10 Common Myths About Dogs

MYTH #1: A wagging tail means a dog is friendly.

FACT: This is a common misunderstanding. A more accurate definition of why a dog wags its tail is a “willingness to interact.” This definition leaves a lot of room for different intentions on the part of the dog. Is the “willingness to interact” for good intentions or bad? Many people have described how a dog’s tail was wagging just before it attacked.

Trying to read a dog’s behaviour based on any one body part can lead to a misinterpretation of a dog’s intent. It is wise to never interpret a dog’s behaviour or intent based on one particular aspect of his posture or body language. A wagging tail can mean many things. Different breed types display behavioural intentions through differing body language indicators. A Jack Russell Terrier may crouch down low and stretch its head forward as a precursor to attack, eager to catch and kill. A Border Collier displaying the same crouch and low head position is in herding mode, eager and excited to put some order to the herd.

Dogs communicate with each other through complex body language. A tail wag is only one of the signs to look for when interpreting a dog. It is also important to consider ear position, hackles, head position, eyes, expression, etc. Always look at the entire dog in context.

MYTH #2: My dog pulls on the leash because he’s dominant, or my dog jumps on me because he’s dominant, or my dog lays on the couch because he’s dominant, or my dog insists on going through doorways before me because he’s dominant, etc.

FACT: The concept of “dominance” has been used to explain almost every inappropriate behaviour in dogs that owners can possibly complain about. Unfortunately, the term dominance as it is used by most dog owners and unfortunately many trainers is completely incorrect. Dominance describes a social relationship between two or more individuals. It is not a character trait. Despite what many people believe, dogs do not spend their time seeking to establish control over humans or one another for that matter. If a dog jumps on you, it’s because he has not learned that this is an undesirable behaviour. If he pulls on the leash, he hasn’t been taught that he should walk without pulling. The couch is simply very comfortable and carries your scent. He rushes out the door because he is anticipating the rewarding experience of exploring and exercising his senses.

If your dog is doing something you don’t like, you don’t need to establish your “dominance”; instead, decide what it is you want from your dog and teach what it is you prefer them to do.

MYTH #3: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

FACT: You most certainly can! Dogs are well able to learn at any age, within the physical constraints that aging brings.

The only challenge to learning for an older dog is changing something that has been a part of the dog’s behaviour for a long time. If a dog has been messing in the house for 8 years it will likely take longer to resolve than it would to teach a 3 month old puppy not to “do its business” in the home. For the older dog the behaviour has become habitual thereby making it more difficult to modify. It is not because the dog’s brain is older and not functioning as well as the puppy’s.

MYTH #4: We should eat before our dog eats.

FACT: This statement again falls to a misunderstanding of dominance theory. The belief being that the “dominant leader” should eat before the subordinates of the pack. This is not true with wolves in the wild or with our dogs. Certainly, if the wolf pack is suffering from scarce food resources, the strongest, most confident members of the pack may insist on first dibs on the food. If food is ample then it’s share and share alike. In our homes there are always ample food resources and no competition for food. When dog’s are “resource guarding” their food it is not a statement of their dominance. It is behaviour usually based on an anxiety as to insufficient or unreliable food delivery or previous experiences of food theft.

MYTH #5: Dogs should never sleep in bed with you.

FACT: This is only true if they hog the bed or snore.

This is yet another myth based on dominance theory and the belief that letting your dog sleep in bed with you puts them on the same level of hierarchy as you, the “alpha.” It has been speculated that being permitted to sleep closer to the pack leader is a position of favour within the pack, but it’s not definite fact.

As long as your dog respects you and looks to you for guidance (and you don’t mind occasionally waking up with dog hair stuck between your teeth), there’s no reason not to enjoy sharing the bed with your dog.

If a dog on your bed growls or acts aggressively when you try to displace them or growls their displeasure when you shift your position while sleeping, your dog does not respect you and feels quite comfortable telling you what to do. It’s time to do some training!

MYTH #6: A female dog should have a litter before they are spayed.

FACT: There is no medical or behavioural basis for this statement. In fact, females that have been spayed before having a litter are at a lower risk of developing uterine infections and breast cancer.

MYTH #7: Dogs are colour blind.

FACT: While not actually colour blind they can be best described as being “colour limited”. Dogs see a colour spectrum that excludes red hues. This leaves them with a colour range limited to blues and greens. So when your dog is chasing that bright red ball in the field they are actually chasing a ball that is green/blue set against green grass. And when they dive into that bowl of dog food that the manufacturer has coloured yellow, green, red and brown to match the chicken, vegetables and beef/veal/lamb, it’s all blue/green to your dog. (Dog’s also have less sensitive taste buds than we do and rely on a food’s smell to determine its desirability.)

MYTH #8: When walking your dog, their head should be no further forward than your leg.

