Jan 192017


TMZ recently released a video showing a German Shepherd being forced into the water for a scene in “A Dog’s Purpose.” While we had nothing to with this production, we have received numerous requests for comment:

Let me start by saying this: I am very proud of the work I do, and would wager my soul that virtually every animal I have worked with has had a great time. The animals I know in film and television are some of the most loved and pampered on the planet, with lives rich in comfort, joy, play, adventure, health, and fun. They live longer, healthier, and happier lives than 99% of pets or wild animals.

What I “saw” on the video, taken at face value, is unacceptable. However, I do not know much about the events portrayed in the TMZ video, and neither do you. We were not there, and watching a snippet of video can be so misleading that I am reluctant to offer any thoughts because we do not know context, we did not see what happened before or after, and we have not heard the other side, so drawing any conclusions is problematic. Of course, this video looks awful, but it is a few moments edited for maximal impact. I am absolutely not defending, or attacking, the trainers involved, as I just do not know enough.

What I can tell you is how this scene would “normally” be handled:

Normally, this scene would have been prepped long in advance.  The dog would have been running into water, dock diving, swimming across rivers with more and more current. If the dog did not love swimming, a double would have been found who did. A few weeks before filming, the dog would start rehearsing on the actual set, first with no current, then gradually increasing the current as the dog became confident and comfortable. By the time this scene filmed, the dog would not merely be willing to get into the water, he would love getting in and swimming in the current. This is how it is normally done because it is what is best for the animal, and because it is what is best for the production!

As I said, I am not going to defend what happened, but here are a few ‘mitigating’ thoughts about what I observed in this video:

  1.  The guy narrating is not, so far as I can tell, part of the animal team and is not speaking for them, and what he is saying is silly and objectionable but irrelevant.
  2. I do not fully understand what I saw–no sane trainer would show up with an unprepared animal and expect to shove it into that water. Why was there no ramp in or out, what was the plan, what information are we missing?
  3. Forcing an animal to do something is almost never the best technique.  However, there are moments when pushing a dog to get into the water and realize that no harm will result can be a viable alternative to consider.  Millions of loving pet owners have enacted scenes like this trying to get Fido into the bath, or into a pool for the first time, and in 90% of those cases the animal has not suffered physical or psychological damage. When to “push” is a judgement call, and sometimes people get it wrong, or it looks wrong from the outside… Some animals, or children, pitch a remarkable fit about having their nails trimmed or getting into a crate or not getting a treat at the store, and while force is almost never the best response, one also needs to recognize that without lots more information these fits can look much worse than they are…
  4. There was a trainer in the water near the end when the dog was pushed under by current.  Why she was so far away is unclear, but it was likely a mistake —the dog had always veered to the other side before, or they misjudged the current and thought he would get more across. But again, how awful this was is questionable—many dogs love playing in the waves, even though from time to time they get dunked and rolled, but thirty seconds later they are back at it.  I used to have to drag Tillie away from the Rio Grande because she found the current exhilarating and would seek out the rapids, often getting far more submerged than this dog.  None of which makes it ok—that dog clearly did not want that experience, and it was a mistake not to avoid it—but it was likely just that: a mistake, and the dog was likely fine ten seconds later.
  5. Animals working on set are incredibly scrutinized. Not only are there trainers and AHA, but every moment we are watched and filmed.  There are millions of hours filmed every year of every single thing we do—every animal lover with a cell phone films every walk, every crate, every training session. 99% of those moments are great and never end up on TMZ.  No matter how great a job someone does with animals, there will be few moments that, without context or explanation, could be edited together to give a bad impression. The same is true for anyone who has ever owned an animal—things occasionally go awry and look awful.
  6. Sometimes, an animal can be prepped and trained and ready in every way, and things can still go wrong.  All the practice in the world does not change that these are sentient beings with moods and feelings, and sometimes an animal suddenly behaves very differently than expected.  Of course a skilled trainer recognizes this and steps back to reevaluate, but sometimes it may take a few minutes to recognize, and by then accidents may have occurred.
  7. This is not at all an excuse, but by way of possible explanation: movie sets can be almost unimaginably high pressure.  With huge financial and temporal pressures, and a powerful production team pushing and demanding, it is sometimes difficult to say “no” when one ought to.  This is why people die in stunts, or on train tracks, or driving home at hour twenty. It is perhaps the most important job of an animal trainer to stand between this pressure and their animals–to shield and protect them from production demands; and while it is not ok, sometimes people agree to ‘try’ things that they should not.

As I stated, I do not know enough about this particular situation to offer an explanation for what decisions were made or why. I do not know the dog, or the prior training, or even how the rest of the day went. I do not know what schedule snafus occurred, I do not know if American Humane was present. I do not know what shortcuts were taken or what unexpected events occurred.

What I do know, after thousands of hours on set with countless animals and other trainers, is that this video does not at all represent what usually happens on set. Virtually every trainer I have worked with is unwaveringly committed to the welfare and happiness of their animals.  In our industry, as in every corner of the world, there are undoubtedly a few bad seeds, people who are not strong enough, moral enough, or kind enough to protect their animals at all times. And certainly accidents, misjudgements, or mistakes do occur. But most of us do this because there is nothing we would rather do than spend every day playing with animals we love, and it is vital to our success that the animals also enjoy the work because our reputation hinges upon them working well which depends upon their being happy and enthusiastic.

