Review Category : Tracie Korol

What’s in a name?

By Tracie Korol

The first three dogs I met when I moved to South Carolina were all named Rebel.

I thought it was one of those arcane state laws I had heard about. Then I met two Dixies and four Beaus in a row. Years and many more Beaus, Rebels and Dixies later, I concede it’s a regional thing.

People choose names for all sorts of reasons. Some want to honor their heritage, hence the preponderance of Southern-related dog names locally. Some choose to honor a favorite celebrity — Reba, Tupac, Harpo (that’s Oprah backwards). Others choose names that spotlight a particular physical or character trait. For example, I had a Cardigan corgi friend at kennel, black with a white spot on his forehead, whose name was Domino, Dom for short.

Many dogs have three names. The first is their official name, which is the name that is registered with the kennel club and appears on their pedigree certificate. These are usually marvelously pompous and/or meaningless, such as Temujin Persia’s Pride, my first registered cocker spaniel. The American Kennel Club gives you 28 letters to come up with this formal title.

The dog’s second name is their “call name.” After all, you really don’t want to be standing out in your backyard yelling, Remasia Vindebon of Torwood, come! The dog’s call name becomes its own unique and solely owned name and which is the one that we actually use when we talk to them.  Temujin’s call name was Khan. (Temujin was Genghis Khan’s given name.)

All of my dogs also have had a group name, which for me is “Doggies”. This is their alternate name, thus when I yell “Doggies come!” I expect all of my dogs within earshot to appear at a run. A neighbor, who only has female dogs, uses the word “Girls,” while another with male dogs uses the group name, “Troops”.

Then there are the nicknames, the names that seem to grow naturally from affection or convenience. My Lab came with the name Tucker; I never thought it suited him. He felt more like a Rooney to me.  Then, due to his overall sense of calm, he became Buddha Dog which later was shortened to Boo. He answered to all four with equal enthusiasm. I always ask for nicknames for my boarding guests as it can immediately warm up a new relationship.

In choosing a name, try to pick something that comes easily to your lips. Choose a name that will honor your Best Friend as all words have power and meaning. If you have a sense of humor, try to pick a name that will not embarrass you, let alone your dog. Hooter is a good dog name in theory, but embarrassing if you have to roam the neighborhood calling for him post-escape. Allow children name in-put within reason; 11-year old boys can curse a dog for life with what they think is a riotously funny scatological moniker or conversely, a precious 3-year-old can sentence a dog to terminal cuteness. I know a strapping 100-pound male chocolate lab named Fluffy.

Try to select a name that is not easily confused with a command. Such as Beau and No, Stay and Ray, Kitt and Sit. Dogs cue on one syllable. That’s why commands are sort and delivered deliberately.  While names like Costello, Washington and Trismegistus are very cool, know that the dog is only hearing the sound with the hard consonant — Tell…, Ton… and Triz…. Some names are very popular, like all the Southern affectations, but it can cause confusion if you are in a park or place where there are multiple dogs with the same name. Choose something unique to your Friend’s temperament, appearance or personality, or the opposite; Hoover, the dog dedicated to floor food, is one of my favorites.

If you rescue or take on an older dog, there is no problem in changing his name. Often, changing a dog’s name will help separate his association with a dark early life and the new, happy life in his forever home. He will quickly learn to respond to it if used in the correct way.

But whatever name you select make sure you can say it with a smile  — it should reflect the relationship you have with your dog and be a special communication between you and your Best Friend. A name should be enjoyed.

Next week: How to use a name correctly.

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What the dog got for Christmas

By Tracie Korol

It wasn’t so very long ago that the phrase “a dog’s life” meant sleeping outside, enduring the elements, living with aches, and sitting by the dinner table, waiting for a few scraps to land on the floor. Today’s dog has it much better. APPMA (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association) reports that 42% of dogs now sleep in the same bed as their owners, up from 34% in 1998. Half of all dog owners say they consider their pet’s comfort when buying a car, and almost a third buy gifts for their dogs’ birthdays.

In fact, Americans now spend $54 billion a year on their pets — more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world. That’s double the amount shelled out on pets a mere decade ago. Pet owners are becoming increasingly demanding consumers who won’t put up with substandard products, un-stimulating environments, or shabby service for their animals.

