Book Review and Giveaway: Raw and Natural Nutrition by Lew Olson

Book Cover

One day last week, I dropped an e-mail to the customer service department at The person who answered was Lew Olson. Our exchange was helpful enough that I went ahead and tossed her book in with my order.

In the end, I was quite glad I did.

If you already feed a raw diet, there’s very little in here that will be brand new. What I like it for the most, for myself, is that there’s pretty comprehensive treatment of supplements, with a full explanation of dosages and occasions that you might want to give them. Unlike my other favorite raw-food resource, Dog Aware, Olson makes these things seem approachable, rather than overwhelming. Olson also has a quite logical, practical way of dealing with things like feeding an adequate variety of foods.

This is the only raw feeding book I’ve read that would really be enough information, and confidence inspiring enough, to actually start a new diet.

It isn’t just a raw-feeding diet, though. Olson also offers that rarest of beasts–information on how to feed a completely grain free cooked diet, with plenty of examples and (again) a logical treatment of supplements. Most of the cooked diet recipes I’ve seen seem very much like a recreation of the average kibble, including all the parts I tried to avoid when I was buying kibble, like oats or rice. I’ll say right out: if I’d had this book when Silas had to go on his allergy diet, one of Olson’s cooked diets is where I would have started.

If, instead, all you want is to make your dog a few meals a week, or add a few tasty morsels to her kibble, there are also guidelines for that, although it’s a slim chapter. I also imagine that after reading Olson’s history of kibble, which stops short of all the newer high-end kibbles, you’ll be less than excited about it.

The second half of the book is devoted to specific nutritional needs to specific ailments. Olson lays out in separate chapters how diet can help your dog with kidney problems, liver disease, arthritis or other joint problems, cancer, and even allergies. (Seasonal/inhalant allergies, that is. Olson is firmly of the “food allergies are so rare your dog can’t possibly have them” camp, even when she and I spoke directly.)

My one qualm with this book is that Olson recommends a lotof the B-naturals products. Now, I like B-naturals. I’ve ordered from them a few times, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. But there is definitely a lack of clarity about her relationship with them. She is listed on their website as their nutritional consultant. The author bio in the back of the book says that she “has designed several nutritional supplement blends for dogs, under the name of Berte’s Naturals.” I’m not sure how much she benefits from individual sales, or if she’s simply a salaried employee. Which, I guess I’m of two minds about. On the one hand, it seems a little sketchy. On the other hand, if I’d gone to considerable trouble to develop a product line, I would want to recommend it, too. And, the truth is that most of the things she recommends are blended products. Vitamins with minerals and probiotics, for example, or a blend of sea vegetables. None of the recommendations seem forced or illogical, and unless you want to give individual human supplements there aren’t a ton of reputable dog nutrition supplements out there. In fact, if you do want to give individual supplements, if can be hard to find them in a dose that can be split small enough for a dog under 50 pounds. If that side of the book bothers you, Olson does explain why she recommends these particular items, and there is ample information to help you made a different choice.


Now, for the giveaway part! I liked this book so much that I want to buy another copy and have it sent to you. (I will not be doing the mailing. I never seem to make it to the post office.) All you need to do is comment below. Selection will be random, BUT you will get two entries in the drawing if you are either really interested in starting to feed raw or home cooked food or if you have a dog with one of the health issues listed above. Maximum of two entries per person. I don’t get hundreds of hits in a day, so you’ve got a good chance to win. Drawing will close on Friday, January 25, 2013 and is open to anyone, although I can’t promise speedy delivery outside of the US.

A note about calories

This is a follow up to my “show your waistline” post.

I wanted to clarify a little what I was saying about the difficulty of precisely measuring raw food, and to talk through something that bothered me a lot when I started feeding raw.

Let’s look at some calorie numbers. These are all for one ounce.