 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 6:33 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Jul 162015


I found myself watching a novice obedience class a few nights ago, and I wanted to cry. Don’t get me wrong, nothing awful was happening, no physical abuse, no harsh corrections, but so little joy… Watching most people plod along with their dogs connected to them by a leash but nothing else is like some macabre satire of what dog training ought to be.

If you watch 20 people train their dogs, you will immediately observe that there are two distinct groups who are essentially doing two completely different things: those who are going through the motions but their dogs are disconnected, flat, out of control. And those whose dogs are beautifully, magically, joyfully playing the game. Within each group you will see a variety of techniques and skill levels, the difference between them is something more fundamental…

Here is the secret that separates the two groups:

You cannot effectively teach your dog anything until you get him engaged and connected. Attentive, happy, excited, eager to learn, enthused. You need to make learning enjoyable. You must figure out what makes your dog excited and build an expectation that playing/training together is super fun. One of your very first responsibilities as an owner and trainer is to figure out how to induce joy for your pet, what combination of treats and toys and tone and luring and whacking and squealing and petting really lights them up; and if you cannot figure out a path to joy, you need to build one. You need a great attitude yourself. You need to make sessions short and fast. You need to tug and fetch and race and wrestle and play. You need to be willing to get on the floor, to run, to praise and cheer like a loon. You need to play with your dog many times each day at home and everywhere so that you have built this into your relationship. You need to teach your dog that looking at you is great, on its own, and that it is the key that will unlock the best and most rewarding game of all. Only when you have built this reward base and tapped into attention and attitude can you really start worrying much about specific behaviors, and you will find they are so much easier to train when you and your dog have this core connection.

If you are dragging your dog around, pushing and pulling him into various positions, giving him commands that he ignores, you are not merely wasting your time, you are actually hurting your relationship. You are making your dog like you less. You are convincing your dog that you are a boring bully. You are inculcating resistance, lethargy, disinterest. Better to NOT train your dog than to keep slogging through these miserable sessions. Stop training immediately, and from now on any time you feel yourself starting to do this, stop! Go do something else. Come back when you are ready to be present, joyous, enthused, connected.

If you can get five beautiful seconds of your dog looking at you, ears perked and eyes bright, listening, eagerly trying to play the game with you, then you are genuinely training your dog. Tomorrow it will be ten seconds, then twenty… Now you have a partner, you can start dancing, start working on super-fast sits followed by a game. A step or two of perfect heeling, an eager down. Happy, happy chase recalls. Now you are working for several perfect minutes, increasing distance, duration, distraction, but never for a moment sacrificing attitude and relationship… Do this for a few months, and you will be amazed! You will have a dog that loves training with you, that has a fabulous attitude, and that can do all those behaviors you originally wanted.

 July 16, 2015  Posted by at 7:14 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Mar 112014


Joe lives on a completely isolated island where he has the only dogs—a nice, happy, healthy, beautiful, unrelated adult male and female.  Joe asks everyone on the island, and 4 of them would really like a puppy and are committed and capable of providing a great home and life.  Should Joe breed?

  1. NO!  Joe should NOT breed because he might produce more than 4 puppies.  It is better to let the species go extinct than risk having a surplus.
  2. YES! Joe should breed so that there are future dogs, 4 of whom have great homes.  If there are more than 4 puppies, he should place the healthiest, nicest, best structured puppies in the 4 homes, house any extras humanely (in a shelter or with Joe) until a home becomes available or they die of old age.
  3. YES! Joe should breed so that there are future dogs, 4 of whom have great homes.  If there are more than 4 puppies, he should place the 4 healthiest, nicest, best structured puppies in the 4 homes, and try to place the others, but if after all reasonable efforts have been expended there remain any surplus puppies, their lives should be ended as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Which of these do you believe is the right choice and why?

(Of course, this is not intended to be read literally—it is ridiculously inaccurate and oversimplified. And I am sure many people will point out the many complications that prevent this question from being applied to reality… It is intended as a thought experiment—a small isolated question to think about that might help to clarify an underlying core notion. In my opinion, anyone who is going to contribute to discourse on the topics of breeding and rescue and reducing shelter populations ought to have thoroughly considered this question.)

 March 11, 2014  Posted by at 5:50 pm Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 032009


jurtruck2If addressed early it is fairly straightforward to teach most young dogs to relax quietly in the car. However, I am frequently asked about fixing this problem in adult dogs that had spent years rehearsing the behavior, and it is then somewhat more challenging to resolve.  Offering suggestions on how to handle this behavior is complicated because there can be so many different reasons the dog is barking in the car and the ideal solution is so dependent on the motivation and the individual psyche involved that I am not sure a general solution is meaningful, but here are some general techniques I would recommend:


First of all, recognize that this is a behavior/training challenge and that you will need to focus on it for a while and make a genuine effort to fix the problem.  You cannot think about this problem only when it is happening and expect to solve it…


For each of the following steps, I would exercise the dog before the training session so you are not fighting excess energy.  And if your dog is getting out of control you have gone too far too fast…



