Should We Even Talk To ‘The Other Side’?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the pros and cons of engaging (publicly or privately) with people in the dog world who hold views different from your own. This can be an especially thorny topic when the opposing (or at least not compatible) viewpoints relate to a core belief of yours – beliefs that we often safeguard and protect more dearly than anything else. This got me thinking about the best ways to handle such situations, and I figured I’d share my thoughts with you here.

Nothing is more important or sacrosanct to me and all of us at Positively/VSPDT/VSA than the reputation we’ve worked for over a decade to build as a leading voice for progressive, force-free, positive dog training. If anyone were ever to question how fervently we work every day to promote positive dog training, they need only look at my entire body of work as an educator, TV presenter, author, speaker, product developer, spokesperson, board member, and dog trainer to be reassured that every step I take personally and every decision we make as a brand, educational institution, organization, and company is 100% committed to the mission of helping dogs and owners through a more full understanding of canine behavior using science-based positive reinforcement tools and methods and the complete avoidance of compulsion or traditional training philosophies which include the use of pain, fear or intimidation with dogs. This is my core belief and it’s powerful enough to drive me and our whole team every day.

So the question is, what should happen when someone like me with such strong views is provided an opportunity to engage with another person who holds different views? Maybe not diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive approaches, but certainly significantly divergent enough to create a ripple here or there.

All positive dog trainers have the same mountain to climb these days in the battle for the hearts and minds of dog owners in terms of positive training. Not only do we at Positively share the passion required to scale that mountain every day, we have made countless decisions – both big and small – which have resulted in taking the more challenging path every time. I do not shrink from any fight or any opportunity to speak on behalf of the well-being of dogs, especially when it comes to the use of positive training and the avoidance of traditional methods.

That said, I do believe that it is important to reach those who have not yet been exposed to our message. Often, by engaging intelligently with someone from another camp, you benefit from the opportunity to reach a wider audience that might otherwise be less accessible for you. I feel that it is irresponsible to shy away from opportunities to connect with those who may need your message most – even if they’re not aware of that need. In my work with police dog handlers and K9 units, for example, I have regularly worked alongside handlers that use more aversive methods than I prefer – and I tell them about it. We open dialogues and challenge each other to think about things differently. My sole reason for doing this is to try and make a dent in an industry that is overwhelmingly (in the US anyway) dominated by traditional aversive tools, methods and thinking. As a point of reference, we are seeing the slow-moving ship of the police dog world starting to show signs of an increased willingness to listen, learn and possibly even change.

If we preach only to our own choir, those who need to hear us the most will never have the chance. By making decisions that limit our ability to truly make a difference in the grand scheme of things in the dog owner/dog training world, we do a disservice not only to our mission and purpose, but also to the dogs that need our help.

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Download the Full June 2019 Issue PDF

The fact is, feeding the same type of products from the same company year in and year out is putting your dog’s health solely in that company’s hands. There isn’t any single company I would trust my entire lifetime of nutrition to; why do we expect this from any pet food company for our dogs?

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Recipe: Making Bone Broth for Dogs

Healthy slurping

In veterinarian Judy Morgan’s new book, Yin & Yang Nutrition for Dogs, she makes a compelling case for looking beyond the claims of the commercial pet food indus- try when it comes to providing optimum nutrition for our dogs.  A practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which relies  on the healing powers of whole foods, Dr. Morgan provides a thorough primer on how to apply its principles for the benefit of our co-pilots’ constitutions.

Bone broth is all the rage these days. As Dr. Morgan writes, “It is  a strong rejuvenating potion high in minerals, amino acids, glucosamine and many more valuable nutrients. It can be served alone or mixed with meals.” She also notes that it can be used to cook grains and vegetables, or rehydrate freeze- dried food. 

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We Owe It to Dogs to Keep Them Healthy, Fit, and Trim

What and how much we feed our canine companions affects their health

“It’s estimated that more than half of all dogs in the United States and the United Kingdom are overweight. (Reference 1) Veterinarians talk about the canine obesity crisis in the same dire terms that public health experts talk about the human obesity crisis. Many consider obesity to be one of the top welfare concerns for pets.” 

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Reducing Your Dog’s Exposure to Canine Influenza

What it is, and what you can do to reduce your dog’s exposure.
Canine Influenza

In the very large universe of microorganisms, viruses are particularly crafty. For example, during the two-to four-day incubation period before dogs show any signs of illness, the Type A influenza virus that causes dog flu, or CI, can spread through such commonplace activities as being patted on the head, sharing a tennis ball or a water bowl, or a nose-to-nose greeting. And unlike those that cause human flu, the CI virus is active year-round.

As is the case with all microbes, the CI virus can only be seen with an electron microscope. Zoom in, and the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) proteins that spike up from its round surface are immediately visible. Influenza viruses are named for the way HA and NA combine, and CI comes in two forms, or strains: H3N8 and H3N2. Only 80 percent of affected dogs show flu-like signs, and the fatality rate is less than 10 percent.

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Book Review: Life on the Leash

By Victoria Schade

You might think that the life of a dog trainer is all fun and games and puppy kisses. Not so. Every dog-training and behavior professional knows that the biggest challenges often come from the human clients, not the canines. This lighthearted, engaging first novel from dog trainer/ author Victoria Schade invites you into the world of Cora Bellamy, owner of a successful force-free dog training business in our nation’s busy capital.