Jello Ad

Turkey breast with skin: 44 calories, 2 grams fat, 6 grams protein
Turkey breast without skin: 29 calories, less than 1 gram fat, 5 grams protein
Turkey back: 55 calories, 4 grams fat, 5 grams protein.
Turkey dark meat and skin: 45 calories, 2 grams fat, 5 grams protein.
Pork loin: 52 calories, 3 grams fat, 6 grams protein
Country style pork rib: 53 calories, 3 grams fat, 5 grams protein
Pork heart: 33 calories, 1 gram fat, 5 grams protein
Pork tail: 106 calories, 9 grams fat, 5 grams protein.

Now, except for pork tail (I’m a little horrified, since I just bought two pounds of them today), those numbers look pretty similar, right? Except you have to multiply them times 6 to get even one meal for a dog Silas’s size. 6 ounces of turkey breast without skin is 174 calories. 6 ounces with is 264. Calorie per calorie, that’s like 9 ounces of skinless.

The other complicating factor is bones. Something like turkey back, for instance, looks in this chart to be quite calorie dense. BUT, that’s a human nutrition number that does not include the bone. Because turkey backs are, in fact, incredibly boney, those numbers are not founded in your dog’s reality. I can’t find a “calories count” for pure bone, but I suspect it’s largely negligible, especially for marrowless poultry bones. Once you take a guess at the proportional math, my money is on the turkey back, in an actual meal setting, having fewer calories than that turkey breast with skin.

Are you crazy yet?

Letting go of the calorie numbers can be hard for humans, because that’s how we’ve been taught to think about our own diets. While I suppose you couldgenerate accurate calorie numbers by completely separating all the meat from the bone and weighing them independently, nobody wants to do that. That, too, is assuming that you can find the nutritional data for everything your dog eats. I have access to some pretty wild stuff. How many calories are in a duck head, anyway?

This is why raw feeding quantities can seem so arbitrary to people who are just getting started. Can you imagine a human diet based on eating, say, a set number of pounds of food a day? (I’d take mine in full-fat dairy products, chocolate, and bread, please.) Weight-based measurement is more about an easy starting place than about caloric accuracy. Because most people buy the same range of foods over and over again, both for themselves and for their dogs, an arbitrary starting place is really all you need. If your dog gains weight at a certain weight of food per day then feed less per day of the stuff you usually buy. If your dog begs for food all the time when you do that, or if your dog can’t gain weight no matter what (this was Silas on the premade raw diet he was eating), then might be a good time to look at the calorie numbers for the foods you buy. Then you can do some comparisons (“Gee, maybe I should take the skin off/leave the skin on the turkey”), which works much better than constructing a “perfect diet” by starting with a recommended calorie intake.

Bloggy Business

First up, we’ve won an award!

The charming Gizmo, of Terrier Torrent nominated My Imperfect Dog for the



Now, aside from thanking Gizmo and posting the award image, I’m supposed to tell you seven random things about myself. I’ll tell you seven random things about Silas, instead, because I am a boring person to the core.

1) Silas is obsessed with the throw pillows that go on the sofa. And by “go on the sofa” I mean “sit on top of all the high furniture, until a human gets one down to take a nap.”

2) Silas’s ears didn’t stand up until he was about 16 weeks old. It was a gradual process, too, and for a while one ear was definitely more up than the other.

3) Nothing in our house that is within dog reach still has a fiber content tag.

4) Silas will beg for grapefruit, which I eat unsweetened. The ineffectiveness of Bitter Yuck spray now makes perfect sense.

5) Silas prefers natural peanut butter to Jiff.

6) I absolutely can’t teach him to turn around in a circle, one of the easiest dog tricks ever. He gets halfway around and then turns back the other way. I imagine him saying “this trick is stupid.”

7) Once Silas is done with something, he is DONE. You will not coax him, unless he’s in the park and you encourage him to go get in the car.

Now then, I’m also supposed to nominate 15 blogs to get this award, to which I say YEESH. I don’t think I have fifteen people in my feed who haven’t already won the award. I will send it along to

The House of Two Bows
Spotty, Spotty, Polkadotty
From The House of the Fox Dogs
And Identity V+E

I know people have been doing pretty graphics for this award, but I really like something I can just click on, you know?


