Shared Blog Post – No Pain, No Force, No Fear: An Interview with Niki Tudge by Dr. Karen Becker

< Updated 23FEB20 >

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Dr. Karen Becker interviews Niki Tudge the founder of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and discusses why and how Tudge decided to launch what is today an 8000+ member organization of pet care professionals committed to the training, husbandry, and management of pets that is Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free as outlined in the PPG Guiding Principles. The Pet Professional Guild is an organization grounded in science, facts, and ethics committed to education. I encourage any pet care professionals to join and support the PPG and suggest that anyone with pets looking for a pet care professional start their search at the PPG’s Find A Professional page.

Tudge describes the Guiding Principles as “…how do we behave towards animals, how do we behave towards our industry, and then how do we behave towards our customers? She elaborates on the PPG’s philosophy of no pain, no force, and no fear and how PPG has defined force as “…any approach that causes physical or emotional fear with the intent of damaging” while also emphasizing that it is essential to give the dog a choice to interact in the training process, and if the dog is not enjoying the process we need to modify our approach.

Becker and Tudge discuss various PPG programs, including the PPG’s junior membership, which has three levels for children; 8 to 12, 13-17, and then an apprentice level for young adults 18 to 20 years of age.  If you have a child that is interested in dogs, I strongly encourage you to enroll them in this program, especially if they are interested in a career working with companion animals.

The interview also introduces PPG’s brand new Pet Rescue Resources Program, which is a free program targeted to shelters and resources, which will include guidelines, videos, handouts for protocols that they need to have in place to provide the best possible care for the homeless pets in their charge.

One of the best comments from the interview, “Dr. Becker: You allow your dogs to be dogs, I think is the best way to say that.”

You can view the video of this interview at

Recommended Resources

Dr. Karen Becker Interview with Niki Tudge

Transcript of Dr. Karen Becker Interview with Niki Tudge

The Pet Professional Guild

The Pet Professional Guild Guiding Principles

The Pet Professional Guild Find A Professional Page

PPG Junior Membership

Podcast – Introducing My Perfect Pet, Gently-Cooked, Fresh Food for Pets, with owner Karen Neola

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< Updated 23FEB20 >

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If you are looking for healthy options when feeding your dog or cat, we think you will find this podcast very informative.

In this episode of The Woof Meow Show from February 22nd, 2020, Kate and Don interview Karen Neola, the founder, and president of My Perfect Pet.

If you are a regular listener to The Woof Meow Show you know that Don and Kate believe that what we feed our pets is important to both their physical and mental wellbeing. Both of them choose to eat fresh, wholesome food as much as possible and choose to feed their pets the same way. In this week’s podcast, we interview Karen Neola, the founder, and owner of My Perfect Pet, and a kindred spirit in our approach to pet nutrition.

For the last thirteen years, My Perfect Pet has been making and selling food for cats and dogs using fresh ingredients sourced from local suppliers who exclusively sell human-grade food, the same companies that supply restaurants and high-end grocers. The food is gently-cooked, frozen, and packaged in a ready-to-eat format for cats and dogs.

You can learn more about Karen and My Perfect Pet in this podcast and in our show notes below.

Learn what Green Acres Kennel Shop likes about My Perfect Pet at –

Below you will find a summary of Karen’s answers to our questions.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your pets.

My Perfect Pet has given me the opportunity to combine my career and love for animals.  I’ve been an animal lover my whole life, my parents named me “Karen’s Reject Animal Farm” when I was 7 because I was always bringing home strays and begging them to let me take care of them.  Dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, even the chickens we hatched at school. At present, I only have one dog, Sweetheart, adopted from Lab Rescuers – named Sweetheart only because I started calling her that while I was trying out other names and the only time she responded seemed to be when I called her Sweetheart.

Why did you decide to get into the pet food business?

After working at Hewlett-Packard for 25 years as an R&D program manager, I had a bucket list a mile long when I left.  However, on Jan 3rd, 2007 I lost my lab Hunter to contaminated pet food that was subsequently recalled. I was devastated.  And angry. I felt betrayed by companies who had knowingly put toxic substances into food to increase their profits. I vowed never again to buy commercial pet food and started making my own, using only fresh, whole, natural and safe ingredients – the same quality I trusted for myself.  I immersed myself in research on dog and cat nutrition and worked with nutritionists, veterinarians, universities and health care experts to create the perfect blend of all-natural high-quality ingredients that provide maximum nutrition for dogs and cats with the least processing and highest safety.  I did not start with any intent to build a business, it just kept growing.

The My Perfect Pet Story – check out the video here –

Tell us about My Perfect Pet:

I started making my own food in January 2007 – with no idea that my decision to make dog food with cooked meats and raw vegetables would 13 years later become the fastest-growing category of pet food.  I wondered for 12 years why no one else was doing this, finally this year we’re starting to see everyone jumping into this category. We are located in Poway, CA near San Diego, and have a second facility under construction in Sulphur Springs, TX (90 miles NE of Dallas)

My Perfect Pet is in a relatively new category of pet foods, gently-cooked from fresh whole food.  Why did you make that choice over kibble, canned, frozen, or freeze-dried?

I wanted my pet’s food to be as fresh and natural as possible, fresh whole foods with minimal processing and no preservatives.  My decision to go fresh and natural basically ruled out other options. I didn’t want to do raw as I was vegan at the time and didn’t want raw meat in my refrigerator next to my food.  My dogs were therapy dogs and while their registrar had no restriction on pet diets, many hospitals and health centers ask that we not feed raw diets before a visit out of concern what might be transmitted to a person with a weakened immune system.  So I decided to use the same food standard that I used for myself, following FDA food safety guidelines which meant cooking meats to minimum temperatures. It was I believe, the best of both worlds – all the benefits of raw with the safety and convenience of food that had been gently-cooked.

Canning requires heating to temperatures far above FDA minimums, which eliminates fresh foods.

The extrusion process used to make dog kibble requires the highest temperatures used in the pet food industry and requires that all ingredients be in powder or pellet form, which is about as unnatural as it gets compared to fresh whole foods.  In addition to cooking at high temperatures, kibble is also cooked under high pressure which is detrimental to many of the ingredients. That is why synthetic amino acids and vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients needed to be added to kibble after the cooking process.

Freeze-drying also involves far more processing than gently-cooking and is expensive.

Pet parents intrinsically understand the benefits of eating fresh whole food because that’s what they hear from human healthcare professionals. It is not a leap to understand that fresh food is also better for their pets.

Some of the reaction to the Grain-Free & DCM “crisis” has been for some in the veterinary community to tell clients not to feed a food unless the company making it has an accredited veterinary nutritionist on staff.  Do you think that is important and who formulated the My Perfect Pet diets?

