The Great Dog Food Debate

Since I became involved with animal rescue, I’ve heard all about dog food. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’ll go ahead and let you know: people hold very strong opinions about this stuff! Opinions many of them seem to think you simply must know. Dry food vs. wet food, brand loyalty, raw food, etc. It can get very confusing, especially when people have hidden agendas or only bother to cite sources that agree with their personal beliefs. So what’s a dog (or cat) parent to do?

The Dog Food Debate: What Do You Really Need To Consider Before Choosing A New Dog Food

First, you have to sift through all the facts and the fiction, take a look at the ‘hot topics’, and decide what matters most to you personally. Research, keep an open mind, choose what’s best for you, and just tune out the naysayers who try to tell you your way is wrong. If you’ve done your homework, then surely you’ve made the best choice for you.

Hot Topic: Dog Food Recalls
Salmonella in dog food seems to be the most common cause for recall. It is important to keep in mind that some types of Salmonella only affect humans. It is not uncommon for infected dogs and cats to be carriers of the other strands, meaning they show no symptoms but have the potential to infect their human family members.
Salmonella is a danger that can appear in all forms of dog food. The most infamous culprit is a raw food diet, in which the dog eats uncooked meats, eggs, etc. By no means is a raw food diet ‘an infection waiting to happen’, but if an owner chooses this diet, he or she should do their research and exercise extreme caution with the storage and preparation of their dogs’ food. One good source of information (and first hand experience!) is the online dog magazine, Keep The Tail Wagging.
Salmonella can affect dogs who eat dry, wet, or raw food. While a recall on a batch of food you have actually purchased is something to watch out for, I don’t personally concern myself too much if I see a certain brand has experienced a recall at some point; most brands of dog food experience recalls from time to time. The best way to avoid infection is to take safety into your own hands. Owners should always be cautious when purchasing, storing, preparing, and serving food – both their own and their dog’s!

The Dog Food Debate: What Do You Really Need To Consider Before Choosing A New Dog Food

Yes, this food has been recalled before. No, it doesn’t mean I think the company is not to be trusted ever again.

There are several simple ways to decrease your risk of illness! Make it a habit to wash your hands before and after handling dog food. Always use warm water and soap. The Center for Disease Control recommends not washing your dogs’ dishes in the kitchen sink where you wash your dishes. They also suggest owners use a dedicated food scoop and not scoop food out of a bag with the dog’s bowl. (This habit is good for measuring and maintaining healthy weight anyway.) Owners should ensure food is stored below 80 degrees F. Finally, when purchasing food, avoid bags that appear ripped and cans that look dented.

Hot Topic: Is Dry Food Really Better For Dental Hygiene?
I grew up in a family that wholeheartedly believed dry dog food was the best for our pets’ teeth. Now, I’m not so sure it really matters. The thought process was that dry food scraped off plaque while wet food would stick to teeth and cause decay. However, if you are doing your part to maintain your dog’s oral health, it really shouldn’t matter. Dogs’ teeth should be brushed several times a week (props if you do it daily). At the very least, dogs benefit from chew toys, bones, antlers, dental treats, etc. These will keep their teeth stronger, help quell their destructive behaviors, and remove plaque and tartar.

Doggie Diet Tip: Regular brushing, bones, antlers, and chew toys help maintain oral health. They fight tartar better than a "dry food diet" alone.Hot Topic: Bloat
While the exact causes of bloat in dogs are unknown, many believe a  diet of only dry food may increase the risk. If owners are concerned, but prefer dry food for other reasons, they can mix water into their dog’s food and let it sit while the food re-hydrates and expands to its full size.
Other possible causes of bloat include eating too quickly, eating too large meals, and too much movement before and after eating. I recommend feeding 2-3 meals per day instead of 1. Owners with fast eating dogs can purchase a slow eating food bowl, or even just throw some large toys in a food bowl for their dog to eat around. (Make sure they are not small enough to accidentally be ingested!) Additionally, some cautious owners crate their dogs for about 30 minutes before and after feeding to discourage movement and play with a full tummy. (It’s not a bad idea to feed in a crate anyway, as it teaches dogs to associate their crate with good feelings!)

