Foreword by Jane Lynch
Introduction: Why Being Obsessed with Your Dog Is Completely Okay
THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE DOG OBSESSED
The Common Traits of Those Who Are Flat Out Nutty about Pups
PICKING A PUP
Understanding Your New Dog’s One-of-a-Kind Personality
IT’S A DOG’S WORLD
The Happy Home Life of the Dog Obsessed
FOOD, GLORIOUS DOG FOOD
Understanding Your Pet’s Nutritional Needs
Grappling with Picky Eating, Fat Dogs, and Food Sensitivities
From the Ears to the Undercarriage (and Everything In Between)
THE DOCTOR IS IN
Finding and Keeping the Best Veterinarian for Your Dog
THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF DOGS
Anxiety, Jealousy, and Other Issues
HOLIDAYS, PLANE TRIPS, AND MORE
The Jet-Setting Life of the Dog Obsessed
RUN, PLAY, AND FETCH
Easy, Essential Exercises for a Happy, Healthy Pup
FUN, GAMES, PICNICS, AND PARTIES
Perfect Birthdays, Excursions, and Make-at-Home Toys
MEALS FOR YOU AND YOUR DOG—WITH WINE!
About the Author
Like most of you reading this, I’m absolutely obsessed with dogs. I love cats, too, but it’s really dogs that send me over the edge. (Please, whatever you do, don’t mention this to my cat. He has claws, and he knows how to use them.)
My Dog Obsession has come out in a few ways over the years. For example, like any good pet owner, I always make sure my pups, Olivia and Benjamin, have a sitter when I go out of town for work. My 16-year-old Lhasa Apso, Olivia, only has one eye, and I have to give her eyedrops daily. I’ve found the best way to make sure a pet sitter knows how to do it is through a full, step-by-step, photographed demonstration.
Because of Olivia’s age, I’ve also recently discovered that a body carrier is the best way to transport her from one place to another. It makes things much easier from a logistics standpoint, and I do like to have her close. She’s adapted quite well to being in it, and luckily, my 10-year-old Belgian Shepherd, Benjamin, doesn’t seem to mind having to walk. Maybe someday they’ll make a carrier big enough for him?
But my Dog Obsession can best be summed up with a story concerning my early days with Olivia. I was living alone in Laurel Canyon in my very first house—the home I had fallen in love with at first sight and had started decorating almost obsessively—and I’d just adopted her. I was crazy about this little girl, whom I’d named after Olivia Newton-John. She loved it when I rubbed and cuddled her (so much so, in fact, that she’d growl if I stopped), and we’d bonded immediately. Like anyone who loves dogs, I naturally let her find her favorite place on the couch, where she’d curl up next to me anytime I sat down and made myself comfortable.
And there she lay, day after day, peeing between the cushions. I tried everything to cure her of it, and over 3 years, I bought three different couches and probably every cleaning product ever created. But did I think for a moment of making Olivia sit on a pet bed on the floor? Never. That’s right. Three years and three couches—that’s how committed I am to this dog. Finally, I bought her a doggie diaper because I couldn’t bear for her to be uncomfortable anymore.
I first met Lucy Postins through my vet and friend, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, and I have been a fan of The Honest Kitchen for years. (Don’t let Lucy’s occasionally clipped British tone put you off; she’s just got your dog’s best interests at heart, and she’s honestly not quite that bossy in real life.) Olivia is crazy for turkey and won’t leave me alone until I feed her Honest Kitchen’s Embark, her absolute favorite food in the whole wide world. Benjamin goes wild over Zeal, The Honest Kitchen’s grain-free fish recipe. Lucy’s company’s commitment to the health and well-being of dogs comes through in the care and attention to detail it puts into every product it makes, and that commitment is reflected in how thrilled my dogs are when they get their breakfast and dinner.
Dog Obsessed speaks to people like me, who’ll do absolutely anything for their dogs—even let them pee on the couch for 3 years. Lucy helps people feel comfortable being flat-out bonkers about their pets, then shows those people how to celebrate their obsession. With recipes, tips for better physical and emotional health, and terrific creative ideas for parties, traveling, and more, this is the book for any person who wants to keep their dog in tip-top shape. I’ve always thought that you should never be ashamed of being called a crazy dog person, and Lucy confirms that here. Being head over heels in love with your dog is really about wanting the best for them—all day, every day—and this book shows you how to give them that and more.