Bellamy navigates the streets of Washington, D.C., far more easily than she juggles the ethical dilemmas she encounters while striving to educate her upscale clients on the benefits of science-based positive-reinforcement training. Her mission is complicated by the popularity of television personality Boris Ershovich, the “Doggie Dictator,” whose heavy-handed techniques encourage dog owners to coerce and punish their dogs into submission.

Then a client emails her about auditions for a new dog-training show that promises to showcase dog-friendly training methods. As confident as Cora is in her professional skills, she is filled with self-doubt about her potential as a television star. Should she even attempt to audition?

Meanwhile, she struggles with other challenges in her professional and personal life: What do you do when you realize a client dislikes her boyfriend’s new Boxer puppy? How do you handle your feelings when you find yourself attracted to a client who is already in a relationship—and who clearly reciprocates your interest? What action do you take when you realize that a client’s two German Shorthaired Pointers are being mistreated? As Cora seeks to resolve these issues (and more), Fritz, her faithful rescued Pit Bull, is always by her side for support. As a bonus, tidbits of solid positive-dog-training and behavior information are sprinkled throughout the story.

You may not always agree with Cora’s choices, but she’ll keep you turning pages to the very end of the book, and leave you hoping for a sequel.

Issue 97: Spring 2019

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At Long Last, Paris Parks Are Opening Their Gates to Dogs

Vive le Chien!
Photo by Omer Sukrugoksu

France is a country of ironies, many delightful, some vexing. One has always baffled me: rules on where Dogs Rule.

I have photos of my dogs over the years in central Paris: chomping on a bone in the Boucherie Moderne, one of the city’s best butcher shops; seated at a table (on his own chair) at Le Taillevent, a Michelin-starred guardian of haute cuisine; standing comfortably squashed between human legs on a rush-hour Metro train; perched contentedly on the footrest of my Vespa as we glide along the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

But I’ve not one where (I think) they would really like to be: roll-scratching their backs on a lush patch of grass, lounging on a picnic blanket or digging up a flower bed … because for decades, our best ami has been banned from most of the city’s green spaces.

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Dog Runs To Boarding Facility

He took off for his home away from home

Happy Tails Pet Hotel and Playland in Missouri recently received the best testimonial ever from a satisfied customer when a dog named Hugo showed up for an unplanned visit. He boards regularly at the facility and apparently loves it so much he decided to run away from home in order to pop in and say hello to his friends there.

Hugo’s journey to Happy Tails is not along a safe route, but luckily he survived. It is only a mile away from home, but involves crossing a busy road. Upon reaching his destination, Hugo ran across the parking lot and followed an employee through the front door.

The staff were quite pleased to see him and relieved that he was not hurt. A statement from Happy Tails urged Hugo to have his dad drive him next time.

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Quiz: Why You Shouldn’t Adopt A Dog Based On Breed

DNA tests show that over two-thirds of the breed labels on dogs in shelters or on pet rescue websites are wrong.

Julie Levy, a professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, who ran those tests, offers some very good reasons to look beyond breed labels when adopting a dog:


Levy and her colleagues asked almost 6,000 experts—vets, shelter staff, breeders, trainers, and more—to name shelter dogs’ breeds, and they didn’t exactly agree. Their guesses added up to an average of 53 different breeds for each dog! Only 15 percent of the dogs’ breeds were correctly identified more than 70 percent of the time, so take that label with a grain of salt.


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Buy New Dog Food

One of the most urgent issues facing owners in this country today is the spike in the number of cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), especially in breeds that do not have an inherited higher risk of developing the condition. I have been discussing the issue with board-certified veterinary nutritionists and representatives of pet food companies and will have an update for you soon. In the meantime, I feel compelled to repeat one bit of advice that I give in (I think) every review of foods I have ever written for WDJ:

Don’t feed the same food every month. Don’t feed the same type of food every month! Switch companies!

Forgive the repetition if you are a long-time reader of WDJ; you are aware we’ve been saying this forever. Newer subscribers might not have heard it before.

There is a persistent myth that if you switch your dog’s food too quickly, or too frequently, you will “upset the dog’s stomach.” This myth almost surely originated from pet food companies decades ago; they were no doubt trying to build their consumers’ loyalty to their brand while offering a solution to a problem that they had created – the fact that you can upset a dog’s digestive tract if you feed him the same diet (and nothing else) for months and months and then suddenly give him something very different. What they failed to tell dog owners was that feeding their dogs different foods all the time – switching diets frequently – is more “natural” for dogs; they are perfectly suited to eating a varied diet. Imposing an unnaturally narrow diet on them begs for problems to develop.

If you have a dog with a proven allergy to or intolerance of multiple ingredients, finding a variety of products that don’t aggravate his particular system can be challenging. But the fact remains that variety itself does not hurt your dog. And, importantly, frequently changing the food you buy for your dog – switching among varieties but also among different companies – very likely could have prevented many of the cases of DCM being associated with specific diets.

I’m monitoring many online groups devoted to this topic, and have seen it hundreds of times: “I have been feeding my dog ‘Brand X’ for the past three years, and now he’s been diagnosed with DCM! Brand X is a terrible company!” In many cases, affected dogs are improving with dietary changes, but I would hate to see the owners simply switch undying loyalty to a different company!

The fact is, feeding the same type of products from the same company year in and year out is putting your dog’s health solely in that company’s hands. There isn’t any single company I would trust my entire lifetime of nutrition to; why do we expect this from any pet food company for our dogs?

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