I believe that companies with deep pockets that employ their own staff of nutritionists are the ones telling vets and clients to demand this. I find it amazing that companies with veterinary nutritionists on their payroll saying what they are told to say have more credibility than companies like My Perfect Pet who consults with a number of independent, objective, unbiased, and accredited nutritionists without any potential conflict of interest.

There are international standards for nutrient profiles, some far more stringent than the AAFCO standards in the USA. These standards have been developed over the years by thousands of animal nutritionists and have been proven by testing.  I put far more credibility into consistent results from wide international sources than an employee on a single company’s payroll.

My Perfect Pet does not recommend nutrient profiles that deviate from recognized standards.  We do not use ‘exotic’ ingredients in our blends. The ingredients we use have been used in pet food for decades, we just have consciously chosen to use a higher quality version of those ingredients.  We do not claim to have more company expertise in determining nutritional needs for animals than recognized experts in those fields.

My Perfect Pet has been a preferred supplier to a major zoological park, supplying carnivore diets to a number of animals including polar bears, cheetahs, and a lot of other carnivores.  Cheetahs can be extremely finicky and liked both raw and cooked versions of diets we produced. The zoo did not ask us to become experts on the nutritional needs of all those animals, but just to asked us to formulate diets that met the nutritional needs and profiles that their animal nutritionists provided. We do the same for our pet foods.

We base all our formulas on known and established standards and use only ingredients that have been proven to be easily digested by the intended species and that offer the best bioavailability and absorption of nutrients.  If it’s not absorbed it is just waste and unnecessary processing.

While some of the big pet food companies make a big deal about feeding trials they do not disclose the relatively low standards for a feeding trial and the conditions in which the subjects of the feeding trial are kept. For the record, My Perfect Pet will never cage an animal for feeding trials.  Some of the companies making these claims have done what I consider unspeakable testing on animals. We will continue to rely on published results and decades of proven results.

Tell us about the ingredients you use in My Perfect Pet? 

We source our ingredients locally whenever possible.  All the ingredients are sourced within the USA with the exception of lamb from New Zealand and Australia, and coconut oil from the Philippines.

We buy only from suppliers who exclusively sell human-grade food, mostly the same companies that supply restaurants and high-end grocers.  We never purchase ingredients from any company selling feed grade ingredients or foods not intended for human consumption.

The ingredients we use in our products are better than what many people can buy in supermarkets.  One of our company perks is that employees can purchase our ingredients at cost for home use – they often go together to buy cases of chicken or beef or some of our produce.  Our fresh locally grown produce is the best – I can hardly stand to buy vegetables at the market after eating the ones at My Perfect Pet. If you visit My Perfect Pet I’ll make lunch from whatever we are making that day, you’ll be amazed! In fact, it is not uncommon for employees to make themselves lunch from the same ingredients we are using to produce pet food on that day.

I’ve stopped taking multi-vitamins since starting My Perfect Pet.  I realized many of my supplements were originating in China, if I’m not willing to give them to my pets why would I take them?  I decided throwing a bunch of fresh vegetables and fruit, along with a little dried kelp and calcium supplement into my blender was just as healthy and a lot tastier.

How many formulas do you have for dogs and cats?

We currently have ten blends for dogs and three blends for cats.

What drove you to develop those specific formulas?

The original blends were the Boomer’s Chicken & Rice and the Buckaroo Puppy formulas which is basically the puppy version of the Boomer’s.  When I started My Perfect Pet I had one older dog and one puppy – the puppy’s name was Boomer but I called him my little Buckaroo, so that’s how I got those names, Boomer’s for the adult blend and Buckaroo for puppies.

We recognized that pets with beef, chicken or grain allergies needed different ingredients and developed foods that were appropriate for them.  Then we addressed other pets with special dietary needs, and the My Perfect Pet line keeps growing. We produce a number of specialty blends not currently released for retail distribution.

Do the My Perfect Pet blends meet AAFCO’s requirements for all-life stages?

Buckaroos blend is for puppies and all of our other dog blends are for adult dogs. We do have one all-life stages cat blend, Toby’s Turkey Carnivore because the profiles for cats and kittens are so close.

Because we use real food with nutrient profiles certified by USDA, we can publish complete nutrient profiles which means pet parents don’t have to wonder how much is really in a blend when the label states “minimum crude” – our profiles are actuals.

Nutrient Profiles – Cat Blends

Nutrient Profiles – Standard Dog Blends

Nutrient Profile – Buckaroo Puppy Blend

Nutrient Profiles – Personal Care Dog Blends

All of our blends meet all AAFCO nutrient profiles except for two:  Low Phosphorus Lamb for dogs and Low Phosphorus Chicken for cats. These are intentionally lower in Phosphorus which is commonly recommended for dogs or cats with compromised kidney function.  Because we use only muscle meats as the protein source, we can keep the protein at recommended levels while lowering the phosphorus levels.

How have you evaluated the food to make sure all formulas meet the required nutrition requirements?

We have all profiles tested prior to release to confirm that they meet the nutrient profiles published on the label, and we have 13 years of proven results.

See what the ingredients in the My Perfect Pet Formulas look like.

Cat Formulas

Dog Formulas

How is your food distributed?

We have distribution to independent retailers in 26 states, and we serve those areas without retailers online. Unfortunately, we have to charge for overnight shipping for food purchased online since it’s a frozen food, so we’re working to get local retail distribution set up for the entire U.S.  Our website has a store locator where pet parents can put in their zip code and find the closest store, and if you’re outside of our distribution area then you can order it online until we get distribution in your area. We are glad to say that pet parents in the greater Bangor region can get My Perfect Pet at the Green Acres Kennel Shop.

We’re excited that you believe in sampling. In the short time, we’ve had My Perfect Pet at Green Acres, providing a sample has been instrumental in getting people interested in and willing to try it My Perfect Pet with their pets.  How have you seen cats and dogs respond to My Perfect Pet?

We’ve been accused of putting crack in the food!  That’s why we believe in sampling – the first one is free, then when you see how much your pet loves it you have to buy it!  Who doesn’t love watching their pet go crazy happy over their meal!

People have asked us what we put in the food that seems to resolve a number of health issues – from itching and scratching to fur balls, to tearing/staining, sensitive stomachs, etc.  I tell them we don’t do a thing except use the freshest highest quality ingredients and prepare it in the best way to ensure easy digestion. We don’t make any guarantees or claims, we just encourage pet owners to try it and see for yourself.

I encourage every pet owner to do their research.  Don’t take anyone’s word for it in the pet food industry, there are companies out there making claims that I think should be criminal.  Don’t even take my word for it, do your homework, look at the ingredients list, know what every ingredient is, where it comes from, how it’s processed, the company’s history and reputation, etc.

Describe what the food will look like when a client opens the bag and prepared to feed their pet.