Why Being Obsessed with Your Dog Is Completely Okay
Most people really love their dogs. But for some of us, the affection we feel toward our pups and the ways we show our love for them are regarded by the mainstream as a borderline unhealthy obsession. While “they” may not have even noted the date of their dog’s birthday, we plan a party for ours. He may even get two birthdays per year: one to commemorate the day he was born and another for the anniversary of the day we brought him home.
When we take our dogs out to potty in the pouring rain, we shield them with a golf umbrella so they don’t get soaked. We outfit them in cozy sweaters and jackets during the chilly winter months, and we monitor their moves with cameras if we’ve left them home alone. We take them on our road trips, think about their needs when we pick new homes and cars, and frequently snub our human friends and family to spend more time in our dog’s company.
Honest Kitchen sales rep Ashley is a perfect example of someone with true Dog Obsession. When her Golden/Great Pyrenees boy, Nuke, was diagnosed with a terminal condition, Ashley decided that she wanted to show him around the country and experience a true vacation . . . just a girl and her dog. They took off together on a 3,000-mile road trip, exploring countless beaches, camping under the stars, and sharing a tiny cabin under the redwoods in Big Sur. While most of Ashley’s friends and family were baffled that she chose to spend her precious vacation on a road trip with Nuke, she felt so fortunate to share that time with him. He is, by far, her favorite travel buddy!
We Dog Obsessed tolerate our dogs’ mischievous escapades because, to us, they make them even more adorable, and the idea of somehow hampering their natural character simply doesn’t appeal. We typically put their needs before our own, and we often prioritize their happiness over that of our human families. Witness Kim, who works in marketing at The Honest Kitchen. At her wedding she asked her husband, Dylan, to step out of a photo so she could take one alone with her dog, Gus. (You know, in case the whole marriage thing didn’t work out.) My own mother, who’s in her seventies, will gladly tell you of the times she’s had to squish up with her knitting at one end of our sofa because one of my Rhodesian Ridgebacks is sprawled out on the rest of it. Or she’ll regale you with the times she’s been practically bounced out of bed in the early hours by my dogs’ enthusiastic leap-and-lick morning greetings because I don’t like to banish them from the guest room, fearing they’ll take offense.
Many of us set varying degrees of rules and enforce them with varying degrees of commitment, but the common thread is that we’re all crazy about our pups. And with good reason. There’s just something inherently satisfying about doing things that make our dogs happier, more comfortable, and more included in our lives. We can’t stand the idea of leaving them behind when we set off on family vacations. We find ourselves on the verge of a panic attack if we’ve stayed a bit too long at a party and left them home alone for longer than intended. We take them with us to run errands, include them in our Thanksgiving feasts (even if it’s slightly imposing on our hosts), and make all sorts of personal sacrifices on their behalf.
Many of the things we do in our quest to provide our pups with the happy, healthy lives they deserve are regarded with polite curiosity by others. But to us, that’s just a part of Dog Obsession. Take Sara, our marketing coordinator at The Honest Kitchen. Her dog, Kona, could be found perched on top of her dining room table any time she and her husband, Cale, left the house. Why? Because she wanted to look out the window by the front door and see them as soon as they returned home. At first Sara and Cale tried to make Kona stop, but every time they came back, there she’d be. They ended up putting a dog bed on the table because if Kona insisted on that one spot, at least they could make her comfortable. Needless to say, they could always count on visitors questioning why there was a dog bed right where they ate their dinner every night.
I grew up in rural England with a dog, a cat, a sister, four ducks, and two hardworking parents. My family was ahead of the times in many ways. While most people think of British meals as boring and tasteless—an endless cycle of fish and chips, Sunday roast, and mushy peas—my parents had planted an organic garden. My sister and I loved to walk outside to pick fresh vegetables and herbs and then help prepare delicious, colorful, healthy whole food meals.
I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but the older I got, the more I began to connect our good health to what was growing outside our kitchen window. I developed an interest in the medicinal and health-promoting properties of culinary herbs, vegetables, and fruits, studying up on them while helping to cook. When it was time to go to college, I enrolled in the Warwickshire College of Agriculture. After 4 years, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in equine and business studies, which I often refer to as “4 years of pony club camp” or “drinking beer while wearing wellies and reading loads of books on horses.” All joking aside, agricultural college was truly a wonderful springboard to my life’s calling.
Once I had my degree, I moved to Southern California with my now husband, Charlie, where I took a position as the equine and canine nutritionist for a local holistic pet food manufacturer. There I learned that most conventional pet food is made in “rendering plants”—factories that harvest the remnants of animal parts (chicken beaks, feet, feathers, innards, and bones) that are unsuitable for consumption by humans. These bits and pieces of dead animals are combined with additives like Yellow No. 5 dye and artificial flavorings to create pet foods bearing the words “Made with real chicken!” but containing no real whole food nutrition at all. To me, what the conventional pet food industry was churning out at a cost of pennies per pound wasn’t healthy or honest. Instead, it felt like the equivalent of TV dinners for cats and dogs.
