Healthy Ideas for the Kong-Addicted

I am sure we all know about Kongs, and love them.   Wonderful little hollow rubber toys that you can fill with goodies for your dog to enjoy.  Most of the time I see peanut butter and liquid cheese touted as the filling of choice, since these are easy to spoon into a Kong and delicious.  And calorie laden.

That brings me to the point of this post.  My dog Molly, my high flying, hard hitting agility crazy-girl was showing some energy loss and had an ear infection and wound that needed some veterinary care.  To my dismay, my girl was up seven pounds since our last visit.  And that was in addition to the two pound gain seen at that prior visit.  I was horrified!  Molly was not worried about it, she just asked the tech for a biscuit.  And then it crossed my mind.  Kongs.  My husband is in charge of the Kongs.  Now to sum up a very complicated situation, my husband loves to cook and grill and make as much food as possible. He loves to feed people, he loves to hear his handiwork praised.  I myself suffer from some extra pounds as a result of his love of freely serving all things edible to anybody willing to eat.  And our three dogs are no exception.  We had A Talk.  Apparently, the Kongs had evolved into a high calorie art form.  Any leftover food imaginable was stuffed into them and sealed shut with a generous glob of peanut butter and put into the deep freeze.  His pride and joy was calling to the dogs to “Line Up!” and having the three of them in an angelic row of down-stays awaiting their delicious snack.  I must have been blind!

The easy solution would be to eliminate Kong Time entirely.  But relationships are give and take, and while my husband may or may not love his life being overrun by agility jumps in every corner of the yard and house, and corgi-hair tumbleweeds blowing through the living room, Kong Time is one part of dog ownership that he truly enjoys.  Maybe I am a softie, but shouldn’t he be able to hold onto one of the (admittedly few) things that makes him happy about sharing his life with dogs?

But Kongs are not always about compromise in a relationship with someone who enjoys feeding people and dogs (a little too much).  Kongs are a great occasional treat.  They can occupy your dog if he is on crate rest.  While she is learning how to be quiet in her crate at a dog training class or agility trial.  If he is working through separation anxiety and needs a little something to keep him busy and occupied.  If you have company over and want to give your dogs a little something to do and enjoy while you entertain your guests.  Kongs are wonderful things, but in our little family we were experiencing too much of a good thing.

So what to put inside of the Kong?
Peanut butter and squirt cheese are easy and a crowd pleaser, but not really the best thing to be given regularly in large amounts, right?  When I make Kong filling, I like to make a puree the consistency of pudding out of reasonably low calorie and healthful ingredients.

The base of whatever puree I am making will be a safe-for-dogs low calorie vegetable.  My favorites are
Green Beans (Frozen or Fresh.)
Carrots (Frozen or Fresh)
Pumpkin (Fresh or Canned.  Be sure to not use canned pumpkin pie filling!)
Other choices are shredded or finely chopped cucumber, cooked: zucchini, yellow squash, peas, sweet potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower.

I usually use one or two of these vegetables/fruits in combination to make up the lion’s share of my puree.  I will cook enough for about 2-3 cups

You expect my dog to eat that?
Low calorie, low fat and full of healthful vitamins.  But what about taste?  I like to add some more yummy ingredients within moderation to my puree, about 1-2 Tbsp worth.  My favorites
Yogurt (Plain, Nonfat, No Sugar Added.)
With yogurt I am more generous, and add two or three heaping spoonfuls to my puree.   It tastes delicious to dogs and can help with digestion and reduction of yeast infections.  YUM!
Tuna
Applesauce (No Sugar Added, “Natural”)
Banana
Other fruits that I like to add are blueberries, peaches, pears or cantaloupe.  With fruit and its higher sugar content, it is important to remember to moderate the amount added to the puree to only a little bit, or a piece or two.
Peanut Butter does still sneak its way into my Kongs these days, but it is now in small quantity!

Everything added to the Kong gets mashed, smashed, ground up or grated into the puree the consistency of pudding.  This has two benefits: you can easily spoon it into the Kong and pack it full, and you can then freeze the Kong for several hours before serving it to your dog.  Freezing the Kong of course makes the treat last longer, and makes your dog work harder!

So, be creative and enjoy!  Feel free to share some of your favorite Kong recipes in the comments!