The standard dog food packaging is a pouch containing 7 individually wrapped food bars for easy portion control, thawing, and serving.  They are stored frozen to avoid preservatives. The average feeding amount is 1 food bar for every 20 lbs of the adult dog’s ideal weight, more or less depending on age, exercise, metabolism, etc.  The food bars can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. We commend thawing before serving so your dog doesn’t try to swallow frozen chunks whole.

We also have plastic-free packaging for dogs, 30 individual food bars in a compostable carton, all made with 100% recycled materials – except for the food bars.

Cat food pouches have 10 individually wrapped food bars, with recommended feeding 1 food bar per day for every 10 lbs of the cats’ ideal weight.

While it would be ideal if everyone could feed My Perfect Pet at every meal, due to the nature of the quality of ingredients used it is more expensive than kibble. Will a pet still benefit form My Perfect Pet if it is only fed periodically?

We recognize that not every budget supports feeding exclusively My Perfect Pet and it can easily be mixed with other food – just remember to decrease the other food by whatever amount you are feeding My Perfect Pet.

Any fresh is better than no fresh!  Ours is the perfect topper that not only adds delicious taste but also the benefits of fresh whole food and balanced nutrition.

If someone tries My Perfect Pet and they or their pets don’t like is, what is your refund policy?

When in doubt we encourage your customers to try a sample before purchasing the entire bag – it’s not a feeding trial but 1/2 bar is a generous taste test. We have never had a quality issue so there should never be a return due to a quality concern provided customers keep it properly frozen or refrigerated. We get very few returns, but we do stand behind our products and of the proper documentation is completed we will honor the occasional return.

My Perfect Pet is not alone in the gently-cooked category.  What sets you apart from your competitors?

My Perfect Pet was the first company to introduce gently-cooked pet food and has been doing so for thirteen years.   We have the longest history and a perfect track record.

Our quality is unparalleled.  Most companies claiming human-grade ingredients use a contract manufacturer, and we have seen many recalls where the companies point to their manufacturers or suppliers or whoever. I decided early on I wanted absolute quality control over every step of the operation. We source the ingredients ourselves and manufacture it in our facility.  We are building a second new facility to expand while keeping the same absolute quality control.

I have spoken to enough suppliers and enough others in the industry to be confident in saying My Perfect Pet has the highest quality ingredients in any pet food. Fresh quality ingredients cost more but I will never compromise pet health over profit.  I don’t answer to investors or private equity, only to my commitment to the integrity of our company and our products.

What are the four most important things you would like our listeners to remember about My Perfect Pet?

  1. Quality of ingredients, Quality of Processing, Quality of Nutrition – It doesn’t get better than PERFECT! Go for quality, don’t take any chances with your pet’s health.
  2. Convenient portion control packaging for pets of all sizes from small dogs and cats to large breeds. Our food stores and thaws easily.
  3. The taste! We win every picky eater contest! The real meat gets them every time.
  4. The variety of blends we offer, from complete and balanced diets to fresh whole food alternatives to many of the prescription diets or veterinary blends.


Contact Info for My Perfect Pet

Address: 11870 Community Road Suite 200, Poway, CA 92064
Phone: 858-486-6500
Facebook Page:
Instagram: www.instagram/myperfectpet


©23FEB20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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Podcast – Spaying & Neutering with Dr. Christine Calder

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< Updated 09FEB21 >

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If you are wondering if you should spay or neuter your pet, and when to do so, may find this podcast helpful.

Not so many years ago, the consensus opinion was that spaying and neutering pets early was necessary to control pet overpopulation. Evidence also suggested spaying/neutering reduced the risk of various cancers and the development of certain behavioral problems such as aggression and marking. Today, the evidence is less clear. In fact, if you ask five different pet professionals if you should spay or neuter and when to do it, you may get multiple opinions even from the same individual.

Before you decide whether to spay or neuter your pet, the best thing you can do is take the responsibility to do some research and to consider the information that is available. Your decision may depend on many factors; species, breed, your individual pet, lifestyle/situation, and even where you live. Did you know that in some countries it is illegal to spay/neuter a pet, or that, in some of those same countries animal shelters and rescues are unnecessary because they do not have homeless pets? As for the health and behavioral pros and cons of spaying and neutering they can go both ways.

For this show, which first aired on February 15th, 2020, Kate and Don invited Dr. Christine Calder, a veterinary behaviorist, who also spent fifteen years as a general practice veterinarian, to help us sort through the latest information on spaying and neutering so that you will know what to ask and consider when you discuss whether to spay your pet with their veterinarian. Our podcast page will include links to several articles you may find helpful, but be advised they do not encompass all the information on the risks and benefits of spaying and neutering your pet.

Contact Info for Dr. Calder

Business: Calder Veterinary Behavior Services
Phone: (207) 298-4375
Facebook Page:

More info on Dr. Calder

From the January 2020 issue of Downeast Dog News

Podcast – Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behaviorist

For Reference

Reexamining the early spay-neuter paradigm in dogs, dvm360, 2019, Dr. Mike Petty and  Dr. Mark Goldstein, –

Are There Behavior Changes When Dogs Are Spayed or Neutered?, Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc, FRSC, Canine Corner, Psychology Today –

Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs, Laura J. Sanborn, M.S., dogs naturally blog, –

Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris), Summary of findings detailed in a Masters thesis submitted to and accepted by Hunter College by Parvene Farhoody in May 2010. –

Behavioural risks in male dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones may complicate population-control benefits of desexing, McGreevy PD, Wilson B, Starling MJ, Serpell JA, 2018, PLoS ONE 13(5): e0196284, –

Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers, Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH 2014, PLoS ONE 9(7): e102241. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102241 –

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on Z62 Retro Radio, AM620, and WKIT HD3 at 9 AM on Saturday. If you are not near a radio, listen on your computer at or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show. You can download this show and others at , at Don’s blog and the Apple iTunes store.


©15FEB20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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Pet Food – Why We Like My Perfect Pet

< Updated 23FEB20 >

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We discovered My Perfect Pet at an industry tradeshow in September of 2019. After doing our due diligence and evaluating My Perfect Pet we test fed it with some of the Green Acres staff pets as well as some clients who volunteered to give it a try. As a result of that process, we knew the My Perfect Pet blends and the company and people behind My Perfect Pet represented the type of product we wanted to offer to you. In a recent press release, Green Acres co-owner, Don Hanson stated:

Common sense, as well as science, tells us that fresh, minimally processed foods offer the best nutrition for us, as well as our pets. The My Perfect Pet blends provide pets with excellent nutrition, whether fed exclusively or as part of a rotation diet and Muppy and Boomer find it delicious! When we add a brand of food to our offerings, we also want to know about the company and the person making the decisions. When My Perfect Pet owner, Karen Neola, told us ‘My Perfect Pet is an independent family-owned business founded with a mission to improve pet health through education and nutrition and to put pet health over profits’ I knew we had found exactly the type of partner Green Acres can count on and can support.