Additionally, the rising status of pets started an unprecedented wave of entrepreneurship in an industry once epitomized by felt mice and rubber balls. There are now $430 indoor potties, $30-an-ounce perfume, and $225 trench coats–let alone the diamond-studded accessories for a celebrity’s dog — aimed solely at four-footed consumers and their wallet-toting humans. Thanks to passionate purchasers like that, the quality gap between two-legged and four-legged mammals is rapidly disappearing in such industries as food, clothing, health care, and services.

But what does all that bling mean to your dog? Absolutely nothing. Unless your dog is completely different from the thousands of dogs I’ve known, a plain old stick from the yard can be worthy of an hours’ attention and licking out your yogurt cup is epicurean nirvana. I know many dogs that will eschew the fancy, faux fur, orthopedically crafted, heated pet bed for a heap of the owners’ dirty laundry.

What your dog is looking for is attention from you: you throw the stick, you hold the yogurt cup and it’s your smell the dog is soaking up on the pile of your clothes.  This year, instead of spending money on doggie junk, give your Best Friend the gift of you. It doesn’t have to be much; dogs aren’t greedy, plus, they can’t tell time. Twenty undistracted minutes a day is all your dog needs. Mind you, that’s in addition to the utility time for potty walks, or the ride-along time you spend in the car when you pick up the kids. Twenty minutes of you-on-dog quality time.  Play ball (or stick) together, give him a comprehensive full-body rub, teach him a new trick or just sit quietly together and appreciate the end of the day. It doesn’t matter all that much to your dog, just as long as it’s with you.

But, if it doesn’t feel right that Murphy doesn’t have a package under the tree Christmas morning, consider getting a present that will last. In lieu of buying another, impossibly cute, $10 stuffed toy your dog will disembowel in a New York minute, spend the allotted gift money on a present that has practical use and meaning.  Honor your dog with a handsome leather collar with a sturdy buckle. Rivet on an engraved ID tag. Junk the stupid plastic retractable leash-y thing and get a good leather lead, (they’re called leads for a reason) one that feels good in your hand, doesn’t twist into knots and gets better looking with age. It will last the lifetime of your dog and beyond. I’ve had mine for 30 years and seven dogs.

Your dog will appreciate a heavy, stainless steel bowl with a rubber grip that he doesn’t have to chase all over the kitchen floor. He’ll appreciate a travel crate — his own special, safe seat for car rides. He’ll appreciate if you buy yourself a good dog book — “Dog Sense” by John Bradshaw, is a good place to start — so you will understand what he’s thinking and why he does what he does. And, I’d like to think that he’d very much appreciate it if you donated the money you saved on doo-dads to a local animal welfare organization for one of the brother-dogs that has not been quite so fortunate.

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Ten reasons to be thankful for your dog

By Tracie Korol

We just came through the Day of Gratitude around a groaning dining table and we declared gratefulness for friends, family and the beautiful day.  How many of us reserved a few moments to consider the many reasons to feel thankful for our Best Friends. Next time you’re giving thanks, remember to honor the ones who don’t judge but actually love, the ones that live with you without rules and expectations, the ones that will always give you unconditional loyalty.

Here are some of MY reasons to be thankful for dogs:

10. No matter what food product drops on the floor, a Best Friend will hoover it up before actually considering what it is.  Once it’s on the floor, anything is food. A dog is the finest accessory to child-rearing: they’ll catch the highchair spillover before it hits the floor, clean up messy baby splooges and always be available to assist with messy faces and fingers. They’ll catch the crumbs you can’t even see.

9. When you’re down and out with the flu, hacking and snotting and leaving a trail of bacteria wherever you go, and your family and friends will not come near you, your dog will ever be at your side. He’ll be your mobile heating pad, curled against your aching back, he’ll shuffle along with you when you get another cup of tea and he’ll keep his head near your hand in case you need some reassurance that you’ll live to see the next day.

8. Your dog will bark like mad when someone pulls in the drive or a stranger comes to the door. It’s nice to have a feeling of security.