Secondly, I’m sorry I’ve dropped out of all my blog commenting lately. Forgive me! I’ve been trying to cut back my computer time, and while I’m still reading blogs I haven’t mastered commenting without committing major time. That’s especially true for blogspot blogs, which won’t let me comment from my smartphone.


Lastly, I’m planning to do some very general raw food posts in the upcoming week or two. I’ve just read a fantastic book about it, which I’ll be reviewing and giving away a copy of, and it inspired me to clarify a few things that really confused me as a newbie. Don’t worry. I won’t be posting pictures of Silas chowing down on weird animal parts, and I’m not planning a persuasive “This is why you should do this” post.

In Which Patricia McConnell Makes Me Cry

Tuesday afternoon I fell down the stairs.

Silas was barking at something, so I trotted down the stairs to see what was wrong. Not because I thought anything was wrong, but because sometimes my checking can get him out of the cycle. Three steps from the bottom I got my feet caught up somewhere. I grabbed at the railing and landed with a thunk on my knees, fortunately on the last (carpeted) stair rather than on the tiled entryway.

I expected neurotic Silas to run from the scary noise. Instead he ran right over, obviously concerned about my well-being. Or, I don’t know, maybe checking to see if I’d invented some terrifying new game, but I prefer the former interpretation.

I’d spent the better part of the day reading about dog nutrition–the canine body reduced to an absolute science. Grams and milligrams, ideal fat ratios, protein percentages. Symptom Y needs nutrient Z. (It’s a very good book. I’ll review it ASAP.)

Then I clicked on Patricia McConnell’s DVD of For the Love of a Dog. As part of her opening remarks, she says, to sum up, that we like to intellectualize our relationships with our dogs as much as possible. We have training constructed as science, with extensive research and emphasis on precision–and dogs have, largely, benefitted from that.

But, of course, what our relationships are actually about are emotions. “People didn’t refuse to evacuate New Orleans,” she says, “because they had a rational, intellectual connection with their dogs.”

That’s when, for the record, I started to sob into my salad. This is what happens when you over-intellectualize your life. The messy stuff comes out . . . messily.


The Plumber

I told you all last week that the plumber was coming, and I was bracing for the worst.

As is pretty usual with real life, the whole thing was a mixed bag. I’m still not sure what kind of conclusions I can draw from it.

There were good times and bad times. The plumber was working in the downstairs bathroom, which is not visible from Silas’s crate. Silas did not bark obsessively the entire time. That’s a good sign. Calming down isn’t one of his strong suits. He did bark obsessively every time the plumber walked through the house. I suspect this is partly a problem of arrangement–no matter where I put Silas’s crate, for part of his trip to his truck and back the plumber had to walk almost directly toward it. That’s not something he’s great with anyway–people walking quickly toward him is a serious barking trigger.

On the other-other hand, it certainly could have been worse. I didn’t see any really serious red flags. Silas maintained control of all his bodily functions, which is the point where all the books say “You’ll absolutely have to medicate the dog to train him through this.” Except for the very closest points of the plumber’s walk-by, Silas was taking treats.

Another good thing: using the stream of Christmas deliveries to enforce “doorbell=crate” has turned out to be really useful. Doorbell rings, Silas runs to the door to bark, I stand up and call, and he’s practically in his crate before I can toss the treat in.

I think there’s a tiny ray of hope here, especially if I can start with someone who isn’t a stranger.

Product Review: The World’s Best Ball?

Planet Dog Recycled Balls

We may have found the world’s best ball.

We grabbed Silas this set (not this exact set; this isn’t my photo) of Planet Dog’s Orbee-Tuff RecycleBALLs for Christmas. At the time they were something of an afterthought, as our local store had a bigger discount in their holiday sale if we bought one more toy. It turns out that they’re perfect. We had the more typical Orbee ball that looks like the globe, but it’s just too hard for playing indoors. A misplaced throw or a high bounce, and something was going to get broken. The RecycleBALLs are softer. That might be a downside if you have a serious chewer, but it makes them infinitely better for playing fetch indoors. They also still have great bounce, which is crucial.