At the time, I had a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Mosi, for whom I’d bend over backward. He had a big, plush dog bed in our room, and I’d get up multiple times each night during the winter months to re-cover him with his blanket to make sure he didn’t get cold. Around dawn, I’d hold up the duvet of our own bed so he could hop up and crawl under for a morning snuggle. He came to work with me every day (I bought a new, bigger car to make his commute more comfortable); joined us on frequent camping trips; and on outings and chilly days, proudly wore his very own bespoke fleece leopard-print jacket, custom made by his breeder, Jill.
Though Mosi was always in good spirits and great health—and despite all the pampering in the world—he suffered from ongoing ear infections. At times he’d scratch his ears and shake his head to the point of distraction, and I could tell that he was in obvious discomfort. Prescription medications for antibiotics, ear flushes, and steroids would only suppress his symptoms temporarily and never really seemed to bring about a true cure. Plus, the size of the vet bills began to rival our monthly mortgage.
I decided to get to the root of the problem.
I began thinking about the food I gave him every day. Conventional pet food was so heavily processed under such extreme heat and pressure that, to me, his dinner of uniform, slightly mysterious brown pellets felt like fast food rather than real nutrition. I wondered, How can Mosi’s body have a fighting chance to relieve his symptoms without the sort of fresh, colorful, proper food my human family enjoys? And that’s when I decided to make his dinner myself, right there in my own kitchen.
Under Mosi’s watchful eye, I mixed up a few homemade concoctions of different raw ingredients. He eagerly taste-tested them to make sure they were delicious, and voilà—within a few weeks his itchy ears were gone.
The only real drawback was the mess that I’d made in my kitchen during the process. Nobody likes seeing spinach up their walls, and even the most Dog Obsessed might feel a bit uncomfortable by the presence of packages of bloody meat leaking in the fridge. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that dehydration was the perfect solution—a way to create a colorful real food diet, without all the mess of raw food. I re-created my recipe with dehydrated ingredients, and Mosi’s health continued to flourish.
Once I saw how eating real, nutrient-rich whole food helped him, I knew that other dog lovers would want to do the same for their four-legged best friends. That’s when The Honest Kitchen’s delicious meals were born. In 2002, Charlie lent me $7,000 to purchase my first batch of human-grade ingredients. Then I talked a human food facility into producing my recipe. Tears flowed when the first test blend turned into a bag of pulverized powder, but they soon perfected the production technique. A friend helped me design the labels, another built the Web site, and after a bit of paperwork to get a legal structure and a bank account, I had a little company on my hands.
I named it The Honest Kitchen: “Honest” as a reference to some of the shady things that happen in the conventional pet food industry, and “Kitchen” to emphasize that my product was really and truly human food grade.
I had a long chat with the owner of my neighborhood pet food store and somehow convinced her that I wasn’t some crazy dog-food-tasting British lady. She agreed to give my meals a shot, and to my delight, the store almost immediately sold out of the first order I sent over. It turns out I wasn’t the only Dog Obsessed person in my neighborhood, or in North America.
Today, The Honest Kitchen remains a family-owned company run by foodies with a true passion for pets. Every year, we produce well over 7 million pounds of dog and cat food, supplements, and treats, all of it all-natural, non-GMO, and made from only healthy, tasty, colorful, whole food ingredients. Our FDA verification confirms that we’re the first and only nationally distributed pet food company to be 100 percent human-grade, too. As anyone who’s lucky enough to visit our office will tell you, we can often be found working at the kitchen table, taste-testing our ingredients as we dream up new recipes. Our eager office dogs can be found hovering around our test kitchen on a daily basis, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to give a bit of feedback on our latest new creation. And if one’s not forthcoming, a couple of them have been known to help themselves to an unwitting staff member’s sandwich instead.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND IN THIS BOOK
At The Honest Kitchen, we’re experts on nutrition, but Dog Obsessed is about so much more than just food. Yes, what we put in our dogs’ bellies affects every part of them—from their wet noses to their adorable tails to how they sleep at night—but in this book, I’ll talk about all the aspects of life with your dog. I’ll take you from the first moment you dreamed of picking up a puppy from a breeder or going to a shelter and bringing an older dog home—showing you the many wonderful and hilarious dog personalities you might meet along the way—through every significant milestone in your pup’s life. And when I say significant, I mean the big things, like his first day at the dog park, and what the non–Dog Obsessed think is trivial, like planning a dog picnic or pulling off a perfectly executed birthday party that your pup’s friends will remember forever.
