In advance of Thanksgiving

I’m starting to see questions pop up here and there, along the lines of “Can I give my dog turkey part X?” As someone who feeds a lot of turkey, I’ll give you my rundown.

Turkey Necks Not many people use these for anything, so this is one of the more common questions. Yes, your dog can eat it, as long as you don’t cook it. I cut them into 6″ pieces for Silas, who weighs about 30 pounds. If you have a large dog, leave it whole. If you have a small dog and an enormous turkey, it may be more of a chewing object than an eating one. As with any raw bones, if you have a dog who is prone to gulping his meals down in one bite, you’ll be better off skipping this one. Also remember that your dog may not want to eat the turkey neck. Not every dog is just itching for a chance to eat raw food. As with any object that requires chewing, exercise caution and supervise. For most dogs, a turkey neck is a whole meal, so adjust your dog’s rations accordingly. I really recommend that you do more research before you just toss it to the dog.

Giblets: Absolutely! Hearts and livers are chock-full of nutrients. You can even cook these, if the whole raw turkey thing wigs you out. A few minutes in boiling water will do the trick. Please note that too much liver at one time can upset your dog’s stomach, so (again) those of you with small dogs and big turkeys should probably not give the whole thing in one meal.

Other bony turkey parts will probably have been cooked, which makes then a DEFINITE NO. Cooked bones of any kind are not good for your dog, and turkey bones are especially dangerous. Like all birds, turkeys have relatively thin, hollow bones in their legs and wings. This makes them prone to splintering and they are very sharp when they do so. Because of this, they can cause your dog serious injuries. NO NO NO NO NO. Can I say that again? It makes me feel better. DON’T DO IT.

Cooked turkey meat: Why not? As long as it’s removed from the bone and not overly seasoned, cooked plain turkey is very low risk.

On the other hand, Turkey skin or fat can cause anything from mild digestive distress to pancreatitis. A bite or two probably won’t hurt a healthy dog of average size, but weigh your risk. Also remember that cooked turkey skin will contain the bulk of whatever seasonings you put on the turkey. Most of those are definitely not good for your dog.

Gravy is not healthy for your dog, just like it really isn’t healthy for you. Gravy is substantially composed of fat and salt, neither of which is easy for your dog to digest. It also probably contains flour and/or cornstarch, which are very common allergens for dogs.

Remember that little bites here and there add up. Even the healthiest foods, eaten in too large of a quantity, are bad for dogs, and a lot of dogs don’t really understand “fullness.” Be mindful of whatever “little bits” you hand your dog. Post-holiday digestive distress is extremely common for dogs, either because they find ways to steal food they shouldn’t be eating or because we flat-out overfeed them.

Above all, if you’re a guest at someone else’s party, don’t feed the dog anything. Not even if it’s “perfectly safe” for the dog to eat. Some dogs have sensitive stomachs. Some are allergic to turkey. Some have extremely restricted diets for very good reason. Some just took ages to train away from hounding guests for food, and now you’re ruining it.

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Who Decides What’s Fun?

I’m reading Merle’s Door right now. I have many, many conflicting thoughts about this book, more of which I’ll share here when I finally finish reading it. But, reading along today I stopped in my tracks.

The whole point of Merle’s Door is that Merle’s dog door gives him freedom to interact with the world as he chooses. Kerasote positions this freedom as the only thing that dogs really need or, indeed, want. He argues that freedom teaches dogs to think, so that they don’t even need training. Indeed he mocks most dog training, even going so far as to argue that clicker training “short-circuit[s]” the dog’s “ability to think on its own.” Dog trainers are Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 (his metaphor, not mine.) Aside from being a real, and I think deliberate, misunderstanding of what good clicker training is about, this is where we hit hard against the fact that this book is the story of one dog. A memoir, trying to pass itself off as the TRUTH ABOUT DOGS.

Let’s grant Kerasote his premise (and I’m not sure we unilaterally should) and say that we have some kind of obligation to help our dogs do what they love. Here’s the thing: some dogs love to work and for some dogs that work looks a lot like conventional dog training.

