4 Ways to give your dog mental exercise

Mental exercise can save your couch cushions, your shoes, and can alleviate your dog’s anxiety when you leave home (it can also replace physical exercise when the weather doesn’t cooperate).

The good news is that mental exercise is relatively easy, and doesn’t require a ton of effort on your part!

• Stuff a Kong. This is a good one for when your dog goes into his crate, or when you are leaving the house, and is probably the easiest one to do. Get a Kong, put some treats or kibble in it, seal it with peanut butter, and put it in the freezer until you need it. If you only have one dog, you can give it to her before you leave in the morning, and she can eat through the peanut butter to her breakfast! This is not a good idea if you have two dogs, no matter how well they share and get along when you are there. All bets are off with a high value treat like a peanut butter Kong!

• Puzzle toys. Ranging from somewhat easy to difficult, the nice thing about Kyjen puzzle toys is that you can modify them to first train your dog how to use them, and then make it more challenging once your dog gets the hang of it.

• “Find it.” Hide your dog’s favorite toys or bone around the house and tell them to “find it.” You might have to help them out at first. You can also play “find it” with people – have one person hide and then have your dog find the person. This is also great practice for the command “come”.

• K9 Nose work. K9 Nose Work is a newer craze for the companion dogs, and it basically a modified version of scent training that police dogs and rescue dogs go through. Visit the K9 Nose Work website to search for trainers in your area that might be offering classes, but the beginning stages are pretty easy to do!

Reading dog food labels: A quick lesson

There are two components of the dog food label that I’m going to focus on here – the AAFCO nutritional statement and the ingredients. While the guaranteed analysis is another important component, I have found that it doesn’t vary all that much from brand to brand and just isn’t that important to the average consumer.

1. The AAFCO nutritional statement – AAFCO is the non-governmental, non-regulatory body that provides guidelines for assessing food. Diets evaluated under AAFCO are tested for the required nutrients and that those nutrients are presented in the proper amounts.

There are 4 possible statements that you will find on dog food:

– Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Diet X provides complete and balanced nutrition for ____ life stage (put through testing and passed).

– Diet X is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Dog food Nutrient Profiles for ____ life stage (means diet either failed or wasn’t actually put through testing).

– Diet X provides complete and balanced nutrition for ____ life stage and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product that has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests (means diet either failed or wasn’t actually put through testing).

– This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only (should not be your dog’s main meal).

2. The ingredients – A good rule of thumb is look at the first 5 ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the bulk of most foods are in the top 5-7. You want to see whole meat or meat meal, but not by-products, and not a lot of grains. Byproducts are questionable and can contain feet, necks, undeveloped eggs and intestines, though by AAFCO definition does not include feathers or heads.

If there are grains in the top ingredients, look for whole grains (rice, oats, barley) vs. corn gluten or soybean meals. You want to see fruits and vegetables, too, though these will probably be further down the list.

As far as oils and fats go, look for specifically named fats and oils vs. “animal fat”, mineral oil, or vegetable oil.

There will also be some preservatives with long, strange names. Look for Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E) and Asorbic Acid (Vitamin C). Not many foods still have these in them, but you should definitely avoid products with BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin.

Here are some examples, which one do you think is the best nutritionally?

Merrick Real Chicken Brown Rice + Green Pea Recipe

Beyond the label: How to choose food for your dog

It’s not just about the label when it comes to choosing and/or changing your dog’s food. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

• When changing your dog’s food, do so gradually, and mix the old with the new, increasing the amount of new, over the course of 1-2 weeks.

• The feeding guidelines on the side of the bag are just that – guidelines. You may need to adjust depending on the food, your dog’s energy level, and even the climate. Your dog may need more or less food in the summer or winter.

• If you have a puppy, it is important to feed her puppy specific food. Puppies have different nutritional requirements.

• It is not as important to get size specific food, but the smaller size kibble could be helpful for smaller breeds.

• Supplements for dogs are not regulated, and aren’t usually necessary if you are feeding your dog a complete diet. If you decide to use supplements, such as Glucosamine (one of the few supplements that has been proven to be helpful for older/arthritic dogs), check the label and make sure it is pharmacology grade.

With any treat or food, the real test is if your dog will eat it. No matter how high quality we think something is, if Fluffy won’t eat it, try something else!