FACT: Again, another myth based in an outdated belief of dominance theory and now dispelled by our greater understanding of canine behaviour. As long as our dog is walking somewhere at our side and most importantly, the leash is fairly relaxed, that’s all we need ask. In working with Huskies I find that it is easier to train responsive, self-controlled walking by allowing them to be slightly ahead, which is where they expect to be.

MYTH #9: You should always walk your dog on your left side.

FACT: This was more prominently taught when I first began working with dogs but seems to be going by the wayside. I could never figure out a good reason for this and regardless advised my clients that you should be able to walk your dog on any side that suits your needs. I did some research on why it was such a common recommendation to walk our dogs on the left. The best I could come up with was that some of the first handbooks for dog training were for hunting and in England when a hunting excursion among the social elite had certain “social/practical rules” one of those being that you held your gun in your right hand… your dog on the left.

MYTH #10: Playing “Tug of War” with your dog will make them aggressive and when they win will teach them that they are dominant over you.

FACT: The game, in and by itself cannot teach your dog to be aggressive. However, if your dog displays resource guarding behaviour of its food or toys, steals your personal items and refuses to give them up, or if your dog (likely because of how it has been played with), has a habit of grabbing your hands, feet or clothing, tug or war is a game to avoid.

Most dogs do not have these issues and tug of war is simply a fun game to play. In fact playing tug of war is an opportunity to teach your dog to “drop it” or “leave it”. I have also used the game as a behaviour modification tool to help increase a dog’s confidence.

If you dog always wins at tug of war it’s not because they are dominant. They’re just better at the game than you.

© 2011 Steven J. Huxter. All Rights Reserved

How Old Is My Dog?

Click here for a similar article about cats.

Like humans, dogs don’t all age at the same rate. There are many factors that combine to determine the rate at which your dog ages and how long he will live. If you’re very lucky, you might have a dog like Bluey, who was the oldest dog ever according to the Guinness Book of Records. An Australian Cattle Dog, he died on November 14, 1939 at the age of 29 years, 6 months, and 12 days. Bluey is an extraordinary exception, however; as all dog owners know, the time we have with our dogs is generally much shorter.

The major factors that determine how long a dog will live are:

  • BREED AND/OR SIZE: Large breeds generally have a shorter life expectancy than smaller breeds, with small dogs living about half again as large dogs. See the chart at the end of this article for a comparison between small, medium, large, and extra large dog breeds. Even within a size range, some breeds tend to live longer than others. For example, Bluey’s breed, the Australian Cattle Dog, lives an average of one year longer than most other breeds in the same weight range. Many small and toy breeds live well into their late teens, while it’s unusual for a giant breed to live even 10 years.
  • CARE: It makes sense that dogs that are well cared for will most often live longer than those that are not. Quality of food, amount of exercise, good medical care, and healthy living conditions all contribute to a dog’s longevity.
  • GENDER: Human females tend to outlive human males, and this is also true with dogs. Depending on the breed and/or size, a female will usually live one or two years longer than a male.
  • NEUTERING: Un-neutered dogs are not generally as long lived as neutered ones. Neutering decreases the risk of cancer of the sex organs.
  • INDIVIDUALITY: Some people resist disease better than others, and the same is true of dogs. A dog with a strong constitution will generally outlive one that is weaker.

The old adage that one human year is equivalent to seven dog years is quite simply wrong. The longest-lived breeds will live twice as long as the shortest lived. And, the rate of aging of dogs is much different than humans, with dogs having a much shorter “childhood”. For example, a breed that has a life expectancy of 15 years is physically and sexually mature at one year, while equivalent human development takes 15 years. The same dog, at two years of age, is roughly equivalent to a human of 24. See the chart below for a more detailed look at dog to human age equivalency.

How old is your dog in human years



Dogs Have an Amazing Sense Of Smell

close up of dog noseLet’s begin by trying to understand just how sensitive a dog’s nose is.

Think of humans who rely on their “noses” for their livelihoods – perfumers, chefs, and wine makers, for example. Let’s put Sherlock Holmes in, too – someone able to “sniff” out the tiniest molecules of whatever poison lingered in the room or on the deceased’s body in order to find the culprit (at least according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Now let’s multiply the extraordinary abilities of all these maestros by 1,000, 10,000, or even 100,000 times in order to find the starting point for our discussion of the dog’s sense of smell!

While the total size of a dog’s brain is approximately 1/10th the size of the human brain, the portion devoted to smell is about 40 times larger than ours.

The visual cortex is the largest part of the human brain – this is why we tend to analyze the world around us using visual clues (think of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”). Dogs, on the other hand, analyze their world using scent. While a human being has approximately 5 million scent receptors in his nose, a tiny dachshund has 125 million, and a bloodhound (lovingly referred to as a “nose attached to a dog”) has 300 million!

The anatomy of a dog’s nose

anatomy of dog's noseThe dog’s nose has interior bony, scroll-shaped plates called turbinates over which air passes, as well as a thick, spongy membrane which contains most of the scent-detecting cells, as well as the nerves that transport the information to the brain for decoding. In human beings, this membrane is approximately the size of a postage stamp. In our canine friends, however, this area is roughly the size of an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper.