7. If not for our dogs, many of us would never get off the couch. Every day at the same time our Best Friends give us The Look, that persistent stare that means “Let’s go for a walk!!! Huh?Huh?Huh?”  That walk is your dog’s connection to the world, and yours, too. Think about all the nice people you’ve met, the early evening sunset you would otherwise have missed if you weren’t on the road, as well as the extra pounds you did not gain because you and your Best Friend moved your tails.

6. A dog’s loyalty cannot be measured. They are willing to revel in the glory or keep quiet and take the blame. They will not smirk when you’re naked, laugh at your singing or gossip to the neighbor dogs about your episodes of questionable behavior. They will never disclose who done it.

5. Our dogs don’t care how many countries we’ve visited, what car we drive or what people we know. In their eyes, we’re number one all the time. It’s a tall order to always be on top but their devotion is a great reminder of our jobs to make sure we provide them the best care, training and attention we can offer. “Be the person your dog thinks you are” is a great reminder of how special we are to them each and every day.

4. Our dogs know the value of sitting in a sunbeam. There are times we need to be reminded of that.

3. Dogs put things in perspective. Let’s face it, at some point in our lives with our pets something is going to get chewed, thrown up on or otherwise ruined. The best we can do is realize that the shoes, carpets and all the other things they get into are just objects. We’ll never love any of that stuff as much as we love our dogs and as impossible as it seems, we will get over having to throw out the really expensive, designer, prescription, chewed-up eyeglasses.

2. Dogs will make you smile when they run with abandon for no particular reason and to no particular destination.

1. And finally, every day we can wake up and watch our dogs embrace each new morning as if it is going to be grand. They don’t look back; they don’t worry about the future. They do not hold the past. They assume all is great. I try to learn from them because I think they Get It. I think they really know what it means to live each day as if it’s the only day, and live it to the fullest. I am so grateful for dogs. What great teachers they are.

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The last goodbye: Remembrances

By Tracie Korol

Our spiritual beliefs can play a part in how we process our pets’ passing. Those who practice a religious faith may turn to their church, temple, or synagogue or might seek out other religious and spiritual supports.

Humans have a fear of death; animals do not. Humans are also fear-based; animals are not. We tend to project our human emotions onto our dogs.

I believe that animals do not view the moving from one life form to another the in the same way we do. As a Reiki practitioner I look at an animal’s passing as it’s “transition”.  I also believe, even when they are physically gone, they don’t ever leave us.  There is a gypsy saying that if just one person remembers a loved one, that loved one is still alive in spirit.

If you are willing to look at death as a natural, profound and even beautiful part of life, it becomes easier for your animal to relax and either gets well or leaves peacefully.  I often counsel, when the time nears, to sit quietly with a Best Friend, listen as best you can, make peace with your animal friend, remember your life shared together, thank them for their time and devotion and finally, let them know that you are willing to let them go.

Selfishly, the day before Bea died I told her she couldn’t go, that I needed her and that it was too hard to see her fail. I put the burden on my friend to handle my feelings by requiring her to continue living.  The next day she told me she had to go. I took a picture of her at that moment. There is no mistaking the look in her eyes.  We spent time that last day in thanks, and love and with Reiki, I could ease her transition gently. While the loss of Bea’s physical presence was crushing, the connection to her spirit helps me put the whole process in perspective.  Her energy transitioned from a physical form that I was able to share for 17 years to one that I am now aware of, but just can’t see.

Memorializing our pets is a way to preserve memories and honor our canine friends plus, it helps to process our loss.  Rituals can focus, center, and calm us and convert something painful into something less painful. Ted Kerasote writes in his book, “Merle’s Door,” of the tribute paid by his entire community, to Merle, his amazing, yet run of the mill dog, upon his death.

Merle was sent on his journey in a Native American tradition but the list of remembrances for our personal pets can be endless. For instance: light candles, plant trees or flowers, write poetry or music in tribute and memory to your Best Friend. Create a memorial plaque: I still have the marker my son, then aged 9, made for Oblio, (the best cat ever) a testament to heart, creativity and amateur carpentry. It’s one of the most precious things I own. Create a special place in your home for ashes, photos, flowers, and mementos such as collars or favorite toys. Or, send a donation, in your pet’s name to an animal related cause.

