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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PET NUTRITION


Does nutrition impact pet behaviour?
What behaviours are attributable to pet nutrition?
What can dog owners do to check that that their pet is eating a healthy diet?
How do I train my dog to come when called?
The importance of praise in a dog's life.
Why do dogs dig holes, attack pot-plants, bark and grab clothes of the line?
How can I toilet train my puppy?
How do I select a companion dog for my family?
How do I stop my dog pulling me down the street?


Does nutrition impact pet behaviour?
Generally speaking, pets who have inadequate diets are often listless, irritable and show physical signs of malnourishment such as a dull coat and eyes, skin problems and are more prone to sickness.

It is well-known that additives, like sugar, that are contained in many well-known pet food brands, have a direct impact on the behaviour of animals in a similar way to that which is experienced in humans.

Behaviours exhibited typically include a period of hyperactivity shortly after ingesting the sugar-laden food - the "sugar high" followed by lethargy - the "sugar slump".

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What behaviours are attributable to pet nutrition?
Although some dog breeds have a greater propensity for aggressive behaviour, responsible pet ownership plays a very important role in creating optimum conditions to develop a happy, healthy, socially well-adjusted animal.

A dog that is exclusively fed with pet food brands that are high in sugars, additives and other preservatives will experience hyperactivity. A less-than-optimum diet, coupled with a lack of adequate exercise, that is, at least 4 hours walking a day, will create a situation in which the animal is unable to expend excess energy and will become frustrated. This is the circumstance in which aggressive behaviour is likely to be exhibited.

Responsible pet ownership includes providing proper nutrition, training, exercise, love and socialisation, health care and general maintenance. All these factors will positively impact on the behaviour of your dog.

A well-balanced diet, including foods that are as close to natural as possible with minimal additives is one of the ways to help your pet live a happy and healthy life in harmony with its human family.

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What can dog owners do to check that that their pet is eating a healthy diet?
Owners can prepare foods for their pets themselves by following the correct meat and vegetable ratios. Or they can look for brands that are free from food additives or check with your vet for the best pet food varieties.

This is the best way to ensure that your pet is receiving the correct nutritional requirements by choosing brands that are free from behavioural altering additives and support commercially prepared brands by adding 1/3 to 1/2 raw vegetable content at every meal.

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How do I train my dog to come when called?
A dog's strongest instinct is survival/self preservation, in other words the desire to satisfy its appetite. A dog that is very hungry and is shown that you have a special, highly desired treat (food) in your hand is immediately stimulated into focused attention on you, the owner. Once you have the dog's undivided attention, call its name then give the command for the dog to come to you. Instantly reward the dog for coming with the food, voice praise and slow hand strokes, then without saying a word briskly walk away from the dog. If the dog follows, move away quickly and call the dog to come to you again.

Repeat the reward and praise system. Finish the lesson now! Repeat this several times per day in a secure place (the backyard). Always ensure the dog is hungry before you start and ensure the dog really wants the food used as the reward. The dog will soon associate your 'Come' command with the reward on offer when it comes to you. Do not attempt this exercise in a park until the dog is reliably coming every time at home. If you want the dog to respond only to your commands, select words unlikely to be chosen by a stranger, rather than "come", use "to me".

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The importance of praise in a dog's life.
When it comes to owning a dog, it is easy to forget that this animal is a thinking, reactive and somewhat emotive living creature. We see the dog everyday, feed the dog everyday and hopefully exercise the dog nearly everyday. The constant contact with our dog sometimes dulls our senses and we start to assume that the dog "knows" that certain behaviours are acceptable or unacceptable.

As owners, we become experts at regularly correcting and reprimanding our dogs for bad behaviour, but we forget that it is, in fact, more important to be praising the dog for acceptable and good behaviour. Even though the dog My have undertaken this "good behaviour" hundreds, if not thousands of times in its life. Regular praise (voice, hand strokes, food treats) for all manner of acceptable behaviour, reinforces this behaviour in the dog's mind and the dog will strive to keep repeating the behaviour which drew this favourable reaction from you. Certainly correct the dog when appropriate, but constant praise will create a more reliable, and respectful companion.

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Why do dogs dig holes, attack pot-plants, bark and grab clothes of the line?
Because they are bored and YOU need to improve the quality of their living environment. All dogs are different, however, young dogs displaying these behaviours will mature and eventually grow-out of the need to be this active. Can you wait this long? I doubt it! Older dogs still exhibiting these behaviours are either very slow maturers or they are attention seekers. So what to do?

Try:

1. Placing a radio in the garage or close to the dog's living quarters. Voices and music can provide some company for the dog.

