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Omega 3 – part 1

Essential nutrients are chemicals that need to be provided in the diet, as body cannot synthetize them from other, simpler molecules.

Essential fatty acids are required for normal function of the organisms, i.e. their role far exceeds the plain function of fat as a source of energy. Their effect starts at a cellular level, and so impacts on many systems and organ function, including inflammation, cell growth, nervous system and many more.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – are fatty acids that contain more than one double bond between oxygen and carbon in their chemical constitution.

Omega 3, 6 and 9 – are a sub-group of PUFAs (there are a couple more groups ), differentiated by the location of their first double-bond, counted from the end. So, Omega 3 has it closest to the end of the molecule, 6 has it a bit further in the molecule and 9 yet further.

EPA and DHA – docosahexaenic acid (DHA) are long (20 and 22 carbon molecules in the chain, for EPA and DHA respectively) Omega 3 PUFAs (5 double bonds for EPA, 6 for DHA), contained in fish oil. Particularly beneficial for maintaining healthy body systems.

In the strict division, there are only two truly essential acids: Omega 6 linoleic acid (LA) and Omega 3 linolenic acid (ALA). They can be converted to other fatty acids but in reality, conversion rates for most are quite limited, hence a need for provision of these acids in diet (and why in some non-scientific publications, other fatty acids are also termed as essential). Conversion rates in humans have been estimated at <10% [1], in dogs the conversion from LA (Omega6) and ALA (Omega3) has been detected for EPA but not for DHA [2].

Both Omega3 and Omega6 are needed in the normal functioning of the organism, but, they actually compete with each other in certain physiological processes. As both have important roles, the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 (for both, total amounts provided in diet and synthesized de novo) should be approximately equal (ratio 1:1), unfortunately, modern diets have much higher ratios, e.g. 15:1 in humans [3]. This high ratio is supposedly associated with an increase in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease [3]. I don’t think there is a study evaluating Omega 6:3 ratio in modern dog diets, but as most of the meat produced worldwide nowadays is intensively bred (i.e. housed and fed on concentrates, rather than fresh grass, or even silage) and there is research showing a depletion of Omega 3’s in meat from animals raised in such systems [4–6], it follows that the same shift towards Omega 6 will be observed.

While the ratio has been historically quite a common way to determine the fatty acid profile of a diet, nowadays it is not as attractive [7]. We know now, that actual content of EPA, DHA and ALA is very important, arguably more important than the overall content of Omega 3. Diets with the same Omega 6:3 ratio can have vastly different fatty acid profiles, and different function, caused by different health benefits of EPA/DHA, far outweighing the benefits of ALA. I will prepare another blog which will list the health benefits of EPA/DHA, together with dosages recommended with supplementation.

For now, let’s concentrate on the daily requirements for those two Omega fatty acids in a normal, healthy dog.

FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry) has no minimum or maximum recommended dose for adult dogs, but does list a minimum of 0.13g per 1000kcal ME for growth and reproduction stages. NRC lists the recommended allowance of 0.11g per 1000kcal ME, with a safe upper dosage of combined EPA+DHA at 2,800mg/1,000kcal, or 370mg per (kg od body weight)0.75[8].

Given its biological function, it does seem a little weird that there are no minimum requirements for those two components… But we can calculate it ourselves!

As discussed in the previous blog on basic terms in energy requirements, we can approximate the minimum amount from the recommended allowance and the RER.

Table below shows the recommended EPA+DHA for a RER level as the minimum, and the maximum both from the energy and body weight.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 17.26.48

  • BW – body weight in kg
  • RER – resting energy requirement
  • kcal – energy requirement in calories, calculated assuming moderate activity
  • min EPA+DHA = (RER*0.11)/1000
  • max EPA+DHA from kcal = (kcal/moderate activity *2.8)/1000
  • max EPA+DHA from MW = (MW*0.37)

In the above table, I calculated the minimum and maximum dosages of EPA+DHA in grams. There is a slight difference between the maximum amounts calculated using kcal and MW – presumably this is because I have used a moderate activity level. Calculating it for active, growing or nursing animals with higher energy requirements would result in a considerably higher number.

Next time, I will list the contents of various fatty acids in different meat products. Following this, I will list the known benefits of supplementing with EPA+DHA and compare dosages used to the above, “safe” doses.