  1. Figure out why the dog is barking—is it genuine aggression, insecurity, fear, a belief that you want it to bark, guarding behavior, etc. This will likely alter not only what you do, but the energy and spirit you apply—with an insecure dog you may be bolstering confidence, with another dog you may be correcting more, etc.
  2. Figure out precisely what behavior you DO want—no barking, a woof or two then silence, barking ok until you say quiet, etc.  Ideally figure out a behavior that is emotionally or physically incompatible with barking—holding something in his mouth, lying down, etc.
  3. Particularly important for many dogs is that you repeat a behavior that limits the emotional cascade—they start working themselves into a frenzy, and every time they get to a certain point you interrupt the pattern and create calmness so that eventually, regardless of what behavior they are doing, they learn to arrest their progression towards frenzy.  Often a quiet downstay works for this, but you need to be observant and start the down as soon as they get to a certain point, and make them hold the down until they have returned to a calm state—it is not productive if they simply lie down but remained frantic. Ultimately you care more about training them to maintain the correct mental state then you do about a particular behavior in this case.
  4. Train the desired behavior away from the car to a high level of compliance. For example, I would probably train a solid down and downstay and a quiet at home before I moved to working on the issue in the car.
  5. Train various behaviors in the car at home. Including the desired alternative to barking. I would include some static behaviors (eg, a ten minute downstay) and some active behaviors (eg. spin, wave, etc.)
  6. Train various behaviors in the car at home with you out of the car, you in the driver’s seat, you in the passenger seat, you in the back seat with the dog, etc.  Your dog should be able to get in any part of the car on command, stay there, and do what you ask wherever you are. Repeat with windows and doors open and closed.  Have the dog get out and do a few behaviors, then have him load back up and do the same behaviors.  He should learn that the car is another place where he has to be obedient and mindful…
  7. Have a friend come over and repeat the above with your friend nearby. Do this with several friends and have them come to the window and give a treat or toy or praise.  Have them give a command and reinforce it. Etc. 
  8. Go somewhere where the dog is likely to be slightly stimulated, but not overly so, and sit in the car and have a nice training session.  Do various behaviors with you in the car, including whatever behavior you are hoping will be the new alternative to barking. Then repeat the above so that your dog can do whatever is asked of him in the car regardless of where you are. 
  9. Have some friends come with you to somewhere slightly stimulating and have them come over out of the blue and say hello and give treats while you work with your dog.
  10. Buy your friends lunch.
  11. Gradually get closer to stimuli so that dog has to ignore more and more while doing what you ask.  Once he can handle any stimuli, start getting yourself further and further away while reinforcing the correct behavior or asking for other behaviors.  Go behind walls so your dog cannot see you and make sure they can stay quiet without you in sight but go back and praise or reward their correct behavior. Over time diminish the amount of help you provide.
  12. Once you are confident that your dog understands what you are asking, I think a water squirt bottle can be very effective for correcting inappropriate barking…
  13. Purchase a 2way radio with a built in baby monitor function so you can always know as soon as your dog barks and can either use the radio to interrupt him or can return to the car to correct him.
  14. Have the dog eat, sleep, or relax in the car at home.  In essence use the car as a crate for a while so it ceases to be novel.


Depending on the dog, and keeping safety in mind, I might also consider: 

  • Using a skilled friend as bait, opening the door just as the dog gets excited and letting them out.  (Be careful that this is not timed as a reward—bark and I let you out, but rather a sort of a shock—you think you are safe to act however you want cause you are in the car, but BOOM the door opens and you are out in the real world…)
  •  Leave them on a wait with all the doors open so they do not feel so bolstered.
  •  Have lots of people get in and out of the car giving them treats.
  •  Spend a day riding around on a bus with them.
  •  Have people get in the car and ignore them whenever they bark.
  •  Drive to a mall parking lot and take a nap in your car with your dog.  Calmly and quietly correct any noise—use your calmness to lure your dog into relaxing with you.
  •  Go to a relatively busy location and practice sending your dog to run and get into the car from a distance.  If there are lots of people around when they enter the car, it is unlikely that they will suddenly start barking, and so they will get used to the picture of being in the car with people around.

All of the above focus really on conveying to your dog a few simple ideas—the car is no different and you need to listen there, the car is a relaxed place and remains relaxed when others approach, people who do approach are friendly, you are responsible for staying in control of your emotions and behavior.  Perhaps the most important piece of advice on this topic is that it is a training issue like any other that you can work on and fix in a rational manner.  Too many people never really try to fix this behavior except in the moment when the dog is too worked up to learn anything, and then they ignore the problem until the next time.  Set aside some time to fix this problem, and you will see results…

 January 3, 2009  Posted by at 10:01 pm Tagged with: , ,
Jan 032009

Some dogs have difficulties with linoleum ranging from a mild dislike to an outright phobia. There are many ways to improve these issues, ranging from dragging the dog briskly onto the surface through putting treats all over the floor.  Our process requires some time and patience, but in our experience it is most effective at correcting the underlying issue than most other techniques. 


Most dogs that are uncomfortable with linoleum lack confidence in their balance, footing, and proprioception. So we focus on building that confidence and on socializing the dog to slick surfaces:


1.       Work on his balance and proprioception on a variety of non-slippery surfaces.  Wobble boards, creek beds, exercise balls, irregular stairs, waves at the beach.  Anything you can find that will improve his physical abilities and his confidence.  Particularly do these things with other confident dogs so he can model his behavior on them.