The Dog Food Debate: What Do You Really Need To Consider Before Choosing A New Dog FoodHot Topic: Cost
To me, cost is a huge factor! I buy the best dog food I can, but it has to stay within my budget. My research led me to Diamond Naturals dry dog food. I find it suits my needs and Lana’s. When bought in the large, 40 lb bag it costs me just under $1 per pound. However, I am neither a nutritionist nor a veterinarian. While my dogs love this food, I believe everyone needs to reach their own decision about which food is right for them.
Either way, canned and dry food are varied, with more than enough brands offering sizes and qualities to fit every budget. Raw food can be more expensive than regular food if bought pre-made, or cost less if the owner prepares the meals themselves. Cost is something extremely personal, and only you can decide how much money and time you have to invest in your dog’s diet – just remember, no matter your budget, raw, dry, or wet food is still an achievable goal!

Hot Topic: Quality
Quality is the issue that confuses me the most. I hear people claim such and such dog food killed their beloved family pet. These people switch over to dog food I can’t possibly afford, and I honestly feel like they try to shame the rest of us for not following the trend.
Many others argue that companies spent years perfecting the ratio of proteins to carbs to fat and that they’re all pretty similar. When shopping for dog food, I basically did the same thing I do with human food – I just read the ingredients to avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring.
I’m not a nutritionist. I feel confident that those two ingredients aren’t good for anyone, but I honestly don’t have the slightest clue about the nutritional needs of any animal!
What I can tell you is I’ve personally known dogs who lived well beyond their expected life span eating “grocery store” foods. Lana doesn’t eat foods like that, but I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to approach others and tell them what the internet has told me about any specific brand of food.

The Dog Food Debate: What Do You Really Need To Consider Before Choosing A New Dog Food

Hot Topic: Allergies And The Gluten-Free Trend
Gluten free is a big deal right now, but should it be? In my personal opinion, no! Unless your dog is allergic to gluten, why work so hard to avoid it? While gluten doesn’t offer nutritional benefits, the wheat it’s found in does. Basically, gluten free does not necessarily equate to healthful!

According To WebMD the most common dog food allergies are not what most people expect. They include “beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish”. I have heard this time and time again, and if you do your research, you’ll hear it again and again as well.

The Dog Food Debate: What Do You Really Need To Consider Before Choosing A New Dog FoodThere are so many resources for research on dog food. My go to website is actually The Dog Food Advisor. They explain the ingredients in different brands of dog food, discuss the ratio of fats to carbs to proteins, and even keep a list of recent recalls and recently changed food formulas. You could also ask the people working in pet food stores (I can’t guarantee they’ll all know what they’re talking about, but the manager at my PetSmart seems to, as do the men who run the local feed store where I normally shop). I always recommend asking your veterinarian’s opinion if you find yourself in a rut. I promise you, they didn’t go thousands of dollars in debt to not learn about animal health.

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Finally, I’d like to give a big shout out to Lana’s former rescue, Florida All Retriever Rescue (FARR) for donating several bags of Diamond Naturals dog food to the Bainbridge Decatur Humane Society!!

FARR donation to BDHS

Huge thanks to FARR, the Bainbridge Humane Society, and the awesome volunteer who took this photo (that I am very gratefully borrowing)!

We Want It Wednesday: Pet Health Insurance

ImageI spent this morning sitting in front of my computer listening to one of the most relaxing sounds in the world. Whenever the erratic clicking of the keyboard stopped, I got to hear Miss Lana’s soft, steady breathing. Not an ugly, loud snore. Just a sweet little feminine cadence of breaths.

And boy was I grateful for that calming white noise, because I was in the middle of shopping for pet insurance. I’ve never bought insurance in my life! How fun it is to be an adult.

My insurance wants and needs were as follows:
-A reputable company
-A low monthly cost, with the option to increase coverage once I get some sort of paying job
-Coverage for the things that seem more likely to affect Lana (like accidents)

What did I find? High monthly payments or absolutely terrifying Yep reviews.

