Keeping everything in balance

In June, our team of trainers (Caryn, Mirkka, Cara) had the good fortune to be able to join some of our heroes, colleagues, and friends to learn from Alexandra Kurland, possibly the finest horse trainer this world has ever seen.

We traveled out to Sutton, Quebec to the Cavalia Farm where the horses retire from show biz’ and spent three days and four nights learning a great deal from not only horse and dog trainers, but giraffe trainers and other behavioural experts. The question that was constantly floating above our heads every day during this workshop was “How did you arrive at this behaviour, and is it the least intrusive method?” Now doesn’t that say something about the force-free nature of this spectacular woman.

The lectures were loosely structured – quite informal and really more so a discussion among trainers and friends. Input was welcome, questions never discouraged, and oftentimes the discussion between Alexandra and Dr.Susan Friedman was like sitting in on the most intimate private discussion where ideas come alive, where inspiration is born. My hand could not write fast enough to capture everything I wished to, and all I could think was “I need to come back next year to absorb everything I missed. And the year after that.”
Cavalia
The hands-on work was sometimes with horses and sometimes without. As we know in dog training, it’s oftentimes the other end of the leash that needs the most work and where the focus should be before we even include the animal in the process. We paired up for exercises to learn how we physically affect our learner and one of these exercises was a minuet. Partner A would extend a hand, palm to the sky, and Partner B would place their hand, palm down, lightly on top and we would walk together, allowing Partner A to lead while Partner B closed their eyes and followed. It was an awakening of sorts; I learned to listen with my hand, if that makes any sense. It was incredible to affect my partner’s movement, speed, direction without using force – simply by guiding with the lightest touch as her hand lay like a feather atop mine. When I followed, I couldn’t help but imagine how dogs and horses must feel with a lead attached to their collar, harness, or halter. I appreciated the gentleness of my partner and felt sick when I imagined the use of leash corrections in comparison.

“Allow the animal to say “I can’t do this” or “I don’t understand”. Let the animal lead the dance.”

Another demonstration was with a horse lead and two partners; I was quick to volunteer myself to work with Alex. I held the lead in my hands, out in front of my chest as Alex held the very opposite end, about 4-5 feet away from me, facing me. She asked me to close my eyes and grip as tightly as possible, letting her know when I could feel movement in the lead. I closed my eyes and I focused my attention on the lead, waiting to feel movement as I held on with white knuckles. Moments passed and the arena was silent. Finally I felt movement and I opened my eyes to see Alex gripping the lead less than one foot away from my hands. I was shocked! How had I not felt that movement?! I was so focused!

She moved back down the lead and asked me to repeat the exercise but instead to hold the lead comfortably in my hands without gripping so tightly. I closed my eyes and almost immediately I felt movement and opened my eyes. She had barely moved from the other end of the lead. Once again I was shocked. It was again another eye opener for me (excuse the pun) as I have always taught clients the same thing – “tight grip, loose leash”…and here I was learning that a relaxed grip on the leash will allow you to have better communication with the animal. My, how animals must feel all our movements at the other end of the leash! How much information they are deriving from our every movement…and once again the effect of a tight grip or a correction.

As each moment passed, I grew more and more aware of our effect on our animals and how we are always communicating but it may not be what we hope to communicate. The clarity…it was really shaking me up.

Now for the exercise that I initially felt was going to be a little too strange for even me. Tai Chi.

The weekend discussions and demonstrations had left me feeling quite open and vulnerable. We entered the arena and were asked to spread out in a large circle and Alex began to coach us. We focused on our posture, how to plant our feet so that we were perfectly balanced, unable to be knocked over, where to shift our weight (find our “babbling brook”). I almost smirked. Not quite, but almost. Until once again she was right. What a difference can be made if we plant our feet and focus on our weight shifting.  Alex begins coaching us through some movements. Her voice, like butter, the arena silent. The group of us were watching her and mirroring her exact movements.