2.       Teach him to run up and down slides at playgrounds.  Make this super fun. While there, play with him on the merry-go-round…

3.       Teach him to ride on wheeled carts—shopping cart, flat cart at Home Depot, skateboard, etc.  Get him used to the feeling of having the floor moving underneath.

4.       Get some linoleum tiles and put them singly in places he likes to be.  Comfortable places where he is confident.  Play with him in those areas and ignore the tiles, but subtly try to have him walk on them periodically.  Put one under his dinner dish.  Move them around periodically.  Let him play with other dogs in the area so they can run around ignoring the tiles.  Then start adding tiles at first unattached, then in lines and squares.  Make lines of tiles in hallways, in his favorite places, around his dinner dish, etc. All the while treat the tiles as unimportant. By the end of the year your house should be tiled and your dog cured…

5.       Place a tile on the floor and sit in a chair next to it and teach him a game of putting his feet on the tile.  Entirely positive, upbeat, fun, no pressure.  Whenever he goes towards the tile throw the treat behind him so that he is rewarded by getting a treat and by going away from the tile.  Work on this over time until he is happily putting both front feet on the tile.  Now start moving the tile—toss it away and have him run and put his feet on it and reward. Drag it around and have him chase it to put his feet on it.  Make this a blast.  Work on this all over so he is totally confident about the behavior and really likes doing it.  Now, take the tile and go somewhere with a slick floor and put the tile at the near edge and play the same game.  Next day, same thing, but have him go a little further onto the slick floor before getting to his tile. Don’t get stressed and keep it fun.

6.       Teach him to go to and get onto a dog bed.  Do this all over, and then take the dog bed to a slick floor and send him across a few feet of floor to the bed.  Increase the distance gradually.  This is similar to the above technique, but gives him a clear visible safety spot to go to as well as a clear behavior to focus on. 

7.       If your dog tugs well, eventually try to play tug with him on slick surfaces.  This likely will come after the other techniques. Make a game out of sliding him around so he learns it is not scary.  Swing him around, push on him, do bitework, chase a laser pointer, chase you, whatever will get him into drive and keep him there. Many dogs are much better at overcoming their fears when they are in drive, and after some experience having fun on slick surfaces he is likely to overcome the issue even when not in drive. Tugging and bitework are particularly good because you can slide him around and keep him in drive and keep him from accidentally falling. Do not protect him from slickness; rather, help him learn how to handle it happily.



Obviously there are many others, but you get the idea.  Help him become truly confident about his balance and his ability to control the situation and he will steadily improve…

 January 3, 2009  Posted by at 9:19 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Dec 312008

This protocol is anecdotal—we have not applied a rigorous scientific approach—we had a single sample, no control, and no supporting data (follow up radiographs/biopsies, etc). Our data is based solely on a single fourteen year old dog who remained extremely comfortable and active for ten months after diagnosis.

Options that we utilized (amounts are based on our 40 pound dog):

Artemisinin: We alternated between Holley, Allergy Research Group/Nutrology or Wellcare Pharmaceuticals (the Hepalin, a synthetic blend) and pure Artemisinin. We also used the 2-4 mg/kg day with a large dose (100mg/kg) once a week. We gave him 1-2 days off and then back to the low dose for 5 days. There are several research papers out there with differing opinions so pick one that seems right for you. Give the artemisinin on an empty stomach.

Low/no carbohydrate diet: Raw mix of ground chicken backs, eggs, buffalo liver, green and orange veggies, beet pulp (sugar removed) and about 5% oats. We also give fish or beef.

Metacam (or Piroxicam or other NSAIDS): SID—slow tumor growth/metastasis through COX2 dependant routes and provide pain management benefits.

Tramadol: SID or BID as needed for comfort

Vitamin C: (high dose) 2-5 grams/day. Avoid ascorbic acid.

Turmeric: New Chapter Turmeric Force 80-120 mg/kg

Cat’s Claw

Tetracycline:  We did this for the first few weeks and then stopped. Has been shown to slow osteosarcoma.

Butyrate: available at Holleypharma and has been shown to enhance the effects of artemisinin. Data found in Anticancer Research 25: 4325-4332 (2005) and Cancer Letters 91 (1995) 41-46

Gastric Calm

Activated mushroom complex: (increases NK cell activity) New Chapter Host Defense 2-3 caps/day.

Multi-vitamin with general immune boosting: Country Vitamin Wellness Defense. Half human dose daily.

Essiac Tonic: We are getting this from the co-op and giving one capsule SID for 2 months.

Fish oil:  1-2 grams every other day

Flax oil/Cottage cheese: 1 TBS FO and 2 TBS of cottage cheese 2-3 times a week. .


Options we did not utilize but are worth considering:

Limb sparing surgery



Chemotherapy (Cisplatin, Carboplatin, Doxorubicin, etc.)

Palladia: the first canine specific anti-mast-cell medication approved by the FDA.  It was not available when Loki was alive, but is worth researching.  



Photodynamic therapy / Hyperthermia

Neoplasene (herbal, some are finding effective)


Good sources of additional information:

 December 31, 2008  Posted by at 9:02 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Dec 312008

Like just about everyone who has ever faced this question, I continually re-examine my view.  Although we each desire never to misjudge this question, we cannot really know the “answer.” So we struggle to decide what is right, and spend hours sitting with our aging dogs, willing ourselves to know their feelings.