ImageMy lovely mother helped me locate a company recommended to my father (sort of) by his employer. Pets Best Insurance. Their website looked great, their policies wonderful, and their rate just peachy. I Googled them, just to make sure. One star reviews ran rampant on Yelp. Not to mention, far from helpful company responses. It was enough to scare the heck out of me. So I kept searching the internet, hoping for a second source. Their Facebook seemed to elicit pretty positive reviews from customers. I’d hardly trust their social media, but come to think of it, the Yelp reviews (most of them, at least) were pretty old. Maybe a new company had taken over and fixed things? I knew that Pets Best is offered through Progressive, but I didn’t know how long it had been that way.

Never one to like ill informed decisions, I browsed http://www.petinsurancereview.com/ – a third party website where pet owners can leave reviews of their insurance company. The reviews of Pets Best on that site were largely positive, and far more recent than the majority of the Yelp reviews.

ImageHonestly, I was a bit overwhelmed with this experience. Not because there were no options or opinions, but because there were so many. Which is a great problem to have! While I did actually research many companies, I ended up going with the super cheap Pets Best for Lana. I’m positive one day I’ll switch her policy, if not the company, but for now I think the accident only coverage fits my needs best. (Knock on wood!!!)

Unless they change the rates on me, it looks like I’ll be paying just under nine dollars a month for her insurance. (Hello, same price as Netflix.) It’ll cover things like animal/snake/insect bites, getting hit by a car, foreign body ingestion, poisoning, etc. I considered adding the routine care coverage because it helped pay for heartworm prevention, but for me the benefits weren’t worth the added premium. There is a two dollar transaction fee, which of course bothers me, but at least you get the option to pay quarterly, yearly, etc. to limit the number of times you pay that fee.

ImageNow to get back to important things – like napping

I will certainly keep everyone up to date on my honest experiences with Pets Best. Hopefully any of you considering pet health insurance will find the right company for you.

Is Your Dog Fat?

I took the girls to the vet recently – Lana to get her blood tested (because of her Proin prescription) and Desi to get her shots updated. For some reason, Lana is terrified of the vet. She’s never had a bad experience (or even one without treats, for that matter), but she still hates it. We walk through the door and a dog barks. Lana’s out the door before I can reassure her. She spends the next several minutes while I sign us in and take a seat with her tail between her legs. She doesn’t even think about the fact that Desi is calm as ever.

The vet tech asks Lana to step on the scale. I point to it and much to my surprise, she complies immediately. She weighs a little over 50 pounds. We turn around to walk into the exam room and I feel  a tug on the leash. Desi is standing on the scale. No doubt she knew that’s what normally happens at the vet’s office (even though she didn’t actually need to be weighed this time). Unfortunately, she has lost a little bit of weight. The veterinarian assures me both girls are still at a good weight. We know to watch Desi, as losing too much weight could indicate the big problem, and we know to watch Lana, because her long legs and body means being even a little overweight could be devastating for her hips and back.

But the thing is, it’s not just our girls. Weight is important to control for any dog (or person, for that matter). Do you know how many dogs are overweight in the United States? In the U.S., more than 50% of dogs (and cats) are overweight; about 20% are obese.

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention Banner

Statistics from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. (Click the logo to go to their website.)

I get the excuses, I really do.

But giving my dog treats is a universal way to show them I love them!  Honestly, they know you love them. Dogs can tell. They’re smart. And guess what – they love you too. And they’ll love you longer if they are healthy enough to live longer.

I cut down on my dog’s food, but he’s obviously still hungry.  You sure about that? Because I eat food all the time without being hungry. Because it tastes good. Because I’m bored. Because it’s available to me. Don’t assume that because your dog is begging for food it’s because they’re hungry. They’re begging for treats, not nutrition. As long as you gradually cut down the amount you feed them, you shouldn’t endanger them.