What We Like Best About My Perfect Pet

  • The quality of the ingredients – All of the ingredients used in My Perfect Pet blends come from suppliers who exclusively sell human-grade food, the same companies that supply restaurants and high-end grocers. The protein sources used in My Perfect Pet include eggs and quality cuts of muscle meat and organs; beef (round & liver), turkey (breast, thigh, & heart), chicken (breast & thigh), lamb (shoulder), and wild salmon (filet). A variety of fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, celery, collards, green beans, kale, potatoes, spinach, & yams), cranberries, and kelp contribute important micro-nutrients and vitamins and these ingredients are also fit for human consumption. Lastly, My Perfect Pet incorporates freshly baked whole grain brown rice in their blends instead of adding artificial supplements. Whole grain brown rice provides a wealth of natural vitamins and minerals essential in the dog’s diet, along with fiber and a number of antioxidants, and phytochemicals to promote a healthy digestive tract, cardiovascular system, liver function, and immune system. Antioxidants including vitamin E, tocotrienols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid are available in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.

Look below and you will see images that show you exactly what the raw ingredients and finished product look like.

    • Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, and all are from the USA with the exception of the lamb which comes from New Zealand or Australia and coconut oil from the Philippines.
    • No ingredients are purchased from companies that sell “animal feed-grade” ingredients” or ingredients not fit for human consumption.
    • All ingredients are Gluten Free, Non-GMO, and free of preservatives.
    • All food ingredients and vitamin supplements are natural per AAFCO guidelines. Ingredients are purchased only from qualified human food suppliers in their fresh, whole or raw state. Raw meats, poultry and fish have been skinned and deboned, but not subjected to any rendering, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, fermentation, chemical or synthetic processing. Natural vitamins are derived solely from plant or animal sources. Minerals are chelated or otherwise compounded to improve bioavailability and absorption
    • During our Woof Meow Show interview with My Perfect Pet owner Karen Neola, she told us that when they are making the food, it was not unusual for her and her staff to make themselves lunch from the exact same ingredients used in My Perfect Pet blends. [ FMI Click to listen to our podcast ]
  • The minimal processing – My Perfect Pet blends are cooked per FDA food and safety guidelines to eliminate pathogens, removing the concern some might have about feeding fresh food. My Perfect Pet is cooked at much lower temperatures than either kibble or canned food, making it more nutritious, digestible, and delicious. While we still recommend raw diets and feed them to our own pets, in addition to My Perfect Pet blends, we believe that My Perfect Pets gently-cooked process makes sense, especially for anyone uncomfortable feeding raw.
  • The variety of proteins – We recognize and recommend the importance of dietary rotation for optimal health, and My Perfect Pet makes that practice easy with a wide variety of formulas. [ FMI – The Wisdom of Rotating Your Pets Diet – Part 1 – ]
  • Transparency – If you know me, you know the lack of transparency and intentional deception in the pet food industry really annoys me. For example – there are kibble and canned food products that display prime cuts of meat on their packaging and when you read the ingredient labels you know that is not what is really in the food. When you look at the My Perfect Pet images (below) you know that those cuts of meat really are in the food. But transparency is about more than images. Pet food companies are required, by law, to publish AAFCO Dry Matter Nutrient Profiles; however, that is only half of the story. My Perfect Pet goes one step further than what the law requires and publishes the “As Fed” nutrient profiles, including carbs because they believe that is the right thing to do. Thank you!
  • Formulated By Experts to Meet All Regulatory Requirements – My Perfect Pet works with a wide variety of nutritional experts to formulate their blends and verifies that they meet all AAFCO and NRC requirements and confirms that they meet the nutrient profiles published on the label. They have 13 years of proven results.
  • Realistic – Due to the high quality of the ingredients in the My Perfect Pet blends, it is going to be more expensive than kibble or dry pet food. Like Green Acres, My Perfect Pet recognizes that not everyone will be able to feed My Perfect Pet at every meal; however, even if you can only feed your pet fresh food on an intermittent basis, your pet will still benefit.
  • Karen Neola, Founder & Owner of My Perfect Pet – As Karen explained in our Woof Meow Show interview and as she does on the My Perfect Pet website, Karen started cooking for her own dogs after losing her Labrador Retriever to contaminated commercial dog food.
    • “I vowed never again to buy commercial pet food and started making my own, using only fresh whole, natural and safe ingredients – the same quality I trusted for myself.  I immersed myself in research on dog and cat nutrition and worked with nutritionists, veterinarians, universities and health care experts to create the perfect blend of all-natural high-quality ingredients that provide maximum nutrition for dogs and cats with the least processing and highest safety.  I did not start with any intent to build a business, it just kept growing.”
    • My Perfect Pet is an independent family-owned business founded with a mission to ‘improve pet health through education and nutrition’ and to put pet health over profits.   We didn’t start with a business plan; we started with a mission to teach pet parents how to make healthier choices for their pets and to deliver the same whole food nutrition to their pets that we know is best for the rest of the family.  We don’t answer to equity investors, only to our conscience. As long as my name is associated with My Perfect Pet, we will never compromise on the quality or integrity of our products.”

Nutrient Profiles – Cat Blends –

Nutrient Profiles – Standard Dog Blends –

Nutrient Profile – Buckaroo Puppy Blend –

Nutrient Profiles – Personal Care Dog Blends

Images of My Perfect Pet Blends

Cat Formulas

Dog Formulas

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

Our Philosophy on Pet Nutrition

Why Rotating Diets Makes Sense

The Wisdom of Rotating Your Pets Diet – Part 1

The Wisdom of Rotating Your Pets Diet – Part 2


Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show
( )


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©23FEB19, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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In Search of the “Perfect” Dog

< This article was originally published in three parts in the February, March & May 2020 issues of Downeast Dog News >

< Updated 11MAY20 >

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What Can Affect Our Dogs Behavior?

I am often asked, “How do I get the perfect dog.” I always start by asking for clarification of how the person that asked the question defines “perfect.” Typical responses are;

I want a dog that will:

  • have good manners,
  • NEVER bite,
  • NEVER growl,
  • like ALL people,
  • like ALL dogs,
  • like ALL of our current pets,
  • will NEVER chase cars,
  • will ALWAYS stay in an unfenced yard,
  • will NEVER jump on people,
  • will ALWAYS alert me when someone “sketchy” is in the yard but will NEVER bark at people I like,
  • will NEVER kill a squirrel,
  • will ALWAYS be safe around ALL kids,
  • will ALWAYS come when called and
  • will stay close to me but will not hang around me when I don’t want them to,
  • and so on.