I’ll show you how to pick the right vet, traditional and holistic methods to manage your dog’s health, and ways to deal with emotional issues like neediness, paranoia, or overexuberance. You’ll learn how to ensure that he’s getting the right kind of food and enough exercise, methods to guarantee that all the four- and two-legged members of your family are getting along, and tips on teaching your pup to swim. I’ll show you how to create a world of fun and play for yourself and your dog with affordable, easy-to-make toys and games, and I’ll provide shopping lists for must-have herbs and supplements, as well as loads of tasty, easy-to-make recipes that’ll ensure your dog’s getting optimal nutrition. I’ll give you tips on the best ways to socialize your dog (without letting your own social life slip too much) and a 2-week program that will help get him into tip-top physical shape. I’ll fall just short of showing you how to knit a sweater out of your dog’s own fur, but if you wanted to do that, I’d never dream of holding it against you.
In the 14 years since I mixed up my first batch of dog food, I’ve made a point of really, really listening to my Dog-Obsessed customers. What they say, the things they demand, and the way they think really resonate with me and my whole team because we’re exactly the same. We never make anything for your dog that wouldn’t be good enough for our own pups to eat.
Some of our most passionate customers’ anecdotes, trials, and tribulations are featured in this book, and I hope they make you smile, laugh, and rush to give your own dog a big wet kiss. At The Honest Kitchen, we also have a staff of ambassador veterinarians on call, and they’ve kindly overseen all the health and nutrition advice in this book, so rest assured that the information you’ll find on these pages is 100 percent veterinarian approved.
This book is for you if you consider your dog to be one of the most important parts of your life. If you’re Dog Obsessed, finding the right food, toys, and treatments for him can be a full-time job, so this book is written to take a bit of the stress out of giving your pup the good life he deserves. For you, it’s not just about making sure your pet is healthy; you want to make sure he’s treated like royalty and isn’t unduly asked to leave the couch if one’s boyfriend is, in fact, absolutely fine and comfy on the floor.
Many of the recipes for treats and meals in this book don’t contain Honest Kitchen products, so you can use what you have in your pantry and fridge to mix up a delicious, nutritious meal for your dog. Plus, at the end I’ve included some fantastic meals both humans and dogs can enjoy, with professionally contributed wine pairing suggestions in case it’s a special occasion—or just one of those days when you need to take the edge off. The recipes that contain Honest Kitchen products do so because I’ve carefully chosen the best components to make the most nutritious and palatable food and treats possible for your pup. The texture of Honest Kitchen foods also lends a really good consistency to the finished dish. Substituting “human food” ingredients will alter the nutrition, taste, and texture of the recipe, but by all means, if you’d like to spend some time playing in your kitchen and creating your own variations with ingredients from your pantry, be my guest.
I wrote this book out of the love—and, okay, the out-and-out obsession—I feel for my own dogs, and every word is based on our years of research at The Honest Kitchen, the feedback we’ve received from customers, and our own personal experiences. You don’t have to be rich or have loads of free time to get something out of this book. You just have to really, really love your pup.
“I spin her fur, blended with wool, and knit my barn mittens with it!”
—Kris Paige, a Dog-Obsessed Honest Kitchen customer
QUIZ: ARE YOU DOG OBSESSED?
If you fancy taking this quiz, it might help you discover if you’re a part of this honorable and elite group. Just count the number of times you answer “yes” to the following statements.
1.Your favorite T-shirt reads “World’s Greatest Dog Daddy.”
2.You and your dog have matching T-shirts (or sweaters).
3.You consider it a compliment to be called “a crazy dog lady” (just like our Honest Kitchen customer Susan Carlson!).
4.Your dog has his own Facebook page, Twitter handle, or Instagram feed.
5.You’ve written your dog into your will.
6.Your dog has more than one middle name.
7.Your dog has a multitude of nicknames. Possibly too many to count.
8.When you go on vacation, your dog has his own suitcase (just like the dog of our Honest Kitchen customer Lucy Meyermann!).
9.You’ve thought about getting (or already have) a tattoo of your dog’s name.
10.You throw a party on your dog’s birthday or, at the very least, make him a special birthday meal or a cake to enjoy with his dog park friends.
11.You celebrate the day you brought him home, in addition to his birthday.
12.He’s allowed on the furniture, with practically no bed or chair off-limits (much to your visiting mother’s annoyance).