Of course, so fundamental a decision is supremely private: we each confront it with the necessary courage and integrity at the end of a lifetime of love. We try to balance emotion and reason and do what is best in our hearts and minds for our beloved friends who live too short a while. I do not criticize any other person’s viewpoint; rather, I offer my view, in the hope that people who are wrestling with the question will find it useful. My answer to this question even a few years ago was different than it is today…


Part of what makes this decision so difficult is that well-cared for pets generally live far beyond a point where they would die in nature.  Inability to hunt, disease, dominance fighting, and other natural factors mean that true geriatrics is rare in nature. By the time we are wrestling with this question, our pets have already outlived their natural lifetime, and so every day we keep them alive is, in effect, a choice we are making.  We cannot hide from this truth—we are profoundly responsible for this final decision.


Many people try to evaluate quality of life by comparing present life with youth and quickly discover that old age does not have the same quality. But life possesses quality, regardless of action, quality that cannot easily be understood, much less measured. Certainly there is joy in chasing balls, herding sheep, and running through the woods, and as such joy fades, the quality of life is changed. But there is joy in lying on a pillow while your friend strokes your ears. There is joy in memory, in imagination. There is quality in being alive. I remember my great-grandmother’s last days. She was 100, and I was 10. I did not really see the point of her last years-she was largely bedridden and needed help even to go to the bathroom. But in her final days I caught a glimmer of her wisdom: perhaps those days held value I could not see. As she spent those last days surrounded by family and friends, I found myself wondering what is the value of a day in a life? Surely it is not going to the bathroom by oneself, or even playing soccer, or walking on the beach, even though I love those things.


Without really knowing what gives a day, or a life, value, how can I decide when the days no longer contain “enough”?


Death, and dying, and even pain, have dignity and grace. They are a part of life, a part that we often fear and do not understand, but nonetheless a valuable and important component of the whole. Most of us know memories that are painful but are nonetheless cherished.


People often suggest that keeping an animal around “too long” is selfish. Certainly this is sometimes true. I believe that far more often the opposite is true: euthanasia is chosen because we cannot stand to see our beloved friends suffer. We cannot ourselves bear the emotion of protracted demise. We cannot comfortably watch an animal once so vibrant now unable to easily stand.


People talk about loss of dignity, suggesting that when their animal becomes incontinent, for example, they must euthanize it to avoid the sense of shame we imagine our friend might be feeling. I believe that dignity, for people and for animals, derives from elements more intrinsic then simple physicality.


There are circumstances in which euthanasia may be a true kindness because the owner knows that the animal is confronting a long period of pain with little or no chance of meaningful recovery.


People often talk about their dog “telling them when it is time.” I believe there is much truth in this. There comes a moment when, overwhelming though the grief may be, you know that the end has come. Their eyes no longer sparkle, the fight to live is gone, the will, the joy. I know each time this moment has come for one of our dogs, Lauren and I have felt it simultaneously.  There may have been days or even weeks of wondering, but there comes a moment when we both know that our friend’s body has become a prison from which we can free them.


Most importantly, know that there is no wrong time so long as you are doing what you believe is best for your animal.  Do not rush the decision—you can always wait another day to be sure. And do not delay—when you are sure your animal is no longer happy, it is time.  And whatever decision you make, let it go immediately.  There is no value in second guessing your decision.


As I write, my grand Anatolian Shepherd, Kolya, lies at my feet. Reluctantly I acknowledge that my friend has become old now, and stiff, tender sometimes, and slow. Only yesterday, it seems, I was sitting on the floor playing with his litter and trying to decide which squirmy pup should come home with me. For fourteen years Kolya has been my best friend, and I sometimes feel I cannot stand the grief of him leaving. He is the only living being who shared with me my adventures in Montana, who was with me as I lay wretched with food poisoning on the roadside near Barstow, who remembers Tillie as she truly, improbably was. How can I be without him? How can I bear the unimaginable loss? Each night I lie with him alongside and wonder what is right? Kolya no longer “does” much; he rarely runs or plays, and his demand for petting now comes more with his eyes then the rest of his body, but for me – and I believe for him – life is about “being,” not “doing.” And as long as he is comfortable, I will give Kolya the honor of being as he has always been – himself, independent, surrounded by love. I cannot know what awaits him as he departs this world; it will be my friend’s first journey ever without me. If possible, I will let Kolya decide when it is time. I will strive, as always, to make every moment of his life as excellent as I can, and to support him fully.  When Kolya departs, I will be with him. I will love him. I will remember him always, and I will try to be the person he saw in me and to remember the lessons he taught me. That is the best I can do…

 December 31, 2008  Posted by at 12:40 am Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Dec 302008

One of our primary responsibilities as animal owners is to ensure their psychological welfare, and that means avoiding boredom, promoting exercise, developing confidence, etc.  While each of these things should be addressed actively, there are also times when you are not available to entertain your animals, but you can enrich their environments…

Here are a few suggestions. General concepts to remember: safety, of course–observe anything you give and make sure it is safe and does not frighten or overly stress your animal. Anticipate any way he could ingest, get stuck, fall, etc. Remember that change is good– anything new and different is enriching. The single best thing your animal can learn from enrichment is that he can influence the environment to cause a desired outcome. This decreases stress and increases learning in new situations as well as decreasing boredom! Not all of these suggestions will be good for you, they are some ideas to start from–be creative!!   Also remember that everything you do is teaching habits and reinforcing behaviors, so think about what you are training with any new activity. 