 

 

 

  1. Brenna JT, Salem N, Sinclair AJ, Cunnane SC, International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, ISSFAL. alpha-Linolenic acid supplementation and conversion to n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009;80:85–91.
  2. Bauer JE, Dunbar BL, Bigley KE. Dietary Flaxseed in Dogs Results in Differential Transport and Metabolism of (n-3) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. J Nutr. 1998;128:2641S-2644S.
  3. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother Biomedecine Pharmacother. 2002;56:365–79.
  4. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010;9:10.
  5. Moreau M, Troncy E, Castillo JRE del, Bédard C, Gauvin D, Lussier B. Effects of feeding a high omega-3 fatty acids diet in dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr. 2013;97:830–7.
  6. Ponnampalam E, Mann N, Sinclair A. Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on humnan health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15:21–9.
  7. Harris WS. The omega-6/omega-3 ratio and cardiovascular disease risk: Uses and abuses. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2006;8:453–9.
  8. National Research Council, Division on Earth and Life Studies, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Animal Nutrition, Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. National Academies Press; 2006.

 

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Energy requirements in dogs – basics

Metabolic weight (MW)– basic energy requirements of small and large animals of the same (and different too!) species differ. For example, small dogs need far more energy to be able to thermoregulate than larger dogs. MW is calculated as body weight in kg raised to the power of 0.75. For smaller dogs, MW is much closer to real weight than for larger dogs. E.g. for a 2kg dog, MW=1.7, whereas for a 20kg dog MW=9.5. The heavier the dog, the larger the difference between its actual and metabolic weights.

Weight &amp; MW

Resting Energy Requirement (RER) – the absolute minimum energy required to sustain the basic bodily functions, like breathing, heart function or digestion. Calculated as MW*70.

Daily energy (caloric) requirements (kcal) – estimated energy requirement, given activity levels of a dog. This is a general estimate, as each dog may have a slightly different metabolic rates, and our activity level definitions may differ somewhat… For this conversion I have used the ratio’s from Ohio’s State Univeristy’s page.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 16.01.21.png

  • BW – body weight in kg
  • MW – metabolic weight
  • RER – resting energy requirement (kcal)

 

RAW feeding

There is plenty research in humans showing the superiority of fresh, unprocessed foods over heavily processed ready meals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientists to know that eating a salad is healthier than eating a cheeseburger… But science doesn’t seem to show the same to be true for dogs. In fact, majority of the research comparing commercially prepared and “raw” diets indicates that the latter group is more at risk of nutritional imbalances (e.g. [1]). Most vets when consulted about feeding raw will warn of the risks relating to gastro-intestinal perforations with bone fragments (e.g. [2]). Further, there is a growing body of research articles pointing to the risks of bacterial infections from feeding dogs raw meat products (e.g. [3,4]).
For further peer-reviewed information on the current state of the knowledge regarding to raw feeding in dogs and cats, see these two reviews – [5,6].

So, why even do it? Proponents of raw feeding usually give quite vague and rather naïve reasons. For example, from I. Billinghurst’s book:
“You will see escalating energy levels!

Many dental problems will disappear!

Infected ears become healthy again!

Arthritis disappears!

Expect orthopaedic condtions in young dogs to disappear!”

And many more.. One would think that feeding his way cures dogs of all ailments!

I do not believe this to be so simple. The outcome of the diet MUST depend on the diet formulation, and how well it is adjusted to the needs of a particular dog. I do believe that there are some dogs which do better on well formulated raw diet – Yarpen is one of them. He’s suffered from IBD throughout his life, having been on a range of premium and super-premium diets. He would poop at least 4/day, with frequent bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting, usually leading to vet visits and antibiotic treatments. The only commercially available diet which worked for him was a prescription IBD diet – until he decided he wouldn’t eat it anymore. I will not say that raw was a hit from the get go. We have attempted it twice before, with rather poor effect. But this time I think I finally “cracked him” – he is super excited about his food, eats pretty much everything, poops approx. once a day – a small and perfectly formed stool. I believe this is due to the water content and to a certain degree, the bioavailability of nutrients, in raw food.
For Falka – she is unfortunately suffering from quite severe food allergies. I decided to do an elimination diet when her allergies first became obvious, and DIY seemed like the most definite way. And it appears it was a good call, as now her food allergies are under control and recent research shows that commercial single-protein diets are less than perfect in their labelling honesty [7].