Our ball criteria:
1) Bouncy
2) Not guaranteed to break whatever they hit
3) Small enough to fit in Silas’s mouth, but not so small as to present a choking hazard.
4) Not impossible to get back from Silas, who thinks all games are tug in disguise.

My general list of awesome toy traits:
1) Made in the US
2) Washable
3) Durable

It’s a little early to tell about the durability, but so far everything else has been spot-on. The recycled rubber is a very awesome bonus. To make these balls, Planet Dog grinds and reprocesses the rubber left over from their other toys, so that nothing goes to waste. The rope is off-spec leftovers from a neighboring factory. I think Planet Dog expects you to keep the balls on the rope, but I assumed it was just packaging. (In the spirit of the thing, my husband put it with his bike emergency supplies.)

Bottom line: highly recommended. If you have a bigger dog, I’d size up to the individually packaged version. The balls in the two-pack are slightly smaller than a tennis ball.

New Fear

Silas was afraid of a lot of things in the house when he was tiny. I suspect he’d never been indoors before we had him, so things like tearing aluminum foil were scary. Mostly he’s been over that stuff for a while. He has a few known fears that we work around. The vacuum, for instance, drives him right into the laundry room to hide next to the washing machine. The blender is also pretty scary. The stand mixer is gradually earning his trust, since it gives him tasty bites of butter. Otherwise, he’s pretty comfortable with our day-to-day activities.

Which is why I was pretty surprised the other day to find him burrowing under my arm, shaking in terror. It took me a second to even realize what was wrong. It turned out that my husband was upstairs, pumping up the tires of my road bike. (It’s attached to the indoor bike-trainer for the winter.)

Serfas Bike Pump

I’m not sure if the problem is that the tire pump sounds like an enormous water spray bottle or if it’s just an unpleasant sound, but Silas is terrified of it. His little body trembles, his ears go back, and he tries to crawl inside my clothes. The last one is the real tell of how serious this is–his usual reaction is just to get far away from whatever the sound is. The tire pump requires me to save him.

I guess the next thing on my training to-do list will be counter-conditioning the tire pump. Who knew?

Silas’s Weight

Jen at My Brown Newfies drew my attention to the Show Off Your Dog’s Waistline campaign being hosted by Dawg Business.

I don’t have a magic formula for keeping Silas fit and thin. In fact, we do a lot of the wrong things. While we play a lot, he doesn’t get a lot of formal, organized exercise. I feed him tiny bites off my plate, and my husband feeds him BIG bites off of his plate. To keep his skin healthy, I have to add a lot of fat to his diet.

The most important thing, though we absolutely do: watching his weight. Feeding raw doesn’t come with a set of guidelines like a bag of kibble does. It’s also harder to feed exactly the same amount of food or even number of calories in a single day. At a little over 30 pounds, Silas usually eats around six ounces of food per meal, twice a day, but sometimes a food item just is the size it is. (It’s an awe-inspiring moment when you realize that your medium-sized dog is happily chowing down something that your top-notch cutlery and all your strength couldn’t cut through.) Most calorie calculators are based on human foods. They don’t include the bones, and often don’t include the food items that Silas eats. I looked fairly hard, for instance, for the numbers for turkey tail, and never could find them.

All of that means that, when feeding raw, you don’t have a choice about paying attention to your dog’s weight over time, because it’s the only way you can really make sure you have the amounts right.

Silas has a fairly extreme tuck-up, even when he’s at a good weight:

He leans toward the naturally slim all over, in fact, and I’ve had to be careful not to let him get too thin with is food issues. He also naturally regulates how much he eats and is not going to eat something just because it is in his dish. (In fact, over Christmas I almost went crazy trying to feed him, before I added up the amount of ham people were slipping him. Suddenly his five bites of dinner made perfect sense.)

My contribution to the waistline project comes from what I suspect is the less common side: what it looks like for an otherwise healthy dog to be slightly under weight.

