A Cautionary Tale

By Lynn –

Once upon a time, we had a dog who had food sensitivities. About halfway through his life, we finally made the switch to a kibble with a novel protein source and had minimal problem after that. What he could eat and chew on were limited, so as he was the family pet, everyone was fine with what he couldn’t have (which bordered mostly on poultry products).

Then, we came to acquire another family dog who pretty much has a stomach of steel. In fact, this very afternoon, I found her dining on the dirt plugs that come with a lawn aeration treatment when I realized that she was taking an inordinate amount of time to retrieve her toy from the yard. She pretty much will eat anything and everything with the worst effects coming from the fermentation of excess sugar.

So I bought her a frozen raw bone to chew on one afternoon. Dear Mallory went through a quick learning curve when she discovered that the leftover meat on the bone was only the beginning of a wonderful and time-consuming activity. She thoroughly enjoyed herself as we both sat outside: me doing my medical terminology homework while she gnawed happily for a few hours at the end of a buffalo bone.

Much to my dismay and apparent ignorance, this practice is highly frowned upon by our vet, and I decided to schedule a counseling appointment so that I might discover her reasoning. Of course, seeing as how I am in school to become a future technologist, I figured it wasn’t a bad idea to hear a valued medical professional discuss both sides of the raw bone issue and elaborate on the side which she had chosen to support. I had certainly heard enough of the benefits from raw-feeding laypersons, holistic nutritionists and trainers. I had also found a website detailing some disastrous cases of raw bone ingestion and even had some X-ray pictures to show the extent of the damage in the dogs examined. Not to mention that pretty much any toy or chew has its inherent dangers of ingestion and intestinal blockage. I was armed with information and open to respectful discussion on the matter.

Was I ever in for a surprise when Dr Vet stepped into the exam room and began conversation.

After pleasantries were exchanged, I brought up the issue of appropriate chew toys. At the time, Mallory expressed no interest whatsoever in any artificial chew toy, and while she enjoyed the rawhide that accompanied her from her foster home in prison, the experiences we had with Zeke turned us off to using rawhide as a safe chew. I detailed how much she enjoyed the raw bone and the evidence expressed by other raw feeders that the bones cleaned teeth and provided a small amount of extra calcium in the diet. Because I am a helicopter pet owner, most of Mallory’s activities occur under supervision, and since she is never outside without one of us and raw bones are messy enough to be an outside-only chew for her, I would be able to monitor her chewing and the degree to which the bone was ingested. However, I would have to trust, just like any other raw feeder, that the bone would pass through (it did) without causing her distress or blockage. I certainly understood that, being a health provider, she might have indeed seen some nasty cases where things did go wrong with raw bones, but between the prevalence of these cases compared with the number of people who give raw bones with little or no issue, it wasn’t something about which I was overly concerned. With emphasis on a healthy balance between the benefits and dangers of raw bones as well as a respect for Dr Vet as the more medically knowledgeable between us, I was certain that we could get to the bottom of the matter with little issue and mutual agreement.

And then came the reasoning from Dr Vet. First of all, I learned quite quickly that, no matter what, Mallory is not my dog and I should not be doing with her what my parents don’t want done with her. My opinion is appreciated and acknowledged, but since the adoption papers are not in my name and I do not pay the vet bills, I need smile and nod and let my parents do with her what they want, and meekly follow along with it. (Reading between the lines, I might have almost heard it as “I understand you’re a legal adult in age, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Please just be your parents’ child.” I’ve got enough issues in that department!)

I don’t remember the next line of reasoning. I just remember a lot of hemming and hawing which didn’t really produce any real justification of merit. I could pretty much see where this was going.