As we progressed through each movement, we all closed our eyes and feet firmly planted, we swayed and loosened our hips while rolling an imaginary ball in a figure eight motion from side to side. Something clicked. Suddenly I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like my heart had been crushed. I stopped moving and opened my eyes to find that everyone else was still swaying and moving – no one had noticed. I snuck out of the arena to get some air and quite frankly to have a good cry. For some reason, this exercise really affected me and all the guilt I have (I don’t know that it will ever really leave me) from using positive punishment with Parker years ago came bubbling to the surface. I felt as though I had failed him and feared that I never made it up to him even years later. I wondered if, as he took his last breath, he knew how much I loved him and how sorry I will always be.

I pulled myself together after a few minutes and snuck back in with the hope that no one noticed my disappearance or reappearance with red-rimmed eyes. At dinner that evening we were asked what we are taking home from this workshop and again, emotion overcame me and I felt that it was only fair to be honest with this group of amazing people, so I shared my feelings of guilt and appreciation towards Alex for facilitating an experience for us to learn how to truly be force-free with our animals. It was an emotional evening to say the least. Listening to everyone as we went around the table sharing our thoughts – it was amazing to hear how we all had been affected by the learning and how we could apply it in our lives “back home” whether with horses, dogs, crocodiles, or parrots. Perhaps even humans.

One of the most important lessons I learned that I still have yet to process due to its depth, is “for every behaviour you teach, there is an opposite behaviour to teach in order to create balance.” Such a profound concept that is also so applicable with humans too – we really must find a way to create balance, to eliminate frustration in the learner. This is certainly something I will be pondering for weeks and months and years to come.

To end our weekend, we were spoiled rotten with an opportunity to watch the great Alexandra Kurland working with a stunning horse named Zacho who was learning piaffe. We were lucky enough to receive a hug from this sweet boy before packing it in for the weekend and heading home. The perfect ending to the perfect long weekend.

A hug from ZatchoA quote that will forever stick in my mind is where I will leave this today.

“What is art, other than seeing what others cannot see.”

(Dr.Susan Friedman)

“My dog is great with kids – he would never bite.”

The learning never ends…let me tell you.

Parker is ten years old now and up until this point has been absolutely phenomenal around children and has been a pretty tough dog in stressful times.

This Christmas was particularly hectic as family gathered (all the siblings were here this year), most of us sick with varying colds and flues, and me working crazy hours trying to wrap up my year end and get my school opened on time. I could tell that Parker was uninterested in most of the goings on this year as he seemed to want to spend more time upstairs in bed than down with everyone around the tree. (Although around meal times you’d be hard pressed to find him anywhere but under the table, clever pup.)

A couple of days ago, my aunt and cousin came over with my two little second cousins who Parker has met many times before and loves dearly. This particular visit, they were pretty excited by all the festivities and spent a while running around with Matchbox cars in their hands. At first Parker didn’t mind sitting at a distance and just watching but as the excitement level rose, I could see him offering a few yawns and lip-licks here and there. He came to sit with me and I massaged him as I spent time chatting with my family and the kids ran around. This soothed him for a while but I could feel the tension in his body. I gave him a potty break and then sent him up to bed…but he came back down moments later, wanting to be with us instead.

He chose a spot between my feet as I rubbed his ears and asked the kids to find a quieter activity than running. (Who actually listens the first time?) It was at that moment, the older one scooted under the table right behind Parker with quite a bang and squeal. Parker turned and before you can blink, he air-snapped. I caught his muzzle and turned him to face me. “You’re a good boy – I hear you. Let’s go.” I said. I asked my family to send the boys to the family room while I get Parker out of the way and they comply quickly and happily. I bring Parker to his favourite spot on the main floor – his bed. He lays down, visibly calmer and puts his head down for a snooze.

No punishment, no scolding, no grabbing the child and rushing them away, no panicking, just management and more management.

“My dog is great with kids – he would never bite.”

Well, my dog is great with kids, but he most certainly will bite if he feels he needs to.