Planning for and subsequently dealing with the loss of a canine companion is possibly one of the hardest, most painful situations we encounter. Preparing for the loss will be difficult, but might be the best decision you can make to help your friend transition peacefully and with honor.  Once he is gone and your pain is omnipresent, remember that with the gift of time, you will recover and the pain will go away. Wonderful memories will remain.

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Turkeys and dogs CAN be friends

By Tracie Korol

The holiday season opens soon with all the rich foods, relatives, decorations and happy chaos. As we settle into the hustle, let’s remember our Best Friends appreciate happy, safe holidays, too.  When planning for the holiday season, consider the following:

Train, don’t complain: Our dogs don’t come pre-programmed; they rely on us to teach them acceptable behavior. Jumping up, stealing food, counter cruising, idiot barking and digging are all perfectly normal behaviors … to our dogs. Unfortunately, they are also behaviors that irritate owners. When holiday houseguests arrive, when there’s an excited energy in the air and when the household is completely off schedule it becomes the perfect time for our dogs to engage in unwanted activities.  Help remind your dog to remember what is expected of him by practicing and rewarding desired behaviors on a daily basis before the big day arrives. Even your old, well-trained been-around-forever dog will welcome the attention of a brush-up of basic skills.

The gift of management: In a perfect world our dogs would behave like those robot-dogs in the Hallmark specials.  However, in the real world we need to affect our management skills to out-think or pre-think our beloved pets. Use your dog tools — baby gates, tethers and x-pens are extremely useful in keeping Rooster out of the high-level distraction entertainment zones. Whenever possible, give your dog something to do rather than let him get creative and find something to do. Pre-gift your dog a stuffed Kong or a Buster Cube. Working a food puzzle or a chew is the dog equivalent of “sit and color”.

Cooking or catastrophe? On Thanksgiving Day + 1 where would you rather be — lounging on the couch with your dog, hitting the Black Friday sales, or at the vet’s office praying that your dog makes it to T-day + 2?  The best safety tip for Thanksgiving is: Keep Rooster out of kitchen! Not only will this prevent his unwanted interaction with highly desirable contraband, accidental injury from falling pots or knives but it also prevents you from tripping over him and finding yourself in the ER. Remember, dogs are not discriminating when it comes to yummy foods; they are happy to eat greasy turkey flavored baking string, napkins, toothpicks, shrink-wrap, pop up timers, roasting bags, skewers, tin foil and styrofoam plates. Plus, your vet is happy to fish it out of your Best Friend for a hefty fee. Push cooking gear to the rear of the counters and put up the trash cans before you sit down to dinner.

Leave the leftovers: While it’s nice to think we’re going to maintain a good diet through the holidays, the solution is not peeling off the turkey skin and handing it to the nearest dog. Rich, fatty foods will cause stomach problems ranging from simple upsets all over the carpet to pancreatitis, a serious condition often requiring hospitalization. At your holiday table, provide tiny bowls of kibble or baby carrots for guests, who might feel guilty in their own personal gluttony, to slip to the dog lurking under the table.

Respect each other: Avoid forcing your dog on non-dog people and do not let your guests force themselves on your dog. Some folks become very uneasy upon getting “haired up”, and conversely, some dogs do not care to serve as eye-poking-fodder for the curious grandchild. Set clear ground rules for how your dog is to be treated and if necessary, be prepared to remove your Best Friend if guests are unable or unwilling to follow them.  Watch your dog for signs that he’s uncomfortable—yawning, lip licking, turning away or actively trying to get to anywhere else. Keep an eye out for “the freeze”, a clear dog sign that someone is about to be bitten. If you know your dog has a fear or aggression issue, do everyone a favor and park him, with his Kong, in his crate, away from the action.

And, finally, be grateful. Your Best Friend provides companionship for your most mundane activities, cuddles when you’re blue, a warning bark for the noise in the night, a playmate and exercise partner and he doesn’t snicker when he sees you naked. That’s a really good friend.

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What’s with the hot spots?

By Tracie Korol

My neighbor dog, Miss S, currently has two hot spots. She was clear on Monday; by Wednesday afternoon she had a weeping, oozing wound on her right front leg and another on her flank. Her gooey messes might be pyotraumatic dermatitis, wet eczema or Staphyloccocus intermedius, but they are what we generally group under the heading of “hot spots”.