If you look past his sweet sleepy face in this picture from around the time he was neutered in May, you can clearly see his ribs:
Silas, May

And in this one from the same time you can tell that his waist is a little too sharply defined.
Too thin, may

May was hitting bottom in terms of the food allergies. I was really struggling to get him to eat. While he was never dramatically underweight, he was thinner than I like.

Remember to keep your dog’s general shape in mind when you look at these images about dog obesity. A sighthound or sighthound mix who is shaped like a “thin and fit” Labrador is probably overweight. On the other hand, I want to be able to see Silas’s ribs while he’s running, which would be far too thin for a dog with more hair or a different shape.

Hold Me.

Did I tell you all the story about the time my husband’s boss came over?

Probably not. Let’s just say that after a quite inappropriate greeting, Silas spent the whole evening in his crate, where I fed him an entire container of treats.

Since then, we haven’t had anyone else over. No, wait–we had a nurse come to do our health examinations when we bought life insurance, but we took turns sitting with Silas in the car in the garage. (I thought that was a stroke of dog-management genius, if I do say so myself. I did not want to make the nurse nervous before she jabbed me with a needle.) We aren’t exactly social butterflies to start with. Hence Silas’s discomfort with people in the house: I genuinely thought it wouldn’t make any difference as long as he liked people when we were out, and then he got very nervous about those people, too, and it was all a big mess. Now we don’t really know people well enough to say, “Hey! Wanna come over and listen to my anxious dog bark at you for an hour?” Or, even worse, the more dog-trainerly: “Hey! Wanna come over and throw my dog a huge handful of treats and then leave immediately?”

Anyway, today the plumber is coming. We’ve been down to just the upstairs bathroom for months now, thanks to a water leak, and I finally put on my big girl pants and told the landlord about it.

I’m very curious about what will happen. I know that I’ll start with Silas in his crate, wearing his Thundershirt, listening to his soothing music. If he’s calm enough, which is doubtful but possible, I might let him out on his leash+harness. If he’s an absolute wreck, I’ll take him to the garage. I’ll also be putting the baby gate in the downstairs hallway, since our tiny guest bathroom is probably too small for the plumber to work in with the door shut. That one’s mostly just a courtesy: if I were working in a house with a dog who barked like Silas, I would prefer to be behind a gate.

Either way, I probably need to use whatever data I collect as a starting place for some training with him. I just hope it’s at the level getting the neighbor he likes to come in for a few minutes, rather than a trip to the veterinary behaviorist.


One day this week I ran across the link to Wendy Volhard’s “Canine Personality Profile”  Volhard breaks down a dog’s personality into four basic drives–prey, pack, flight, and fight, then asks a series of questions that are scored into each category.

As always with such things, it was both illuminating and not. On the one hand, it states the pretty obvious–Silas is not a pack animal. It was his lowest score, although not by much. And that’s after some things that were definitely boosted by his training. His ability to play with other dogs, for instance, is something that we worked extremely hard to develop.

I was amused to see the sum total of the results, though, because I think they do add up to explain some of our … issues. Practically tied for positions one and two, with a substantial gap before items three and four: prey and flight. Which is Silas to a T. I’ve always imagined his internal dialogue to be something like: “Do I go get that thing, or is it going to get me? Or, do I need to get it before it can get me!?” Which does not combine well with his general disinclination to look to me for advice. This is actually the nexus that a lot of our training tries to work in.

I don’t think the personality “test” is 100% accurate, of course. For example, the answer to “Does your dog dislike being petted?” is much more complicated than I can rank on a 0-10 scale. I settled for “sometimes,” but that hardly seems adequate.

I’ll also just put it out there that I found Volhard’s pat conclusion that a dog with “high pack and low prey drive . . . is a perfect pet” to be a little offensive. I don’t really believe in perfection (hence, blog title), but I’m pretty smitten with my little independent weirdo.

Speaking of which: here is Mr. Independence himself, who gathered up all the fleece blankets and nested down for the morning. I guess taking the afghan right off your human’s legs is “low pack drive,” huh?

All the blankets