So, why feeding raw to our animals is so much more difficult than feeding ourselves? First of all, dogs are carnivorous (or at least far closer to carnivores than omnivores). We humans, as omnivores, have evolved to assimilate nutrients from a variety of different products. In dogs, and even more so in cats, majority/all of the nutrients come from animal products. The animal products we can obtain for our animals are neither complete (e.g. vast majority of us have no access to brains or eyes, very rich in certain nutrients), nor do they necessarily reflect a wild prey equivalent (e.g. Omega3 content in pasture raised and intensively bred beef).
Further, not many people have access and/or funds to the actual muscle meat for their dogs. Having visited a LARGE number of shops selling raw products for dogs, both in person and on-line, I have found very few which sell pure muscle meat. In most cases, “meat” is actually consisting of trimmings, fat and connective tissue.
I do not want to post pictures of products sold by different shops, however, have a look at the photo below showing lean beef muscle meat, and compare this to the beef chunks sold in shops selling raw food for dogs.

20180324_134553.jpg

An additional risk with feeding offcuts sold in shops devoted to raw food for dogs is that sometimes they may contain undisclosed organ bits, which – fed in large quantities, can indeed lead to problems. I have found thyroid glands attached to lamb tracheas, they are also commonly found in chicken necks – one of the most commonly used raw meaty bone ingredient. Thyroid gland is very rich in hormones which actually affect the thyroid function in the dog. Thus, it’s not surprising that reckless feeding of larger quantities of these products has been found to cause dietary hyperthyroidism [10].

Secondly, finding the right education in this respect is not easy. There are some common methods of feeding raw, most of which can be traced back to the two earliest popular books on raw feeding [8,9]. Perhaps the most common “golden rule” nowadays is to follow 80:10:10 ratio, where we feed 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% offal. This however is a very broad rule and can mean completely different nutrient profiles in different diet compositions. Take tongue and heart as an example – in some raw-feeding schools they are treated as offal, in others, due to the fact they are in-fact muscle tissues, they are treated as meat. Thus, diets following the same 80:10:10 ratios can have hugely different nutrient contents.

Understanding the nutrient contents of particular foods and constructing diets is not easy. There are multiple macro- and micro-nutrients which need to be balanced. As such, it is easy to fall for “ready-made” raw mixes. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no commercially available mixes in the UK, which follow detailed nutritional guidelines for dogs outlined e.g. in Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats [11]– the most comprehensive book listing all requirements at all life stages.  At least I couldn’t find any reference to those on the websites of the major suppliers. (If you know of one, please give me a shout!) I would also imagine that the “complete mixes” are composed from the same individual ingredients a given producer sells. So, the same trimmings/connective tissue which are sold as muscle meat contribute to 80% of the complete mix…

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that feeding variety of foods in the 80:10:10 ratios is a safe recommendation. In fact, I don’t believe that you can construct the diet properly, without learning about nutrition yourself. I have had a painful lesson in this respect with my last, now deleted blog post on Omega 3s. I have followed a book which I believed to be a reputable and reviewed resource. Luckily for my dogs, the dosages recommended did not sit well with me, so I started digging deeper and now know that in fact the book was wrong. Unfortunately, there is no control over what raw feeders say or write on the subject. There is plenty of misinformation there, with people frequently sharing information of unknown origin and value. Question “Where does this information come from?” most often is met with “I dunno, found it on the internet”.

1349175870632_8878741

In the next weeks I will be posting some blog entries on particular foods and nutrient contents. I will be doing research into those for my own use, and as I discuss the details with some of my friends, having it on the blog is a convenient way to store that information. I will be using peer-reviewed and scientific sources, and will ensure the information to be critically assessed to the best of my ability. However, I hope that these articles will encourage the reader to actually start researching the subject themselves to tailor their dogs’ diet, rather than follow what I write without critical thinking.