Naked Lunch Part 2: Beginning with BARF

So, in the first post of this raw feeding series, I talked about the basic principles of raw feeding and the way I started out as a raw feeder. In today’s post, I’m going to talk specifics about the BARF method.

Before I start; just a reminder to everyone that I am the lone Australian here at Team Unruly. So if there’s any lingo that sounds unfamiliar, let me know and I will translate! :D

So, what is BARF?

BARF = Biologically Appropriate Raw Food

The BARF acronym for this particular method of raw feeding is trademarked by Doctor Ian Bilinghurst (an Australian veterinarian), but the principles of BARF can be used by just about anybody. However, Dr Bilinghurst is somewhat of a figurehead for the BARF school of thinking and much of his thinking is extremely educational.

Dr Bilinghurst’s observation, gained through experience in his work and at home with his own pets, was that “commercial pet foods, not only did not promote good health, they produced positively bad health.” The BARF ideology follows on from what I explained about raw feeding in my last post, but of course, Dr Bilinghurst explains it all much more eloquently than I ever could:

If you want to feed your dog BARF, it means not feeding your dog cooked and or processed food. That is, not feeding your dog a diet based on cooked grains, no matter how persuasive the advertising. Artificial grain based dog foods cause innumerable health problems. They are not what your dog was programmed to eat during its long process of evolution.

A biologically appropriate diet for a dog is one that consists of raw whole foods similar to those eaten by the dogs’ wild ancestors. The food fed must contain the same balance and type of ingredients as consumed by those wild ancestors. This food will include such things as muscle meat, bone, fat, organ meat and vegetable materials and any other “foods” that will mimic what those wild ancestors ate.

Please note that modern dogs of any breed are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health. This is because their basic physiology has changed very little with domestication despite obvious and dramatic changes in their current physical appearance and mindset.

The BARF diet, being an attempt to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs, must, from a practical point of view, use food that is available from the local supermarket or whatever local or distant source is economically viable. BARF feeders do not have to go hunting or send their dogs out to hunt. That is why I said BARF must mimic, not duplicate the evolutionary diet of dogs. This is an important distinction.

But what IS BARF? What kind of food do you feed? And how much of it?

The basic BARF diet breakdown is:

  1. 60-80% raw meaty bones (aka RMB, which is also known as a feeding method all of its own that I’ll talk about in a future post); and
  2. 20-40% fruit and vegetables, offal, meat, eggs, or dairy foods.

Raw Meaty Bones (for BARF purposes), are bones with about 50% meat, e.g. chicken and turkey necks, backs and wings. Here’s Danielle’s Molly, enjoying a nice raw meaty bone in the form of a deer scapula:

molly's noms.

The amount of BARF you feed is dependent on the size, weight, age and physical condition of your dog. The guidelines Dr Bilinghurst sets are as follows (just be aware that they are specific to the BARF products he markets):

Healthy Dogs – Not Exercising

Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals

Working, Racing, Active Dogs

Feed 3% – 6% of bodyweight per day when actually working or active. At this time feed food with a higher fat content to increase the energy supply. Feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day when not active or working

Puppies – Small to Medium Breeds

Feed 3% – 5% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 small meals

Puppies – Large and Giant Breeds

Feed 2% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into 3 to 4 meals. It is important to ensure that these puppies grow slowly. To ensure that this happens, it can be useful to add extra vegetable pulp to the patties (from a juicer). Feed soft raw bones daily. Note: – feed BARF and soft raw bones from young animals as the only source of calcium; it is not necessary and may be harmful to use calcium supplements.

Pregnant (‘in whelp’) Female Dogs

For the first two thirds of pregnancy, feed 2% – 3% of bodyweight per day – divided into one or two meals. For the last third of pregnancy increase this to 3% – 4% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals.

Lactating Female Dogs

Depending on Litter size and the age of the puppies, feed from between 3% and 6% of bodyweight per day – divided into two or three meals – up to free choice with large litters.

Dogs with Health Issues – for example, Kidney, Liver or Pancreatic Disease

These dogs usually require extra vegetable material, sometimes with less fat; in the latter case, combine Dr. B’s Kangaroo flavour with raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material. For simple obesity, reduce the amount of BARF and Raw Meaty Bones and replace with as much raw pulped low glycaemic index vegetable material as the dog will eat.