I have a wonky schedule and it’s best if I free feed.  While this MAY work for some dogs, it does not work for most. I, too, have a wonky schedule, and you know what? I think it was good for Lana. She doesn’t start begging for food at a certain time, because she’s used to going with the flow. And she’s, as the vet says, at a ‘perfect weight’. You’re not going to hurt them by feeding them at 5 one day and at 7 another. (It’s way better than being in the wild and not knowing if food is coming at all on any given day!)

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Lana enjoys and healthy and tasty snack – an apple!

Oh, but my boy will only eat people food.  When we were growing up, it seemed like my sister would only eat mac and cheese. Until she actually grew hungry. I know it hurts to see your baby not eat, but unless there’s a health issue to worry about, I was raised with the mentality that people (and dogs) will eat when they’re hungry, and that sugar coating things and feeding treats and calorie filled junk is not an okay substitute.

Being fat doesn’t hurt dogs like it does people. Socially, no. There is no fat shaming among dogs, but there are still multitudes of health problems that correlate with obesity (and malnutrition) in any animal. Diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, bad joints and backs, and decreased life expectancy (by up to 2.5 years) are all possible dangers for overweight pets.

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“I don’t like to eat green stuff!”

So how does an owner know what a healthy weight is?  Knowing your dog’s breed can help, but it is not the end all be all.

-Ask your veterinarian. I seriously hope they should have an idea, or you may want to find yourself a new doctor. If your pet is an exception, your vet should know.
-Judge yourself by look and feel. There are so many diagrams on the internet that show how a dog should look. The outline of the ribcage should be visible, but not the actual ribs.* The stomach should be tucked, the waist should be visible from above. As for the feel, you should be able to feel ribs, but not without a little bit of fat on top of them.
*Some breeds of dogs are built differently than others. If you have questions, please consult your veterinarian.

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Source: http://www.karikells.com/Petsitter/2013/the-weight-escape-importance-of-maintaining-ideal-weight-for-dogs-cats/

So how much is the right amount to feed them? You can’t necessarily trust the back of your bag of dog food. You need to keep in mind your dog’s metabolism, how much they exercise, if they are trying to maintain, lose, or gain weight, how often you give them treats, etc. If you look at these factors and think your dog is about average, try the middle of the range they recommend. If you find your pet putting on or losing too much weight, adjust the serving size. Just be aware that if you switch foods, the caloric density will be different and you should keep an extra close watch on your dog’s weight.

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Lana loves her healthy(ish) food!

I don’t believe in diet foods for dogs. I also don’t believe in fad diets for people. When I need to lose weight, I eat healthier and I eat less. Lana always eats the same thing, so I don’t need to worry about her eating healthier food. That leaves the amount of it. If I think she’s starting to get big, I cut back on the food just a little. Nothing severe. It’s not rocket science. I expect my dog to beg for food when I eat and cook and I don’t assume that means she’s starving. Because she’s in way better shape than I am and I know it. But, if you really want to try diet dog food, I won’t stop you. If you have a good experience with it, tell you friends, even tell me if you’d like! I just don’t feel it’s necessary for my girl. (But then again I spent forever picking out what I felt was the perfect food for her and I’m not about to undo all that work – purely a personal choice.)

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She says she doesn’t like green, but she does. It’s healthy and yummy. Veggies are a good way to spoil your dog without making them fat.

Love your dog, and spoil them ’til they’re fit!

Food For Thought

I was raised by people who did not give their dog table scraps. They didn’t let dogs on the couch, and until I was in middle school all our dogs were outside dogs. (Yet even after allowing Miss Desi inside, mom still manages to make our house, excluding my room, look like it fell out of Better Homes and Gardens. She’s a talented woman.)

When I went to college and started working with dogs, I was influenced by different types of owners. Granted, I always wanted an indoor dog, and a couch dog, but feeding ‘table scraps’/ people-food was an unexpected habit to pick up.

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I would like to qualify, I am not an extreme people-food feeder. Please excuse that awkward wording. I consider my habit pretty mild. I generally do treat the dogs with people-food away from the table, if that means anything.