13.You’ve canceled plans (or made up an excuse to tell friends or family) because you’d actually rather spend your Saturday with your pup.
14.Your dog has a collection of several different collars and leashes, and possibly some other accessories, too.
If you answered yes to more than five of these questions, you’re probably well in the Dog-Obsessed category. Congratulations!
I often ask myself, “What is it that makes us Dog Obsessed?” Is it the fact that we’ve written off a prospective suitor because of our dog’s lackluster reaction to him? Or because before we bought our last car, we measured the front passenger seat to make sure that our dog’s bed would fit on it? Perhaps it’s the fact that we might have made our husband’s best friend sit on a beanbag chair on the floor because our pup was snoozing on the couch, and it just seemed too mean to wake him. . . .
Yes, all of this reflects extreme devotion, and to some it might seem crazy, but we know better. But Dog Obsession speaks to something much deeper.
Consider this example: On a Christmas morning many years ago, my husband, Charlie, woke up to a strange rustling sound. No, it wasn’t Santa tumbling down the chimney; it was me in the kitchen, preparing scrambled eggs. Charlie sat up eagerly and thought to himself, Terrific! Christmas breakfast in bed. What a wonderful surprise! Then he made himself comfortable and began to anticipate my return with his breakfast feast on a tray.
Instead, I came in empty-handed. There was Charlie, sitting in his pajamas with a puzzled look on his face that quickly turned into a look of dismay.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“Were those scrambled eggs I heard you making?”
“Yes,” I replied nonchalantly.
“Might they be getting cold?” he asked.
I paused. “Oh, that was Mosi’s Christmas breakfast! I didn’t think to make you any. And actually, now all the eggs are gone. Would granola do?”
I’d been so eager to make Mosi’s first Christmas morning perfect that I’d failed to even give a moment’s thought to Charlie.
That is Dog Obsession. It’s not just waking in the morning thinking about your dog; it’s loving him so much that sometimes you put his needs, wants, and happiness before all else.
But I think there might be even more to it than that.
Every winter one American sporting event dominates the airwaves. Millions of people eagerly turn on their televisions during prime-time hours to watch a heated contest that pits the best of the best against one another, each battling for the right to call himself the winner. The competitors train for months, and what they go through tests their emotional and physical limits. Advertising dollars pour in, and attendees flock to a stadium to witness the event live, paying thousands of dollars for seats.
The Super Bowl, you say?
Well, I suppose you could be right, though we Dog Obsessed usually tune in to the Puppy Bowl. And if we do get dragged to a Super Bowl party, we’ll likely have our pooch in tow or will end up leaving early because we can’t bear the thought of him watching it at home alone.
But I digress. I was actually describing something far more exciting: Westminster. Started in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the world’s most popular dog breed competition and the second-longest running sporting event in the nation, just behind the Kentucky Derby. While it’s garnered some criticism from organizations like PETA for promoting pure breeds and breeding over rescue and adoption (all competitors are purebred dogs and must have papers in order to have a go at the dog show circuit), no one can argue that the dogs themselves aren’t beautiful. Gorgeously groomed, with happy dispositions and pearly white smiles from ear to ear, they’re pristine examples of dogs well-loved and well-raised. The swagger with which they enter the ring and the bounce in their step let you know they’ve got it pretty cushy, even after the show is over.
I often watch the dog show, and one thing has always struck me: While the ancestors of these dogs were bred many years ago with a very specific purpose, chances are that today’s dogs aren’t fulfilling it. Yes, while the Old English Sheepdog whose name is something like Percival Butterscotch Little Lord Fauntleroy probably could herd a flock of sheep if he wanted to, on a typical Friday evening he’s more likely to be found sitting in his dog bed with a slobbery chew toy, having just enjoyed a shampoo and trim, facial, and blowout.
His owner didn’t buy him to tend sheep any more than you bought your dog to find truffles in the backyard or shoo rats off a ship. He shelled out thousands of dollars for his dog and continues to do so because he’s obsessed with dogs, and he knows that feeding him well, grooming him to perfection, and providing him with the ultimate pampered life will bring his dog boundless joy. More than that, the show dog owner simply loves the happiness dogs bring to his world. He understands that treating his pet well helps that dog find his true purpose, which is to shine, and then let everyone around him bask in that glow.
If you’re reading this, chances are you probably feel the same.