I failed him in this particular situation. He should have been removed from the hustle and bustle at the first yawn, not 10 minutes later, not an hour later. I’m lucky, plain and simple. I’m lucky that Parker is as tolerant as he is around children and that I’m able to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety. I should have acted sooner so that he wasn’t at his threshold, but I got greedy (as we all do) and based my current perspective on past experience assuming nothing had changed.

Like I said, Parker is ten now. His patience has lessened, his tolerance is lower and his favourite pastimes have changed. My lesson is to grow with him and to occasionally adjust my expectations based on current experience among other factors…and to always practice what I preach.

Silly rabbit trainer.

 

Thank You

Dear clients and colleauges,

‘Tis the season to be grateful. We wanted to send out a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone for the best year yet. Honestly. 2011 has been a dream come true and 2012 is looking even better.

This year was started off by connecting with some pretty incredible positive trainers here in Toronto and forging wonderful friendships. People often think that this industry is highly competitive and while there will always be that edge in any industry, to be honest; the bond that positive trainers have to each other is much stronger than any competition. We support each other, practice on each other, share our successes, our failures, our doubts and fears, our beautiful moments, our pride, our stories and even our clients. The bottom line is that we’re all in it for the same reason; to better the lives of dogs in our city (even around the world as far as we can reach) through education and force-free methods.

In 2011 we welcomed hundreds of new pups into our various programs, one of which has become a fast favourite and the cause of many a wait-list. Cranky Canine. The first and only class of its kind in downtown Toronto; a partnership of Whatta Pup! and Mindful Behaviors. We work with four reactive dogs in an intensive program that prepares each handler for “real life” with their feisty friend. By the end of the series, dogs who were sometimes labeled “aggressive” or “firecracker” or “short fuse”, are walking past each other on sidewalks, gazing lovingly at their handlers. All of this while proudly using force-free, humane techniques.

We spent countless hours/days attending seminars, conferences, workshops and classes in order to ensure we’re bringing the right information to the table when we’re dealing with you and your dogs. We would never want to pass along outdated or inaccurate information, so we’re constantly upgrading our skills for you.

In November 2011, Caryn Charlie Liles was named Executive Director of the IAFPP: International Association of Force-Free Pet Professionals (formerly IPDTA – International Positive Dog Training Assocation). This great undertaking means that we can share knowledge with other trainers and pet professionals around the world and encourage everyone who works with animals to use force-free techniques.

Near the end of 2011, we started making plans to expand and on October 25th, we signed a lease for a space of our own where we can offer classes, a place for private lessons, workshops, courses, playdates, and much more. This new space is in our favourite part of the city – Leslieville. Located just slightly north of Dundas Street East on Carlaw Avenue, our 950 sq.ft. space is soon to be called home.

The holidays will be spent with family and friends, and then we jump straight into minor renovations so that our space is ready for our Grand Opening on January 7th, 2012. (Stay tuned for your invitation!)

What strikes us most about 2011 is the amount of love and support that has come our way. Not just from family, friends and colleagues, but from you. Every day that you welcome us into your home to help you better communicate with your dog, every email that you send with questions and feedback, every card that comes in the mail with a thank you for “helping change a life”, every picture of your dog that is sent and cherished…every day is a good day.

There are few people who can say that they wake up in the morning in anticipation of the day ahead; that they cannot wait to get to work, that they have the most wonderful clients imaginable…but we know how that feels because we live it every day and it’s because of you.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything in 2011; for your support and encouragement, for laughing at our corny jokes in class, for liking our posts on Facebook, retweeting us on Twitter, sharing your lives with us and allowing us to become part of your family too. Every day you help make our dreams come true.

Happy Holidays and warmest wishes for 2012. We (as always) can’t wait to see you again.

Caryn Charlie Liles and the incredible team here at Whatta Pup!

TAGteach Day Two

Today was Day Two of our TAGteach certification seminar and it was definitely a bit more hands-on than yesterday. It really felt like we had learned the theory behind TAGteaching on Day One so it made sense that we would jump right in today. We started discussing Doggone Safe and the Be a Tree program, which teaches children to stand perfectly still whenever they feel threatened by a dog. We came up with our own versions of this and presented them through TAGteaching others in the class.