What does that actually mean?????

I hate maths too. Don’t worry. So, my 20 kilo, reasonably active little Staffordshire Bull Terrier gets 500 grams of food per day. That’s just about 3% of her body weight, and it seems to be the right amount to keep her happy and healthy. If I notice her getting a little rotund, I up her exercise and slightly reduce her portions.

If we follow BARF rules, 60-80% of those 500 grams (I go with 80% and say 400 grams of each meal) needs to be raw meaty bones. The remaining 20% (200 grams) is everything else: meat, dairy, fruit, veg, eggs and offal. That all sounds terribly exact, right?

This is where I tell you to relax and follow your instincts a little bit. As long as you’re feeding the right approximate amounts of fresh, good quality foods and you’re being careful with foods like liver, pork and heart (which I will talk about more later on), it won’t matter a great deal if your ratios are a bit off. This is especially applicable, if you a DIY BARF feeder!

DIY BARF?

Do-It-Yourself BARF can be a little labour-intensive and time consuming, but in my opinion, totally worth it. For one thing, you will save a truck-load of money if you shop smart (it will cost you significantly less than commercial food). For another, you will know exactly what your dog is eating, with no preservatives, additives or fillers.

Here’s a picture of a BARF mix I made on the fly one evening: fish (tuna and sardines), egg (including the shell), grated carrot and apple, a bit of bran and some yoghurt.

Fish BARF mix

And here’s the bulk recipe I started BARF with! It makes approximately 42 serves for a medium, Staffordshire Bull Terrier sized dog (20 kilos). All up, including shopping, it will take you about 3 hours. It was originally given to me in a similar form by a SBT breeder friend, and I made changes to it over time. Feel free to make changes of your own too!

  • 5 kilos kangaroo mince (or whichever minced meat you prefer, or a combination of red OR white meats. Note: kangaroo is very easy and cheap to source here in Australia, that’s why I use it. Go with whichever local meat fits your budget!)
  • 6 small tins of oily fish (I usually use sardines and mackerel)
  • 1 large cauliflower (or 2 medium ones)
  • 2-3 large heads of broccoli
  • 1 medium to large butternut squash
  • 1 kilo of Granny Smith apples (de-cored)
  • 1 litre of natural yoghurt
  • 6 eggs (once you’ve cracked them, crush the shells and mix them in too!)
  • A few generous handfuls of flax seeds (you can use the meal if you prefer, just be aware your mix will be a lot drier)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of kelp powder (you can find this in most health food stores. Go easy with it to start with, a little goes a long way!)

Here’s the kind of fish I generally use (tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines), unless fresh fish is on special!

Fish for BARF

A side note: I never put anything into my mix that I knew was toxic to dogs, because if I was unsure, I double-checked online first. However, conventional wisdom suggests caution when feeding broccoli and cauliflower, as it may cause gas and depress thyroid function if fed regularly and in large amounts. So, proceed as your own research dictates. Here’s a handy list of BARF friend fruit and veg to start you off.

Also, you’ll notice I didn’t include offal in this recipe. That’s because I prefer to feed it whole, that way I can control the portion sizes. I feed heart (ox, lamb and chicken), liver (lamb and chicken), kidney (lamb and pork), brain (lamb), tongue (lamb and ox), giblets (chicken) and very occasionally, lung (lamb). I would usually just bag them up individually, freeze (then thaw later) and then add them on top of the day’s BARF mixture. Easy peasy!

Bagged up raw meaty bones and offal for the fortnight:

IMG_1833

Right, back to the recipe! You will need:

  • a decent sized food processor
  • sharp knives
  • a veggie peeler
  • some food prep gloves (optional, but they keep you from getting smelly gunk and raw meat under your fingernails)
  • freezer bags
  • a kitchen scale (particularly if you like to get your portion sizes exact)
  • a nice big, clean bowl or tub to mix it up in.
  1. Finely process the cauliflower, broccoli, cored apples and pumpkin (peel off and discard the hard skin first). You can use the stalks, leaves and pumpkin seeds too if you like. I have seen a few articles floating around the interwebs that suggests pumpkin seeds can be very beneficial for your dog!
  2. Empty the processed fruit and veg, then the mince, into the tub/bowl.
  3. Add all of the tins of fish. If you like, you can stick your hands in now and mix together.
  4. Crack the eggs on top. Crush the eggshells until they’re nice and fine, add them in too.
  5. Empty the entire tub of yoghurt in.
  6. Throw the flax seeds in.
  7. Add the kelp powder.
  8. Stick your hands in and mix everything together until it’s all well-incorporated. This can take a while and a bit of effort. It’s worth it I promise.
  9. Scoop mixture into the freezer bags, weigh and tie off until it’s all bagged up.
  10. Put bags straight into the freezer.
  11. Put tub on floor and let helpful dogs carry on with preliminary clean up.