They are warm and swollen to the touch, certainly painful and often smell dreadful.  They can be triggered by bacteria, yeast, fungi, fleas, lawn-care products, irritating grooming products, anxiety, stress, boredom or as a reaction to having been recently vaccinated.  In many dogs hot spots mark the return of autumn.

Most vets will treat hot spots by shaving the area, washing with disinfectant soap or rinsing with a liquid antiseptic. They will often use astringents, hydrocortisone sprays, antibiotics and steroid injections or pills.  If the dog can’t leave the spot alone, she may be sentenced to the Cone of Shame, E-collar (the lampshade device) that prevents her from getting at the wound.  Any dog can get a hot spot, but our pets are especially prone given our humid climate.

Because hot spots tend to recur, holistic practitioners tend to look beyond the obvious symptoms to the underlying causes. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, my mentor and author of one of my favorite reference guides with the longest, most unmemorable title (“Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats”) maintains all skin problems stem from the same health problem. He maintains that skin disorders stem from: toxicity from poor-quality food, environmental pollutants or topically applied chemicals; routine unnecessary yearly vaccinations that induce immune disorders in susceptible animals; suppressed disease (conditions that have never been cured that reappear as periodic skin discharge); or psychological factors such as stress, boredom, frustration, irritability.  Miss S is morbidly obese, eats garbage kibble and is confined on the back porch 16 hours a day. I’d wager her hot spots are a trifecta of causality.

What’s the cure?  Dr. Pitcairn says it’s all in the diet. I believe him.

He recommends a short fast followed by an improved diet, absent any processed grains, soy, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, flavors or synthetic vitamins.

The short fast (a couple of days, fresh clean water always available) will encourage the body to burn up fat deposits where it holds impurities. By the time your dog returns to a clean diet, her body will have already started the healing process. But what do you do in the meantime when your dog has a great, nasty owwy?

Despite a stellar diet, my Bea would routinely sprout a hot spot on her left hip every autumn. Before she could worry it into a full-scale drama, I would shave the area, wash it gently with an anti-bacterial soap, and apply tea tree oil diluted w/a neutral carrier oil.  Often by the next day her little wound would be scabbed over leaving her to sport a fur excavation site for the next three months.  Tea tree oil worked for The Bea.  As it is a bitter, smelly oil her only reward for worrying the site was the slobbery “get this off my tongue” reaction we’ve all seen. Tea tree is a powerful essential oil, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and used by Australian WWII troops to fend off trench foot in the South Pacific Theater.  It’s also known as melaleuca oil of MLM notoriety.

Herbal treatments such as powdered goldenseal, comfrey tea or chamomile compresses will soothe and dry the wounds. A couple of plain old black tea bags soaked in hot water, squeezed almost dry and left to cool can be applied directly to the hot spot for as long as your dog will allow.  The tannins in the tea will help dry out the wound plus the cooling compress AND your personal attention will be soothing.

Holistic philosophy says that organisms function as complete units that cannot be reduced to a sum of its parts.  If your dog gets a hot spot, certainly treat the “part”, but then look beyond the immediate emergency to find the source of the problem. With hot spots, as with other health issues, if the complete unit is healthy it follows that the parts will be healthy, too.

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Thanks for sharing

By Tracie Korol

Perhaps this scene has happened at your house: TinyDog, 7 pounds of orange fluff, grabs the meaty bone and drags it under the coffee table. BigDog, 75 pounds of mixed-breed approaches, eyeing the bone with intent. TinyDog lets out a dangerous growl much more ferocious than thought possible from something the size of a bedroom slipper. BigDog backs off and you chuckle at the little drama. We in the animal communication world refer to this behavior as “resource guarding”.

A dog that defends his food or a treat from other dogs is exhibiting completely normal and appropriate canine behavior.  In the wild, where food equals life, the dog who gives up his food is a goner.  Dogs usual subscribe to the “possession is nine-tenths of the law” philosophy, so it’s generally not worth the risk of injury to argue over a scrap of food or a bone.  It all works out in the end, pack-wise.