Theresa and Joan had wonderful ways of teaching children how to Be a Tree in a larger classroom setting that I had never thought about after almost two years of doing this. I love when new information is shared and we can all benefit. Joan said something that resonated with me this weekend – something along the lines of “I love positive trainers – nowhere else will you see this gathering and sharing of ideas.” and it is so true. When I was a compulsion trainer, working at All About Pets and all those other shows…you don’t make eye contact with your competition. You work hard to garner more attention to your company and bring in more clients. There is no knowledge sharing.

As a positive trainer, you have an instant family and they’re good people with good hearts. You’re no longer “competition” – instead you are colleagues who share knowledge, collaborate on projects, refer clients, get to know and care about each other, support each other in times of need and applaud each other in times of success.

This weekend really showed that. Sitting there with Andre, Marlo, Heather, Janis, really drove it home and being a crossover trainer was truly reinforced for me.

I digress…

Midway through the day, we split off into groups and started working on our own projects which were based on whatever we wanted to utilize TAGteach for, once leaving the seminar. I had too many ideas and my head was full (not just because of the head cold either!) but I settled on one – teaching guardians to use proper body language when faced with a reactive dog. It was similar to our “Be a Tree” program but I wanted to gear it more towards adults and take it a step further. It was interesting to work through this with my group and think aloud while I navigated through the road map, or the “funnel” as we call it. Once I got into the groove, it was so much easier to take any behaviour and fit it into this “script” using all the tools that were given to us this weekend.

I was able to explain the lesson (why we’re doing this), give the directions (how we’re doing this) and clarify a TAGpoint (which specific behaviour I want to shape/capture), and then use tools like self-TAGging, TAG the teacher, and focus on the Point of Success.

It all sounds very methodical…and you’re right, if that’s what you’re thinking. with TAGteach the goal is to remove the emotion and “fluff” from teaching a specific behaviour. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “ooooohhhh good job!”, “come on – let’s try again!”, “yes, that’s it!”, and then explaining things over and over to no avail. With TAGteaching, you break down a behaviour, give specific directions, and then TAG the desired behaviour. You acquire the skill, practice it to fluency, generalize it, and maintain it. Sound familiar? Those are the four stages of learning. You can’t argue with science. ; )

When you remove this emotion and “fluff”, you get uninterrupted learning, focus, and faster/more accurate success. It sounds cold, but now that I’ve experienced it, it’s the most respectful way to learn and to teach. It’s clear. I wouldn’t want to learn any other way.

When I was the “learner” in practice exercises this weekend, I have to admit that I felt so much more calm and collected. I felt like I could compartmentalize everything in my brain and simply focus on the one task. Once it was quickly accomplished through practicing the TAGpoint, I got my reinforcement (“good job!”) and we moved on to the next behaviour. The process was so quick that I felt like I could learn to be a golfer or a snowboarder or even a gymnast in one weekend.

What did I learn? So much…but one thing that I took away was ‘structure’. If I structure my teaching, my learners can be more successful. By trying to multitask as I do, I’m polluting the process, causing confusion and asking too much. If I break down the learning and make it simple, the process is much faster and much more successful.

Mirkka once told me that while I’m clicker training, I should shut up. I finally understand. Yes, Mirkka. I will shut up. ; )

This weekend was a dream. Learning so much from such brilliant people. The compassion, passion, knowledge, skills, and humour that Joan and Theresa have are not only admirable but contagious. I am so blessed to have met these women and to be so fortunate to learn from them.

I already feel like a better teacher.

Links

TAGteaching a child to tie shoes

TAGteaching a high jump

TAGteaching hula dancing (it’s not just for kids!)

TAGteach Day One

Bear with me as I write these posts – I have a terrible head cold and I’m sure this needs editing…

Earlier this year, I was reading Karen Pryor’s “Reaching the Animal Mind” and near the end of the book, there is a chapter on TAGteach, which caught my attention and started me thinking more seriously about Certification.