You’ll end up with a soft, relatively wet mixture. And yeah. IT STINKS. I think that’s probably why it was always such a hit with the dogs, smelly interesting food!

Some proponents of BARF strongly advocate the regular inclusion of bone meal in your dog’s food for added calcium. In my humble opinion, finely crushed eggshell works just as well, and you won’t have to worry about the possibility of a bowel blockage later on. You can also balance your dog’s meals to include a raw meaty bone a few times a week and they’ll get their calcium from there too.

What does a week of BARF look like?

Since I get asked about it a fair bit, here is a rough weekly breakdown of what my dog was getting on the BARF diet. Bear in mind that you do need to adjust the BARF mix portion sizes to accommodate any extras you’re feeding if your dog is not super fit and athletic.

  1. Monday: BARF mix + red bones (usually a neck bone, soup bone or rib bone)
  2. Tuesday: BARF mix + heart (either 1 lamb’s heart or 4-5 chicken hearts)
  3. Wednesday: BARF mix + turkey neck (and 1-2 chicken wings if the neck is small)
  4. Thursday: BARF mix + kidney (1 lamb kidney or pork kidney)
  5. Friday: BARF mix + chicken carcass
  6. Saturday: BARF mix + small piece of liver (2-3 chicken livers, or approximately 100 grams of lamb’s fry)
  7. Sunday: Fast Day

Lindsey’s Tiki thinks chicken wings are pretty awesome:

 photo Tikani241.jpg
And yes, I am a fasting advocate, I usually fast Tayla once a week. It helps me manage my dog’s weight and gives her digestive system a break along with a raft of other reasons you can read about. There are passionate arguments for and against fasting; I do it because it seems to benefit my dog.

In addition to this, her treats are usually bully sticks (pizzles), beef/kangaroo tendons, antlers or something that will safely encourage her to chew and clean her teeth.

Antlers are Tayla’s favourite thing.

Tayla and her antler

Where do I even get all that stuff? Wouldn’t commercial pet food be cheaper?

Not if you get organised and shop smart. I get my dog’s food from a variety of sources and I do it at the same time as my own shopping (thus not incurring any additional costs for petrol). Pet meat suppliers are usually a good place to get cheap meat. Some butchers are good for getting cheap raw meaty bones, some will even give them to you for free! I also have found that specialist meat shops (e.g. places specialising in poultry, game or fish), particularly the ones located in markets, have really low prices for meat, bones and offal.

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Beef neck bones and chicken livers

Some supermarkets/grocery stores, depending on the area, have excellent deals on common offal like kidney, heart and liver – it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open! Yoghurt and sardines are also bought from the supermarket/grocery store, and I always keep an eye on what’s marked down to get the best deal.

I get my kelp (and the flax seeds, depending on price) from health food stores, but they are also very cheap to buy online.

As far as fruits and vegetables go, I never pay supermarket prices. Always get your produce cheap from a farmer’s market, or go to a greengrocer/fruit and vegetable shop if you’re in a pinch. Familiarise yourself with the reasonable prices for what you want (and more importantly, buy what’s in season) and you will usually save a bundle!

Let’s talk figures.

I’ll use premium food for this example, since it’s what I was feeding my dog before I switched over. A pet supplies store in my suburb sells Hill Science Diet Adult Healthy Mobility dry food in 13.6 kilo bags for $125.99. Each bag contains 45 (just over 6 week’s worth) three cup/300 gram serves for my 20 kilo dog.

That works out to $2.79 a serve. (Obviously, the cost would be greater per serve for a larger dog, and smaller per serve for a smaller dog.)