Dogs also have another scent receptor, located inside the nasal cavity and opening into the upper part of her mouth, called Jacobson’s Organ, used to detect pheromones. It is hypothesized that a dog will combine all scent information in order to determine fear, breeding potential, and in newborn dogs, the scent of her mother, her mother’s milk and teat. As puppies are blind at birth, their abilities in the wild to differentiate scents were essential to their evolutionary survival.

close up of dog's noseWhy a dog’s nose is cool and moist

No, it’s not because it works to shock you out of bed on a sleepy Sunday morning!

One of the sources of a dog’s exceptional ability to smell is her wet snout. The moist, leathery surface of the snout acts like Velcro®, catching even the tiniest molecules of scents, and dissolving them so her internal smell receptor cells can analyze them properly. To keep her nose wet, a dog must produce a constant supply of mucus through her nasal cavities. Scientists estimate that an average dog produces a pint of this mucus every day. A trained scent dog may lick her nose sometimes, in order to assure that the microscopic bits of smell adhere well, giving her a chance to discern the required smell from all others around her.

Other physical traits contribute to a dog’s ability to discern smell

A dog’s physical make-up helps her discern scent, too. For example, a bloodhound, the breed of dog blood hound tracking with the most advanced sense of smell, has loose, wrinkled skin around her face which helps trap scent particles; and long, drooping ears that drag on the ground, collecting odours and brushing them into her nostrils. Her short legs position the bloodhound close to the ground, and the dog’s muscular shoulders enable her to retain that “on the trail” position for hundreds of miles. A tracking dog can trail an individual’s scent through densely populated areas, shopping centres, and city streets for hundreds of miles and for several days. Her “nose” is such an accurate tool that if the tracked owner of the scent is alleged to have perpetrated a crime, the dog’s identification of that scent is admissible as evidence in a court of law!

While we tend to code smells as “chocolate cake” or “bread”, our canine friends remember complex formulae, like “flour, cocoa, butter, baking soda, oil, etc.” (and even the specific type of flour and oil). Perhaps the next great game show could be “Iron Nose”, in which a world-class chef takes on a trained dog to see who can best determine individual ingredients in a dish!

bloodhound tracking dog in woodsSelecting and training scent dogs

Puppies are selected from their litters based on their desire to work, play, and please their owners. Trainers look for “nose-driven” dogs with lots of energy.

Dogs selected for scent training must be well-adjusted and socialized, as they will often be required to work around lots of people, and sometimes around people in states of shock and terror. The dogs must be healthy, and have a lot of stamina, as they may be required to work long hours and in very difficult and dangerous conditions.

Selected puppies must first receive obedience training – in order to become “sniffers” they must understand and obey voice commands.

Training initially takes the form of play, with rewards given for correct responses. In these initial stages, the trainer begins to understand and “read” cues given by the dog – a look, a cock of the head, a particular bark or sound – whatever small indication the dog offers to demonstrate her understanding of what is required of her. Dogs and trainers must learn to read and respond to each other’s cues, and this part of the training takes time and talent on both sides.

After this initial training, the dogs will learn to become “specialists” in their fields. They will work to develop and use their incredible abilities to discern and differentiate smells, as well as nurture their extraordinary desire to help their human trainers and handlers.

It’s important to note that sometimes we humans forget to allow our pets to be animals, and treat our dogs like babies and children. Dogs can gradually lose their keen senses of smell and depend more on their sense of sight. Very often these pets will become anxious and nervous; biters and barkers; and will require canine rehabilitation in order to revert to their “sniffing” ways. Even if your dog has no plans to become Canine Columbo, it’s important to allow her to rely on her sense of smell daily, and just “be a dog”.

Search and rescue dogs

Most of us have seen these brave dogs on the television news, arriving at a disaster scene, sniffing the air and ground, jumping through rubble, hoping to find living victims. German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Labrador Retrievers are some of the breeds well suited to this type of work. These dogs are so keen to find living victims that they have been known to become depressed or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when their searches yielded only deceased bodies.

bloodhound tracking dog in woodsHow does a tracker dog decide in which direction a trail goes?

Breeds such as Bloodhounds and Dobermans are trained to discern and differentiate between scents in order to track only one, perhaps a missing child or an escaped convict. These dogs begin their detective work by sniffing an object with the required scent, (perhaps an article of clothing), first using frequent and rapid intakes of air, creating an “odour image” of exactly what scent to look for. This is followed by several longer sniffs, used to differentiate between any conflicting smells in the area, allowing the dog to decide which scent is the right one. Once the required scent is located, the dog will keep her nose to the ground, following the scent until she either discovers its owner or loses the trail.

Imagine your normal walk – each stride more or less one yard apart, each footprint taking only a second or two to make. While you’re walking, you are constantly shedding dead skin and assorted tiny organic particles with your “scent” on them. You may brush against a tree or bush, or stop on the sidewalk to wait for the traffic light to change.

