Thursday, April 26, 2012

Treats for Dental Health? Greenie Review

After watching Tess come out of anesthesia and how miserable she was, AND knowing the dental health IS important to overall health of both animals and humans....I'm really interested in NOT subjecting my dog to any procedures that require her to be knocked out than what is strictly necessary.

I don't brush Tess's teeth.  See my comments on the nail-trimming post...Eventually I will be able to handle her mouth, have her open it on command etc --> but in the meantime it's a battle that I do not need at this point in our training. 

So, I need other options.

I give her plenty to chew on - but she's a powerful chewer (even for a 30 pound dog) so I have to chose carefully.  For example, nylabone dental chews (blue bone with nubbies) is one of her favorites......but she can destroy one in just a couple of hours, and can tear off big enough chunks to give her diarrhea and vomiting......The only chew products that are tough enough for sustained chewing are also too hard for them to do an effective job cleaning the teeth and gums.  I also worry about how hard they are that they might actually do damage to soft tissue in her mouth.  Any soft toys are instantly destroyed before my eyes and destuffed before I can blink twice. 

Some people swear by rawhides and other edible chews.  Tess snarfs them as fast as possible and I've had to pull more than a couple out of her throat and every time I take one away because it's getting to a "snarffing" stage it increases the value of that rawhide because she knows she only gets it for a limited time and she snarfs it even faster.  She's very food motivated and its hard to convince her I have ANYTHING of larger value than the rawhide that she possesses. 

So, I decided to try a dental chew product, like greenies. 

In fact, I tried exactly that: greenies.

They have a couple of things in their favor.   They were developed by a vet, they are recommended by vets, they are certified by a dental pet organization and they've been around for a while. 

So, I bought a month's supply.

Especially because they are pricey and have to be fed at least 5 days/week to be effective, I wanted to evaluate them critically.  Do they really work?  Was this good money spent?  Will feeding this product once a day do something else to my dog nutritionally that is unintended? 

I did some internet research.  I was esepcially concerned that there seemed to be NO data supporting their claim that when regularly fed they improved dental health....except perhaps keeping breath fresh, which is the least of my concerns (although it can be a small indicator of oral health). 

It looks like there were some concerns over the digestibility of greenies and a possible risk of GI obstructions - but greenies had been reformulated recently and were much more digestable, including being able to dissolve/be soft in glass of water over night.  This at first reassured me - but I was also confused how something the consistency of a gummy was helping to keep her teeth clean.....

Especially something she didn't exactly spend anytime chomping down on and swallowing. 

Then I learned something else.  Greenies was recently bought by the "Mars" company (yes --> that Mars company you are familiar with in the human world) and the product was immediately reformulated (to be the more gummy texture I had noticed).  Additionally, wheat - which I believe was absent before - is now like the 2nd ingredient on the label. 

And folks, unless I've missed something major, that's the final nail in the Greenie coffin for me.  No clear evidence or explaining of how this product works to promote oral health, the product is eaten in under one minute with no apparent oral effort, and it contains a significant amount of wheat. 

I started to look for something else. 

Zeke's brand dental chews were on sale at the local pet store so I picked up a back.  Once called "Z-ridges" I believe they are now called "Z-bones".  Same formulation, but different name and packaging.  Wheat and corn free, it takes Tess 1/2 hour to get through one.  The texture is a mix of hardness that breaks off in tiny chunks when aggressively chewed that are rough enough to create some abrasion, but soft enough not to do damage. 

I will admit that it looked tasty enough that I stole a little chunk from Tess and tried it.  :)  It was good.  Hard but chewy at the same time --> didn't get gummy.  Actually a pleasant flavor.  Made me wonder if I ate one I too could have shiny teeth without having to expend any actual effort.  :). 

Overall I'm really pleased with the Zeke bones and while I probably can't afford to feed them on a regular basis, I'll do my best to feed regularly enough to make a difference. 

If I was really brave I'd just give her a raw drumstick or wing or something and let that do its work....but I'm a wimp :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm seriously scared

Tess is scary smart.

How in the world am I going to:

1.  Stay ahead of the this dog as we BOTH learn agility
2.  Not completely screw up this dog by inadvertently rewarding the wrong stuff.
3.  Keep her little mind active enough that she doesn't start developing alternative career plans such as "official stuffed animal destroyer", or "vet" (because at this point I pretty sure she could go through vet school and pass the boards before I can).

Just had a training session where I was reminded how very fast her little mind moves.

a.  We have only done 6 weave poles.  She's not solid on all her entries, so we stayed there for a while.  My trainer ("K") said that you don't want to stay at one place too long because they can get "stuck" so I decided to go ahead and add another 6 pole set in line and see how she did with 12 --> were our problems a lack of understanding or boredom?  Ummmm.....considering she flew through the set of 12 with NO problems and actually got FASTER with BETTER foot work, I'm thinking the latter.

As that little project only took 3 minutes of my planned training session I decided to do some shaping exercises.

b.  For the online clicker challenge I have a couple of tricks in mind, including her doing various figures around my legs.  I decided to work on a figure 8 through my legs at a walk.  This was our second session on this behavior, so of course I'm breaking it down in itty bitty steps and keeping a very high reward BIG exaggerated SLOW step after another.  After one or two trips across the room, I was ready to start another one.  I stood, with Tess on my right, and my legs slightly apart.  "Ready?", asked.  In response Tess started doing FAST figure 8's through my only slightly parted legs, as I stood there.  Ummm....yeah.  Very good Tess.  Way to generalize.  I guess we have that one down. about going forward with me with your head between my knees?  OK.  How about backing up with me keeping your head is between my knees?  Ummm....I guess that's it for today. 

Tess is VERY good about generalizing.  This is bad, this is good.  It means that any errors in my training instantly carry over to all sorts of behaviors.  It means letting her break a control behavior (like house, sit, down, stand) at ANY time IMMEDIATELY transfers to training.  It also means that a skill learned on a "transition" object like a travel plank for contacts instantly transfers to obstacles.  It definitely keeps me on my toes and I quickly know whether I've screwed up somewhere......

Whew....sometimes I think I got a Border Collie with floppy ears.  Who likes birds instead of sheep.  And prefers to focus on birds instead of me.  Without a tail.  And without fear.

And by the way - having done exercises with friends, clicker training each other through shaping (friend has handful of m&m's and clicker.  Without luring, tries to shape a behavior in other person), I know from personal experience it is not the easiest thing to figure out how to get those m&ms!!!!!!  I'm in awe of how FAST Tess can figure out what I want.  That's genius right there....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Online Challenge

Here's a fun online challenge if you are out of ideas of what to teach your dog next!

Join the facebook group here (if you have trouble, email me with your name and I will invite you from the facebook page), and then take a look at the challenges set on the youtube channel.

Read the details on facebook, but in a nutshell it looks like you chose a challenge and then post a video response of your dog doing then trick.  You can also "set" a challenge by emailing a video to the event organizer (see the facebook page).  The goal is to teach your dog as many tricks as possible in a year (cut off is April 30, 2013).  Please note the focus is teaching your dog to do these tricks using POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. 

I suppose technically there are points and such for setting challenges and completing challenges, but even as competitive as I am --> I'm just looking forward to some inspiration over the next year.

Resource page has been updated

I have added some books, vidoes, youtube channels and websites to the resource page. 

As always, if you have a favorite that isn't listed, let me know!  I don't necessarily add resources I haven't personally reviewed - but I'll put it on my "to read/watch" list!