And then came the major issue and kicker: Resource guarding. Raw bones were indeed a high-value item because dogs find them so good. (News flash, Earth to Dr Vet: so are toys, food, and space.) At this point, Mallory had only been with us for about 3 months, so she was settling in her new home and well into an obedience program to polish up some rusty skills. Due to Zeke’s almost obsessive possession of his ball, though, we made sure to incorporate any excuse we could into doing exercises in which Mallory would drop items into our hands, we would gently take them from her mouth, or she would also drop any item wherever, whenever she was commanded. With this we had great success, and still do to this day. I noted that she had shown no desire even to guard anything, and any attempts to reach into her food bowl or take it away, take a toy from her or reach into her crate were met with a tail wag and a friendly smile as if to say “Would you like some too? There’s plenty for all, but do take what you want first! I’ll take any leftovers you leave.”

Dr Vet indicated not sternly that this is the wrong way to teach this concept because it produces anxiety. Why not approach the bowl with something more desirable, like chicken? And then when the dog turns around to look, you give it some chicken so it knows that you approach with good things? Because, you see, if she was eating her meal and someone kept taking her food away and giving it back, or if someone kept rummaging their hands in her food, she would get very anxious.

If I remember correctly, my blood pressure went up a little bit right about now because this strikes a nerve. I am a very food-possessive person. I do not like to share the food from my plate (from my cookware is a different matter!). But coming at me with a slice of cheesecake really doesn’t seem like the ideal way to make me WANT to share or make me respect you enough to voluntarily give you any of my food. It’ll get my attention off my food long enough for you to grab some. But in the end, did I want to share and respect you enough to do it, or did you make me share against my will?

On the other hand, if you made sharing a daily part of my meal, then I’m sure even my belligerent attitude about it would go away. (We really are more doglike than many people think!)

See, Dr Vet states that training shouldn’t produce anxiety. In past visits, my parents (who usually take the dog for its annual wellness exams) have updated her on my interest in the veterinary and behavioral field, and a statement that I worked for a dog training site online obviously resonated with her. “Your mother tells me that you do some ‘internet training,'” she stated, “and that’s very suspect.”

If I could do “internet training,” I’d do a send-out with YouTube and never give it a recall. If I could do “internet training,” I’d announce that Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are beyond behavioral help and recommend them for euthanasia. If I could do “internet training,” I’d teach it proper English spelling and grammar, and by default, let it decide if it wants someone to access the web based on how maturely they present themselves. Oh, ifonly I could do “internet training.” Not everyone would like my trained internet, but the fact remains that you can’t please everyone.

Not only are my “internet training” activities “suspect,” but also our chosen method of training our dog is worthless. Using “That evil, Cesar Millan, ‘I’m-dominant’ method” was ovbiously the way in which we went most wrong. At this point, my brain froze to such a degree that I failed to remind her that the reason Zeke was so docile and easy to work with was that he learned that we were in control. When we said “Jump,” he said “Sure!” (I never noticed that he made efforts to ask how high…he didn’t need to. What he did, he did with the all the spirit he had…including things we didn’t want him to do at times.) When we put him in control of who to visit during his therapy work, he learned to make his own decisions. Our sweet, gentle therapy dog didn’t justhappen, he didn’t just fall out of the sky…he learned through mistakes, missteps, corrections, and praise.

I don’t mean to get off on a Cesar Millan tangent. Suffice to say that, though I appreciate, respect, and agree with him on a lot of things, I do not fully 100% agree with him. In fact, take a look at every opinion you hold and the reasoning and support of the people or activities behind it: is there anyone with whose opinion, application or technique you can ever agree 100%, from politics to workplaces to social circles and beyond? Or do you just agree with a portion of their attitudes, enough to support those people or not?

I then mentioned that yes, I do have experience in training through several reputable resources, and my interest lies in pet obedience and the Schutzhund/K9 field.

“But those are two completely different things!”