The tracking dog searches the air and ground for concentrations of these scent markers, and then heads off in that direction. If she has chosen the wrong direction, she will stop suddenly, turn abruptly, and correct herself within a few sniffs! Even though the footsteps were taken mere seconds apart, the dog can tell the difference in the age of the scent, and will follow the fresher scent, thus knowing which direction to go.

The ideal conditions for a tracking dog are cool weather, no rain, a little wind, early morning or evening; and a trail on vegetation that is not too dense, and which has been undisturbed since the scent was recently laid. In these ideal conditions, a talented dog can track someone she has never met for hundreds of miles, and for up to 2 weeks, using only her nose as a compass!

Some dogs can track in pretty terrible conditions, too – on concrete, through rugged terrain, in strong winds and/or rain, in very hot temperatures, through cities filled with people, animals, traffic, and pollution. These conditions disperse and/or dilute the scent, and the tracker dog will compensate by sometimes leaving the direct trail, and sniffing the “sidelines” – gutters, light standards, fences, the grass or plants next to a sidewalk or path, even the crevices between sidewalk sections – to find the smallest concentrations of the scent in order to stay on the trail. A tracking dog of this caliber must combine instinct, learned behaviour, and an unwavering desire to serve and please her master. Whether this is “thinking” as we humans understand it, I don’t know – it certainly is intelligence, dedication, loyalty, and devotion, and is just plain amazing!

drug dog sniffing boxesPolice dogs

Border patrol dogs are trained to sniff out contraband on people and in luggage.

Cadaver dogs are trained to find corpses, even those which have been buried or submerged, as well as body parts, aiding detectives in crime scene investigation.

A bomb detection dog is trained to sniff out and alert her trainer to the location of individual components used to make a bomb, without ever disturbing the surrounding area; thereby avoiding the risk of detonating the device and causing injury or death to tactical teams or human hostages.

A dog trained to detect arson is brought to a fire scene, where the smell of smoke can be so intense that a human cannot discern any individual smell. These dogs can find traces of accelerants, such as kerosene or gasoline, aiding firefighters and police officers gain valuable time determining the origin of a fire.

Doctor Fido on call

Perhaps some of the most interesting research on a canine’s incredible sense of smell is being done in the areas of medical-assist dogs.

bomb sniffing dog with airport luggageSeizure alert dogs

A seizure alert dog has the ability to warn her owner before an epileptic seizure is about to occur – sometimes minutes before, and sometimes hours before. This allows the individual to take medication to prevent the seizure, or to seek a safe location if the seizure is imminent. These dogs can also be trained to stay with their owners during the seizure to protect them, or even to press an emergency device rigged to generate a 911 telephone call for help.

Cancer-sniffing dogs

Dogs are being trained to detect lung, breast, and other forms of cancer in humans with an accuracy rate equal to or better than multi-million dollar hospital scanners, and often before tumours are visible or palpable.

During their training, dogs are taught to pick out a specific type of cancer from samples of human urine or breath – and have an accuracy rate of between 70-90%. Researchers are not yet sure what the dogs smell – in lung cancer, for example, volatile organic compounds are released into the patient’s breath (the human breath contains approximately 4,000 different compounds), and it is hypothesized that the dog smells the minute changes in these compounds at the onset of the cancer. Detecting cancer at this very early stage obviously gives the patient the best opportunity to successfully treat the disease.

Dogs trained for disease detection can work in areas of the world where medical care is not available on a wide scale, whether due to impoverished living conditions, disaster situations, or remoteness or isolation of the population.

close up of dog noseRather than using dogs to replace machinery for detection, the hope is to eventually understand and identify what smell or smells are associated with the disease’s onset, and create a machine, a “mechanized chemical nose” if you will, for early detection.

While it may not be feasible to have canines on call at every clinic or medical facility, their abilities in detecting diseases such as cancer very early on may be the next quantum leap in the medical treatment of catastrophic illness. When researchers understand what the dog smells, perhaps costly, painful, and debilitating biopsies may become relics of the past; treatments delivered faster and more accurately; and recovery and cure rates rise dramatically.

Choosing a Dog Breeder

UrielSinai newbornsA dog breeder is defined as a person who raises and sells a specific breed of dog. A reputable dog breeder, on the other hand, is much more – this is a person who also loves the type of dog he or she raises, and wants to ensure that each dog is placed in a loving and caring home for its entire life.

A reputable breeder:

  • has studied and cared for your selected breed of dog for years
  • guarantees that the dog you purchase is in good health
  • guarantees that your puppy has been bred to weed out any genetic diseases or weaknesses particular to its breed
  • ensures that your puppy has been socialized with other dogs and people
  • has gradually weaned your puppy from its mother over a period of weeks
  • has the best interest of each puppy at heart
  • is concerned about your dog and its well-being for its entire lifespan

It takes time to build a reputation

A reputable breeder should have years of experience raising and handling their specific breed. This person relies on his or her reputation to garner new and repeat business, and will be pleased to provide you with verifiable references from satisfied clients. This person loves each puppy, and wants to place every dog in a wonderful home.