References:

  1. Dillitzer N, Becker N, Kienzle E. Intake of minerals, trace elements and vitamins in bone and raw food rations in adult dogs. Br J Nutr. 2011;106:S53–6.
  2. Thompson H. C., Cortes, Y., Gannon, K., Bailey, D., Freer, S. Esophageal foreign bodies in dogs: 34 cases (2004–2009). J Vet Emerg Crit Care. 2012;22:253–61.
  3. Finley R, Ribble C, Aramini J, Vandermeer M, Popa M, Litman M, et al. The risk of salmonellae shedding by dogs fed Salmonella-contaminated commercial raw food diets. Can Vet J. 2007;48:69–75.
  4. Joffe DJ, Schlesinger DP. Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets. Can Vet J. 2002;43:441–2.
  5. Freeman LM, Chandler ML, Hamper BA, Weeth LP. Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243:1549–58.
  6. Schlesinger DP, Joffe DJ. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. Can Vet J. 2011;52:50–4.
  7. Ricci R, Conficoni D, Morelli G, Losasso C, Alberghini L, Giaccone V, et al. Undeclared animal species in dry and wet novel and hydrolyzed protein diets for dogs and cats detected by microarray analysis. BMC Vet Res [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2018 Oct 13];14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6020431/
  8. Lonsdale T. Raw Meaty Bones. Dogwise Publishing; 2001.
  9. Billinghurst I. Give Your Dog a Bone. Dogwise Publishing; 1993.
  10. Köhler B, Stengel C, Neiger R. Dietary hyperthyroidism in dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 2012;53:182–4.
  11. National Research Council, Division on Earth and Life Studies, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Animal Nutrition, Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. National Academies Press; 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

Supplementation with Omega3

I have deleted the piece which I have placed here a couple of weeks ago. Upon further research, I came to the conclusion that the information from the book I quoted is in fact wrong. I am now collating more data from purely scientific sources and will update the article as soon as I can.

The topic is extremely interesting and may have put me on a path I have not imagined myself walking on!

Short winter days and lack of focus

As much as I would like to keep an accurate journal of our training, it is nigh impossible. We are now back at the classes twice a week, plus spending weekends at the IPO club. We have also reached the teenager stage with all its challenges. Compared to Yarpen Falka is actually quite easy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle sometimes! Pretty much everything we have done to date took a hit. Her recalls are worse, though still at over 90% success. She started realising that she is big enough to explore the world on her own. Her playing with me… well, it’s dismal. As Yarpen’s health improved, they spend more and more time playing together and my attractiveness suddenly plunged. She does not tug with me, but recently I noticed she tugged with my husband! We are at a stage where some of her behaviours should be already put on cue and generalised, but due to various factors we are a little behind with it.. The current state of affaris is in equal parts caused by her age, and by my lack of focus in training. We have had several sessions where I really did not think of what I was doing, started using the hand signal previously used for one behaviour to another and it all just became a total mess, with her switching off. I really need to get more organised again and be smarter about the time we spend together.

The thing I will be concentrating on now is going back to socialisation. I have to admit that over the last weeks she has not had much contact with anyone other than our Club people. We need to work on a couple of things. First, thresholds. Not surprisingly considering her breed, she doesn’t like it when a new person enters a room where she has been for some time. I will work on this by taking her to a shop, sitting a little off the entrance and clicking/treating every time someone comes through the door. Secondly, she is still happy to say a gentle hello to people, but if they touch her for too long, or stare at her directly, or make any sort of playful movements, she reacts. Overall, the first few seconds of greeting are fine, then the problems start. My plan was to use a clicker to mark before the end of the good phase and before she gets the idea of reacting. This way I am rewarding her for the nice part of greeting, but also by pulling her away from the stranger, I am restoring her personal space and giving her a “breathe out”. I have tried that a couple of times, but it appears that we have lost the value of the clicker (over the last weeks we were working mainly with verbal markers)! So, back to charging the clicker with super valuable treats first, then using it in the highly demanding situations.

Falka – IPO starts

On the day of Falka’s 0.5 birthday we have officially joined one of the best IPO Clubs in the UK. Of course, we will not be doing any serious work for a veery long time, but I am very keen on Falka learning that the Club is the place of greatest fun.

We have had 4 sessions now and what a ride it has already been! I am extremely grateful to our trainers, there is nothing better than experienced guidance!

Session 1: A complete and utter disaster L Despite all the time put in the play at home, and all the great attitude to play that Falka has had in other situations, when placed on the new turf she was not interested in the play at all. Of course, the fault was entirely on my part, as I did not fit in her comfort zone on that day. First of all, this was the first time she was asked to play with a strange man. Second – the toy was a puppy bite pad on a lunge line, which she has never seen before. To that date we only played with “fluffy” toys. Third – new place, though we have played in variety of other locations so here I think it was more stacking of issues than the location alone.

