Friday, September 23, 2016

Super Food: Nutritionally Balanced Training

A problem that small dog owners will run into during training is how to balance the amount of treats we're using with our dog's low caloric requirements.  I first realized this in a basic training class I took with Delilah.  Most of the other dogs were larger labs, goldens, and doodles, and a handful of treats to them wasn't a big deal, but for my 6 lbs terrier, that was more calories than she got in a single meal, and less nutritious than her kibble.  The problem was, I couldn't use her kibble in a high stress, distracting environment.  She just wouldn't work for it.  I came across this problem again and again, first in agility and then during behavior modification.  I started looking into alternatives to the typical training treat.


Value: Low- Moderate

At home I use Delilah's kibble for training rather than feeding it to her as a meal.  We do a lot of trick training and clicker training in the house with it.  I also use it as a reward (and sometimes a distraction) for basic obedience and impulse control exercises- such as having her wait on her "place" while I fill up her puzzle toys with kibble.  We also use it for mental stimulation games- her puzzle toys as I mentioned, hiding it in easter eggs around the house, tossing it around for her to chase and fine.

For dogs that are highly motivated by kibble, or for training in low distraction environments, it's really easy to just measure out how much food they eat every day and use it for training sessions instead of dumping it in a bowl.

Natural Balance Dog Food Rolls

Value: High

My trainer suggested this food in particular to me.  It's a semi moist roll of dog food that can be cut or crumbled into small pieces.  It's very smelly and palatable, making it a high value treat for Delilah.  But it's dry and safe to handle, unlike the raw food I use, so it's ideal for training in high distraction or stressful situations indoors, or when you just need to keep your hands clean.  It's completely nutritionally balanced and can be fed on its own as a meal, so your dog isn't getting empty calories and it can replace a meal if needed.  We specifically use it for counter conditioning in our house when we have guests over.  Delilah is very fearful of strangers and doesn't like anyone in the house who isn't me or my boyfriend.  We've had a lot of success using this food though.  My boyfriend's friend came over- Delilah hates him- but she was so engaged with training that he even commented about how well she was behaving.

OC Raw Dog Food

Value: High

I bought this on a whim at a local pet food store.  I was looking for raw food nuggets, and these were on sale.  Delilah LOVES them.  These are raw food nuggets, meant to be fed as the primary part of a dog's diet, so again no empty calories.  They've got great, wholesome ingredients- 90% meat, organ, and bone and 10% fruits and veggies.  Simple, healthy, and tasty.  Raw food in general is very high value for Delilah (and for most dogs).  The only issue I've had with these as treats is that they thaw very quickly, and when they do, they turn from nuggets to meat mush.  They get pretty messy.  I still use them for training outdoors- specifically for counter conditioning and obedience on hikes.  I'll even mix kibble in with them so when they melt they coat the kibble and I still have a solid piece of food to use as a treat.  I would never use them indoors though!

Nature's Variety Instinct Raw

Value: Moderate- High

I use two products from this company.  The Raw Boost Mixers are freeze dried nuggets that I feed dry as moderate value treats.  They are clean to handle, and healthy, but are only meant to supplement a diet, so shouldn't regularly replace a meal.

Instinct Raw Bites are another nutritionally balanced frozen raw food I use for a high value reward.  They have the benefit of retaining their nugget form as they thaw, rather than turning into ground mush like the OC Raw.  I still only use them outdoors or in areas where a little bit of a mess isn't going to be a big deal like at our training facility.  They also have a slightly different ratio than OC- 95% meat, organ, and bone and 5% fruits and veggies.


Value: Moderate- High

In addition to treats, I use play in training whenever I can to cut down on calories and also keep Delilah engaged and excited about training.  It becomes a game to her.  I use tugs and tennis balls for agility training, and a game of fetch can become a training session when I ask her to perform behaviors before throwing the toy.

What about you?  How do you balance training with your pup's diet?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Portraits with Mia

Six years ago yesterday I had these pictures taken with Mia.  They were for my high school senior picture.  I didn't end up submitting them to the yearbook, but they are very special to me and I'm glad I have them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Beginning Fluoxetine

Delilah's fluoxetine arrived yesterday.  This will be her second day of taking it.  She had to get a special compounded prescription because she is too small for regular dosage, or even to split a regular dosage into halves or quarters.  We got beef flavored chews, and she seems to like them!  Hopefully we'll start seeing a change in her behavior relating to her compulsive behaviors and anxiety.  As I type this, she is screaming at dust particles in a beam of light...

