Good Health: The Missing Link for a Happy and Well-Adjusted Dog?
by Robin MacFarlane
Underlying physical issues can sometimes be the root cause of why a dog's behavior got off course.
So often we are looking for training solutions in order to have a better behaved dog. As soon as we begin to experience nuisance behavior like inappropriate chewing, OCD behavior, or general "grouchiness" when being touched, we assume that behavioral intervention through training is the solution.
Certainly there are times when additional training is exactly what is necessary to solve the problem. Frequently, however, there is an underlying factor that gets overlooked by both the dog's owner and dog professionals alike.
With many cases the aspect that gets overlooked is the dog's overall health.
Please don't think I'm dismissing the tremendous value that training has on the human-canine relationship. Training is an integral part of the equation, particularly for all those urban dogs that have little or no real job to keep them mentally and physically balanced.
But it is not uncommon for underlying physical issues to be the root cause of "why" the dog's behavior got off course to begin with.
The challenge is that our dogs can't tell us if they feel "off" and they generally don't show much sign of illness until things are far more advanced. Instead of waiting for major problems to pop up, I'm suggesting we consider some things that perhaps we haven't giving much thought to in the past.
First off, we can question if our dog is really eating a biologically appropriate and nutritious diet. Before you simply answer "yes" to that question, ponder what it means for a dog to have an appropriate diet, and who's word you are taking as gospel that the food your feeding is high quality. Do you really understand the ingredient panel on the bag of food and know what key components your dog should have in order to thrive rather than simply survive? Food makes a difference for our dogs in the same way it does for us. A steady diet of McDonald's, Twinkies, and high fructose cereals isn't going to leave us feeling and operating at our best, and many of the dog foods on the market aren't much better.
Rather than the evidence of "well, he seems to be doing fine," perhaps on the next vet visit you can run a simple blood chemistry panel to actually evaluate how the dog's systems are operating. We do that for our health periodically so why not our dog's?
While your looking into nutrition, take a look at this independent website to find out how good (or not) the kibble you are feeding rates.
Another question to ask is how might our dogs be feeling structurally? How many of us can recognize a person with a stiff neck or sore back muscles just from looking at them? Our dogs are unlikely to tell us if something is a bit sore or stiff, at least not until things are really bad and creating lameness. With all the jumping, twisting, and running full throttle dogs do, how can we assume that nothing hurts? Most of us do not have an eye sharpened to the nuances of gait changes that occur when something is beginning to go off course, so we may need help spotting subtle changes.
A visit to a DVM chiropractor on occasion can go a long way toward maintaining flexibility, which is a key part of feeling our best. Learning to help our dog with some simple stretches and massage can benefit them a lot. Plus, it doesn't take any extra time from our day if we are already spending a few minutes petting and snuggling with them anyway.
The other aspect I'd suggest we all consider is how much chemical load we might be putting on our dogs. And what part of it is a necessity? We have different priorities depending on where we live. For those of us in heartworm infested areas, heartworm preventative is likely more of a priority. For those in flea-infested territory, flea prevention is a serious concern. But are those preventative measures needed year around if you live in the north? Or are there other options beside the chemicals we chose to apply topically or have our dogs ingest?
I certainly don't have all the answers, but I encourage my clients to give some thought to what they are or aren't doing to truly support their dog's health. A great many people still do not realize that annual vaccinations for core diseases like Distemper, Parvo and Adenovirus are not recommended by AAHA. The veterinary association recommends vaccinating no more frequently than every three years for our adult dogs and serology testing proves immunity lasts on average for 7 years. So why are we subjecting our dogs to an onslaught of annual vaccinations? When is the last time any of us received annual Polio, Measles or Rubella vaccinations? I suspect we would think it absurd.
There is a lot to consider when we are evaluating what is the best for the health of our dogs. We will chat about it more in subsequent articles but for now I'm encouraging us to sharpen up our level of knowledge and make sure we rule out underlying physical problems before we simply assume our dog is being difficult for no good reason.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.