While resource guarding is acceptable and understood behavior, dog-to-dog, it is far less acceptable when it’s directed at us.  For our own safety we want dogs to understand that everything they have is really ours.  I call it the “I have thumbs (and you don’t)” principle.  But dogs are confused by our ignorance of the “nine-tenths” rule. Nice guys that they are, they’ll accede possession to their owners without fuss, most of the time. But, every now and again, our Best Friend may aggressively assert ownership rights to a precious toy, a tasty treat or a bowl of food.  Then we have a problem.

Generalized food guarding is the most common manifestation and often the most dangerous as it’s almost impossible to control the presence of food in a dog’s environment. No matter how diligent you are, your dog will find the half-cookie between the couch cushions, the desiccated chicken bone on the street or the kitty deposit under the shrubbery. We’ve all yelled, “drop it! dropitdropitdropit!” while the dog clamps down even tighter, plants his feet and shoots you The Look. When this happens it’s obvious he is not comfortable with you in his “space”.

Here are some levels of guarding behavior to watch for:

Level One: Ideally when you approach your dog’s bowl, he’ll stop eating, wag a bit and lean in to greet you.  He’s letting you know he does not perceive you as a threat to his dinner, or if he does, he doesn’t care. He’d be happy to share.

Level Two: A slightly less perfect reaction to the same scenario is that Dog looks at you, wags, and continues to eat.

Level Three: If Dog is a little uncomfortable about your distance from his food, he’ll tense his body. He may still wag. Watch the speed of the wag, though. If the speed of the wag increases as you get closer, paired with the tension in his body, he is communicating your presence is making him uncomfortable.

Level Four: As his discomfort escalates, so does his body language and behavior.  At this level you’ll see a glare (The Look) or the whale eye, perhaps a bit of a snarl, or a low growl. He’ll start eating faster to prevent you from getting any of his food.

Level Five:  If the food is portable, he’ll carry it away from you — under a table, into his crate — and growl at you from there.  If he can’t pick it up, he may nudge it away from you if you continue to approach.

Level Six: A serious food-guarder is liable to put some teeth into play at this point. A snap is the next step. No contact with flesh, but a blatant message of “don’t touch my stuff!”.

Level Seven: Here’s where the threat to your safety, or the safety of a passing child, becomes deadly serious. This may be the actual break-the-skin bite. Contact is hard and fast and pretty scary. It may also consist of a series of bites up the transgressor’s arm.  In kennel, I learned this lesson the absolute hardest way when I attempted to remove a wastebasket full of old dog food from the attentions of a determined, (intact, I might add), Tervuren. There is absolutely no warning and, man, does it hurt.

Level Eight: Severe food guarding can be triggered at a distance. At this level, even a person’s presence on the other side of the room can escalate very quickly.

Rehabilitating a guarder can take a huge commitment of time, resources and emotion. I applaud responsible dog owners who are willing to make the commitment required and I cheer when I receive reports from those who have been successful in getting their dogs to share.

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Marketing tricks that will cost you, and your dog

By Tracie Korol

I recently took part in the National Canine Health Symposium that featured the best and brightest in the world of integrative veterinary medicine — vets, nutritionists and behaviorists. The keynote address was by pet food blogger and editor-at-large of Dogs Naturally magazine, Rodney Habib. The topic? How marketing hype is killing our pets.

Having owned a marketing and design firm in the Midwest for the first 22 years of my professional life, I know first-hand that what you see, hear and read, when it comes to what you want to purchase, is not necessarily the truth. Rodney was telling a story I understand all too well.

A trip down the pet food aisle these days will boggle the mind with all the wonderful claims made by manufacturers for their particular products. But what’s the truth behind all this marvelous hype? You might be very surprised.

Niche claims. Today, if you have tiny dog, a canine athlete, a fat dog, or a pet with a tender tummy or itchy feet, you can find a food “designed” just for your pet’s personal needs. Niche marketing arrived in a big way in the pet food industry when the wonders of a “science” diet began to appear in all brands. Humans like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product called “dog food.”  But the reality is that there are only two nutritional standards against which all pet foods are measured — adult and growth/gestation/lactation.  Everything else is marketing.

