive diets for people – and pets – is the contamination of grains with herbicides, pesticides, mycotoxins, and fertilizers. There are numerous peer-reviewed articles detailing the disruption many of these contaminants have on normal gut bacteria function21,22. We’re learning that disruption of vital gut bacteria balance can have devastating effects on the health of the host23,24. This very contamination is likely why many pets experienced improvement of various symptoms with the change from grain- inclusive to grain-free.

Pet food can be made of everything from rendered unfit foods for human consumption to ingredients that are 100% organic and probably better than the food we feed ourselves. I’m not necessarily here to split hairs on ingredients and in the types of ingredients that are in our pet’s food. Because is it these ingredients that are causing the problem? Or is it something else? – These are the questions that the experts seem to avoid entirely. When a dog experiences issues related to food we are quick as a society to turn over the bag and blame an ingredient or set of ingredients. However, those ingredients as listed are likely not the problem – rather the quality, processing, and contamination of these ingredients; something you will never find listed on a label.

Kibble is heated to high temps which creates a chemical change. A Maillard Reaction Product (MRP) is a name for a series of reactions that is the product of sugar (or carbohydrate) and protein when heated. These are also known as AGE’s or Advanced Glycated End Products. MRP’s responsible for nutrient loss and associated with diseases like diabetes25, cardiovascular disease25,26, kidney disease26, loss of cognitive function26,27, allergies28, periodontal disease29, and chronic inflammation30 – this can mean things like arthritis, skin and ear issues, an old injury that keeps resurfacing, bloating, IBS, etc. In addition, there is a large amount of research to suggest that they are carcinogenic and accelerate aging30,31.

Heterocyclic amines are MRPs from cooking protein that increases with elevated cooking temperature, and this phenomenon is more pronounced in meat than fish – and these increase with temperature and dryness of meat or meat products32.

Acrylamides are a chemical that forms naturally from starchy foods during high-temperature cooking. According to the European Food Safety Authority evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamides are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer. And since we know so little about animal nutrition is it possible that much of the disease we’re seeing – including DCM has at least something to do with the MRP’s that are in pet food?

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates go through irreversible denaturation with the heating process of making kibble. This very process can be responsible for a dog’s inability to tolerate certain foods in processed form, and for the incidence of certain diseases – but be able to tolerate and even thrive on fresh foods. We do not have enough research that fully explains what happens to food when it is processed beyond a recognizable state. Nor do we have enough epidemiological studies to understand the consequences of feeding processed food diets for generations. Unfortunately, what we do know is that DCM is not the only problem that will arise as a consequence of feeding a highly-processed diet – there will be more potentially more severe and prevalent conditions that will arise.

Please recognize that this does not mean that you must feed all fresh food – or all kibble. Theory always suggested that mixing fresh food and kibble would result in GI distress or cause problems over time. Fortunately, that theory no longer holds much weight. Rather, feeding vegetables and fruit that are high in antioxidants with kibble provide protective effects against MRP’s. In addition, feeding raw or cooked meat along with kibble provides amino acids, vitamins, and minerals in their most natural form. While research is in the works and isn’t yet published, researchers are finding that feeding raw and kibble together actually reduced inflammatory markers for certain diseases, when done properly. There is also a notable but non-peer reviewed case-study of a dog successfully fed fresh food and kibble which suggested that kibble may have digested at the same rate or slightly faster than raw33.

Regardless of what method you choose to feed – feeding fresh food does not only mean raw or cooked meat. Fresh food such as vegetables and fruit can provide some antioxidant protection against MRP’s, provide additional phytonutrients in their most natural form and improve digestive function. In addition, consumption of green, yellow and cruciferous vegetables reduces oxidative stress which can lead to lower incidence of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, promote liver detoxification, reduce inflammation and positively impact the function of the immune system34.

Keeping in mind that every animal is different, and that not any one diet or food is right for every animal – no feeding regimen will be successful for all pets. All diet changes and additions should always be introduced slowly and carefully. It is always helpful to keep a food journal that can help experts determine potential foods or feeding patterns that may be problematic.

*This article was updated as of June 2019 to reflect updated information per the latest FDA report:

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Happy Independence Day

As July 4th approaches, we receive a lot of questions about firework anxiety.  The reality is that there is so much to be concerned with around this time of year and while they are the tip of the iceberg, there is plenty to discuss in addition to fireworks.

With picnics and barbecues on the horizon there are quite a few things to think about.

First and foremost, we should pay attention to table scraps.  People who come into our homes don’t always know what dogs should and should not eat so be mindful of what people may try to feed your pup.  If your dog lacks training on impulse control or just tends to be opportunistic with company, be wary of corn on the cob as the cobs can create severe blockages if swallowed.  Additionally don’t forget that our fruit salads often include grapes and be especially careful when the chocolates come out for dessert!  If you want to have your dogs outside for the picnic, be sure to use a “place command” somewhere in the shade and in line of sight, and of course, leave water within reach for them.

Secondly there are the folks who casually leave open the front door or forget to latch or secure entranceways into your home.  In the days coming prior to the event, be sure to practice threshold exercises and try to fit in a structure walk the morning that you plan on having company or going out.  This will help your pups get into a working mindset prior to all of the excitement and will reinforce some safe boundaries, preventing your dog from bolting at the sight of an open door.

And to the firework finale… fireworks are a great litmus test for your dog.  Does your dog avoid the stress by hiding under furniture?  Do they pee on the floor?  Do they vocalize and their fur stands up?  Do they get destructive and chew on things they aren’t supposed to?  Do they come over to you for reinforcement?  Do they give you a quick glance, decide things are okay and move on? Or do they just ignore the fireworks outright?  As you know, learning to cope with stress and learning to manage our reactions to stress is a cornerstone of The Knotty Dog lifestyle for both human and canine alike.  The way that your dog reacts to lightning storms, fireworks, and other stressors tells a story and it is incredibly important to pay attention to their reaction.  What we learn in these moments as dog owners is what our pets need to focus most on as we consider what we need to practice when training.

Each reaction gives insight into training opportunities and sometimes can provide trends.  Take note and take action.  In the meantime, a great way to work through most firework anxiety is to pick up the leash, get into a structure walk and head over to a place command where they can focus on a duration command and work on finding comfort in their own skin.  Of course if your dog seems a little too tense and presents as dangerous, best to consult your trainer.

One last thought: remember not to reward anxious behavior.  Old habits die hard and what you pet is what you get!  Setting the tone for a calming environment can be as simple as turning on some music, diffusing some essential oils and providing your dog with a high value chew from your local feed store (such as a bully stick or raw bone) that will help you both enjoy this exciting time of the year.

Happy 4th!