TAGteach is a science-based system that uses an acoustic marker, constructive vocabulary and positive reinforcement to enhance teaching, learning, and communication. ‘TAG’ is an acronym for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.

I had originally heard of TAGteach in 2009 when I became a member of Doggone Safe, which is co-founded by Joan Orr. At that point in my training, I was not a clicker trainer but was using a shaping and marking method loosely. I found that it was even more effective when I marked the behaviour of the humans who were teaching their dogs. Little did I know that I was already using this incredible technique of “tagging”.

As I learned more about clicker training, the more I wanted to become certified in TAGteaching. If you know me, you know that I love teaching. I love working with people, seeing results and being part of the thrill of success in small steps. So I contacted Theresa McKeon and asked her how to make this work. A couple of emails later, I was hosting Toronto’s first TAGteach Certification Seminar and harassing my trainer friends.

Today was Day One and while much of it was lecture and theory, there was quite a lot of hands-on exercises. The first one was an exercise that required a partner and 1-3 dice. Each partner picks ‘odd’ or ‘even’ and rolls the die; if you are ‘even’ and you get an even number, you TAG (using a clicker, which we call a “tagger” in order to avoid calling TAGteaching “clicker training”) and roll again. This goes on and you start adding dice one at a time to the mix so that it’s even more challenging. This is to work on our timing but it was also a great way to find out how each of us thinks and processes information. Do we actually take time to count the dots to find out if the total is odd or even? Or do we focus on patterns such as ‘if there is one dot in the middle, it must be odd’…

Once we got comfortable and even a little cocky, Theresa asked us to switch partners and it took a minute or so to get a new groove. It made me realize how difficult generalizing cues can be for dogs. They learn to sit with one handler and then when a stranger asks for a ‘sit’, they’re slower to respond if at all. Here I was, having trouble generalizing my skills in a classroom. Suddenly I was vowing to have more patience with the dogs and people that I work with. If I (as a professional trainer) was struggling to perform a task like this, how can I expect the humans I train to be dog trainers in a one hour lesson? (Not that I do, but it certainly puts expectations into perspective.)

Next, we worked on a fascinating exercise where we lay “manholes” (small paper targets) on the ground on a fake road (lined by masking tape) and had to guide a blindfolded person down the “road” without allowing them to step on the manholes. The catch? We could only use a guiding sentence using five words or less for each step. “Right foot one step forward”, “left heel to right toe”, “turn right two hours”, these became our new language. I was able to guide another participant down her “road”, avoiding all manholes and finally seating her in a chair. It was so exhilarating and satisfying once it was complete! I hadn’t even noticed that the whole room had stopped their exercises and were all watching.

We worked through a few similar exercises but the feedback went from five words or less to guide, to using only “YES” to guide, to using only “NO”, to finally using both “Yes” and “No” together. My friend Marlo Hiltz was the blindfolded during the “NO only” exercise and I have to say that watching someone go through an exercise where they are given few tools and little communication is difficult, but when that communication is all negative feedback, it’s horrible. My hands started to sweat and I felt quite anxious for her with each step more tentative than the last. Perhaps it is my history in correction-based training that brought back feelings of anxiety during this exercise, but I almost wanted to yell “STOP!!” so that she could feel successful and more confident.

It was so clear right there in that exercise that positive training was the best choice I have ever made in my life. I am so happy to have left outdated methods behind.

Next up was the exercise using only “YES” to guide the participant. It went fairly quickly but not 100% successfully. If she were about to step on a manhole, the “guide” would say nothing and if she were about to step in the clear, the guide would say “YES”. Ideally, upon hearing nothing, the participant would avoid stepping there and try another area. Instead, she continued walking, stepping on manholes the whole way. After two rounds of this, I felt somewhat disappointed. I thought “wow – she clearly doesn’t understand the exercise”…but after some discussion about rate of reinforcement, when Theresa’s wise words came back to me.

