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Feeding, Diet & Treats
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Among "dog people" dog diets are a major area of contention. In recent years many foods have appeared that use only human grade ingredients, books have been written about preparing your own dog's meals and there is a whole school of thought on feeding only raw foods including raw meaty bones. Studies of wolves are often quoted and while I have no doubt that the digestive system of domestic dogs has not changed much since they were wolves I am not about to toss a rabbit into my yard and let the dogs have at it.

I feed my dogs and puppies in a way that makes sense to me after having done extensive research on dog nutrition and having raised a lot of healthy pups and dogs. The main issues I want to address are these: 

1) Overall health.

We want to provide foods that will supply good nutrition for the dog's whole life and we want that life to be as long as possible.  I want my food choices to be based on sound nutritional information, not on the cute or touching or heartbreaking commercials developed in advertising think tanks by huge corporations. It is my belief that there is no truly healthy dog food you can buy at the grocery store.

2) Obesity.

The owners of lap dogs are notorious for "spoiling" dogs. My own paque are as spoiled as they come but spoiling that causes obesity is not spoiling it is ruining. The common comment from loving lap dog owners is "I just can't resist" or "He's come to expects it". These things are said with all good intentions. It isn't often that poodles will get fat from their food and if they do it can be managed. Most obese poodles are obese from treats and human leftovers.

Imagine going to your vet today and having the vet tell you that your dog has a terminal illness. How awful would you feel? I am sure you would go to any length to cure the dog if it were possible. Obesity is a terminal illness. If you look at it that way would you resist giving that extra cookie that "he expects" or that you "can't resist"? Of course you would. Obesity will make any health situation more serious and may well shorten your dog's life. The good news is that there are plenty of healthy treats you can give your dog in tiny portions (which the dog will be perfectly happy with).

3) Teeth and Gums

This is my greatest specific concern. Dental problems are even more common than obesity. Over 80% of all dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease. Smaller dogs are at even greater risk because their teeth are more crowded into their jaws than the teeth of larger dogs. 

I have asked three different vets what health issue they see most often in poodles. I was very surprised to hear from all three that it was dental problems. Diet can address these problems. None of the chewys, rawhides, dental toys or the other 99 things advertised to do so actually will. If you do not address dental health via diet - i.e. raw meaty bones - you will have to have your pet's teeth cleaned annually by your vet. This requires putting the dog under anesthesia, not something you want to do unless it is really necessary. (Not to mention what it costs.) 

Periodontal disease is not just about gums. It can effect or be a factor in diseases of the heart, lungs and kidneys.

I fed Eukanuba to my dogs for many years. Years ago it was considered the best, or among the best, of dog foods. I raised a lot of healthy dogs on it. Over the last couple of years I have looked at the ingredients in many different dog foods and read a great deal about dog nutrition. I have studied the ingredients of many foods and have read books on homemade meals, and raw diets. There seems to be endless information out there.

I have switched the major portion of my dogs' diet to Eagle Pack's Holistic Select Chicken Meal & Rice Formula. Since this is not available in all areas I mix the puppy's Eagle Pack food with Eukanuba which is available. I also feed the dogs and pups raw beef ribs and treats.

The puppies first food is, of course, supplied by mom.
At about 3 weeks the puppies will begin tasting food on their own. They are provided a canned puppy food (usually Chicken Soup for the Puppy Lover's Soul) that has been thinned enough for them to eat. They get very messy when they first start eating.
At about 6 weeks they move to the next stage. They are eating some dry kibble while still eating mostly canned.
This is about the same time they get to taste raw beef ribs.  They will start showing interest in the ribs around 4 or 5 weeks by checking out mom's. Beef ribs are the very best way I know of for making a huge difference in dental health. Since they have just gotten their puppy teeth we don't really have to worry about the health of their teeth but I get them used to eating them now to make sure they will be accustomed to them when they reach your house. (Sometimes new foods cause diarrhea and that's the last thing you need with a new pup.)

Feeding your dog (or pup) raw beef ribs may sound eccentric, extreme or even dangerous. That's how it sounded to me when I first heard about it so I did what I always do: I researched and tested. I was amazed at the results. It did not occur to me to take pictures until they had eaten 4 beef ribs (over about a 2 week period). After that I did take pictures and you can see the results yourself.

Note: Never give your dog cooked bones. They get brittle and splinter. Raw bones are much more safe.

Feeding Your Pup

I suggest you use the Eagle Pack if you can find it, if not start the pup out at your house on the Eukanuba. If you find a human grade food to switch to you should do so gradually. Any time a pup or dog changes food they can have digestive upsets. For the smaller of our dogs a day of diarrhea can be dangerous because the tiny ones need to eat often and a sick pup usually won't eat. 

Poodles are browsers and grazers by nature and we find that when they are fed free-choice (as opposed to at scheduled meal times) they do better for numerous reasons. Keep a bowl of food available for your pup at all times.

The smaller a puppy is, the higher the risk of hypoglycemia is. We have had one experience with hypoglycemia and it was worse than what I would have expected from the reading I've done and the people I've talked to. If your small pup or dog shows any sign of lethargy get to the vet and ask that a blood sugar level be taken. (Not all vets will think of this.) A hypoglycemic attack if not treated immediately can be fatal.

Allowing the pup access to food at all times lowers the risk of hypoglycemia so please keep this in mind if you are directed to remove access to the food in the evening (which is often recommended in conjunction with housebreaking).