Training, Training, Training!!  You teaching new behaviors is the single greatest source of novelty!  Not just obedience, try freestyle or teach a few tricks.

Play.  Remember, play is a great stress reliever, so spend time each day consciously playing with your animal. Wrestle, play chase, etc.

Kong stuffed with cheese or peanut butter (Stick a Nylabone in the end to make it last longer)

A fountain that sprays for five minute after animal presses large button

Chicken broth giant ice cubes–these can be given to the animal, or hung so they drip all day

Buster cube or any object with food that comes out a hole

Large hard Plaque attacker (observe for the first few days make sure no large pieces are being removed and eaten)

Hanging tire

Tug toy from a rope attached up high to a rubber spring or you play tug with them yourself

Knuckle bones

Wobble board or large ball on which you teach the animal to balance. (Great for proprioception)

Treadmill or underwater treadmill

Loose crickets (assuming your stomach and ethics do not object)

Feeder fish in pool (assuming your stomach and ethics do not object)

Solid container with a screw on lid that has food inside

Different surfaces– bark, sand, rock, grass, astro-turf, metal, tile, etc.

Button to press that plays a song

An endless pool

A wind chime hung high

Some little mirrors or a disco-ball hung high that will make lights move around as they blow in the wind


A sprinkler or other water-spraying device, especially if the water moves.

Hang food where they cannot get to it, and give them a platform they can drag and climb on to get the food

Sounds– sometimes play stereo or TV, sometimes sounds of nature or dog shows

Smells– sometimes spray a new cologne at the base of a tree or other object in run. Place in their pen a blanket from another animal

Set up an aromatherapy infuser

Shallow water to play in

Visual barriers

Boomer balls

An animal in an adjacent enclosure

A slide

Hole to dig in

Nylabones slathered in cream cheese

Do not feed in the morning and hide food around run (bury some and put some up high, etc.)

New foods- broccoli, bananas, beef, whatever.  

Big branches or old dead tree

Beam or plank to walk on

Device that blows bubbles

Massage or T-touch.

Big wooden box with various openings leading to food–some should have screw on lids, others sliding lids, others the food should be out of reach, etc.

Buy or build toys with sliding doors that have to be moved to get to food (Like tic tac toe)

Build device that requires several steps to get food– pull one lever than go to other side of run and pull another and get treat

Vertical levels– build platforms at different heights and with ramps and steps

CHANGE– move stuff around, add stuff, take things out, etc.


 December 30, 2008  Posted by at 8:22 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 302008

Most dogs are under-conditioned and overweight.  This is a huge problem in dogs as it is in people.  It puts undue stress on their joints.  It taxes their cardiovascular system. It reduces the quality and duration of their lives.  This is ridiculous.  Feed them less-exercise them more!


In my experience each dog requires a different program. Some are ectomorphic and we focus on adding muscle, others are endomorphic and we prioritize fat burning. Some can run all day but are weak in speed so we focus on developing speed and acceleration. With each dog we try to strengthen their weaknesses and improve overall balance, while at the same time developing natural strengths. A theoretical conundrum, but in practice we tend to have a strong gut feeling for what each individual needs. If you are keenly observant and strive for maximal overall fitness, I think most of the details are subsumed by the body’s natural ability to accommodate and achieve optimal health.

Much of what we “know” from human exercise is not directly applicable—canine metabolism and energy utilization are significantly different from human, but many of the notions can be adapted.

Here are a few of the principles we tend to utilize:

1. Safety–Always warm your dogs up at the beginning of an exercise session, and warm-down at the end. Make increases gradual, be patient, and give the body time to adapt. Use common sense and avoid injury! Remember that energy pathways, and muscles, develop far more quickly than bones and connective tissues, so you need to progress, particularly at first, at a rate that does not outstrip the slowest developing parts. Dogs have evolved to have all four feet on the ground. This means leaping in the air can be very hard on them.  Their stifles and cruciate ligaments can easily tear. If you play frisbee or throw balls, try to avoid leaping. Also, give careful thought to the age at which you begin any serious exercise with your dog. Young dogs need a wide variety of exercises to maximize neural and musculoskeletal development, but it is important to avoid excessive exercise, strenuous exercise, or too much twisting or jumping until their growth plates are closed and their systems are adequately developed to handle these stresses.  If you are not sure, talk to a knowledgeable veterinary physical therapist who can evaluate your individual animal. In adult dogs, it is also important to strive for balance and not overdo any particular exercise, particularly exercises like jumping or weaving. This is a fine line–you want to do enough of an activity that the body adapts, strengthens, and grows, but not so much that the body is constantly stressed and breaks down over time. This is particularly true in sports like agility where people tend to believe that the dog is getting adequate exercise from doing the activity, but in truth the activity does very little to exercise the dog and is almost entirely physically harmful–you need to exercise your dog so they can safely do agility, not imagine that agility is exercising your dog…

2. Diversity—arguably the greatest path to overall fitness is a wide variety of exercise type and intensity. The vast majority of any dog’s exercise program consists of some form of running, so vary the speed, duration, and type of running as much as possible. Vary the substrate, use weights, have them pull, etc. Incorporate non-running as much as possible—swimming, tug of war, bitework, dock diving, wrestling with you or another dog, etc. Be creative.