At its most extreme, that sounds like “I want a dog that will do anything I want, whenever I want, and will do nothing and be content if I don’t want them to do anything.” That is not a realistic expectation and is failing to meet some of our dog’s most basic welfare requirements. [ FMI ]

I often wonder where people get their expectations of what constitutes a “perfect” dog. Unfortunately, not all but some of the people selling dogs, breeders, shelters/rescues, pet shops, set us up to think the dog they want us to go home with is “perfect” because they know if we think otherwise, they may lose a sale. Selling a dog is not unlike most other things for sale. We typically want the best we can get. In some cases, those selling the dog even go so far as to use puppy temperament tests and shelter behavior assessments to convince us this is the right dog for us. Unfortunately, these tests may be misrepresented and presented to us as a predictor of future behavior. If we interpret that as a guarantee, they may or may not try to dissuade us from that impression. Temperament and shelter assessment tests are nothing more than a snapshot of a dog’s behavior in a specific scenario at a single moment in time. They are not predictive of nor are they a guarantee of future “perfect” behavior.

In some cases, our expectations of a “perfect” are the result of memories of dogs popularized through the mass media like Lassie or Air Bud. As endearing as those stories are, they are fictional accounts of dogs. Assumptions about certain breeds, usually based on an opinion that may not be supported by data, such as “Schnockelfensters are ALWAYS great with children!” can also bias our opinion inappropriately. I cannot tell you how many different individual dogs and breeds I have met over the past 25 years, but I do know I have seen extremes in behavior in all breeds.

If we look at the list of the characteristics many want in a “perfect” dog, most of those characteristics focus on a dog’s behavior, what it will or will not do.  I also want to point out that people often also use lots of absolutes with words like; ‘NEVER,’ ‘ALWAYS,’ and ‘ALL.’ The problem with using absolutes when discussing the behavior of a dog, or any animal, even human behavior, is that behavior can change and often does change and, like most of life, is seldom absolute. [ FMI ]

Many things can affect behavior. Genetics play a major role in future behavior. If either parent had certain genetic traits such as shyness, the puppies will probably also be shy.

We have many different breeds of dogs because they were selectively bred for certain traits. Dogs come preprogrammed with certain species-specific behavior motor patterns based on what they were bred to do. The dog is a predator, and as such has a motor pattern sequence to ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE > DISSECT > CONSUME prey.  That does not mean every dog will be an efficient predator, but they may still have a strong instinct to go through all or part of this sequence. This pattern of behaviors is what makes retrievers retrieve and what allows herding breeds to move livestock successfully. Unfortunately, a working herding dog with strong instincts to stalk, chase, and grab-bite is probably not a desirable trait for a dog that will be living with children. Something we need to consider when searching for the “perfect” dog for our family today and what it will look like throughout the dog’s expected life. A herding breed may be a perfect companion for a young couple that likes to hike, but may not be the best choice if two years later they have twin infants. [ FMI – ]

What happens during a puppy’s critical developmental period from birth to 16 weeks of age also has a great influence on behavior. If a puppy is a singleton, that puppy not have an opportunity to experience social interactions with littermates unless it is placed in another litter where it can gain the social skills it will need to interact with other dogs successfully. [ FMI ]

What Can Affect Our Dogs Behavior? (part 2)

Once a dog leaves mom and its littermates, and it arrives in our home, we are responsible for that puppy and need to appropriately socialize and habituate it to everything we expect it to encounter (people, animals, surfaces, objects, sounds, smells, etc.) before they are 16 weeks old. Socialization can be a very daunting and time-consuming task if you do it right, but it is essential for your dog’s future behavioral health. A puppy that is not gently exposed to a wide variety of people of different ages, sizes, races, and behaviors may very likely be fearful of certain types of people. Never being brushed or having their nails trimmed until after 16 weeks of age may result in a dog that is extremely fearful and reactive during this process, which can be a stressful experience for all involved. A puppy that is raised in a rural area the first 16 weeks of its life and then moved to a home in an urban environment with the never before experienced sounds, smells, and intense activity of urban America, may become very anxious and fearful. A dog that is displaced from its home and family could be extremely traumatized just as you might be in shock if you ended up living in a homeless shelter. Trauma can cause fear and anxiety for life and does not go away on its own.

Whether you decide to train your dog and how you train them will also affect future behavior. Dogs with little or no training are less likely to be well-mannered and, for that reason, are more likely to be surrendered. If you use any aversives to train your dog, the most common ones being shock, choke, or prong collars, your dog is more likely to develop behavioral problems. If you inadvertently reward your dog for jumping up on people, chasing people, or barking at strangers, you may create the very behavior problems you are trying to prevent. Training matters and you will be best served by investing in working with a reward-based dog trainer accredited by a reputable, independent certification body.

During the course of your dog’s life, they will have many behavioral interactions with people and animals. Any time such an interaction occurs, the behavior of one individual in the interaction can influence the behavior of the other individual. The simple act of an infant grabbing at a dog’s wagging tail, due to no malicious intent, may cause the dog to feel physical or emotional pain or discomfort causing the dog to react with anything from a bark to a bite in an attempt to get the child to stop their behavior. The infant’s behavior may have established a fear of children, and the dog and the dog’s reaction may have created a fear of dogs in the child. Fears of this nature can be locked into memory by a single event, and the brain is designed, in the interest of our survival, to remember these lessons forever.

Many behaviors in all animals are driven by emotion and thus are not always predictable or rational. Either party in a behavioral transaction can misinterpret the behavior of the other, which can cause a situation to spiral out of control quickly. It’s dark, and you cannot see your dog lying by the bed, you get up and step on the dog, and the dog lashes out in fear biting your ankle but not breaking the skin, you scream in pain and yell at the dog as you kick him, causing your dog to bite harder in an attempt to get you to stop before he scrambles under the bed to hide from the vicious person. You have both reacted instinctually and emotionally and may be wary of one another for minutes, hours, days, or maybe forever. Emotional responses have a great impact on our reactions to another’s behavior and on our remembering those incidents.

How Can We Optimize Our Odds of Getting The “Perfect” Dog

A variety of medical issues that can affect behavior. Behavior problems can begin before birth if mom is unhealthy or stressed. The endocrine system which produces hormones can negatively affect behavior when it is not working properly, such as with thyroid and adrenal issues. Neurological, orthopedic, and even gastrointestinal disorders, or any medical issue that causes pain or discomfort can also cause our dog to behave differently. Even an adverse reaction to a vaccination may cause an undesirable behavior change. The simple act of aging can change behavior as hearing and sight diminish or cognitive disorders manifest themselves. At the first sign of a behavior problem with your dog, talk about it with your veterinarian. Do not wait a week, a month, or years. Your dog’s life and your safety, and that of others may depend on it. Also, understand that the longer an undesirable behavior occurs, the less likely we can change it.

What can we do to optimize our odds of getting a “perfect” dog?