It’s an idea that I resisted myself, even. I thought of the more formal obedience-style training as a kind of grim reality of living with a dog–learn sit and down and walk on a leash so that we can get them over with and do other things that are actually fun. It’s a pretty common way of thinking right now, which is why competitive obedience numbers are plummeting as a percentage of dog sports enrollment.

Imagine my surprise when Silas thought that heeling, which I started teaching as a kind of grim obligation, was the best game ever. At this point, Silas will stay right with me even if I throw cookies across the room as we walk. I do make training pretty fun, and we have a long history that will support “training=happy times.” Silas is not the kind of dog, though, who is just looking for a way to make me happy. (See my utter failure at teaching him to turn around in a circle, AKA the easiest dog trick of all time.) Something about heeling just makes him really happy.

In other words, my dog is autonomously choosing to do the least autonomous dog-task of all time. And that’s okay. You have to look past what “ideal dog in the abstract” wants and see what your dog wants. Then you can evaluate whether it’s a good idea or not (a point where I think Kerasote is often a little too lax). Who gets to decide what your dog thinks is fun? Unlike what Merle’s Door posits in ways both direct and indirect, that isn’t always the most wolf-like thing.

How about you? Does your dog like to do things that aren’t “supposed” to be fun?

New Routine

I’ve been a little hesitant to talk about the details of Silas’s medication here. On one hand, at this point it’s not a subject that I really consider up for debate, so why bring it up? We thought very hard about it, tried several natural alternatives (some of which worked very well, but they just weren’t enough), and ultimately made what feels like the best decision for us.

On the other hand, information about the realities of psychiatric medication for your dog is pretty thin on the ground. A big part of what I’m trying to do here is help people with the day-to-day business of living with a fearful dog. Not talking about it also means that the blog is just sitting here lonely. So, I’m just going to level with you about some of the things that are going on around here right now. (I’m not going into the specifics of which medication/what dosage because I don’t want to be flooded with pharmaceutical spam.)

There are three main things that we’re having to watch.

First, how is Silas’s energy level? Does he seem like himself? If he seemed overly sedated, we would need to change the medication. I was actually quite worried about this the week after we came back from visiting my family, but that seems to have been plain old post-vacation exhaustion. He’s back to himself now.

Secondly, what is his appetite like? Silas considers eating to be a sort of onerous duty. I’d never have to write one of those posts about how I left down the kibble and he ate most of the bag. I can already tell that this is going to be the limiting factor with his current medication. Decreased appetite is a side effect, and we’re definitely seeing it. For now it’s tolerable. If we have to adjust the dosage it may not stay that way. I’m having to work a little harder than usual to get Silas eating, but most days I do manage to get his full ration in him. Interestingly, after months and months of feeding Silas three meals a day, he seamlessly readjusted himself back to two. I’ve suspected for a while that his stomach was well enough to dispense with lunch, but now I know.

Finally, is the medication actually helping? Silas is barking less at random neighborhood sounds. He’s slightly less frightened of some things. The big-picture stuff is still going to take a lot of work, though. This is no magic pill that’s going to have him walking happily out of the garage with no work on my part, sitting calmly by while I vacuum, or cheerfully accepting a toenail trim. What I’m hoping is that this will lessen the fear enough that I can tackle the much easier job of training away the habit of being afraid. What I need is a toe-hold from which to start a process that will, undoubtedly, still be very long. I think I’ve got that now. We’ll see.

The Dreaded Yearly

Today was Silas’s yearly checkup at his regular vet. He needed an exam and one last set of non-rabies vaccinations before we put him on a three year cycle for everything.

I’ve been dreading this for months. In part that’s because I know the behaviorist is sending all of Silas’s forms to his regular vet, and, because we’re so focused on problems that don’t really happen constantly, the update forms make Silas look pretty crazy. Especially the initial intake, which was really skewed toward precisely identifying aggression problems.

Also, last time we went Silas was terrified the whole time we were in the exam room, which was a change from his usual “I love you even though you give me shots” routine. I really didn’t want that to escalate.