Anyone can be a dog breeder

While doing research for this article, I thought it would be useful to find out what the legal requirements are to become a breeder in Victoria.

I contacted the City of Esquimalt, Administration Department, and the CRD (Capital Regional District) Animal Control by phone, and was informed that each municipality is governed by its own local laws, but in general:

  • Some municipalities do not zone for kennels, but anyone can own a few dogs at a time in their own homes (and breed and sell their puppies)
  • Anyone can breed a dog and sell it (no education, permit, or license is required)
  • A dog is not considered a “puppy” until it is 4 months old (and therefore can be bought and sold legally with no record)

group of puppiesThe best endorsement is a satisfied customer

Begin your search by asking family and friends who are already dog owners for referrals, not only to their breeders, but to their veterinarians and groomers as well. These professionals care for and handle dogs daily, and may be able to steer you towards reputable breeders and away from dishonest ones.

Plan to attend dog shows – another great resource. At these events, you have the opportunity to meet and talk to breeders, and hopefully find a few with whom you develop a good rapport.

Breed-specific magazines, clubs, and on-line portals and directories offer breeder listings and contact information. These can be good starting points as well, as long as you to remember to look at them as advertisements and not endorsements.

Once you have narrowed your search down to a few kennels, make sure to visit each one in person.

When visiting, you should always meet the puppy’s mother (dam), and if possible, the father (sire). The sire is sometimes boarded at a different kennel, so this might not always be possible.

Be an objective observer!

Many unscrupulous people see big dollar signs by advertising themselves as breeders, when in fact they know very little about the breed they are selling or dogs in general.

More sinister are those who run “puppy mills” (defined as an operation where puppies are repeatedly bred for profit, while kept in substandard, dangerous, and/or life-threatening situations), and should always be avoided.

Look around carefully – are the kennels clean? Do the puppies look healthy (no runny noses or teary eyes)? Do the dogs look well fed? Do the dogs seem well socialized with other dogs and with people? There should only be one or two breeds at a kennel – if you see lots of different types of dogs at one kennel, and if you answered “no” to any of the above questions, turn around and leave. Chances are you are dealing with a puppy mill.

puppy millsThe continuing disgrace of puppy mills

Simply put, puppy mills exist because they can. Legislation is scarce, and enforcement of existing laws is uneven, with fines and legal consequences insufficient to discourage continuing operation. Never purchase a dog from a puppy mill, no matter how sorry you feel for the animal and its condition, as your dollars will only serve to produce more poorly-bred and sickly animals. File a report with your local humane society and police department, in order to shut down the operation completely.

Did you know that many pet stores purchase their puppies from puppy mills operating across North America? No truly reputable breeder will wholesale his or her puppies to a retail store, period. Buy your puppy directly from a breeder, not from a store.

During their formative months, puppies need their mother, room for exercise and play, and loving, human contact. The confines of a small cage in a pet store are not the place!

If you want a healthy, well-adjusted pure-bred puppy, make sure your final choice is from a breeder who voluntarily adheres to the ethical guidelines put forward by a reputable breed club. Here are two examples: for Miniature Schnauzers and forGolden Retrievers.

dog breeder kennels - interiorEncouraging legislation was passed in British Columbia when Richmond became the first municipality in Canada to ban the sale of puppies in pet stores. Read comments from the SPCA on this issue.

Expect a reputable breeder to ask you questions
A reputable dog breeder should interview you and your family, and ask you questions about your lifestyle, such as:

  • Who will be the primary care giver for the dog?
  • Do you have any children? If so, how old?
  • Do any of your family members have allergies?
  • A quality breeder takes pride in their clean, spacious, well lit kennels, and belongs to the Canadian Kennel Club and specific breed clubs.

    Is everyone out during the day (school and work), leaving the dog alone for hours at a time?

  • How much time can you devote to exercise and grooming?
  • What type of budget have you allocated for food, medical care, and grooming?
  • What provisions have you made to keep the dog safe, such as a secure, fenced yard, or adequate shade and water supply if the dog will be left outdoors for extended periods?

A reputable breeder should not release a puppy to you before it is at least 6 weeks old – and preferably between 8 -12 weeks. If someone is offering to sell you a very young puppy, steer clear – chances are you will get an animal without proper medical care or one that has not been properly socialized.

A reputable breeder may also have conditional clauses in his or her contract, such as:

  • Requiring you to neuter your pet within a certain time frame
  • An offer of “returnability” should an unforeseen calamity arise in your family, preventing you from caring for your pet (illness, divorce, etc.)
  • Requiring you to notify him or her should you decide to sell the dog to a third party

Things to remember at the time of purchase

A reputable breeder will provide you with the following paperwork at the time of the sale of your puppy:

  • Written sales invoice, listing price paid, puppy’s name and pedigree
  • Warranty of good health (free from genetic diseases) for at least the first 2 years
  • Proof of veterinary visits, including dates of vaccines (call the vet and verify)

A quality breeder considers improving the breed to be their top priority, and regularly displays their results in conformation shows, obedience trials and other competitive events.