Here’s the price list for my BARF mix:

  • Kangaroo mince: $29 (I buy my meat from a pet food supplier)
  • Yoghurt: $5 (supermarket)
  • Eggs: $2.50 (farmer’s market)
  • Sardines: $9 (supermarket)
  • Apples: $1.60 (farmer’s market)
  • Cauliflower: $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Pumpkin $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Broccoli $3 (farmer’s market)
  • Kelp powder: $7 (for a 200 gram box, I usually use 1/4 of a box for each batch, which works out to $1.75 per batch) (health food store)
  • Flax seeds $10 (for 500 grams, I usually use a cup per batch, which is 180 grams. So I get 3 batches out of each bag, which works out to $3.33 per batch) (supermarket or health food store)
  • Total: $61.18

Divide that by 42 and it works out to $1.45 per serve. $1.34 per serve LESS than commercial dog food.

Even if you added in the additional cost of raw meaty bones and offal, you would still come out on top. For example, I can get 3 large chicken carcasses for $1.50 at my local market, that’s 50 cents per serve. Add 50 cents to the days of the week I feed a raw meaty bone with my BARF mix and that’s $1.95 per serve total. I can get a packet of 7 lamb livers for $2.95 at my local supermarket, that’s 42 cents per kidney (and I would feed one per serve). I can get a packet of 3 lamb hearts for the same price, that’s 98 cents per heart.

Give it a go! It is strangely satisfying (once you get used to handling raw meat, bones and organs) to see just how much money you can save whilst still feeding your dog nutritious, balanced and biologically appropriate meals.

There’s also the Christmas-coming-early reaction from your dog to consider, as Kelsey’s Nellie demonstrates.

happy breakfast face

I… don’t think I really want to make BARF myself.

Should you decide that you would like to skip the ick factor of handling raw meat and various smelly substances (completely understandable!), or you prefer the peace of mind and absence of stress that comes with purchasing a ready-made BARF product, there are companies who can help!

Lindsay did an excellent review of Honest Kitchen in the US, and in Australia Dr Bilinghurt’s BARF products are an excellent place to start. These are just two examples and there are many, many others. Google is your friend!

BARF safety! A few important tips and a recap of the safety pointers from my previous post: 

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, feed cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter or shatter and become lodged in your dog’s throat (causing a choking hazard) or perforate their intestines. If you feed cooked meat, remove the bones!
  2. Be very, VERY careful about what kind of bones you are feeding. Large, weight-bearing bones such as femurs, vertebrae and knuckles can cause fractures and broken teeth. Avoid them if you can, or feed for short periods under close supervision.
  3. Do not feed rotten or ‘off’ meat. Dogs get food poisoning, gastroenteritis and stomach upsets the same as humans do. Experienced raw feeders know when meat is good to feed and when it is borderline, but if you are new to raw feeding, err on the side of caution!
  4. If you are going to be making your own BARF mix, be sure to avoid foods that are toxic for dogs, such as garlic (only in large amounts; there is evidence to suggest it is quite beneficial in small amounts), onion, leek, chives, raisins, sultanas and dried grapes, avocado and macadamia. A good rule of thumb is to research every ingredient before you add it to make sure it is safe for dogs.
  5. Do not freeze, thaw and then refreeze your raw food. You wouldn’t do it for your own food would you? Treat your dog’s food the same way you would treat your own.
  6. Don’t mix white and red meat in the same freezer bag.
  7. You CAN mix red meats together (e.g. beef, lamb, kangaroo, buffalo, venison) or white meats together (chicken, turkey, pork). Fish is fine added to either.
  8. If you are going to feed raw pork mince in your BARF, make sure the mixture is frozen for at least 2 weeks before you feed it, and make sure you defrost it in the fridge, NOT at room temperature.
  9. Red meat offal is a lot richer than white meat offal. If you’re introducing your dog to offal, chicken hearts, livers and giblets are usually quite successful and are less likely to cause an upset tummy.
  10. Heart is best fed in small amounts, particularly when it is new to your dog’s diet. Ox heart in particular is extremely rich and can cause digestive distress.
  11. When feeding fish, be choosy. Avoid salmon if you live in the US or Canada. Ocean fish are generally safe, but research what types of local fish are safe for canine consumption.
  12. Freeze raw pork for a minimum of two weeks before feeding, or cook it (and de-bone it!) first. This will kill any harmful t spiralis trichonosis larvae that may be present in the meat. Raw pork is best left for when you’re a little more experienced and confident.
  13. Be cautious when feeding liver. A major function of the liver is to detoxify the body. The raw feeding rule of thumb is that liver should make up no more then 5% of your dog’s diet.
  14. Be sure to supplement your dog’s diet with regular raw meaty bones, and bully sticks/tendons to help with dental hygiene.