3. Periodization—whatever exercise regime you utilize, your dog’s body will soon become accustomed, and progress will slow. By altering the primary mode and intensity, you can prevent this plateau. At least every six weeks make a significant change to the routine. This will also reduce boredom…

4. Fartlek—the body tends to respond very well to brief periods of varied intensity. In the middle of a CV workout include periods of near-maximal intensity. Then return to CV pace. This is also effective in decreasing fat—work the body at a steady load for around 20 minutes, then increase the workload and suddenly the body is required to metabolize lots of fat to meet the demand. Also, acceleration requires roughly triple the energy of sustaining top speed, so incorporate repeated acceleration.

5. Sport specific training—whatever sports you pursue, incorporate them in your program. If conformation, make sure that you spend time trotting. There is no better rehearsal for a particular activity than that activity. However, keep in mind the old adage, “We perform the way we train” and avoid sport specific training when your dog is tired or flat. Perform this aspect at the beginning of a workout so that your dog rehearses perfection and intensity.

6. Proprioception—every aspect of canine performance and injury resistance benefits from adequately exercising all the small supportive components of a dog’s body, and by simultaneously recruiting the neural processes to use these components. Do exercises that will engage balancing and supporting muscles. Run on awkward slopes, run over complex terrain, run in water of various depths, swim in current or waves, carry a backpack with an unbalanced load, leg weights, wobble board, log spin, etc. Stand on one bank of a creek, 30 feet uphill from the creek, throw a ball across the creek up the opposite side, and watch with awe how many different exercises your dog does on the way across–downhill sprint, jump over logs, run through shallow water over complex rocks, leap into deeper water, swim, pull out of water on other side, run uphill, turn around, repeat…

7. Shocking—similar to periodization, but on a smaller scale. Any time the body is asked to do something different, it tends to respond with adaptation, so if you can safely “shock” your dog’s body, growth will likely occur. Suddenly increase intensity or duration, pre-fatigue with a related activity, stop for a swim on your way home, etc. Of course, anything too shocking will result in injury, so exercise caution…

8. Resistance—the sine qua non of building muscle, but rather difficult to incorporate into a canine program. Sprinting up sand dunes, pulling weight, tugging a log, retrieving a heavy object, etc. The goal here is that muscle “failure” occurs fairly quickly and the muscles respond by growing. Be mindful of overworking. Lactic acid can cause soreness, and also real damage to muscle. In the most extreme cases, exertional rhabdomyolysis can be fatal. So increase workload gradually and observe carefully.

9. CV—3-4 times per week of thirty minutes of moderate intensity work. I use the same basic test as for humans—breathing hard enough that they could talk but not sing. For my dogs this is panting, but not too rapidly. Fetch is probably the most common CV training, either on land or in water.  Leash walking is rarely brisk enough to accomplish this goal.

10. LSD—a huge portion of the exercise any dog gets is aerobic—their breathing is only slightly elevated and they are not in oxygen debt. However, it is very difficult for us to really stress a dog’s system at this workload. Most dogs can trot at around 6 mph for many, many hours. Anything you can do that is truly LSD for a dog will tend to be somewhat hard on joints, and generally requires a mountain bike, ATV, or horse in addition to a 30 mile dirt trail… The primary advantage of LSD is the creation of an aerobic “base”, and the fact that once excess food is depleted the canine body burns primarily fat at these low levels.

11. Observation—this is the cornerstone of any canine exercise program. They cannot tell us if they are sore, or if they are hardly winded, or if they are having an off day. It is up to us to watch every workout and gather all the data we need to plan the next session. We need to observe everything their bodies are telling us, and occasionally check pulse, pulse recovery, pulse oximetry, etc. Between exercising, we need to observe hydration, urine output and color, soreness, etc.

12. Over-exercising—I would avoid too many miles on hard surfaces, I would avoid too many hours of the same motion, I would avoid boredom, limit jumping, etc. Pay particular attention to this issue if you participate in a sport like agility, disc-dog, or flyball where the activity itself is hard on your dog’s body.

13. Nutrition—obviously optimal fitness cannot be achieved without optimal nutrition. Consider what you are feeding, and when you are feeding relative to muscle exercise.

14. Rest—many of the benefits of exercise occur in the period between exercise when the body is recovering. Any fitness program must include adequate rest. The ratio of rest to work depends on many variables, including overall fitness level and intensity of work. For most of my dogs, three to five days of high intensity exercise out of seven seems optimal, with the other days being “active rest” days with low intensity exercise. Then I usually give them a week off from all high intensity work every six weeks. I tend to vary the frequency of exercise to avoid mental or physical routine—sometimes they exercise 5 days in a row, other weeks they exercise every other day, etc. And usually one day out of every ten has no exercise. After periods of rest, avoid too large an increase in intensity when you resume training. Since your ‘fresh’ dog may tend to overwork.

Of course, all this should be fun! Have a blast exercising your dog, observe the results, and continually modify the program to achieve your goals…

 December 30, 2008  Posted by at 8:05 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Dec 302008

The cornerstone of good health is good nutrition. The “debate” concerning what represents optimum nutrition is passionate and ongoing.  On the one hand are people who see huge risks to home prepared diets– primarily these risks are nutritional imbalance, and disease from uncooked meats.  On the other hand are people who perceive a value in whole, live, raw foods, and believe these benefits are well worth the risks. 