A purebred puppy must be identified as such prior to leaving the breeder’s kennel. The only legal forms of identification are either a Canadian Standard microchip transponder or a tattoo, visible to the naked eye. The breeder must be able to verify that the microchip number listed on your sales receipt matches that of your dog by using an electronic scanner to scan the dog – make sure the breeder verifies the dog’s ID number before you leave the kennel!

Make sure you receive the puppy’s pedigree and registration papers

Don’t confuse pedigree papers with registration papers!

Your puppy’s pedigree is not a distinction that your dog is any handsomer, smarter, or more agile than any other dog (and therefore worth more money). Pedigree is merely a word that means” lineage” or “ancestry”  – the name of your puppy’s parents, their breed, date of birth, and breeder’s name and address, traced back several generations. You should already know your puppy’s pedigree from discussions with the breeder, and from seeing the dam (and hopefully the sire), and this information should be included on your written sales invoice.

Registration papers show that your puppy’s parents were themselves purebred and registered with a kennel club. Remember, the breeder registers the litter – and depending on the breeder, it may be your responsibility to register your individual puppy and pay the required registration fee. These papers should be given to you by the breeder at the time of sale.

A reputable breeder plus an informed purchaser = a happy, healthy puppy

Your new puppy will come to you from a reputable breeder full of boundless energy and in robust health, excited to become part of its new family. Remember that as the puppy matures, you can always call the breeder for more information and guidance. When all concerned parties work together, your puppy will have every opportunity to live a long and happy life, and provide you with many, many years of joy, love, and devotion.

Why Dogs And Cats Eat Grass

 grassIt may be difficult for you to imagine your sweet little housecat Hermione as a predatory jungle beast, hiding in the tall grass, hungrily waiting for a snake to slither along her path, grassor a little mouse to make the wrong turn and wind up in her sights. Or perhaps your little dachshund Schnitzel, charging through the forest like a wolf on the hunt. But our domesticated cats and dogs are the descendants of those feral animals, and will sometimes behave just like their ancestors in many ways.

Have you ever seen Hermione nibble on the grass in your yard? What about Schnitzel – sometimes, after an exuberant roll in the muck, have you noticed him chowing down on blades of grass?

Why do they do that?

It is hypothesized that cats and dogs will seek out grass to munch on for a few reasons:

  • They like the taste
  • dogeatinggrass2They need the grass to help them regurgitate
  • They need the grass to work as a laxative
  • Grass was a part of their ancestor’s diets, and is still required in modern animals
  • They are missing some nutrients (which are found in grass) in their daily diets
  • They are suffering from “pica”, a psychological problem


Some veterinarians and animal handlers surmise that cats and dogs may eat grass simply because they like the taste. This opinion is based entirely on observation and anecdotal information, of course.

Both feral dogs and cats ate live prey, many of which themselves fed on grass. It is hypothesized that domestic cats and dogs, who no longer need to hunt for food, still retain the genetic association with grass to their “wild days and ways” and will seek it out as a normal part of their diets.


Cats are very particular when it comes to preening and cleaning themselves, and use their tongues frequently during the day to lick themselves.

While Hermione stays clean by doing this, she can also swallow a substantial amount of fur, which can then develop into a fur ball. The fur ball can lodge in her throat or digestive system, causing a blockage. Cats may instinctively seek out grass in order to help rid themselves of fur balls. Because cats do not have the necessary enzymes to digest grass, they will vomit it up – hopefully along with the stuck fur ball! In layman’s terms, grass becomes ipecac for cats!

Have you ever watched Hermione pounce on a bird in the garden on a lovely spring afternoon? She is demonstrating the same instinctive behaviour her ancestors exhibited while on the hunt for food. When the feral cat caught her prey, she would quickly eat it whole – bones, fur, and feathers! Unfortunately, not everything was digestible, and the wild cat might have sought out blades of grass in order to help her regurgitate the “leftovers”.

Dogs are omnivores and scavengers, and their wild ancestors hunted and ate prey whole, too, just like the cats. Perhaps they also nibbled on grass to help rid themselves of the indigestible remnants of their food.

dogeatinggrass3Wild dogs ate whatever they could forage, and then might find themselves in distress, with very upset tummies. If Schnitzel has consumed something bad for him, you might find him galloping out the door, making a beeline for some tender stalks of grass, stuffing himself until he purges and alleviates his discomfort.

Beneficial nutritional elements in grass

Female cats and dogs may seek out grasses prior to oestrus, as the additional vitamins and minerals will assist in the healthy development of their embryos.

