Puppy training is a very important part of ensuring your new puppy grows up to be a well socialised and trained member of the family. Training can begin pretty much as soon as your new family member comes home at around 8 weeks of age. Yes, your puppy is small, cute and still a baby, so to speak, but now is an important time to set some ground rules, and begin the basics. Everyone knows of someone who owns ‘that dog’ who jumps up, barks at the window, or drags its owner around the park. These are all totally avoidable behaviours, and all it takes is patient training and your puppy can sit nicely when being greeted, and walk calmly to heel.
Training should always be fun and rewarding for your puppy. We use the term positive reinforcement, by which we mean that the action has a positive outcome. For instance when the puppy sits, he gets a treat or a game with his toy. We do not use negative reinforcement, so if the puppy does not sit he gets told off. Positive reinforcement will mean that puppy will be willing and happy to perform that action again, whereas negative reinforcement can lead to delayed learning, and can affect your newly forming bond.
Clicker training is a popular new type of training, which can help dogs learn faster as you can be more accurate with telling them when they have performed the correct action. A ‘clicker’ is a small hand held plastic device that makes a clicking sound when depressed. The dog learns that the click means they have done something correctly, and that a treat will follow. It is a means of marking the good behaviour that the dog has done as soon as it is done, so timing is very important. For instance, as soon as the puppy goes into the sit position, you click and give the treat. This can mean the puppy instantly knows when it has done something correctly, rather than waiting for you to dig out the treat! It is also useful, for what we call ‘shaping’ behaviours. For instance, my dog Binny was clicker trained, and so when he performed a natural behaviour, which was wiping his feet when coming in from outside, I was able to click and treat this behaviour and he learnt that it was desired. I could then gradually add in a command ‘wipe feet’ and we have shaped a natural behaviour with clicker training.
Training sessions should be small and short, for example 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day is plenty. A puppy will only have a short attention span, and will tire quickly. You want to ensure that the session ends on a positive note, and not go on for so long that they lose interest and start getting things wrong. The basic things your new puppy must learn (besides toilet and crate training) are:
Once the basics are in place and are consistent, other fun things to teach could be:
To train your puppy, first you must start off with no distractions, for instance in a room the puppy is used to, with no other people or loud noises. This reduces the chances of the puppy getting distracted. Prepare yourself with some tasty treats which your puppy is used to, so they will not get an upset tummy. Little Star are great as they can be broken up into small pieces, so as not to overload them with too much food. Small pieces of cheddar cheese or chicken are also good, if your dog can tolerate them. Keep some treats which are ‘special’ for training, so if your puppy is already getting chicken with his dinner for instance, he will be less likely to see it as a good reward. A treat pouch is useful, which you can attach to your waist so it is easy to reach.
To train the ‘sit’ the treat should be shown to the puppy, then held infront of the nose, and gently moved up and backwards. This lures the puppy, as its natural reaction is to look at the treat, and this will in turn make the bottom touch the ground. As soon as the puppy has sat, give the treat and some praise, or if your puppy is clicker trained, click and treat. Repeat this a few times, letting the puppy get up and move about in-between. Once the puppy has got the hang of the sit and is quite consistent, you can pair it up with the word ‘sit’ which must be used as the bottom is heading to the ground. If the word is used too early, and the puppy does not sit, the word becomes meaningless. Hand signals can also be used. Remember to keep the training session short and fun, you could end by playing a game with your puppy and their favourite toy. Once the puppy is able to perform the command in an area with no distractions, you can gradually change the location, so you can do it with other people in the room, or out in the park.
However, taste is only one factor that affects how palatable a food is. Dogs and cats also rely on olfaction (smell), texture, shape and the temperature of food before they decide if they like it or not. For example, studies show that neither dogs nor cats particularly like sticky foods but yet generally both show a preference for wet food over dry. Cats in particular can form strong preferences for the texture of food, which can happen when they are very young. This can create finicky adult cats that have never been exposed to different textures of food as kittens. Some pet foods contain colourings to make the food appeal visually to the owner, so far there are no studies to suggest that colour makes any difference to food preference of dogs or cats.
he water content of food does seem to play a part with both dogs and cats preferring moist food over dry. Adding water to dry food can increase palatability (and water consumption) for some pets but there are others that will refuse to eat it this way.
Higher protein diets- those with a higher percentage of meat or fish are favoured by dogs and cats (cats especially like diets that contain liver) but the freshness of a diet is important especially when it comes to fish. Interestingly, with the increase in raw diets at the moment when given a choice it seems that most pets prefer cooked food over raw, however if it’s overcooked this can put them off.
Some pet food companies add ingredients specifically designed to increase palatability of dry food. These are called ‘digests’ or ‘palatants’ and come in a dry or liquid form. The dry kibble is coated with the palatant (and sometimes oil or fat), which can be vegetable, yeast or meat based. The quality of the palatant varies greatly, with premium palatants costing more to produce. However, diets that use high quality ingredients should be tasty enough without the need to add these flavour enhancers.