I’ve certainly seen more extreme cases. I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents would scrape the food off everyone’s plates and give it to their dog, on top of her kibble. And believe it or not she was not a heavy dog! But that’s not what I do at all.

I make it a point to only give my dog scraps that are good for her, like various fruits, or people-food to cure tummy aches or other maladies (chicken and rice for upset tummy, fiber filled foods if they need to go but they just won’t, etc.). Of course whatever falls on the floor is fair game – I hate to waste food.

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I’m not sure why it took me by surprise when my parents chastised me for giving our dogs a bite of apple. I had been viewing people-food as good or bad based on the actual food I was giving my dog, but my parents saw it as a bad habit that would encourage begging, and thus considered it always negative.

I’m still going to give my dog bites of apple and banana when I eat some, but I will make an effort to not do it after she pesters me. I tell Lana begging isn’t lady-like (as though Lana is a lady), and hopefully I can catch myself before I reward her begging. (Trainer/author’s note: begging is generally a habit the owner unwittingly encourages. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad owner, but if you want it to stop, it’s on you, not your dog. You’ve gotta learn to say “no”!)

To me, giving people-food is different than giving table scraps. Or is that only in my head? Do you ever pamper your dog with one of these?

Vet Bills, Squirrels, and Gratitude

Wow Kayla, way to take a vacation from the blog. Scratch that, from all responsibilities. Even though avoiding responsibilities just makes me stress.

Anyway, I’m going to compromise. I’m going to update you all on Lana’s widdles and say thank you to someone who did something super awesome, and I’ll talk about a couple of award nominations later. Sound like a good plan?

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First of all, Lana’s still wearing her panties. And I’m resisting jokes like “don’t get your panties in a wad”, but really I’m not sure why. It’s not like she’d get it and make fun of my corniness. Alas, I try to maintain some level of maturity.

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I took Lana (and a sample of her pee, which was not fun to catch) to my parents’ veterinarian, Doctor Qureishi. He was very nice and thorough, though perhaps I should have mentioned I was a poor college student. I feel like generic meds would have been nice, but I probably should have actually asked if there were any. Oops.

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He explained Lana does have a mild UTI. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure that’s the cause of the leaking. It is possible she has weak muscles that allow the bladder to escape, and that constant dribbling caused the UTI rather than vice versa. That sounds like the worst case scenario. That would mean meds for the rest of her life. So, we’re keeping an eye on the leakage to see if it stops with the daily antibiotics.

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In the meantime, Lana and I are working on losing some weight. She weighed in at 54 pounds at the vet’s office! That’s essentially a healthy weight, but because of her long back and tall, skinny legs she will be extra susceptible to back and hip problems later in life, so weighing a little less is definitely better.

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Unfortunately with the recent tropical storm it’s been hard to get out and walk. Far too much wet for that. So Miss Lana’s been stuck inside watching “her buddy” the squirrel. And talking to him. Seriously. It’s like owning a Husky. She makes me laugh until I cry.

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And believe it or not the little guy talks back. I’m betting they’ll be buddies by the end of summer. Image

There’s one more thing I wanted to do in this update: thank a new(ish?) reader!

For every person who follows my blog, I get an e-mail (or if you follow on Facebook, I get a notification). And every single time I think Oh my gosh, someone cares! As an aspiring writer/rescuer, this is a bigger compliment than most of you may know. So to everyone who follows us, whether they’ve been there from day 1 or they are new, I thank you with all my heart. It means so much.

And when I got an e-mail that Human Rescues Dog chose one of my posts in her list of “Friday 5: Posts That Make Me Happy”, it made me seriously happy! I follow her on Facebook (I’ll link to her page on the DBBL Facebook page for you) and I can tell you she has lots of stuff! A weekly list that features other bloggers called “Friday 5”, posts about training, health, etc. and of course some very cute dogs of her own. I mean it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like she has a Lab and a Golden. Love!