The success of the learning environment lies with the teacher.

I have done this in the past, where I have often thought “the dog isn’t focused enough” or “the handler isn’t working hard enough”, but in reality, the dog would focus if I worked harder at keeping his attention, and the handler would work harder if I made success more attainable and rewarding.

Raise the rate of reinforcement. Give clearer directions. Break down the behaviours. Watch body language closely; both canine and human. Don’t make assumptions.

We ended the day by teaching each other how to tie shoelaces. Yes. I know how that sounds, but it’s not as easy as you’d think.

All in all, in one day I learned so much about teaching and about myself…and I can’t wait to go back tomorrow for Day Two.

Cranky Canine pt.1

In February of 2011, I attended the All About Dogs show as a volunteer presenter for the Doggone Safe program. It was there that I met a new friend; Mirkka Koivusalo. We got along well right away and something in the back of my mind said “this person is important”, so I listened. I had a feeling she was someone who could be trusted and who I could learn from. It turns out I was right.

For months, I had been dreaming of holding reactive dog classes downtown because so many of my calls are from clients whose dogs are leash-lungers. While I felt I was making some progress, the process in private sessions is significantly longer when you have to depend on the weather, the neighbourhood, someone bringing a decoy dog, and other variables. I was finding that doing three sessions and mostly management was the best (most realistic and most economical) solution. Though I know it’s not entirely true, it felt like very little behaviour modification was taking place because people simply don’t have a thousand dollars to put into dog training, and depending on the reactivity level of the dog, that could just be the tip of the iceberg. If only I knew another trainer who I could trust and easily work with…

Not long after we met, Mirkka and I went for coffee and hashed out a few ideas. A coffee turned into phone conversations, a shared drive to PABA, shared meals, emails, phone calls, and then the dream of a reactive dog class quickly materialized. We spent months in planning, researching, reading, watching videos, attending webinars, talking to colleagues, practicing with current clients, and then in September 2011, our first Cranky Canine class was launched.

It sold out in less than 24 hours and I’m not sure either of us were really expecting that. We were elated.

Schaeffer, Teddy, Ira and Holden came along and in four weeks, we saw these four dogs go through some almost-magical transitions…not to mention the humans. Not everyone who joins our class is previously clicker-savvy, but I have to say that by the time they leave, they are proficient clicker trainers.

In the following blog posts, I’ll share with you the greatest lessons learned in these classes, the failures and successes, the key feedback received from the clients, and the feeling of fulfillment that was felt at the close of each class.

Canine Nutrition

On Sunday I attended a Canine Nutrition seminar by Erica Garven, hosted by All About Dogs. I have been looking forward to this seminar for weeks. As soon as I saw Renee post it, I jumped on it and registered. I was admittedly the first to arrive, sitting on the curb outside, anxious for ten o’clock.

When the seminar began, I could almost feel my skull crack and open up in order to allow the knowledge to pour in. If I could have opened my eyes or ears wider, I would have. I didn’t want to miss a single word or or slide.

Here’s a little background information for you, before you assume that I’ve lost my marbles. My mother is a nurse and I can remember when I was wee and she was in nursing college, I would sneak her textbooks into my room or onto the bay window in order to sift through the information and try to learn some “big girl words”. I had trouble saying stethoscope but that didn’t stop me from trying to spell Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Since those early days, I have always been interested in medicine and the sight of blood has never bothered me. I collect medical textbooks, I watch medical docu-shows and download surgeries to watch during dinner. (Double-lung transplants are by far the most fascinating.) Anything medical or health-related fascinates me, so of course nutrition would be of interest to me – it’s the foundation of good health, after all.

So in comes Erica and I open my notes. She starts off by talking about the simpler ways to eliminate (potential) allergens and what is on the top of the list? Stainless steel bowls. Are you serious? Apparently dogs can have a pretty serious allergy to stainless steel and eating out of the bowls can cause symptoms similar to food allergies, as well as discolouration of the area around the mouth and nose. Instead of switching over to a plastic bowl (which can contain toxins that discolour the nose, turning it pink), she recommends using ceramic bowls.