Some pet stores sell grasses as nutritional aids. For example oat grass, (whether dried in powder form, or freshly-cut stalks), is well tolerated by most animals, and should not trigger an allergic reaction.

cateatinggrass1Oat grass’s benefits include:

  • A high vitamin B content
  • A high content of folic acid (an essential vitamin which assists in the production of hemoglobin, a protein that helps move oxygen in the blood)
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Chlorophyll
  • An interesting theory states that animals seek out young, green shoots containing chlorophyll in order to sweeten and lessen their odours. Feral cats and dogs often give birth in the spring, and chlorophyll from the new green blades might help their newborns mask their scent, and thus avoid being detected by an animal hunting for food.
  • Beta carotene, which helps boost the immune system

barleygrassOCD and your pet

There is one more reason why your pet might be eating grass—a condition called “pica”. Defined as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, this condition may have an organic cause (ranging from a diet lacking in a few nutrients to a severe deficiency in the animal) or inorganic (stress or boredom-induced).

If you notice that your pet has begun to eat non-food and/or indigestible items, such as plastics, string, yarn, grasses, etc., he might be suffering from pica.

Pica is the manifestation of a larger problem, and it is important to find the cause of this problem and treat it quickly. Pica can cause physical harm to your pet (a foreign object can become lodged in the animal’s system, requiring emergency surgical removal), or chronic behavioural problems, requiring medication and/or psychological treatment.

dogeatinggrass1A few things to remember

A little salad with a meal is no cause for worry!

However, if you notice your pet constantly needs grass, has urgent and consistent problems eating and digesting, it’s time to see your veterinarian. Never allow your pet to eat grass from a field treated with herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. These products are toxic, and while a few blades may not be a sufficient dose to be poisonous, consistent eating will definitely cause a dangerous build-up in your pet’s system.

Be very careful if you have houseplants and are introducing pets to your home, or if you are considering bringing a new plant into a house with animals. Your cats and dogs may naturally want to nibble on the plant’s leaves, and some plants are very toxic and even lethal to cats and dogs.

Your daily interactions with your pets give you a unique perspective on what is normal for them. Cats and dogs will naturally graze on grass from time to time, and you should be confident that your pets are using their instinctive behaviour for healthy and beneficial reasons.

Choosing A Dog Breed

dog-on-chairYou’ve thought about it for a while and discussed it with all your other family members. You’ve decided to bring a dog into your home and everyone has his or her favourite pet name ready!

Now it’s time to consider which breed will best suit your lifestyle.  Take time to do your research. The average lifespan of a dog is between 10 and 15 years – this is a long-term decision that will affect your time, energy, heart, and pocketbook!

     Some decisions about which dog breed to choose can seem to be counter-intuitive.

Small dogs, for example, obviously fit into small spaces, weigh little, and are easy to transport. You might therefore reason that a small dog is well suited to an apartment or urban style of living. But some of these dogs (like the Chihuahua, for example) may tend to bark at everything, from dust bunnies to people knocking at the door, and can be very, very excitable, with boundless energy. If you live in a small space with neighbours close by, and are at work for long hours, a small dog may not necessarily be your best option.

The smarter the dog, the better for you and your family, right? A smart dog, like a Border Collie, needs constant stimulation, challenge, and exercise; otherwise it may become frustrated and neurotic, and begin to develop behaviour problems. This breed is also not recommended for families with young children, as a herding dog can be bossy, independent, and may try to nip or bite (herding instinct). If you don’t have daily chores or jobs for a smart dog to undertake, you should probably look at a breed that needs less exercise and values snooze time more.

therapydogDo you want a dog who loves you lots? Of course you do. But sometimes love is confused with loyalty – dogs who require lots of love, like a Bichon Frisé, can become needy, dependent, and jealous, and get pretty upset if you are not there to adore them.

  • Start with some basic questions: What size, skills, and temperament do I need in my dog?
  • Determine whether you want a Toy Poodle to fit into your purse, or a Great Dane to share the couch with.
  • Does your farm need a Collie to herd cattle or do you need a Golden Retriever to go fishing with on the weekend?
  • Do you need a German Shepherd to guard your house?
  • Would your children love a gentle, happy little Beagle?

Web sites such as The Canadian Kennel Club and The American Kennel Club, offer excellent information and pictures on breeds and breed standards.

For a different set of criteria, and especially if you are a novice owner, you might find the groupings listed here, at The Canine Information Library, an easier starting point. These groupings are organized by more modern and day-to-day standards (size, temperament, lifestyle, etc.) rather than original breeding purposes (hunting, herding, guarding, etc.).

Now really think about the following:

  • How much time can I devote to the care of my dog (exercise and grooming)?
  • If purchasing a pet for a family, is my chosen breed recommended for children (especially young children)?
  • Even if my children promise to clean up and exercise our pet, am I prepared to step in if they don’t?
  • Do I love being active and in the outdoors as much as possible, or would I rather curl up with a good book by the fire?
  • How much money can I devote to my pet for food, medical care, and grooming?
  • Are there allergy sufferers at home?

Consider the breed’s characteristics carefully.

