Homemade Dog Treats

As a responsible pet owner, you’re naturally going to be concerned about your puppy’s health, but too often we as owners don’t ask enough questions about what’s in the food we buy for them. Because meat is such an important ingredient in dog food, one that plays into thousands of years of canine consumption, preservatives become necessary in order to keep the kibble fresh from factory to doggie dish. Yet many of those preservatives are troubling. BHA and BHT, long considered possible carcinogens by the FDA, are oftem present, as is ethoxyquin, which is usually found in antifreeze and rubber. In fact,  one of the most popular brands of dog food, one that played up its natural benefits in its advertising, was recently the subject of a lawsuit by dog owners for  containing fungi and yet another antifreeze compound.

So what can you do to keep harmful chemicals out of your puppy’s digestive system? Believe it or not,  making your own dog food is neither expensive nor time consuming — they eat much of what humans do, including beef, chicken, turkey, veggies, rice, pasta, and fruit. As long as you include lots of animal fat and protein, your dog will be just as healthy as if he eats dry kibble. Check with your vet first, always.

Even if you’re not ready to commit that much that soon, homemade dog treats can help vary your pup’s diet while creating another area of bonding between you two. As you already know, they love peanut butter, but tend to also react positively to yogurt, applesauce, coconut, carrots, pumpkin, bananas, cinnamon,  oatmeal, honey, blueberries, and of course bacon. NEVER give a dog chocolate,  raisins, grapes, avocados, onions, garlic, or Macadamia nuts, as these are toxic to most dogs. Be sure and start small and experiment until you find the foods your particular puppy handles well.

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We love to refer to our dogs as “furbabies,” especially when they’re young,  but we too often forget that they’re more like toddlers than we realize. Emotionally, puppies often experience the same traumas young children do, and for much the same reasons: they’re simply too young to realize what’s going on.

Usually, this manifests itself in separation anxiety. A puppy that is being left alone only knows he’s being left alone, like a human baby, he has no larger context to place your actions in. Their human owners often attempt to ease the anxiety by drawing out the goodbye, but they usually end up exacerbating the problem by highlighting the separation. Once they finally leave, their pet will attempts to work through all that anxiety with the only options he has — by chewing on things, or barking, whining, even soiling the carpet. Then when their owner returns, he’s punished for being a “bad dog,” essentially making him feel worse. And a vicious cycle begins.

So if feeding your puppy’s need for attention is a bad idea just before you leave, and punishing him for his anxieties only makes them develop further, what’s the solution? Well, as with a human toddler, playing with your puppy a little before you leave for work is a good idea. It gives him a sense of well-being and tires him out a little. Providing your pet with toys to keep him distracted is another known remedy. As with humans, dogs eventually respond to structure — if you leave and return often, and at the same times, he’ll come to understand that your absence is only temporary. You can actually designate a safe and happy place for your pup to consider its home base, one comfortable and accessible and meeting all its needs, then practice leaving your little furbaby alone for longer and longer periods of time — 15 minutes at first,  then when he’s used to that, half an hour,  then so on and so on. Also, don’t be afraid to lavish praise on your puppy when you do return, both as reinforcement for “good dog” behavior and as a way of reminding your pet that the separation is both natural and temporary. We all behave better when we feel we have something to look forward to!

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Puppy Mills

Remember Snoopy,  Charlie Brown’s mostly faithful, sometimes adorable, but always interesting pet beagle? Well, he had a backstory: his point of sale was a puppy farm,  specifically the fictional Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, a place so benign that Snoopy often wrote them to see how they were doing since his departure.

These days, when you hear about places like these, they’re instead called “puppy mills,” and that’s not just a politically correct rebranding. When you buy a puppy now, especially from a pet store, its point of origin is more often than not a facility that can hold up to 1000 dogs of various ages and types. The difference these days is the maximization of profit at the animals’ expense: puppies are bred constantly until the mothers are nearly dead, with no regard for congenital health problems and disease, in cages barely large enough to move in stacked like crates in a warehouse,  then sold to an unsuspecting general public.

If you’re expecting the law to step in and do something about this outrage,  think again. Thanks to a loophole in federal law, only mills that sell directly to customers need to meet health guidelines, which means that most of these operations conduct themselves with impunity. Merely being licensed to sell puppies carries with it no guarantee that these animals are being bred humanely. Worse, puppies that have “papers” are simply those who know where their parents are from. It’s not a symbol of purebred origin,  much less humane breeding.

So what can you the consumer do? First, adopt a puppy from a shelter,  which are actually much more likely to be healthy and well-behaved than those in a pet store,  and you’ll be saving a life in the process.  If you want a purebred dog and can’t find one at a shelter, contact a rescue group for the breed you want or meet face to face with a reputable breeder, one who also checks you out to make sure his offspring are headed for a happy home. See where the puppy comes from,  not only his point of origin but hus actual parents. Never buy a puppy online under any circumstances. And if you want to take a more active role, find a shelter with mill survivors and buy one, literally saving a dog from the horror.

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Dog Training

Dog owners are forever looking for the magic phrase, product, or method that’ll reward them with the perfectly behaved pet, but that ironically ignores the fact that animals are all individually different. It’s what we love about them, after all! Like humans, they run in groups but have their own unique personalities. Like humans,  however, simple interaction and communication is enough to establish a relationship with your canine friend, and like your human friendships, it’s a simple matter of establishing what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t.

One of the main reasons dogs are more  easily domesticated than, say, cats is because canines have been domesticated longer than any other animal: for about ten thousand years, we’ve taken the dog’s natural tendency to follow an alpha male and transferred that power structure to a human owner. Your dog,  especially if he’s still in the puppy stage,  is already hardwired to do what you say. What he doesn’t carry around in his DNA is the ability to know what humans like and want. Dog training is simply a matter of assuming control of a pack of one,  and leading it through a strange new landscape.

The only way to do this is through repetition and structure. It’s as important for you to be absolutely rigid in your schedule and your rules as you want your new pet to be. This is not to say you should be angry or abusive!  In fact, you’ll get much better results by treating your dog pleasently and with respect. Your canine friend wants to be good and follow the rules, but if he isn’t clear what the rules are or what the consequences for breaking them entail, he can’t be blamed for being a “bad dog.” Just because you know what that is doesn’t mean he will, and just as with any new relationship, what’s important to you is never going to be as obvious to him. Certainly not right away!

Set clear guidelines for good and bad behaviors, teach those lessons every day by establishing a clear and unchanging routine, and most importantly, have the patience to see it all through. Often it’s just when you get used to having a routine that your pet will catch on; by the time you stop noticing it, that’s often just when your dog will begin to see the pattern!

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