2. Purchase a huge meaty marrowbone and do not feed the dog the night before you have to leave him. If the dog is hungry, the bone will keep him occupied for hours. If the dog buries bones, drill a hole through the bone, attach a strong rope/cord and secure the bone-on-a-rope to the base of an upright post (not the base of the clothes line).

3. Look at the range of activity balls available at pet shops that hold dry food pellets and are designed to release these food pellets as the dog pushes the ball around the backyard.

4. Do not leave an unsupervised dog in the backyard with a clothesline full of washed clothes. The human odour embedded in the clothes, the movement of the clothes in the wind and the height above the ground all add up to an unbelievably attractive target for the bored dog.

5. Seek the advice of a professional canine trainer, if you are contemplating purchasing a second dog to solve the first dogs problems. You may be doubling your problems not solving them.

6. Exercise the dog not just physical exercise, but also metal exercise - go to obedience training and learn about your dog's temperament, have some fun with the dog at the same time.

7. Set up a playgroup with you family or friends. A group of dogs can be left together at one home. This playgroup gathers at each member's home on a rotation basis. Dog-pooling with compatible canines, super!

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How can I toilet train my puppy?
The first five weeks of a puppy's life are mainly spent crawling, walking and playing in the litter box. When it comes time to clear its bowels, a puppy follows its physical instincts and performs anywhere it feels the urge. The mother (bitch) will clean up the mess to ensure the living area is kept clean. This is perfectly normal behaviour. The only trouble with this routine is that the puppy will repeat this behaviour when it comes into your home. What to do? The answer is reasonably simple: confine the puppy to one or two rooms of your home, (preferably rooms with tiled or easily washed floors) and start to recognise the activities that prepare the puppy to clear its bowels. There are four:

* After the puppy wakes up

* After the puppy has eaten

* After the puppy has drunk fluids

* After any play or physical exercise

Pick up the puppy and calmly walk outside to the area where you want the pup to perform then WAIT! Stand still and do not distract the pup with chatter. Wait 'til the pup performs and as the pup is doing so, repeat your "toilet" command word and also softly praise the puppy for its magnificent performance. When the pup has finished, feed the puppy a food reward. Patience and perseverance will win out every time, your puppy will learn that all good things happen outside when it performs in a designated area and you start to have a toilet command word. Total control.

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How do I select a companion dog for my family?
The decision to purchase a new dog for your family is a very important one. It is vital to try and match your lifestyle and family activities to the size, temperament and energy levels of the dog. Puppies should be viewed with the litter mates at the breeders residence, not through a glass cabinet in the local shopping centre pet-store. Look for the puppy that is curious and investigative at your presence. Never select the puppy that is shy and reserved or the one that sits at the back of the litter box, too terrified to greet a neutral stranger.

If permitted, pick up the puppy and see what reaction it gives, settled and affectionate or struggling and panic stricken. If you need a guard-dog companion, then the bold, pushy puppy will do nicely, but be prepared to start obedience training early. If you want a balanced and friendly family dog, then the investigative affectionate puppy should suffice, but be prepared to start obedience training early. If you want ten years of heartache, frustration and limited confidence in your dog, choose the shy, nervous puppy at the back of the litter box. The same principles apply to adult dogs. Use common sense not emotions when selecting your next four-legged family member.

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How do I stop my dog pulling me down the street?
Dogs love routine, they like life to be the same today as it was yesterday. As a puppy, we all know it is absolutely imperative that the dog is socialised as much as humanly possible. To this end we take the puppy for walks in the street, the parks, the beach and the local shopping centre. The puppy hopefully learns to thoroughly enjoy these walks and looks forward eagerly to the next outing. The puppy's enthusiasm while walking translates into running, thus pulling. We are reluctant to stop the pup's action for fear of injuring the puppy.

Weeks, months pass and the same routine continues, the dog now has gained size, strength and a total understanding that pulling and surging is normal behaviour while out "walking". Obedience training is the only option. The dog must learn to obey the voice command "heel" which simply means "walk beside me" on a loose lead. It does not matter what type of collar, head-harness (halti) or chain is used to help the dog learn the lesson. Note the dog MUST learn the lesson. Seek the services of a professional dog trainer, or visit a dog obedience club, but start obedience training immediately.

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Answers supplied by Animal Nutrition and Behaviour Authority - Dr Anne Neville Dr Neville is a practicing veterinary surgeon who has been in practice for 27 years. Her special area of interest and extensive experience is in the area of animal nutrition or "food medicine".

Apart from her veterinary science expertise, Dr Neville has spent the last ten years studying animal nutrition and behaviour and has amongst her credentials an international diploma in acupuncture and five certificates in herbal medicine.

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