 At Talented Animals we prepare fresh food for our dogs.   We believe many of the big name dog food companies are making a profit at the expense of our dogs’ health. We have home cooked since 1990 and have seen wonderful health and vitality in our dogs during that time. In addition to many years and many dogs fed our diet, Lauren is currently pursuing an MS in canine immunology and physiology, so the information herein is very current.

Home preparing diets is not something we casually recommend.  Unless you take the time to educate yourself it is very easy to overlook essential nutrients or to provide nutrients in an inappropriate ratio. We believe this diet can be far superior to a store bought feed, but it is extremely important to ensure balance.  If you cannot do this, feed a quality dog food!

Unless you are genuinely interested in taking the time to learn about nutrition, we recommend a quality dog food with a few supplements.  Reasonably good foods can be found such as California Natural, Pinnacle, Innova, Evo, FarMore, etc. Whole Dog Journal lists the best foods they could find each year, and generally their list is excellent.

If you are going to home prepare, please learn everything you can!  There is lots of good information available on the subject!  One thing to be careful of is that home preparing has recently become something of a fad and instant experts have popped up everywhere.  Some of them have excellent information, but be sure to read a wide cross section of opinions and then REACH YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS! There is no one right diet.  Each dog in each situation has different requirements.  Learn to look at your dog and read the telltale signs of health.

One of the challenges in pursuing a healthy lifestyle for your dogs lies in balancing their “natural” needs with the fact that they are no longer in a pristine environment.  So merely mimicking a natural canid diet is not going to be ideal for a dog that rides around in your car, sits in front of the TV, drinks chlorinated water, etc.  However, looking at the natural state of our dogs progenitors certainly provides essential clues to what their bodies are designed for.

What we Feed–

This is a question we are asked often, but are always a little nervous answering.  What we feed may not be right for a particular dog.  You need to read and learn and then watch your dog!  

We generally feed our dogs twice a day.  A morning meal of vegetable/fruit mix with one of the following likely added: egg, mackeral, kefir, honey, etc. The evening meal is predominately meat or meaty bones.  Each meal has supplements.

We fast for 24 hours once a week.  We perform a chem. screen on each dog at least once a year and compare the results to try and identify any problems.  This also helps to establish baselines which will be very useful if diagnosis is ever necessary.  Commonly, dogs fed a meat based diet have a different normal baseline than the references provided by the veterinarian or the diagnostic lab. The normal reference range provided by them have been developed using dogs on a cereal/grain based diet.

A typical diet consists of 65-80% meats, 10-15% fruits/veggies, 5-10% organ meats and a very small percentage of grains and supplements.

Staple Foods

  • Meats– canids are carnivores.  Everything from their dentition to their gut is designed for an intake that is predominantly meat.  Depending on the breed, and what was available where they originated, this may have meant cow, deer, mouse, lamb, bird, fish, etc.  We try to feed a wide variety of many meats. Typically, we feed chicken wings/necks/backs, or whole turkey necks, beef and lamb. We feed whole chickens and sometimes beef tripe and fat.  We avoid salmon because the rickettsial that causes salmon poisoning is very difficult to kill.  We avoid pork due to trichinosis. 
  • Vegetables– very wide variety.  Lots of leafy greens.  No onions or tomatoes. Generally, juiced, lightly steamed or ground.  The canine digestive system does not have the enzymes required to break down cellulose, so unless some pre-digestion occurs, most vegetables pass through undigested.
  • Fruits– wide variety of fresh fruits. (Avoid grapes, raisins and use little citrus)
  • Eggs– whole raw/cooked eggs are an excellent source of protein.  Fed in large amounts they can deplete biotin, so do not go overboard!
  • Soy– tofu, tempeh, soy milk, sparingly
  • Dairy– cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, raw goat milk, occasionally heavy cream if trying to add weight

Supplements added as needed–

  • Essential Fatty Acids– Omega 3 and Omega 6 are both required.  They are essential for healthy skin and coat.  Their ratio is important.
  • Fish oil
  • Enzymes
  • Borage oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Vitamin E
  • Cod liver oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Kelp
  • Bee Pollen
  • Ginseng
  • Ginkgo
  • Molasses
  • Spirulina or SBGA
  • A multi-vitamin
  • Garlic
  • Bone Meal
  • Vitamin C
  • Glucosamine/Chondroitin
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Fresh herbs that are in season
  • Honey
  • Aloe Vera
  • Kefir
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

Raw or Cooked?  As a rule, we feed meat and bones raw, vegetable lightly cooked or juiced raw.  This is not without risk! There are certainly diseases that can be present in raw meat that are killed by exposure to high temperatures. 

The Bone Controversy– there are two passionate camps regarding bones for dogs.  One camp says bones are very dangerous.  They can splinter and tear the digestive tract.  This certainly can happen and dogs have died of this.  The other camp argues that bones are a natural dog food that provides calcium and keeps teeth clean.  Our view is somewhere in between.  We feed knuckle bones regularly– these are the large soft bones that tend to crumble rather than splinter.  Even with knuckle bones there is some risk.  They could splinter or carry disease since they are uncooked.  This is a risk we are willing to accept because we believe our dogs are far healthier than they would be if we fed them no bones and no raw meat.

 December 30, 2008  Posted by at 8:03 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,