Session 2: A complete and utter success J We have changed pretty much everything. I took her out to the field and I was holding the flirt pole. We changed the toy to a rabbit skin, still stinking the “original” smell. The results were amazing.

Session 3: Progressing further. The decoy is slowly taking over the flirt pole. She is now starting to positively react to his verbal praise, even when she hears it from outside of the ring, directed at other dog. A little slower, but still devoted.

Session 4: Not a particularly great session in terms of the play, but still made me happy. She was pretty distracted with the spectators and a few times disengaged from us to have a good run around, saying hello to the crowds. After winning she also took the toy to show off in front of the fans rather than come back to me. But, as she is now going through a fear period, with some worries about other people, I was very happy to see her just having fun and being open and cheerful about the crowds. Still, it was not all lost on the play part, as she is now consciously playing with the helper and even tugging a little bit.

A cautionary note. Playing with flirt poles can be dangerous for growing joints. It is a heave form of exercise, so should always be done with care and responsibility. We do not play too much. A few minutes 2-3 times a week is plenty. I also run with her on a straight line, rather than stand still waving the flirt around, making her do tight turns. I am still working on my mechanics, but I feel that the length and intensity of our game does not exceed the levels she chooses for herself when running free.

Cardboard solution

Watching Falka develop is absolutely amazing, but can be also frustrating at times… Unfortunately the changes she goes through are not always in the direction I would want! Tugging is a great example of this. As a baby pup (i.e. pre-teeth change) Falka was playing great, with vigorous and engaged tug. I chose to stop tugging, or at least limit it significantly, during the teeth change. And it appears that during these 2 months something switched off in her head. She is still very happy to play with me, both directly and with toys, with no signs of stress or conflict with me. In fact the problem lies in her pushing into (or under) me, rather than tugging on the toys. At the moment it feels to me that she doesn’t want to “fight against me”, even if it is just for fun.

As I noticed this drop in her attitude, I went first with the popular method of increasing her confidence by rewarding even very small steps toward tugging, e.g. pawing at the moving toy, grabbing it, putting even tiniest amount of resistance… I know that this is a great method and works well, but… I am a little impatient 😉 I also feel that as she enjoyed tug before (not like Yarpen to whom tugging had always seemed like a futile exercise) the proble lies more with her attitude, so there has to be a trick which would explain to her that even when tugging we can be one team…. I feel that in her head tugging is somewhat of a fight where we both try to win the toy. I would like her to think of it more as us ripping a prey into parts together (not necessarily the same thing as we will need for decoy work in the future, but at this stage I want her to actually enjoy tugging first).

A breakthrough in our tugging came about quite unexpectedly a couple of days ago while playing… with junk mail. A little backstory: both my dogs enjoy ripping cardboard into pieces, something pretty common to many dogs. I hold a piece of cardboard, they grab it, rip a piece off, spit it out and immediately come back to rip more off, until I have the tiniest of pieces in my hand, which of course they win. They don’t really play with the pieces on the floor, the game is in ripping it apart with me.

A few nights ago, I was cleaning up junk mail off the floor (in one piece, as it flew down the letter hole – another proof that cardboard and paper are only cool in my hands!) and just by chance, I rolled the ads into a baton of sorts and invited Falka to rip it apart. The paper was quite strong, so it gave her quite a bit of resistance. And…. She pulled! She tugged!! Admittedly, after winning she did lie down with the intention of disintegrating it, but luckily, Yarpen was at hand. I immediately rolled another one and invited Yarpen for the same game. I didn’t have to ask twice, and of course, us having fun acted like magnet on Falka. I let her win quite easily and was praising her with a lot of genuine happiness in my voice. I am now thinking of going back to cardboard first, which gives me the confidence she will succeed in my expectations, and giving it a cue, most likely “get it”. When I see she starts to recognize it, I will start cueing her to tug on stronger paper and gradually move to toys of various types. Hopefully it will work as planned!

Beginnings of physiotherapy past stem cell implantation

It has now been 2 weeks since Yarpen had the stem cells injected. We have finished the initial after-care period, and he is now allowed a little more movement. We have had 5 (of 6) laser sessions, with one left for next week. I am now starting to really accept the improvement I’m seeing. His energy levels are through the roof compared to before. I guess only now that he has improved I am fully appreciating the state he was in before… It was easy to miss it, as the deterioration was so gradual. He is more active, happier, wants to play both with the puppy and me, picks up toys and enjoys his life again. I would say that the stem cell therapy turned us to the point we were about 2-3 years ago.