“Natural” or “Organic” claims. The definition of “natural” adopted by AAFCO (Association Of American Feed Control Officials) is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural. The term “organic,” on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition. However, some companies are adept at evading the intent of these rules. If 10% of the very last product on the ingredient list happens to be organic, then legally it’s okay to print that on the bag even when everything else is chemical-laden, GMO fright food. Also, the name of the company or product may be intentionally misleading. For instance, some companies use terms like “Nature” or “Natural” or linguistic derivatives like “Naturo” in the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definition of what is truly natural.

Ingredient quality claims. A lot of pet foods claim they contain “human grade” ingredients. This is a completely meaningless term — which is why the pet food companies get away with using it. The same applies to “USDA inspected” or similar phrases. The implication is that the food is made using ingredients that are passed by the USDA for human consumption, but there are many ways around this. For instance, a facility might be USDA-inspected during the day, but the pet food is made at night after the inspector goes home. The use of such terms should be viewed as a “Hype Alert.”

“Meat is the first ingredient” claim. A claim that a named meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) is the #1 ingredient is generally seen for dry food. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight, and raw chicken weighs a lot since it contains a lot of water. If you look further down the list, you’re likely to see ingredients such as chicken or poultry by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other high-protein meal. Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight protein powder. It doesn’t take much raw chicken to weigh more than a great big pile of this powder, so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little “chicken.” This has become a very popular marketing gimmick. Since just about everybody is now using it, any meaning it may have had is so watered-down that you may just as well ignore it.

Special ingredient claims. Many high-end pet foods today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are miniscule because real fruits, herbs and vegetables are expensive. The items that make it into the bag are usually scraps and rejects from processors of human foods — certainly not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to imagine. Such ingredients don’t provide a significant health benefit and are really a marketing gimmick. You’d be much better served chucking a hunk of broccoli than purchasing kibble that has colorful pictures of vegetables on the bag.  Every dog knows the orange triangles in his kibble aren’t carrots, but owners are not that smart.

Pet food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated recently. It’s important to know what is hype and what is real, so you can make informed decisions about what to feed your pets.

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How Fido feels about Halloween

By Tracie Korol

When my son was tiny, Halloween was a perplexing time when grown-ups decorated with squash, when Mom fussed around making something in the basement and shortly thereafter fussed around dressing him up in bunchy strange clothes. Then, one night, for no reason, Mom stuffed him into the bunchy clothes and took him to the neighboring houses wherein the inhabitants gave him candy. What a great idea! Why aren’t we doing this every day?

Later, as he grew older Halloween became a time of shared conspiracy in creating the perfect costume, competing with friends for the weirdest and coolest, testing a mother’s creativity and facility with foam rubber.  Our neighborhood decorated and dressed for Trick or Treat night with costumed parents accompanying their costumed kids. The Halloween frenzy grew to the point where the neighborhood dogs were hobbling around wearing buns, skirts and wings.  Our dog, Dave, who had a look of benign misery most of the time anyway, looked more despondent than usual on Halloween night and all we did was gel his topknot to look punk.

To costume a dog is to deny his essential dogness.  Deep within your dog’s chromosomes is the inherent sense of wolf behavior. In a wolf community, one animal may “stand over” another, placing his body on or close to another as a communication, a scolding.  To a dog, the experience of being bound into a Yoda suit does not elicit festivity, more, the uncomfortable feeling of being “ranked”.  Notice when you dress up a dog they freeze in place as if they are being dominated. Also notice that is only a matter of moments until Best Friend begins to dislodge the garment by pawing, shaking, dragging or rolling in something foul so as to necessitate removal of the bumble bee hat.

Dogs are extremely good sports. They will do just about anything to please their humans. Some maintain that Binky LOVES dressing up. But think about it. Does Binky really enjoy the sensation of a balloon glued to his nether parts, horns strapped around his head and a bell around his neck that clanks with every vibration? Probably not.  Even when the costume is not as extreme — say, wedging a dachshund into a bun, or a Maltese into fairy wings — is the perceived joy you see in the dog a result of the costume or the result of the liver treats you use to bribe him to hold still for pictures or the high-pitched “you’re-so-cute-oh-yes-you-are!!” that accompanies the reveal.  A dog works on the What’s In It For Me principle. Loads of snacks and attention? Sure, I’ll feel bunchy and uncomfortable — for about a minute.