Do your research – Before you even start looking for a dog, thoughtfully consider what you want and expect in a dog. Not all dogs behave the same way due to selective breeding for certain behavioral traits. Some may express behaviors that are normal but that we may not want to deal with, such as herding dogs around children. When I counsel someone looking for a dog, I focus on behavior and health. What a dog looks like is a low priority for me. When doing your research, talk to pet care professionals with experience with the behavior of many breeds; trainers, behavior consultants, and veterinarians will be your best option. Professionals are more likely to give you an objective opinion than a breeder or rescue that wants you to take their dog home. Be aware that if you are considering a rescue dog, they are likely to be a mixed-breed, and the odds of knowing the precise mix of breeds are incredibly small without a DNA test. Even if we know a mixed breeds genetic profile, predicting behavior can be difficult, if not impossible.

NOTE: I have nothing against rescue dogs or mixed breeds. Seven of my nine dogs were rescues. My objective is to suggest what you can do that gives you the highest probability of getting the dog that meets your definition of “perfect.” Sadly, we seldom get all of the information we need about a rescue to make a reliable prediction of future behavior.  I believe that you will have the best chance of getting the dog you want by getting a puppy of a known DNA lineage, from a reputable breeder.

See your dog’s parents – Genetics cannot be changed so the best way to prevent your dog’s DNA from negatively affecting your concept of “perfect” is for you to make sure that you get to see your dog’s parents so you can observe their behavior. If you notice any behavior of concern, look elsewhere.

Immediately work with a force-free professional trainer – Before you bring your puppy or dog home, select a trainer. They can help you meet your puppy’s socialization needs between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This is a critical period for learning and habituation, and it ends quickly. Most of the dogs brought to me for fear and aggression were not adequately or appropriately socialized. A professional can also help you with the most common puppy problem behaviors such as play-biting, housetraining, jumping up on people, and chewing. Most people unintentionally train the puppy to do what they don’t want. A professional will teach you what and how to reward behavior so the dog does what you want.

Continue working with a trainer who will teach you how to most effectively and humanely train your dog until you and your dog have mastered the behaviors that are important to the success of your relationship.

Be patient and accepting with yourself and your dog – You are only human, and like all other humans, you’re not “perfect,” and neither is your dog. While I understand the desire to have a “perfect” dog, and I believe it is a noble goal, at its best, it is nothing more than a hypothetical construct.

We will only know if we have had a “perfect” dog when they pass, and we can look back on their life and say, “My dog was perfect.” I have enjoyed and benefited from every dog in my life. Almost everyone had some characteristics that might be classified as “perfect,” but each also had some quirks. Those flaws or quirks made them the amazing individual I will never forget.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Helping Your Dog Thrive

Understanding Behavior; Why It Matters –

Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Parts 1, 2 & 3

Puppy Socialization and Habituation

Adopting A Pet – Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family

Adopting A Pet – We’re Getting A New Puppy (or Dog)!

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©11MAY20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms

< A version of this article was first published in 2018 as a five-part series in the January, February, March, April and May 2018 issues of Downeast Dog News >

< Updated 1FEB20 >

< A short link to this page – >

< Click to download or print a PDF file containing all 5 columns in this series >

We have a responsibility to make our dog’s life the best life possible. Your dog’s quality of life is directly under your control.

In this post I will be discussing Brambell’s Five Freedoms and how you can use them to help your dog have a long, fun-filled life. I will examine the role of nutrition, basic husbandry, veterinary care, training, behavior, and the management of your dog, as they all play a role in the quality of its life.

  • Brambell’s Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom in December of 1965. The Brambell Commission published its report over 50 years ago, yet it is still a very applicable standard for evaluating the holistic health of any animal kept by people, including dogs.

The Five Freedoms are Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behavior, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.

Fundamental to being able to assess an animal’s welfare is having a thorough knowledge of a species’ husbandry requirements, behavior, and how they communicate and express emotions. I invite you to consider some of the questions that I will pose in these columns and to contemplate how you would address them within Brambell’s Five Freedoms as you care for your dog.

Freedom from Hunger, Thirst, and Malnutrition

At first read, this sounds relatively simple; provide your dog with food and water, and you have met their needs. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Does the type of food we feed our dog matter? The dog has the digestive system of a carnivore; an animal meant to thrive on meat- animal protein and fat. When you feed your dog kibble or dry dog food, they are consuming food that is predominantly made up of carbohydrates. This highly processed “far from fresh food” is composed of 40% or more carbohydrates. The dog does not need carbohydrates in their diet. That is why you will not find the percent of carbohydrates listed in the Guaranteed Analysis panel on a bag of dog food. Kibble or dry dog food was not created to provide optimum nutrition for our dogs but to provide convenience for us and a long shelf life and higher profits for pet food manufacturers. Dogs can survive on kibble, but my question is: can they thrive on such an unnatural diet?

Can we say, in good conscience, that our dog is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition if we are feeding them a sub-optimal diet? Feeding a dog food that will provide them with the best nutrition possible is not inexpensive, at least when compared to grocery store kibble. However, when we start to factor in reduced veterinary bills with an improved diet, we may be further ahead when we feed the best food we can afford.

Is it better to have one pet and to feed her the best diet you can afford, or is it better to have multiple pets for social interaction? It is a question my wife and asked ourselves and is a reason we have downsized from a maximum of five dogs to one dog. We want to do the best we can for Muppy and having a single dog allows for more resources, both time and financial, to be focused on her.

What about pets on prescription diets? In some cases, a veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet for your dog that you can only get from a veterinarian. These specialized foods are available in a kibble or wet (canned) formula. Prescription diets are typically presented as being necessary to treat a specific disease or health issue. They are often much more expensive than a basic kibble, but because they are kibble, they will still be high in carbohydrates. Veterinarians who take a holistic approach to nutrition will seldom recommend kibble-based prescription diets preferring to suggest a diet consisting of fresh, whole food. Again, it comes down to choosing between optimal nutrition or our convenience? Which takes precedence?

What about pet obesity? Studies indicate that 50% of the pets in the U.S. are clinically obese. Obesity is typically due to overfeeding, an improper diet, and lack of exercise. Just as with humans, obesity will affect a dog’s health and welfare. It can tax your dog’s skeletal system and can even change behavior. How much of the obesity problem with our dogs is related to our feeding them diets high in carbohydrates, something they do not need?

Does the source of water you use matter? If you do not choose to drink water from your tap, should your dog? Should they at least be given a choice?

Next month we will examine more of Brambell’s Five Freedoms; Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behavior, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.

Freedom from Discomfort


  1. an inconvenience, distress, or mild pain
  2. something that disturbs or deprives of ease
  3. to make uncomfortable or uneasy

– Collins English Dictionary

Many things in our dog’s life may cause pain or anxiety. This may vary in individual dogs depending on their genetics, temperament, anatomy, size, age, and other variables.