At the moment the cells are still multiplying and implanting, so even though it’s incredibly tempting to just start on muscle building exercises, we need to be very careful. The main muscle building will be achieved during under-water treadmill sessions, but I am not entirely sure when we will be starting this, we will follow our vet’s advice on this. We have however seen our physiotherapist.

DISCLAIMER

Please, do not attempt any of the exercises I am writing about in this and other posts without consulting a professional first. Physiotherapy is a great, great tool, but it’s not just about teaching a dog new tricks/movements. The main point are for the dog to be asked only what he can achieve at his current level and making sure that the movement is carried out by proper muscles, at appropriate speed. Pushing things not only won’t achieve any results, but can in fact make the dog worse.

As we are still letting the joint settle, we are not doing anything which would put too much strain on it. The first exercise we did during our session was a “simple” posture correction, with the use of platforms/steps. As Yarpen’s right hip is worse, he tends to stand with his right foot closer under the body. This makes his body asymmetrical, with muscles being inappropriately activated even when he is just standing. Further, we are working on slow and mindful movement. For example I am going to try and slow down his backing away (only a few steps at a time), so he is very aware how far each foot is moving. We are also working on his front paw targeting by using pods. I am now starting to teach him the basics of lateral movement as well. He’s never done that before, but is catching on very well. The final exercise we have started before the procedure is nose target to hip and toes. It activates his core muscles. Before the procedure he was able to reach the target on a lure. As we have now taken a few steps back in difficulty of exercises, I have decided to work a little on replacing the lure with a hand target. It’s not easy, as even though Yarpen has a pretty good maintained target (his nose touching my hand), by chance we have never worked on a moving target. This means that I am asking for far less movement, e.g. instead of asking him to target his hip with his nose, I only “pull” his head on a hand target to about 90 degrees each side. At the same time, as I take the lure out he is far more level headed (rather than just trying to get to the lure).

Falka’s progress

Since the last blog about Falka, she has completed her second puppy course, passing a KC Puppy Foundation course. She is progressing really well, although true to her breed, she started to show some challenging characteristics. She is much sharper and has lower threshold for reactivity than Yarpen. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that in the society that we live in, we need to be extra careful in managing this.

Firstly, the resource guarding from other dogs. She has made great progress with it and now does not react even when a strange dog is close by when she is fed treats. I have been doing a lot of training with Yarpen as a stooge, where they both get treats while sitting next to each other, each gets a treat separately after I say his/her name. She has never reacted to him in a way which would be obvious to us, humans, but if watched carefully enough she can be seen sending some very subtle signals that clearly show she wants to guard whatever she values. I don’t scold her, but if she “gives him an eye” (a quick glance toward him, with a bit of a whale eye), or blocks his access by moving into his space, she doesn’t get the treat. If she escalates in any way, the treats and my attention are removed altogether. I really am blessed that Yarpen is such a patient and non-possessive dog (having said that, if he’s got something and she comes over and tries to take it, he will growl at her. But it is a polite and low-intensity growl, as opposed to hers “give it all now, as I want it, I’ll bite you if you don’t!!” so I allow this). We still have to work a little on her jealousy over me, but hopefully that will come in time.

With other dogs, I try to reward her every time a dog comes close to us (mostly me, as she is guarding me and food), so that she associates their approach with good things and doesn’t feel that she will lose anything. I NEVER feed or give attention to a strange dog in front of her, unless it’s a carefully managed, set up situation.

To further improve her relationship with other dogs I have let her play with a young husky pup we’ve met in a park. I could observe the pup in a group of other dogs and was quite pleased with her body language. Normally I wouldn’t want her to engage with strange dogs, but I felt she needed some positive experience with some new dogs so I allowed it this once. She really did have a ball and this one play-date helped her enormously. Now when we meet dogs I do allow her to shortly greet them, for which she is rewarded, but then I recall her and engage with me. In total, I would say that she was allowed to play (and I mean a proper play time) with less than 10 dogs in her life. The number of dogs she has met in a “greet and recall” situations would be closer to a hundred.