As with most of the things I worry compulsively over, it turned out to not be a big deal. In fact, it all went pretty well, even the moment in the waiting room when a person reached down to pet him. We’ve had a few pretty bad petting incidents in a row lately, but he fell madly in love with this lady. In fact, I had to bodily drag him away from crawling up in her lap. He fell similarly in love with the vet tech, and spent most of his exam trying to lick her face. I don’t think she was that in to it. Encounters like that are why I sometimes err on the side of letting him meet too many people.

I also felt very proud of myself for nipping a potential dog incident in the bud. As we walked in a pair of miniature poodle-type dogs on flexi-leads were getting checked in to board. The ONE time Silas gets uncomfortable with other dogs in normal circumstances is close-quarters face-to-face greetings, and we were pretty well pinned against the door. As mini poodle number one started walking over (not in an aggressive or rude way, in her defense) I just called out a pleasant-toned “Hey, do you mind?” Mini poodle lady was very “Oh, yeah! He could really eat her up!” In my mind I was saying “Well, actually, I was worried that your small dog would have bad manners and scare Silas.” Instead I just said, “No, he’s pretty good with dogs usually.” I’m trying to get better about advocating for Silas, even though I’m almost always nervous about saying anything.

So, yay!

All in all it was another reminder of my usual lesson. As always, there’s a very fine line between accepting and managing your anxious dog’s real problems that you should not ignore and putting them in a very restrictive bubble. On one hand, you don’t want to create chronic stress. On the other hand, in the bubble they can’t have the kind of good experiences that boost confidence over time. This is, to me the hardest part of it all.

Tell-tail

Silas has a funny tail. I suspect that one of the breeds he’s mixed with is either naturally short-tailed or is a breed that is usually docked. He has a few inches of chubby tail, then there’s a sudden drop off and the rest of it is skinny.

Now that he’s an adult it isn’t very obvious. Unless he’s cold, that is. Then the hair on the chubby part poofs out.

Tail

It’s like my own little thermometer.

Recommending Raw

In a totally non-related area of my life, a conversation about dog food came up. The person who started the conversation was looking for a “good dog food.” She didn’t give any criteria about her budget or say what size dog she had.

Several other people jumped right in to recommend raw food.

I found myself in a weird position. I have seen tremendous benefits from feeding Silas raw food. If you have a dog with serious food allergies, I really don’t see a way around a home prepared diet of some sort. (Unless things are so bad that you really need the hypoallergenic kibbles, in which case I am sincerely sorry.)

Even though the raw diet has done great things for us, though, I don’t recommend it wholesale to everyone. In the original conversation, I recommended one of the dog food review sites.

The reason I don’t always recommend raw food is quite simple: people don’t do their research. Very few veterinarians know enough to help you formulate a raw diet, even if they aren’t completely horrified by the idea. Very few places in the country have knowledgeable stores that sell raw diets. Even places that sell the pre-made blends don’t always know a lot about what they’re selling. That means the raw-feeder is left almost entirely to her own devices. Grabbing the wrong book off Amazon could be disastrous, as, among other things, some of them recommend completely inadequate amounts of calcium. (For more information, see Mary Straus’s list of book reviews.) If you don’t find reading a lot about dog nutrition, with a lot of conflicting information, to be geekily exciting, then a home-prepared raw diet isn’t likely to be a good choice for you. As long as you have the basics down, there’s no need to obsess over the exact quantity of every nutrient every day, but those basics are extremely important.

It also isn’t a great choice for dogs who live with young children, elderly people, or immune-compromised individuals. Your dog is very unlikely to catch a food borne disease, thanks to the structure of his digestive system. He can shed those bacteria in his saliva and feces, which can be a problem for people who are already at-risk. (Although, to play devil’s advocate with my own argument, I suspect it’s less of a risk than eating at a restaurant or buying those horribly dangerous packaged hamburger patties.) People who are really devoted to raw food tend to downplay the risk to humans just because the bacteria risk to the dog really is fairly minimal.

There are great kibbles on the market, and great reasons to use them. There are also, as Silas is living proof, legitimate reasons to want something else. My bottom line winds up being very murky. I can see valid reasons to feed everything from the factory-prepared raw foods to home-prepared raw food to canned food to kibble.

Know your dog, know your life, accept your limitations, and don’t let anybody make you feel bad.