  • Are you familiar with how your dog expresses discomfort so that you recognize when your dog is anxious and afraid? – Dogs often indicate stress by various changes in their body language, often called calming or displacement signals. Signs such as looking away, yawning, and tongue flicks will typically occur before signals such as growling or snapping. If you wish to keep your dog comfortable, you first need to know how they indicate their discomfort. Just because a dog is not reacting does not mean they are comfortable. Most people have not been taught how dogs communicate, yet it is one of the most important things they need to know. ( FMI )
  • Is your dog’s environment free from things that may cause anxiety, stress, and pain? This will vary with the individual dog. Common causes of anxiety can include children, adults, other animals, objects, loud noises, having their picture taken, having their nails trimmed, being hugged, wearing a costume, and many more. One of the easiest ways to avoid these issues is to spend time thoughtfully socializing and habituating your puppy to novel stimuli during their critical socialization period which occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age. (FMI ) If your dog was older than 16 weeks of age when they joined your family it is very likely that they were not adequately or appropriately socialized. Remedial socialization is possible with an older dog, but it is even more essential that you plan such sessions carefully and that you proceed slowly. In this case, consulting with a professional fear-free, force-free, pain-free trainer is highly recommended. ( FMI – )
  • Have you trained your dog? When a dog joins a family, many expect them to automatically fit in, even though dogs and humans are two very different species with different cultural norms. We must teach our dogs how to live in our world, and that can best be accomplished through reward-based training. Failing to train our dog is almost sure to cause discomfort for both them and us. ( FMI – )
  • Are you committed to NEVER using aversives to manage or train your dog? If you are using an aversive (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, leash corrections, or anything where the intent is to physically or emotionally punish) to train or manage your dog, you are making your dog uncomfortable. The very definition of an aversive is to cause discomfort, possibly up to the point of causing physical or emotional pain. Dogs that are trained in this manner are unlikely to be happy and have a much greater probability of becoming aggressive. ( FMI – )
  • Does your dog have shelter from the elements, especially extremes of temperature, wind, and precipitation? This one seems straightforward, yet every year dogs are left out in dangerous weather and freeze to death.
  • Does your dog have a quiet, comfortable place where they can rest undisturbed and where they will feel safe? Dogs, like people, need downtime and a place where they will feel secure and safe so that they can get adequate rest. People and especially kids need to respect the adage “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
  • If you have multiple pets, does each pet have adequate resources? Many people have multiple pets. Do the pets get along and enjoy each other, or is there frequent conflict? Are there sufficient resources (food, space, and attention) for all of the pets? If your dog feels they do not have what they need to survive, or if they feel threatened or intimidated by another pet in your home, they are not free of discomfort.
  • Do you maintain your dog’s physical condition, so they do not experience discomfort? – Fifty percent of the dogs in the US are clinically obese. Just as with people, obesity often causes pain and discomfort. Many dogs with long coats require weekly grooming by us to prevent their coats from becoming tangled and matted and uncomfortable.

Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease

In many ways Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease is directly related to the previous topic Freedom from Discomfort as pain, injury and disease are often the cause of extreme discomfort.

Regular and as-needed veterinary care goes a long way toward meeting this freedom, but breeding also plays a huge role, as well as how we respond when a dog is injured or ill. Mental disease needs to be considered along with the physical illness.

  • Are you familiar with how your dog expresses discomfort so that you recognize when your dog is in pain? –Dogs can be very stoic about hiding their pain. Signs of pain may include agitation, anti-social and aggressive behavior, changes in eating, drinking, and bathroom habits, non-typical vocalization, excessive self-grooming, panting and non-typical breathing patterns, trembling, difficulty moving, changes in posture, restlessness, and anxiety. It is essential to have a thorough understanding of the many subtle signals our dogs use to indicate that they are under stress or anxious. Just because a dog is not reacting does not mean they are free of pain. ( FMI )
  • Is your dog a working dog or do they compete in dog sports? Dogs that are more physically active have a higher probability of injury than the average pet. Appropriate physical training, just like that for an athlete may be beneficial. Also, if the dog is injured having adequate time off from work and sports to recover can be critical. Depending on the injury, retirement from the activity may be the best decision. Working and competing can negatively affect mental health just as much as it can cause physical problems.
  • Are your dog’s pain and injury being adequately addressed? Sadly, I remember a time when dogs were not given pain medication because it was believed they did not need it. However, today we also need to ask ourselves are painkillers enough? Physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture can be very helpful in alleviating pain in people as well as pets and should be considered.
  • Does your dog see their veterinarian for regular wellness exams? – Dogs are subject to chronic diseases such as anxiety, arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, periodontal disease and more. Early diagnosis and treatment of disease help prevent pain and discomfort. Every dog should see their veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness exam, and as they age this may need to be more frequent. Behavior and mental health should be discussed at every exam.
  • Is your dog obese? Just as with humans, fifty percent or more of the dogs in the US are overweight. A dog that is obese is more subject to injury, pain, and disease. If your dog is a little chubby or profoundly corpulent, please see your veterinarian and learn how you can address this issue. Your dog will thank you.
  • What is our responsibility when breeding pets? Some dogs, because of their breed standard, are intentionally bred for physical characteristics that often affect their ability to breathe, to move, and even to give birth naturally. How does this benefit the pet? Would it not be more appropriate to breed to eliminate these exaggerated physical deformities that affect soundness and health? Would it not better for dogs if people looking for a pet avoided these breeds?
  • Are you doing all that you can to prevent and avoid genetic disorders? Most purebred dogs are susceptible to one or more genetic disorders. Are breeders doing everything that should be done to eliminate these diseases and create healthier pets? When a person is considering what breed to get, should they avoid breeds prone to genetic disorders?
  • Are you as concerned about your dog’s mental and emotional health as you are about their physical health? Animals can experience mental disease and disorders (anxieties, phobias, dementia, ) just like humans. How do we reconcile that the treatments of behavioral issues are often not considered as necessary as physical disorders? Is it appropriate to breed a dog for behavioral traits that might be regarded as an asset for a dog who works or competes, but might negatively affect that dog’s ability to thrive as a companion dog?
  • Do you use tools and methods for training, management and the care of your dog that are designed to work by causing pain and discomfort? – Aversives (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, leash corrections, etc. ) are used to physically or emotionally punish a dog. Dogs that are trained in this manner are unlikely to be happy and have a much greater probability of becoming aggressive. ( FMI – )

Freedom to Express Normal Behavior

When discussing what constitutes normal behavior, I mean behavior for the dog as a species, not what we as a human believe should be “normal” behavior for our dog. As much as we might want to, we cannot dictate what is normal or abnormal for a species.

In our classes, I ask students to list what behaviors they dislike in their dog. The list almost always includes: barking, begging, chasing, chewing, not coming when called  digging, eating “yuck,” getting on furniture or in the trash, growling, guarding things, humping, jumping on people, not listening, play biting, pulling on the leash, rolling in “yuck,” sniffing butts, stealing, being stubborn, and going to the bathroom inside. After reviewing the list, students learn almost everything they have listed is normal behavior for a dog.