In my years working in the pet food industry, I’ve found that people who are flat-out nutty about their dogs share a few common principles. Everyone who works at The Honest Kitchen certainly possesses them, too. These are elevated, even aspirational notions about what it means to be a dog owner—principles you follow because doing so makes you a good dog owner and makes your dog a happy pet. Most people no longer buy dogs because they’ll work for them in some professional capacity. We add dogs to our families because they say something about how we want to live our lives, and we follow these principles to create a more beautiful, harmonious world—for animals and humans alike.
The Dog Obsessed Aren’t Surprised to Hear That . . .
Seventy-nine percent of American dog owners say the quality of their pup’s food is as important as the quality of their own.
BACON BERRY PANCAKES
While scrambled eggs were always Mosi’s number one breakfast choice, these scrumptious pancakes were a close second. These have the added bonus of being gluten-free, so they’re great for more sensitive dogs. Makes 8 to 10 pup-size pancakes
1 cup Love dehydrated dog food
1½ cups warm water
2 free-range eggs, beaten
2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
½ cup millet flour
¼ cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
Safflower oil or butter for cooking
1In a large glass bowl, hydrate the Love with the warm water. Add the eggs, bacon, flour, and strawberries. Stir to combine.
2In a large skillet over medium heat, heat a small quantity of oil or butter. For each pancake, pour a ladleful of the batter into the pan and cook until just golden brown on the bottom. Turn carefully using a spatula, and cook until golden brown on the second side. Transfer to a plate to cool. The pancakes can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Pets Are Family
More than 90 percent of Americans consider a pet to be a part of their family. I’ve spoken to many customers over the years who’ve confessed to preferring the company of their dogs to that of their own husbands and a few who’ve mentioned they might serve some Honest Kitchen food to those husbands, too. (Although I’m not sure how many of them have actually followed through.) For the Dog Obsessed, pets are included in our holiday photos and greeting cards, have their own Christmas stockings, and are told “I love you” just as often as our children are. If I’m traveling for work for any length of time, I find Facetime to be a useful way to check in with my hounds. Our Pug, Johnson, was blind, so he was perfectly fine with a quick chat on speakerphone, but the Ridgebacks seem to enjoy the visuals. In some Dog-Obsessed homes, owners have installed cameras so they can watch their pets while they’re at work. Others have also installed two-way intercoms so they can speak to them during the day, in case the dogs get lonely!
Recent scientific research has shown, however, that a dog’s place in the family is even more significant than once thought. Dogs aren’t just sources of love; they also serve important roles in shaping the fundamental dynamics of the family structure. Dogs may serve as peacemakers, entering a room during an argument and diffusing the situation. A crying child may be comforted by a lick from a dog, cementing the dog’s role as the family healer. I vividly remember being in labor with our first daughter, doubled over to get through a contraction, when Mosi came into the room and rested his chin right on the small of my back, exactly where it hurt the most. And I can’t tell you how many slightly tense Honest Kitchen board meetings have been diffused by Willow putting her head up close and personal in someone’s lap or Taro helping himself to one of the investor’s bagels.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if there are cracks in a family, a dog may expose them. In the same way that a couple on the brink of divorce shouldn’t try to have a baby to bring them together, they shouldn’t expect a dog to cure family wounds. A troubled couple may differ on what’s considered appropriate behavior for the family dog, battle over how strict or lenient one needs to be, and argue about how much to spend on him. According to Dr. David Blouin, a sociologist at Indiana University South Bend, these differing opinions aren’t mere skirmishes. Rather, they reveal family ideologies that are as deeply embedded as religion or cultural heritage. Essentially, your ideas about your dog reflect your ideas about how family life, society, and the world at large function.
The Dog Obsessed understand this deep in our bones.
The Source Matters
At The Honest Kitchen, we care about where our ingredients come from. We use 100 percent natural, non-GMO, whole food ingredients that are prepared in a human-grade facility. Later in this book we’ll get a little more into what those fancy terms mean—and why they should matter to you—but the main point is that our food meets the highest standards of quality, integrity, and nutrition.
The American Pet Products Association’s 2014 report shows that pet owners’ pet food buying habits have changed dramatically in recent years, and we’re now more focused than ever on products that are gluten-free, responsibly sourced, minimally processed, and free of artificial additives. Dog-Obsessed people also seek out single-source proteins and limited-ingredient recipes made with non-GMO, certified organic ingredients that many might think of as gourmet, such as pumpkin, green beans, papayas, quinoa, parsnips, navy beans, and duck. This means we really think about how food affects our dogs, and we understand that good food is an investment that increases our chances of having a truly healthy pet who’s free of allergies, skin conditions, and illnesses.