She told us about her dog, Toby…who is a “lemon dog” (you know exactly what I mean.) and of his serious allergies that she has been able to eliminate or at least manage thus far, giving him back a wonderful quality of life that most of us would likely not have known how to do.

We talked a lot about allergies and what the signs are. Some of the symptoms that I see frequently are:

  • inconsistent or poor stool quality
  • itchy skin
  • chronic infections (ears, eyes, etc…)
  • dull, flaky coat
  • inconsistent behaviour

When I’m working with dogs, one of the first questions I ask is about diet and I include questions about the amount fed and the timing of the meals – oftentimes people are confused about how this is related to training and behaviour, but many times I have seen a complete 180º turnaround simply because of a change in the diet.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a serious kibble investigator and that I’m a big believer in scheduled feedings that take place at least twice per day. I never suggest one meal per day (imagine how that affects our blood-sugar levels!) or free-feeding (leaving food down all the time). I have a list of kibble that I do recommend, but even then, I always suggest keeping up to date with the company’s recall information, product changes, ownership, etc…

Since attending Erica’s seminar and soaking up all the knowledge possible in three hours, I came home and implemented a few changes to Parker’s diet. If you’ve been following lately, I’ve put Parker back on home-cooked food and have seen some incredible changes. His breath no longer smells, his energy levels have evened out, his coat is super-shiny, he is excited about his food (that’s not normal for him), and he’s sleeping better at night. He has also been showing some interesting puppy-like behaviour lately – he’s become more playful with his friends but also his humans. It’s really quite nice.

His regular meals consist of (in no particular order):

  • brown rice
  • two vegetables
  • one fruit & one berry
  • yogurt
  • vitamins & minerals
  • one protein
  • safflower oil

I’ve used cooked rice (of course), raw veggies and fruits, and a cooked protein (or canned if fish). So far it’s been a lot of trial and error – most days have been great, but other days have been not-so-great. I’ve found that sweet potato, carrots and kidney beans go right through him and come out looking just like they did when they went in. I tried cooking them a little longer, but that caused them to come out looking pale and whole. No big change except that I was sure the nutrient value was lessened.

After Erica’s seminar, the changes I made were:

  • use more protein
  • use less carbs (rice)
  • boil all veggies to release the nutrients (but don’t over cook)
  • add water (or broth) that the veggies are boiled in
  • use a food processor to puree everything
  • freeze in weekly portions
  • add this to a high quality kibble
  • use vitamins & minerals

Last night I got to work and I made the first batch. It included:

  • veggie puree (spinach, parsley, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato)
  • strawberries & blueberries
  • vitamin & mineral powder
  • Nature’s Balance kibble

The kibble covers the protein and I’ve added all the extra nutrients that make it even healthier (and tasty). Oftentimes companies try hard to add in all the right ingredients, but if you think about the process kibble has to go through, how many nutrients really make it to the end product? Adding veggies, fruits and berries will only serve your dog well in the end.

Here are a couple of pictures:

For Parker, I add a couple of tablespoons to his kibble at each meal and every now and again he’ll get a full home-cooked meal with a little carb and home cooked protein. Pureeing the veggies and fruits will make it easier for him to digest and metabolize, whereas, as Erica says: “in a carrot, out a carrot”, which is exactly what was happening.

Confession: I tasted it. I swear I did. My brother was witnessing the cooking process and suggested that we try it. It’s just fruit and veggies, so why not? We grabbed a tablespoon of each batch and gave it a shot. The greenish one was very veggie-heavy and a little tart. The lighter coloured one had more strawberries in it and it was a little sweeter. Both tasted good. It made me reconsider how I eat. If I did this for myself every day, I’d be a healthier person…but that’s a whole other post.

I’m looking into booking Erica for a seminar soon and would love for you folks to hear what she has to say. If you’re interested, email me to be notified of the event, or stay tuned on the website.