Danielle’s Ein loves his raw meaty bones!

ein/scapula

Did BARF work for me?

The difference I noticed when I moved from commercial dry food to BARF (my first step in my raw-feeding journey) was swift and amazing. All of a sudden, my dog’s coat went from dull and bristly to soft and shiny. Her “doggy” skin odour disappeared and I barely needed to bath her anymore. And even when I did, a quick spray with the hose or a run in the surf and a towelling was all she needed. Her breath stopped smelling bad. Her energy levels went through the roof. She stopped passing wind as frequently. Her poops became smaller, firmer and less frequent, and the frequent loose stools I would find before the switch seemed to stop altogether.

She’s simultaneously the laziest and most athletic dog I know.

Ball exhaustion

All in all, I would say BARF was a massively successful diet for my dog. Even though I have since moved on to Prey Model Raw Feeding, I still highly recommend BARF to new raw feeders, as it is an excellent place to start.

Good luck! The next post in this series will talk about Raw Meaty Bones (in the literal sense and as a feeding model) in greater detail.

Small, Soft, Stinky and on Sale: How to choose a good training treat

There’s a reason I usually go through the self-checkout at the grocery store. Okay, a lot of reasons. I’m pretty anti-social and I like to do things myself. The other day, though, the self-checkout lines were way longer than the cashier-checkout, so I hauled my cart over to the first illuminated aisle and unpacked my cart onto the conveyor belt.

I stood near the card-swiper as the charming cashier scanned my items and bagged them, staring off into space like I normally do. As she approached the deli and refrigerated stuff in my order, though, I could sense her slowing down between scanned items. What was the problem? I was just stocking up on our usual groceries and stuff for Cerberus – you know, turkey necks, chicken parts, training treats.

She held up a roll of Koegel-brand Braunschwieger, an unappetizing cylinder of pink putty-like liver sausage.
“Do you eat this?” she asked curiously.
I wrinkled my nose and laughed. “Oh, no. It’s for my dog.”
“Ohhhhhh.” She sounded relieved and wrapped up the rest of my order without comment.

There was a time in Cerb’s life when I thought we’d never be able to use food as a reinforcer when we trained. He has always been insane about food – I mean, “totally gone crazy in his head”-type of insane. He’s never wanted for food in his life, so I’m not sure where his food drive comes from, but it’s there. Oh, boy, is it there. So when Cerb was younger and I was a relative stranger to positive reinforcement training, I figured treats were just out of the question – the mere appearance of a delicious morsel was enough to blow. Cerb’s. mind. He would get so excited that he could barely control his body, let alone think through what I was asking him to do.

The end-result of Doggie Zen: No chocolate* for Cerb!
(* Neverever give your dogs chocolate. Ever.)

It was only later, after I’d learned more about the point of positive reinforcement and played fun games like “Doggie Zen” that I realized how lucky I am. These days, I look at Cerb and I wonder where the heck we’d be if not for his food drive. His willingness to work for food makes training a snap and food rewards are so easy to deliver while in motion, like through a rally course. Of course, there are always those who make disparaging remarks about trainers who use treats, calling them names like “cookie dispensers” and telling us our dogs won’t work unless there’s food involved. All I need to do is point to Cerb’s titles in weight pull, his CGC and his progress in Rally to prove that that’s not the case – you can’t take food into any of those competitions and yet Cerb still excels. Proper R+ training is not bribery, because bribery stops working the minute you take the bribe away. Instead, R+ training creates a give-and-take relationship between the trainer and her dog wherein the dog trusts that if he performs well, he will eventually be paid. Maybe not right at that instant, but perhaps after the whole string of behaviors is finished or the competition is over. It’s a method of training that results in your dog offering – yes, performing of his own accord – the behaviors you’ve taught him will be rewarded. I absolutely love it.

He doesn’t sit like this for freakin’ carrots, okay? Where’s the beef?!