One of the easiest ways to create behavior problems in any animal is to deny them the opportunity to express normal behaviors. Caged animals in a zoo that pace back and forth are exhibiting stereotypical behavior caused by stress because they are not able to do what they would normally do. So even though we find some of our dog’s typical behaviors undesirable, we need to find ways to allow them to express these behaviors so as not to compromise their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Some questions you can ask yourself to assess if you are adequately meeting your dog’s behavioral needs are listed below.

  • Do your dogs have an adequate and safe space in which to run, explore and express normal behaviors? Do you provide your dog with an opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Dogs like and need to sniff and explore. You can do this in your yard, home or on a walk. When you take your dog for a walk do you allow them adequate time to sniff, or do you expect your dog to heel by your side during the entire walk? Walking the dog is very overrated as physical stimulation but can be great for mental stimulation if you allow time for exploration and sniffing.
  • Is the environment in which your dog lives suitably enriched so that it stimulates your dogs mind? Mental stimulation is one of the things people often neglect, yet is very easy to provide. Instead of always feeding your dog in a bowl, feed them in a Kong or several Kong toys that you hide throughout your home. Having to search to find their food and then work to get it out of a Kong is great mental stimulation. Walking a different route every day also provides for mental stimulation as do training sessions.
  • Does your dog receive sufficient interaction with family members to establish a bond and to provide ongoing emotional enrichment? Most of us get a dog to be a companion. It is vital that we provide companionship to the dog and not just expect them to be there for us when we want company from them. Like any relationship, both dog and person need to contribute to that partnership. Are you always there for your dog when you come home from a disaster of a day? Some would argue that dog’s offer “unconditional love,” and therefore our role in the relationship does not matter. Really? The idea that a dog offers “unconditional love” is a beautiful myth but believing it is our greatest disservice to dogs because it sets them up to fail and allows us to presume that they will always be okay with whatever we do. Dog’s want and need more from us than our love when it is convenient for us to offer it. Take time to cuddle, to play, and whatever else you and your dog enjoy doing together.
  • Does your dog have canine friends? No matter how wonderful our bond is with our dog, from their perspective, we will never be another dog. Having appropriate doggie friends is just as important for our dog’s social life as having human friends is important to us. However, it is essential to make sure that your dog’s friends are well-matched so that they do enjoy one another’s company. Dogs do not automatically like all other dogs.
  • Do you allow your dog to decline to participate in events they find stressful? Dogs will often tell us with their body language, their normal way of communicating when they are uncomfortable. Are you able to read your dog and when you see these signs do you respect them? Just because we want our dog to be a therapy dog and they can pass the test, is it okay to use them in that role if they do not enjoy it? ( FMI )

Freedom from Fear and Distress

I will be readdressing some of the same topics from part 2 of this series, Freedom from Discomfort, as fear and distress are an extension of discomfort, especially when considering our dog’s emotional state.

I genuinely believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their pet fear or distress. However, a lack of knowledge — or incorrect information about animal behavior often is a cause of fear and distress in dogs.

Experiencing fear and distress is normal for any living thing throughout its life. However, since one fearful event can be traumatic enough to create a permanent and debilitating disability, it is essential we understand fear and distress and that we do everything possible to minimize its effect on our dog.

  • Can you readily tell when your dog is fearful or stressed?  Dogs typically do one of four things when afraid. 1) They flee and run away as fast as they can from whatever it is that has scared them. 2) They fight by barking, growling, lunging at, and attacking whatever has threatened them. 3) They freeze in place, not moving a muscle, and not making eye contact with what they fear. 4) They fidget about, displaying normal behaviors (sniffing, scratching, etc.) in an abnormal context while ignoring the threat. These four are the most extreme reactions, but well before your dog exhibits any of those behaviors they will give you subtle signs of their emotional distress. It is essential that you know and understand these signs so that you can intervene early.  Unfortunately, when many dog parents see their dog freezing or fidgeting about they say “Oh, he’s fine” not understanding that the dog is in fact distressed. ( FMI ).
  • Have you and your family committed to NEVER using aversives to manage or train your dog? By definition, an aversive is anything that causes your pet fear or distress, so if you use these tools or methods, you are NOT ensuring your dog is free from fear or distress. Commonly used aversives include but are not limited to shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, leash corrections, or anything where the intent is to physically or emotionally punish the dog as part of training or management. Dogs subjected to aversives are likely to develop behavioral problems and have a much higher probability of becoming aggressive. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) notes that the use of aversives is a significant reason for behavioral problems in pets and that they should NEVER be used. ( FMI – )
  • Was your puppy well socialized? Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. Inadequate socialization or inappropriate socialization is a frequent reason for a dog to be fearful in certain situations. Remedial socialization is possible, but you should work with a reward-based, fear-free trainer so that you do not make things worse. (FMI   ) ( FMI – )
  • Do you actively look out for your dog’s best interests so that you can protect them from people that do NOT understand canine body language? Most people do not realize that not all dogs want to interact with people nor do those people comprehend the subtle signs that a dog gives that says “please leave me alone.” Most dogs do not want to bite, but only do so when they feel they have no other option.  As our dog’s caregiver, we have a responsibility to look out for our dog’s welfare which means intervening when others do not respect our dogs right not to interact. Additionally, we need to understand that sometimes the best thing we can do for our dog is to leave them at home. Not all dogs enjoy walking in the animal shelters annual fundraiser.
  • Do you understand the necessity of providing both physical and mental stimulation for your dog while not letting either go to extremes?  A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed. However, too much stimulation and exercise can also be even more detrimental, creating a state of chronic stress. Playing fetch or going to the dog park every day can become addictive, causing chemical changes in the brain which can contribute to distress and other behavior problems.
  • Do you understand that while the dog is a social species, they may not like every dog they encounter, even ones that you may want to add to your family? While the domestic dog is considered to be a social animal, some are more social than others. Dogs do not automatically like on another. If we force a dog to live with another pet that they are afraid of, we are causing fear and distress.

Recommended Resources


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-Farm Animal Welfare Committee-Five Freedoms:

Press Statement”. Farm Animal Welfare Council. 1979-12-05:

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms, D. Hanson, APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Fall 2014

Articles on Don’s Blog ( )

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

Pet Nutrition – What Should I Feed My Pet?

How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful?

Puppy Socialization and Habituation

How to choose a dog trainer

What is Dog Training?

Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

Is Your Dog Your Best Friend or a Family Member?, If Yes, Then Please Join Me and Take the Pledge

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars

What’s Shocking about Shock – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Training

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

Signs of Anxiety and Fear from Dr. Marty Becker

Preventing separation anxiety – Teaching your dog to cope with being alone

Crate Habituation to Reduce Anxiety

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show ( )

What do you feed your pets?

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – Dr. Dave Cloutier – Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts

Separation Anxiety with Dr. David Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic

What’s Shocking About Shock – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Training


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