Delilah's fluoxetine chews

In other news there are two pretty cool dog events coming up near me in the next couple of weeks.  The first one is this Saturday and it's called the Vermont Dog Festival.  There are going to be a lot of different vendors- local businesses, breeders, and rescues.  There are also going to be dog sport demos, seminars, and a dog show.  I'm really excited to go and I'm debating whether to bring Delilah with me or not.  She's done well at outdoor events like Farmers' Markets.  But I'd also like to enjoy it without having to worry about her the whole time.  I might bring her if the weather's cool enough to crate her in the car if she needs a break.

The other event coming up the week after is the Green Mountain Iron Dog competition.  I want to go see what that's all about.  The main course covers 1.5 miles and involves a variety of obstacles.  Other competitions include the 100 yard dash, a drug search, and a suspect search.  I'm excited to see working dogs in action- my dream is to handle explosives detection canines for the TSA.

Friday, September 16, 2016


First Daddy comes home from work.  And then we watch for Mummy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Delilah's Vet Visit

Delilah went to a new vet last Wednesday, specifically to talk about anti anxiety medications for her anxiety and compulsive disorder.  This is the THIRD vet we've been to since I adopted Delilah a little more than a year ago (not including an emergency vet visit... long story).  I really liked this new vet- he seemed to have a greater knowledge of dog behavior than the previous two vets we've been to.

The first vet I had brought Delilah to actually cornered her when she was cowering and barking and didn't seem to have any idea of how to interact with a frightened dog.  The second one was not that bad, he was a decent vet.  The problem was when I showed him the videos of Delilah fixating on dust and light, and told him that these compulsive behaviors were interfering with training, and that she had a lot of anxiety in general, he told me it didn't look like any abnormal behavior, just "her being her."  That was the point I started looking for behaviorists and trainers to contact.  This new vet was very good with her and also took my concerns about her behavior and health seriously, and I didn't feel like my worries were silly or unjustified.

We are going to try fluoxetine.  I have to get custom prescriptions because Delilah's so small, breaking a regular dosage into 7 or 8 pieces would probably be a pain and inaccurate.  I haven't ordered yet, I'm still deciding between a few options, but I think I will call tomorrow to order.

We also talked a little about her luxating patellas.  They're starting to get really bad.  I can't even walk her anymore without her hopping along on three legs.  She's going to need surgery.  I can't afford surgery right now, so I'll have to wait a few months to start saving up after I start my new job in October.  Between the patellas and the behavior issues, I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to continue with training classes or dog sports with her.  I'm really starting to want a second dog that I can actually do things with.  Of course, that won't be for a couple of years at least, because I do want Delilah's behavior to improve and to get her surgery first, she's my first priority.  Consulting with the trainer and the vet has given me hope that Delilah can improve, but has pretty much crushed any dreams I've had of doing agility with her.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hay There! (And a Training Update)

Sam's sister and her boyfriend ended up coming over last night.  Delilah has met them before but has still been uncomfortable with them.  We followed the steps in the report the trainer gave us for introducing her to guests outside.  I started off far away and was giving her raw meat nuggets and we got gradually closer.  She didn't bark at all outside and seemed more interested in the food than the visitors.

They went inside first and Delilah barked several times while we were still outside the house, because she could see them moving and talking inside.  I switched to Natural Balance semi moist food when we moved into the house because I didn't want raw food on the floor.

Once we were inside she quieted down and focused on the food again.  I tossed pieces onto the rug for her to find.  Overall she did really well- we were all in the living room together and they were on the couch and Delilah and I were by the rug.  

She did freak out a little when the boyfriend stood up- she made these high pitched shrieks and tried to run at him- but I had her on a leash and stepped on it.  The rest of the visit was uneventful.  I moved her into the kitchen when he came out of the bathroom until he was sitting back down.

We went on a hike after that and she was fine with both of them during the hike and they completely ignored her- didn't try to look at her or talk to her or anything.  She was on a long lead for the hike.  I was still giving her treats on the hike.

She was actually super good for the entire visit!  I'm so proud of my little girl and excited that this new training procedure worked so well!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Another Hike

I was supposed to go over to NY to record an EP with my band over the long weekend, but it didn't work out.  Delilah and I are taking advantage of the nice weather instead.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Our First Apple Picking Adventure this Season

My sister was home from Scotland last week so we went apple picking with the family (sans my youngest sister who just went off to college).  Delilah came along and had a great time.  It was super early in the season, so there weren't too many varieties available to pick, but there also weren't a lot of people.  We'll probably go again in a month or two.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Throwback Thursday: A Fall Hike

These pictures were from a hike I went on with Mia a few years ago at Mills Riverside Park.  We always had such a great time hiking at this park.  Soon I will be able to go on some beautiful fall hikes with Delilah!  Unfortunately the camera I had back then broke, and my phone's camera doesn't do Vermont's gorgeous scenery justice.