  • dog-sleepingThere are naturally exuberant and energetic dogs, which require wide open spaces to run and frolic in.
  • Other dogs shine as the centre of a loving family, caring for and playing with children, happily enduring well-meaning tugs-on-tails and slightly-too-tight hugs around the neck.
  • Still other dogs turn their noses up at children, and demand their sole pedestals as “king dog” of the house.
  • Some dogs have gentle, nourishing natures and love to serve as therapy, “seeing eye”, or special needs dogs.
  • Long-haired dogs have coats that tangle, matt, and shed a lot, and require constant attention and grooming, while short-haired varieties shed less and require less frequent brushing.

While it’s important to like what a breed looks like, you must equally consider its instinctive behaviour.

  •  An English Foxhound, a hunting dog, needs to chase prey in order to be happy!
  • A working dog, like a Malamute, will go stir crazy if left alone all day in a small city apartment with nothing to do.
  • Some dogs (terriers, for example) love to dig, dig, dig, and may frustrate an owner by ruining her garden.
  • Other dogs are bred to bray, like the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and may howl at the moon, the sun, the neighbours, and the postman, and wouldn’t be suitable in a city environment!

Purebred dogs versus mixed breeds.

All dogs (from the Bernese Mountain Dog to the tea cup size Yorkshire Terrier) are believed to be descendants of the gray wolf, Canis lupus (subspecies still under debate in the scientific community), and are thought to have become domesticated approximately 15,000 years ago!

choosing-a-dog-breedThe purebred:

  • A purebred dog’s ancestry (pedigree) can be traced in a documented stud book which is registered with one of the major dog registries.
  • Whether by inbreeding from the same ancestral line, or by mixing lineage, these dogs possess a set of similar inherited characteristics based on function or genetics, which distinguish them from other dogs.
  • There is the potential for genetic weaknesses and diseases to be handed down due to inbreeding.

The mixed breed:

  • A mixed breed dog will have qualities of each breed.
  • Cross-breeding can produce a dog with qualities more suited to a particular lifestyle (city versus country, small yard versus large, miniature version of large dog, etc.)
  • The dog may not possess the full appearance or skill set you are looking for due to a mixing of the breeds.

Consider the cost.

A pedigreed animal from a reputable breeder will be the most expensive dog, followed by a purebred without papers, and finally the mixed breed.

dog-purseA sad statistic:

About 25% of dogs found in animal shelters are purebreds. Once you have decided on your favourite breed, consider first looking in a shelter for your new pet.

Try a breed selector tool.

Many websites offer a breed selector tool – a questionnaire geared to helping you narrow down your search for the perfect pooch. Questions include how big a dog you want, your living accommodations, finances, available time, allergies, and whether or not you have children.

I tried some of the sites myself, and also asked several friends (all dog lovers and/or owners) to try as well, and see if the questions really steered them towards a breed they would consider. Give these a try:

Select Smart logoSelectSmart.com Dog Breed Selector Quiz

  • Offers an excellent questionnaire, with the option of a sliding scale of how important each particular question was (rather than just “yes” or “no”).
  • Information capsules with breed pictures offered beside choices

Animal Planet logo

Animal Planet Dog Breed Selector

  • This site asks 10 questions, and with each question shows pictures of 8 dogs fitting the characteristics up to that question.
  • This way you can see which breed lacks a particular characteristic without having to cross-reference all the breeds.

Some others to try:

Eukanuba Breed Match

Good Housekeeping’s Which Dog Is Right For You?

I must confess.

I owned a mixed breed dog, part Golden Retriever, part German Shepherd.  For me, this was my perfect pet, yet neither breed appeared in my top selections suggested by the online tools.

My friends said that they received better results, with breeds they loved or already owned suggested for them.

Do your research.

Remember that these selector tools are just guidelines!

  • You should further research your favourite breeds by contacting reputable breeders, who can offer their expertise in matching you and your family to your new best pal.
  • Attend some purebred dog shows and talk to the dog handlers, breeders, and dog-lovers there. Try Western Dog Shows, and BC Dog Show Services, and Canuck Dogs for information on dog show schedules and locations.
  • Another great reference is the entertaining and informative Westminster Kennel Club

swimming-dogGo to a dog park and watch the dogs.

  • A natural setting may offer insight into how a breed normally behaves.
  • Ask yourself which dogs you like and why.
  • Talk to the owners and find out whether they are enjoying their pets.
  • Watch how a dog interacts with other dogs and with other pet owners. Is the dog territorial? Does the dog bark at everyone, or will it leave with the first person with a treat?
  • Determine whether the physical size of a grown dog will be too much for you to handle.
  • If your breed has the potential of becoming easily bored or willful, can you take charge?

Your best friend forever.

When you do make your selection, remember that dogs learn very quickly by watching you. They will depend on you for all their needs for their entire lives. Providing them with rules, exercise, and affection will ensure a lifetime of devotion and companionship, with humans and animals enjoying healthy and loving relationships.