Treats are fantastic training tools and positive reinforcers, but not all treats are made equal. When I first started R+ training, I showed up with a box of Milkbones. Dogs like those, right? Cerb sure seems to enjoy crunching them up! They make pretty messy training treats, though. First of all, they’re so hard that your dog will need to chew them a few times, which is fine at the end of training but can really slow you down when you’re moving at a fast pace, like when you’re training your dog to heel or to pull a cart. Secondly, they’re just not that exciting. If someone offered you a plain piece of toast or a cupcake, which would you prefer? In distracting training environments, you’ll want to arm yourself with the stinkiest, most delicious treats you can find, because they have to compete with all the natural distractions your dog might experience. If someone offered me a piece of toast to do a handstand, I’d probably pass, because handstands are hard and I’d rather just sit down and enjoy the sunshine. If someone offered me a cupcake, though… now we’re talking.

Of course, I can’t have a whole cupcake every time I do a handstand, especially if I’m trying to train the perfect handstand and I have to do twenty in a row. Obesity is as much a health issue for pets as it is for people! When you choose a training treat, make sure it’s something that can be broken down into teeeeeeeeny pieces. I’m serious. Smaller-than-a-thumbnail pieces. When you’re training a new behavior, you’re going to use a really high rate of reinforcement and go through those treats pretty quickly. If you’re feeding whole cookies, your dog will probably get really full and really fat really fast!

So what makes a good training treat, then? What’s soft and easy to swallow, delicious and delectable to fight distractions, firm enough to be cut into tiny pieces, and – importantly – affordable? When I go treat-shopping, I like to remember my 4 Ss: Small, Soft, Stinky, and on Sale! I surveyed Team Unruly members to see what they had to say…

Koegel’s Braunschweiger. Product image from Koegel Meats.

First off, I’ll offer my own opinion. Cerb has great food drive but is a clumsy chewer, so I need something soft and non-crumbly so we can keep moving when we’re training. We also train for long periods of time with a high rate of reinforcement, so it needs to be something firm enough to cut into tiny pieces. On top of all this, Cerb has various food intolerances that pretty much rule out most commercial dog treats, even the stuff that markets itself as having limited ingredients. When we train, we use Koegel’s Braunschweiger, a brand of liverwurst sausage that can be kept frozen for longevity and then thawed and cut into strips, slices or cubes. I’ve tried other brands of Braunschweiger but they tend to be really mushy and pasty. Koegel’s has the texture of soft bologna, so it keeps its shape even when you cut it into tiny bits. I also like cutting it into strips so I can constant-feed Cerb when we’re working in a really high-distraction environment (like when I’m trying to help him associate passing dogs with Good Nom Times). Braunschweiger is all meat, no grains, so it works really well for Cerb’s food allergies, and it’s not full of sugar either! Another treat I really like is the Happy Howie’s Gourmet Meatroll(sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?).

Happy Howie’s Gourmet Meatroll. Product photo from Happy Howie’s.

These can be hard to track down – I drive over an hour to get mine at K9 Specialties in Warren, MI. This product is a little bit firmer than the Braunschweiger and can get a bit crumbly if you’re rough with it, but Cerb really likes it and it’s easy to cut into small pieces. If I don’t have Braunschweiger or Happy Howie’s, I’ll just use shredded, cooked meats (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb) or bits of cheese.

Kelsey also likes to use cheese for Lucy and Nellie. She’s also had good luck with the Natural Balance food rolls, dried liver, and chopped-up hot dogs. As far as other commercial training treats, Kelsey recommends Zukes Mini Naturals (Cerb likes these, too!), ZiwiPeak Good Dog Treats and Nature’s Instinct raw bites. Kelsey’s criteria for good training treats include small size, high protein and low calories. She also likes stuff she can chop up and freeze in advance so she can just grab what she needs whenever it’s time for a quick training session!

Sarah’s Frankie loves Pet Botanics Training Rewards.

Katie and Merissa both love cut-up Pet Botanics food rolls and treats. These treats need to be kept in the fridge and used quickly or they’ll dry out, but they smell delicious to dogs and they’re soft and easy to swallow on the run. Katie’s eeeeevil red dog Luce and Sarah’s long-dog Owen also enjoy tuna fudge, which sounds disgusting but is apparently dog heaven. I found a recipe here, along with some other cool cook-at-home training treats! Making treats at home is a really good way to know exactly what’s in your dog’s food – very important for those of us with allergen-sensitive dogs!