The Dog Obsessed think about more than the sources of their dogs’ foods, though. Putting proper thought into the origin of the animal himself is absolutely essential. We know that dogs born in puppy mills are much more likely to suffer from terrible behavioral and health problems, so we would never buy a dog from a pet shop or online broker. The Dog Obsessed also understand that it’s vital to find a veterinarian who has an open mind about holistic and alternative cures, and we know that a good vet attempts to find the root cause of a dog’s condition rather than just temporarily alleviating his symptoms.
The Dog Obsessed realize that quality matters, and we seek out the best sources of food, care, and companions in order to give our dogs the finest lives possible.
You Must Listen to Your Dog
It’s been shown that dogs speak a language that’s comprised of three dimensions: pitch, duration, and frequency or repetition rate of vocalizations. The Dog Obsessed know this, so we really listen to our dogs to try to understand what they’re trying to tell us.
Let’s say your dog is in the living room, and he hears a set of footsteps coming down the path to your house. You see his ears perk up and his head lift from its resting place on the edge of your armchair. Suddenly he leaps to his feet, and . . . charge! He runs toward the door and begins barking in a deep yet frantic manner. It’s the postman, and if he doesn’t watch out, your dog might turn him into kibble—or at least that’s the impression he’s trying to convey. In contrast, a playful bark that’s urging a friend to indulge him in a game of chase (or politely requesting that you throw the ball for him just one more time) has a completely different, somehow joyful, enthusiastic tone.
If you understand a dog’s language, you’ll know that a deep bark indicates that he’s trying to appear larger than he is; short, staccato barks indicate fear. So as the wretched, much-loathed postal worker approaches the door, you can tell by listening to your dog that while he’s trying to appear aggressive, he’s in fact scared.
If he were intending to hold his ground, his barks would be of a longer duration, yet no shallower. But the fact that he continues woofing indicates that he’s interested. If he weren’t, he’d only yip occasionally.
We Dog Obsessed pay attention to our dogs and intuitively understand this language. But our listening extends beyond just being able to interpret their barks. We watch for certain patterns and are exceedingly tuned in to things like fur turning a little less shiny during the hot summer months, during the winter due to central heating, or as a result of a change in diet. We’ll notice emotional cues, such as our dog shivering when he senses rain or following us everywhere during our 9th month of pregnancy. We’ll also pick up on super subtle indicators that all might not be well—the Dog Obsessed might notice that her dog is getting up a little later in the mornings, or is drinking more, or has a little less sparkle in his eye. We are true advocates for our pooches and proactively manage their health at all costs. The Dog Obsessed don’t write off any kind of odd behavior. Instead, we know that our dogs are trying to tell us something, and we work hard to really understand them.
The only things that will make your dog happier than time with you are these cupcakes, which include a variety of healthy superfoods that are bursting with vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting antioxidants. They have an irresistible turkey taste, too! Makes 12 cupcakes
1 cup Embark dehydrated dog food
1 cup warm water
½ cup shredded chard (tough stalks removed)
½ cup canned unsweetened pumpkin (not pie mix)
¼ cup fresh blueberries
1 free-range egg, beaten
⅔ cup plain yogurt
2 slices bacon, cooked and finely chopped
1Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin pan.
2In a large glass bowl, hydrate the Embark with the warm water. Add the chard, pumpkin, blueberries, and egg. Stir gently until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
3Divide the mixture among the paper liners. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cupcakes are just crispy on top and a knife can slide out clean. Cool completely.
4Spoon the yogurt into a cereal bowl or onto a plate, and carefully dip the top of each cooled cupcake into the yogurt to “frost.” Decorate each cupcake by sprinkling a small quantity of the chopped bacon on top, and serve as a treat between meals. The cupcakes can be frozen or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Trusting Your Gut Means Trusting Your Dog
The Dog Obsessed know how strong the connection between humans and dogs is, and we understand that if we’re trusting our guts, we’re also trusting our dogs.
Recent research published in Science concluded that the dog–human bond is so powerful that when dogs lock their gaze onto their owners or when humans pet their dog, the owners’ oxytocin levels increase. Oxytocin is the “happiness hormone” you feel a rush of when you’re in love. But that’s just the beginning, because the more you interact with your dog, the more his oxytocin levels increase. So petting your dog makes you happy, which makes him happy, which makes you more happy. It’s really a win-win for everybody (except maybe your boyfriend, who might start to feel a tiny bit left out).