Puppies must have access to fresh water at all times. It is also recommended by many that water be removed in the evening so that the puppy will not need to pee during the night. Dehydration is one of the greatest dangers to puppies and I hate the idea of a pup being thirsty even if it's not going to kill him. I do not restrict water. Since my pups are in a playpen or large crate I leave water for them at all times. 

If you are gone for many hours during the day I suggest you get a drip bottle (like a hamster bottle only bigger) and attach that to the crate, playpen or other place where it will be available to the pup. Puppies love to play in their water, they spill it and end up with no water. They can't do this with a drip bottle.

I feed half a beef rib about twice a week. I always give the rib in the crate (and as a result my dogs who used to hate crates now love being in them, bone or not). While your pup still has his puppy teeth you can give just one a week. He really doesn't need it yet but you want him to be used to eating it. This is not only to prevent digestive upset when he gets them later but also because there are some rare dogs who won't eat ribs if they are introduced later.


Treats should not interfere with the amount of food your dog eats. Her nutritional needs are served by her dog food and she should eat enough of it to meet those needs which she won't do if she is snacking all the time. Since most of us want to give treats and we need to when we are training remember to size the treat to the dog. I always try to keep treats to approximately 1/4 inch. That's a tiny treat but it's all you need. Honest. Try it.

When you are involved in clicker training you can go through an awful lot of treats. Some trainers recommend that you use part of the dog's regular kibble for treats. This will work with a hungry dog but since our dogs are fed free-choice they are never THAT hungry. However, they are almost always willing to eat a treat.

Our most basic treat is a Cheerio. It's amazing how much training I can do with only Cheerios as motivation. An eighth of a cup (that's a coffee measure full) holds about 35 Cheerios and is only 12 calories so it works quite well as a treat.

Here's another good training treat:  Cheese coated kibble.

Take one cup of the Eukanuba puppy food and put it in a zip lock bag. Toss in 2 T of water and squish it around to wet the kibble then add 2 T of grated cheese (I use Kraft grated parmesan - like you'd use for spaghetti). Mix well. Dump into a glass pie plate or dinner plate and flatten. Nuke for 30 seconds to a minute depending on your microwave. Let it sit until it has cooled enough to handle then rub the "kibble brittle" between your hands to break it back up into single pieces. Use these pieces for training treats. You can mix in a few pieces of chicken, cheese or carrots so that the puppy never knows what treat to expect next. This works perfectly for training without adding a whole lot of calories or fluff food to your puppy's diet.

Natural Balance makes a dog food that comes in a roll (like bulk sausage). The dogs love this. It can be cut into tiny cubes and used as treats. (I always make treats about 1/4 of an inch.) It will stay good in the fridge, can be frozen and doesn't make a mess in your pocket or bait bag.

Table Scraps & People Food

Where does People food end and dog food begin? If you are cooking a homemade diet for your dog it's made entirely out of people food. Ditto if your dog food contains all human grade ingredients.

Dogs do well on whole foods. They do not need spaghetti or macaroni and cheese nor is it good for them but chicken, cheese, liver or other meats and small amounts of vegetables and fruits are fine. Use them as training treats and you'll have a dog who learns a lot. My dogs all love steamed carrots. If you are going to share some people food with the dogs try to give it to them unseasoned. Chicken is a good thing. Chicken Cacciatore is not (besides, who would want to share that?).

How you give treats to your dog depends on how you want them to act. If you feed them from the table while you are eating your are creating a beggar. You might think it's cute but your dinner guests will not. There are two occasions when I give my dogs food that I'm eating. One is with Java who eats scrambled eggs with me (and he eats quite nicely from a fork). He's too skinny which is why I share my eggs. He never bothers me for food unless he sees me sitting at the bar in the kitchen and smells eggs. The other exception is pizza. When Ken and I are eating pizza we always share the crust with the dogs. (I don't know how that started and I don't exactly recommend it but it's what we do.) Ken also sneaks other foods - like Cheez-its - to the dogs but I pretend I don't know it. That way we don't have to fight over it and if he has to hide at least he can't do it too often.

Sub-people food. It's important to realize that a lot - probably most - of the items sold as dog treats are worse for your dog than people foods are. There are all kinds of unhealthy ingredients in them and remember, they don't have to meet human food standards. Keep some bits of healthy people food on hand if you want to give your dog treats.

Except for the items mentioned above (and Bully Stix which are mentioned in the crate-training section) I would not recommend - nor do I use - any other treats made for dogs.

Never feed dogs anything with sugar. Sugar is bad for dogs (and for people) and they don't crave it as we sometimes do so why ruin their teeth and make them fat?

How Much to Feed: The amount listed on the food bag is often on the high side. What I have found over the years is that if a pup is eating, he is probably eating enough. If a pup stops eating, take him to the vet. It is a good idea to measure the amount of kibble you put in his bowl and measure what is left at night. This will give you a good idea of how much he eats so that if someday he seems not to be eating you will have some measure to go by. Always put slightly more in the bowl than the amount he eats unless he is gaining too much weight in which case you'll have to switch to scheduled meal times and amounts.

Additional Info:

If you are interested in finding out more about homemade food for your dog I recommend the book "Natural Health for Dogs & Cats". For more on Raw Food (& dental health) read "Raw Meaty Bones" by Tom Lonsdale (both available at dogwise.com)


Revised: 01/28/07.
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