So thank you! And in my next post, I’ll talk about some award nominations, and I’ll definitely have some more wonderful people to thank then.  =)

In Sickness and in Health

I’ve been all but quarantined in my apartment since Thursday, which has been absolutely miserable. By now, we’ve pretty much figured out I have the flu. It’s truly not fun. Everything aches, I have an incredibly sore throat (and neck and head and chest…), I’ve been dizzy, and I spent all day yesterday sleeping. Today hasn’t been much more eventful. However, I have had plenty of time to reflect on the times Lana has been sick. (Thanks, mostly, to her getting a tummy ache at the same time I was sick. I’ve stepped in vomit twice this week.)

When I first adopted her, Lana came to me with a moderate case of mange. How the rescue hadn’t noticed is beyond my comprehension, but that’s another matter. I took her to the vet who treated her at cost (what a great guy!) and she was stuck at home for at least a month before being allowed to join me at doggie daycare.

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She would scoot around on her belly to scratch the itches. In this picture, she is biting one itchy leg, and you can see the hair loss on her ear.

The vet warned me to keep a bit of distance from her, as she had Sarcoptic mange. When spread to humans (which can easily happen), it is known as Scabies. It’s basically mites, which are gross, but treatable. I refused to stay away from her, knowing that I needed to socialize her as well as I could while she was so young. Luckily, she didn’t pass the Scabies on to me. I was still a little nervous about her missing out on her ‘window of socialization’ with other dogs, and I was relieved when she was no longer contagious and got to act like a normal puppy again.

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You can see the mange on her legs and her ear. She had to wear that silly pink shirt because she would scratch until she bled.

Unfortunately, in no time, she caught something else that prevented her from going to daycare. Canine Viral Papillomas (CVP). For those of you who have never heard of CVP, I’ll go ahead and tell you what it is, without the sugar coating. It is mouth warts. Disgusting, contagious (to other dogs) warts. They can actually be found around the nose, mouth, eyes, and I believe the ears, too. Dogs can easily pick up the virus from daycares, kennels, dog parks, etc. They are generally not dangerous, unless they block an airway, and will hardly ever infect dogs who aren’t seniors or puppies. But that doesn’t mean they’re fun to look at.

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While most of the warts were inside her mouth, the most aggressive one was on her nose, ruining all the pictures I took of her.

After significant amounts of research, I found several websites that said if you want to get rid of CVP faster, you can, well, remove one of the warts. (Here comes the nausea…) Even better if your dog eats it. This allows the dog’s immune system to create and distribute antibodies faster.

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Ewwww, there it is again. Somehow more gross than the Scabies!

She had the warts for several weeks and I was once again concerned about her missing that all-too-important window of socialization, so I decided to give this home remedy a shot. Whether the ‘treatment’ worked or it was merely a coincidence, her warts disappeared within the week. When my boss’s newly adopted puppy contracted the warts, I told her about my experience with Lana. She tried it and his warts were cured much faster than Lana’s. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but I’d say given my ‘tests’ it’s worth a shot!

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All better!

If you adopt a dog, ideally, it is healthy, but sometimes rescues get chaotic and mess up. The rescue that saved Lana paid for the vet bill to fix her mange, eventually making it right. Likewise, taking your dog to daycare and letting him/her play in the dog park does expose them to illnesses. But as long as your dog’s shots are up to date, it is well worth the risk to socialize your dog. While many experts argue, I learned that dogs are pack animals, and a ‘pack’ of you and your dog is not enough. Personally, I think daycare is a great way for your dog to get socialization and let off energy while you are at work or running errands. It exposes them to different types of dogs and people, and leaves no opportunities for them to grow bored and destructive in their own homes.

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Having a well socialized dog is worth every wart she had.

Dogs get sick, just like kids. It is so important to keep your dogs up to date on their shots, but you can’t protect them from everything. Again, just like kids, I think it is important for dogs to get dirty. A good play session might include some cuts. As long as there was no aggression and there’s no resulting infection, there’s nothing to worry about.  Don’t shelter your pets. Let them be dogs. It’s only natural.

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I can’t thank Doggie Dayz Daycare and Training enough for socializing my girl!