Here’s another way of looking at what your costumed dog may feel.  What if, one day, when you arrived at work, your boss announced, “Today is Underwear Day! Strip down to your skivvies!”. Um. How awkward is this? But, then your boss hands you a box of Godiva chocolates, tickets for the big game and your co-workers cheer and tell you you look great in your tighty-whities. Well, okay then. Maybe not so bad. I can do this for a day. Tomorrow is back to normal, right?

If you insist on dressing up your pet, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe.  It must not constrict movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe or bark.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t have dangly bits that he could trip over or chew off and swallow.  Make sure he can move freely without clunking into furniture or snagging on branches.  Make sure his outfit doesn’t make noise, tinkle, clank or rustle.  A white stripe down the back of a black dog masquerades him as a skunk, black stripes on an orange dog can masquerade him as a tiger or a little hair gel can turn your Bedlington into a camel.  All low-key efforts that will afford him his safety and his dignity.

Not unlike my son at age 2, your dog does not understand that Halloween is YOUR holiday, not his. Wearing a sweater in the winter keeps him warm; wearing something that makes him look like a banana or an armadillo is humiliating.

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Why get a dog?

By Tracie Korol

The decision to get a dog is not something to be taken lightly.  While the sweet face of a puppy can tug our heartstrings into an impulse buy, we need to know, up front, the significant investment of time and money that little charmer will require. Socializing and training a new puppy is time consuming and, occasionally, frustrating. Working to provide all that is necessary to successfully integrate a dog into a family environment can increase the amount of stress on the family and the dog,

This is especially true if the primary caregiver(s) are working outside the home and/or have young children, are themselves elderly or infirm, have an elderly parent, or other persons and pets to care for. This does not mean that it cannot be done. But, prospective dog owners often underestimate the investment of time, energy and money required. Making this decision impulsively can lead to frustration, disappointment, and possibly result in the surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue.

The first question you should ask yourself honestly is: Why do I (we) want a dog? Is your answer:

For my children: Trust me, this will be your dog.  After the honeymoon period the kids may play with the dog, occasionally.  Guaranteed, they will whine about dog-related responsibilities, doing them grudgingly, only after significant prodding from you. As children’s interests and activities change over the years, their level of involvement with the dog will most likely be inconsistent, at best.  Additionally, your children, especially, young children, will need to be trained in how to behave with the dog and will need to be supervised when with the dog.

For protection: The only time is it a good idea to get a dog for the purpose of protection is in professional or agricultural situations and only when the owner is humane and knowledgeable of dog behavior and dominant dog handling.  In all other situations an alarm system or security fence are much more appropriate and effective.

To breed puppies: The breeding of dogs is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  If it is not your intention to remain responsible for all of your puppies for their entire lives, including being willing to take back and care for those that may find themselves homeless, do not enter into this endeavor.  If you are planning on breeding for profit, understand that there are much easier, more profitable and more ethical ways to make a buck.  Dogs are living beings and dog breeding requires a significant investment of time, money, labor, knowledge, both academic and practical, patience, and emotional fortitude, to be done responsibly and humanely.  Visit the county shelter and witness the problem yourself.  Look at the faces of the homeless dogs and talk to the volunteers and staff who, all too often, must take that final walk with them.

Because BreedX is cool, was in a movie, is unique and exotic, is free or cheap: One of the worst reasons to get a dog is because of their physical appearance or popularity due to a movie or TV show.  Often, these venues feature exotic, rare or unique breeds that are, in the overwhelming majority of pet situations, unsuitable as companions.  Also, remember that a free dog is never free. When your friend, coworker or relative offers you one of Fluffy’s puppies think hard about the necessary investment over the next 16 years.

Dogs require significant financial, physical, time, and environmental resources.  Dogs are not the fulfillment of ANY fantasy.  The responsibilities are legion through all stages of dog-hood and continue on after you’re gone. How many dog owners, for instance, have a plan, in writing, for the dog in case of their disability or demise? Your dog should become your Best Friend, after all.  Make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons and for the best possible outcome.

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