With all these factors to consider when developing a new food, it is important to test palatability before launching a new diet and there are several different ways to do this. Some pet food companies will use kennelled dogs or cats. There are benefits to this method, for example it tends to be more accurate as there are no family members to feed extras and no other pets to push in and steal the food! And kennelled animals are used to a wide variety of flavours and textures which means they tend to be less fussy. However, we prefer pets to try our food in their familiar own-home environment and we only use willing volunteers – either staff pets or clients that come into our in house Vet’s Klinic. This type of taste-testing means that we only use family pets and we are able to get ‘real-life’ feedback rather than data from kennelled animals that taste new foods day in, day out. We can also get the owners perspective on how excited their cat or dog is to eat the new food.
There are two types of consumption tests; the single bowl acceptance test and the two-bowl (or two-pan) acceptance test. When we tested our Ultra Fresh cat food we used the two-bowl approach. Two bowls are offered to the cat simultaneously. One bowl contains the cat’s current food and the other bowl contains the new food – that up until this point they had not seen, smelled or tasted before. Each bowl contains the same amount of food and after a set period of time the remaining food is measured to see which bowl the cat ate more food from, this is called ‘intake ratio’. The other measures recorded during this approach is for the owner to report which bowl the cat approached first (even if they didn’t eat from it) – this is called ‘first approach’ and then which bowl they ate from first, which is ‘first choice ratio’.
At Vet’s Kitchen we only use willing volunteers to taste test our food in their own home. Before we launched our Ultra Fresh Adult cat food, we were pretty sure it was going to be tasty, but to be sure we recruited 40 willing volunteers from our own in-house practice Vet’s Klinic… the empty bowls speak for themselves!
See our tasters in action below.
Socialisation is the term used to describe the careful introduction of your puppy to other animals, people, environments and objects. Puppy socialisation as a way of learning; they learn how to cope with new places, situations and people, they learn how to communicate with other animals and how to fit in with family life. A puppy that is properly socialised will grow up to be confident and happy, whereas one that has been poorly socialised may end up anxious and fearful, which in turn can lead to aggression. Several studies have linked a lack of early socialisation in puppies with behavioural problems in older dogs.
Up until 16 weeks old, puppies are going through a critical stage of their development when they are open to learning about new situations and environments. After this age anything new that they haven’t come across before will be met with apprehension. However, there is also a phase known as the ‘fear imprint period’ which is seen between 8-11 weeks old. It is still within the socialisation window but occurs when their natural fear responses start to kick in. During this period any traumatic, frightening or painful experiences will have a more lasting effect and can set your puppy back for life. It is very important that you continue to expose your puppy to new things during this stage but it is essential to make each experience as positive as possible – please see our information on ‘positive reinforcement’ in Training 101. A second fear imprint period occurs during adolescence, typically between 6-14 months old.
It is believed that this stage in development can be traced back to the habits of wild dogs and wolves. After the first few weeks with their family and a safe environment, wolf cubs develop a healthy apprehension of new situations or creatures as a way of protecting themselves from danger. Although older dogs can still be socialised it is much harder and they do not appear to cope as well.
Your puppy should be introduced to as many friendly people as possible in their first few weeks of life. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder how many people your puppy has been socialised with before coming home with you. They should also have handled the puppy frequently as this gets them used to being touched and has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of biting later on. You should try to let your puppy meet as many different people as possible including: men, women and children of all ages, people of different races, people wearing hats, scarves or sunglasses, family members and strangers.
These are important minerals for a dog with chronic heart failure. A deficiency of magnesium or phosphorus can exacerbate the potential side effects of cardiac medications and may cause other problems such as muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmias. Magnesium levels should be monitored in your dog and if he/she becomes deficient then a diet with higher levels may be recommended. However, whether the dog requires a diet higher or lower in potassium depends completely on the individual animal. Again, your vet will need to check your dog regularly and moderate the diet when and if necessary.
Some of the specialist diets specifically developed for cardiac disease have a reduced phosphorus content too. Phosphorus, along with calcium is a major component of bone. Phosphorus is also found in the soft tissues and plays a role in almost all of the body’s metabolic processes. However, phosphorus restriction is important once kidney failure has been diagnosed. During renal failure the kidney’s ability to filter and excrete phosphorus declines and the build-up of phosphorus in the body can be toxic. Reducing dietary phosphorus for dogs with kidney failure has been shown to increase their lifespan by 2-3 times compared to dogs fed on a standard food. As many dogs with heart disease also have kidney disease, some companies have chosen to restrict phosphorus in the diet as well as minerals such as sodium. However, phosphorus restriction is not necessary to aid patients with heart disease if their kidneys are functioning correctly.
During normal cell metabolism (oxidation) the body produces unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for normal aging but if they are able to increase in numbers they can cause disease and illness too. Contaminants such as pollution and damage from sunlight (sun burn) can increase the amount of free radicals the body produces. Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E help to neutralise free radicals and therefore reduce the destruction caused by free radicals. However, studies have shown that dogs with either Dilated cardiomyopathy or Mitral Valve disease have an imbalance between free radical production and the amount of antioxidant protection available. Therefore it has been recommended that the diet of a dog with heart disease is supplements with antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, however scientific evidence to support the need for supplementation is still weak.
Vet’s Kitchen dry food contains 8% moisture, the rest of the food (92%) is called dry matter and this is where all the nutrients in the food are. Different brands of dry food and types of foods e.g. wet food or semi moist food all contain different moisture contents. These differences in moisture content make it difficult to do a direct comparison on nutrient levels, therefore nutrients are usually only compared on a dry matter basis instead of an ‘as fed’ basis.