 

Secondly, we have now entered the stage where her guarding instincts are kicking in. Possibly related to a fear period. She is still friendly with strangers, but only on her terms. She will be happy to greet (sniff, gentle stroke), but any sort of rough play from the stranger is met with defensive reaction from her. This is actually a step up from Yarpen, who did not like strangers at all at her age, so I am not overly worried by this. Of course, we are addressing this, but the main lesson here is for me to be her advocate and not put her in a position where the stranger’s action come first before her wellbeing. For the time being, she is now off limits to most strangers on the street, but spends some time with my dog-savvy friends (most of whom are either professionals or advanced and experienced handlers), where she learns to trust them and is not pushed over her current limits.

 

Thirdly, her walks are now separate from those of Yarpen. When I first started taking her for walks, I used to walk them together quite a lot. Partly because his presence was giving her a lot of confidence, partly because I wanted them to bond. Common walks are a typical method of creating a bond between previously strange dogs. However, over time I noticed this wasn’t bringing desired effects. Yarpen was too sore to engage in play with her, which was frustrating both him (as, if I would allow it, she would still try to tease him to play with her by pulling his ears or biting his ankles) and her (as she just wasn’t getting the attention she needed). Also, it started affecting her relationship with me; where previously she would put play with me over that with Yarpen, now she would leave my side to investigate what he was doing.

 

Fourthly (is that even a word?), we are continuously working on her body awareness, agility and body coordination. This is something I believe is not necessarily innate to our breed (or many other giant breeds), and at the same time is very important for injury free life and success in competition. A simple example: when I first started training Yarpen competitively, I was trying to use food games as a way to increase his motivation and speed (as at the time I did not know how to engage him in play). “Trying” being the operative word here. Games like food chases, or catching food in air don’t really do much, if the dog is more likely to get the food stuck between his eyes without even opening his mouth… So we do a lot of food chases and we started on food catching gamers (throwing treats so she catches them in the air). I also introduced a sound which I make when I toss a treat on the floor (“weeee”) so that it’s easier for her to switch to a food chase mode. I am also using interactive toys, such as treat balls which require her to work out how to get to the food. These things are not something that can be learnt in single sessions, it’s more of a long-term development of skills so I expect this to carry on throughout her life.

 

The journey we are going through now is extremely enjoyable. She is changing extremely fast, both in terms of physical and mental development. This calls for great flexibility on my part, but also makes it very entertaining and engaging. I am trying to use the time we are actively spending together to the limits. Every moment is a chance for training/learning about world. I am definitely seeing the fruits of our work, but at the same time, this work carries with itself a lot of time commitment. We have now joined the IPO club, as well as continue our previous classes. This means that we have structured training 4 times a week, plus obviously, several short training sessions per day (when I say sessions, I mean moments when my attention is entirely devoted to her, usually with some goal in mind, but not necessarily strictly training related. For example a session would be a play session, where I am aware of the duration, her engagement levels and for example the type of toy we play with). Putting this together with Yarpen’s treatment plan which requires 3h commute twice a week, I do feel like a dog-taxi most of the time! And yet I’ve never been happier with the way my passion for my dogs is progressing.

 

Confidence issues

Over the last weeks I found it really difficult to write down our progress. This was in part caused by a lack of time with training, work and Yarpen’s treatment sessions taking over. Yarpen’s health problems were quite depressing, which didn’t make me feel like writing anything at all. But there was also a bit of a serious issue on my part, which I think (hope…) I am over now. It was a lack of confidence. I am writing this as I had a similar phase when I first took on Yarpen. I hope that by writing this down I will help my future-self to get over it quicker.

Over the last years I have met many great trainers, whom I admire greatly. Some of the things I wrote on the previous blog posts were met with some (constructive) criticism from some of them. This is of course good, as it helps me be a better trainer, but at the same time the number of issues highlighted was quite unnerving. This made me doubt in the value of this blog being public, in me as a trainer, or even in my ability to deal with my breed! But, at some point I realised that while some of the advice I received was universal, other was subjective, reflecting the preferred methods or a viewpoint of a given trainer. Sometimes the tips from different trainers were completely contradictory! For a while I was then lost, not really sure which advice to follow. Aside from making me feel bad, it also made our training worse, as I got quite petrified of failing.

Finally I decided to just go with my instincts. I am feeling fairly confident as a pet dog trainer, so all I am risking is our sports career. It is of course one of our main goals, but I would rather have fun training and make mistakes, than be rigid and afraid of doing something wrong.

So, future-me, remember how Yarpen turned out, and just have fun!!