Mmmm, lickable noms!

Sarah also likes the TreatToob by PAWW. This isn’t a treat itself, but a gooey-treat dispenser. You can fill them with all sorts of lickable treats – in this photo, Owen’s enjoying a mix of one part peanut butter to two parts non-fat Greek yogurt, which makes a high-protein healthy treat he can lick on the go! Sarah tells us that the TreatToob is way less messy than the usual squeeze-tubes she picked up at the camping gear store and recommends this method for delivering high-value treats during training sessions.

Dahlia loooooves turkey hot dogs!

Sarah, Ren, Michelle and Merissa all stand by tried-and-true favorites like diced-n-sliced hot dogs, cooked chicken, and string cheese. String cheese is particularly useful for luring behaviors because you can palm most of the stick and just expose the tip to be nibbled on as a reward. Hot dogs are great for cutting into itty-bitty little pieces and they do well being frozen and thawed – Kelsey likes to cut up a whole bunch at once, then freeze then and just scoop out what she needs at the time. Cooked chicken and other leftovers are great, too, as long as you’re careful to make sure there’s absolutely no cooked bones and not too much salt or other flavoring on the meat. Cooked meat is great because you can tear it into shreds as you train and it can smell really delicious – plus, it’s affordable because you were likely buying it for yourself anyway!

Got some more ideas for the perfect training treats? Let us know! We’re training all the time and always looking for the next great thing to pay our hard-working dogs!

Feeding Raw Made Easy: A Review of The Honest Kitchen

On July 26th, Ren posted a wonderful write-up about feeding raw food to your dog. Sometimes, the idea of raw feeding can be daunting – there are percentages to figure out – “How much food do I actually need to feed my dog per day?” to figuring out the meat-to-bone-organ ratio needed for proper nutrition, and, “Do I have to add fruits and veggies?” Sometimes, preparing the grocery list just for your dog can be frustrating.

Or, maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to even mess with raw meat.

Or, maybe you have a weirdo dog like my American Pit Bull Terrier who doesn’t want anything to do with raw meat (“Ewwww, gross!” he thinks, and turns up his nose at a bowl of delicious raw meats and bones), but want a similar option for your dog.

Since I have the weirdo dog who won’t touch raw meat, and I wasn’t about to continue half-cooking his meals for him, I sought out other options. For us, The Honest Kitchen proved to be the best. When we added our Toy Fox Terrier, Rikki, to the family, it just made sense to continue feeding THK – I mean, he only eats a tiny bit of food, hardly enough to make a dent in our grocery bill. It was easy to make and I loved the philosophy of the company:

“All of our recipes are made with 100% human-grade ingredients that you’d recognize from your own kitchen. Our recipes are prepared with care and uncompromising attention to detail, so you can serve them with confidence.”

Rikki says, “Where’s my dinner?”

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Naked Lunch: A Beginner’s Guide to Raw Feeding.

“Hi, my name is Ren and I am a raw feeder. It has been two and a half years since I last bought commercial pet food.”

I first became aware of the raw feeding method through my friends in the Australian dog breeding and showing community. I moderate a pedigree bull breeds dog forum and I have friends there who have been breeding, showing and feeding their dogs raw food for decades.

After feeding Max, my first Staffordshire Bull Terrier, on expensive kibble for years (recommended by my vet, no less) and struggling to manage his weight, teeth, breath and gastrointestinal health until the day he died, I knew that I wanted to give raw feeding a shot with my second dog.

I have fed my three year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tayla (Supasound Chase That Feeling), a raw diet since she was six months old, because I believe it is the best way to keep her happy and healthy.

Look at this dog. It doesn’t get much happier than this!

Once I kicked the commercial food habit, I never looked back.

So what is raw feeding?

“Raw feeding is the practice of feeding domestic dogs, cats and other animals a diet primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones, and organs.”

The thinking behind raw feeding is that canines should be fed what they are biologically designed to eat. The Canis lupis familiaris (domestic dog) is a sub-species of the Canis lupis, or grey wolf. Despite approximately 15,000 years of domestication and selective breeding, it has been argued that the nutritional needs of the canine have changed very little.

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