Really? So police dogs, subjected to tools such as pinch collars, fur savers and e-collars in the course of their training, can turn out to be confident, well-behaved citizens with a job and purpose out in the public eye…but pet dogs are only fit for the likes of headcollars and hilariously laughable “no-pull harnesses” while never suffering the indignity of being told “No”? These are not different species we are discussing. Different temperaments and personalities? Of course. But let’s not beat around the bush on this: all dogs communicate the same way. Why is that so difficult? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…the only potential difference being the degree to which technique is applied. What may pass as a motivational correction for one dog might be blown off by another or even overkill for a softer dog. I may have to vary the degree to which it is applied…but it is still a correction. The way I praise and reward one dog might make an extremely shy dog cower, or might not even garner so much as a tail wag from another. I may have to vary the degree to which it is applied…but it is still praise.

Dr Vet has two golden retrievers that she frequently works into conversations (who DOESN’T work their dog into conversations, anyway?). In regards to obedience, “The one was very easy to train, but the other–” and here is the exasperated sigh– “we are lucky that she knows what she does on any given day.” I’m sure the trainer to whom we took Zeke for his aggression back in 1998 would disagree. Were any Sit Means Sit trainer to work with the dog, they would also disagree. Were Adam or I to spend some time with it, I’m sure it would learn quite a bit. And with each trainer, the dog would still be happy and execute commands willingly, with a tail wag, a smile and no spirit whatsoever lost.

There is no excuse for dogs to not learn how to assume some very natural positions and actions on command that are considered the most basic in obedience training, unless the dog is physically or truly mentally infirm.

At that point I asked her “Dr Vet, don’t you believe that there is a reason we drive in the center of the road and have the gutters on the extreme sides?” I outlined how we do use praise and rewards in training, but we balance them out with appropriate corrections for misbehaviors, and allow for genuine mistakes to give our dog a chance to learn from them. Our dogs have loved us, are not fearful or afraid of us, are not cowed and overly submissive, are not resigned and depressed, and in general have an air of confidence about themselves. Maybe I am disillusioned about canine behavior, but our dogs have not radiated the traditional hallmarks touted by those who completely oppose the use of fair and appropriate corrections in training. Such “confrontational” methods decried by “dog-friendly,” “on the cutting edge of behavioral science” trainers that can be found in grocery-list form on websites galore often contain things that no real-world, balanced trainer would even recommend. Hitting? Alpha roll? Staring down? Spraying with a water pistol (and how hypocritical is if that such a ‘confrontational’ method is advocated by pure-positive trainers in place of a collar correction!)? Yelling? These people claim that such training methods are archaic and old-fashioned…yet they themselves don’t appear to have moved completely out of the Koehler era!

In my Client Relations class, we learned that one fundamental is to treat the cause for which the patient is present. The client who walks in to get a toenail trim, but leaves with joint supplements, antibiotics for a UTI, therapeutic shampoo for a skin condition, and a tube of doggy toothpaste may be a happy client for getting all those problems taken care of. Yet, whatever happened to the simple toenail trim? It didn’t happen, and the client is not the one at fault.

I went into the veterinary hospital to discuss one issue only. I left with no answer that made any sense whatsoever, and wasn’t even vaguely related to the issue at hand. In no way was our discussion intelligent, respectful of each other’s views, or even remotely two-sided. I was belittled, insulted and looked down upon as someone who not only overstepped boundaries by discussing an issue regarding a dog on whose adoption papers my name was not written, but also someone who didn’t even know a thing about what I really wanted in life. Rarely, RARELY am I pushed to the point of tears. Thankfully, the ones shed in anger and frustration after that appointment only served to significantly thicken my skin against those whose best interests involve negating mine.

The moral of this story?

Don’t let this happen to you. Take your dog and your money somewhere else. At the very least, learn basic first aid on a dog, how to give shots yourself (hint: they’re a lot cheaper from vet supply catalogs [also here andhere] and, contrary to what we are told, yearly boosters are not necessary for a majority of them and even have the potential to be counter-productive!), learn to use antibiotics as needed and which ones are best for which problems (this page is a good start), and do consult a reputable medical professional with whom you are comfortable for valid concerns about any medical issue about which you might have any questions!