All of this means that you and your dog are coupled, kindred spirits who are working together to make each other feel pleasure, much as human partners do. What’s central to a good relationship? Trust. When people really listen to those little voices inside themselves, they’re trying to figure out what’s in their own best interests. And if you’re trusting your gut (that little voice) when it comes to your dog, you’re automatically working for his better good, too.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The Dog Obsessed know that every dog is different. Some dogs love cats and can, on any given day, be found curled up next to one in bed. Others are simply terrified of felines or would rather forgo dinner than agree to let a lowly, uptight, or just plain snooty cat into their homes. So why treat all dogs the same? Just like beautiful little snowflakes, every dog’s experience is unique, and each one needs to be understood on an individual level.
Witness Dog-Obsessed Honest Kitchen customer Michelle Ooley. Michelle adopted a most unusual dog late in his life, but she knows that patience and understanding are key to making her life—and her dog’s—happy.
I have a 15-year-old Bichon that I could describe as high maintenance and whiny. I love him dearly, but he can sure grate on my nerves at times. I adopted him when he was 12 and quickly learned that he was never taught how to play. His concept of playing was barking at me! Right away I taught him that this was not acceptable. To this day, he still doesn’t understand that when I get excited about something, it’s not a cue for him to go into a barking fit. I also think he has a bit of OCD. His food dish has to be in the same spot in the kitchen or he won’t eat, and believe me, this is a dog that’s driven by food. Up until a year ago, he would turn and walk away from me if I told him I loved him. Just 6 months ago he started letting me hold him. He’s a constant work in progress, but I wouldn’t change him for the world. I’ve learned quite the lesson in patience when it comes to Max.
Max’s experience of play is very different from that of other dogs, and Michelle has had to tailor her reactions accordingly. It’s not that we let the dog be the master, but we do attempt to unlock the very unique and interesting puzzles that are our best friends’ curious minds.
Brilliant! You’ve made the big decision to add a new dog to your family. You took the quiz (see “Are You Dog Obsessed?”), decided that none of these habits or traits sound at all outlandish to you, and are ready to open the door to a wonderful being who’s going to change your life forever. And change the condition of your furniture forever. And forever make you scratch your head wondering where the mates for all your socks went.
If this is your first dog, you may be feeling all kinds of anxiety. Will he house-train quickly? Will the cats approve of him? (Well, probably not at first, but you still must ask yourself the question.) Will he be spunky, silly, sullen, shy, or all of the above? This chapter is here to help! If you’ve owned many dogs in your life and you consider yourself an old pro, you should still find this chapter useful. After all, the new puppy you welcome into your house may be extremely different from your previous dogs, leaving you baffled by seemingly simple things, such as getting him used to a crate.
DOG PERSONALITY TYPES
In general, I’ve found that dogs can be classified into seven personality types. If you’re thinking about getting a new pup, this information may help you decide which is best suited to your family. Just bear in mind that, even with the most careful research, sometimes you just don’t get what you expect. We’ve had a couple of absolutely lovely “butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths” puppies join the ranks at The Honest Kitchen over the years—my own beloved Willow included—who ended up turning into borderline devil dogs once they found their feet. In Willow’s case, I tried flower essences, acupuncture, and sessions with two different animal communicators to try to get to the bottom of her jealous, slightly domineering behavior. In the end, a couple of weeks back with the breeder sorted her out, and I think her own mother might have had a few words with her while she was there!
If you already own a dog, you may still be trying to sort out his complex personality. This section will help! Dogs are bundles of contradictions, and what’s interesting—and for many of us, all the more endearing—is that many pups will actually span several different personality types. So the puzzle of working out who they are, what they want, and what they might possibly do next is all the more fun—and sometimes all the more astounding to innocent onlookers.
You’ve probably met one of these. It could be a Labrador Retriever whose former owner didn’t give him enough attention, so now he follows you to the bathroom and is absolutely horrified if you shut the door and he’s not allowed to gaze at you adoringly while you do your thing. Or a 15-pound Shih Tzu–Poodle mix (often affectionately called Shit-a-Poos, much to the delight of 9-year-old boys everywhere) who lunges out of sheer fear at the 90-pound Rottie who lives next door. Regardless, a dog in this lovable yet anxiety-ridden class has a complex, a chip on his shoulder, and an irrational set of fears you worry you’ll never be able to untangle.
We have our own Nervous Nellie on staff at The Honest Kitchen. Gracie is a 10-year-old rare breed Glen of Imaal Terrier who belongs to Jerry, our director of production and food safety. For some reason, in her senior years, Gracie’s become afraid of wood floors, and if she accidentally runs onto the hard flooring in Jerry’s kitchen, she’ll freeze in place and literally walk backward to the carpeted area. Luckily, Jerry and his wife have an incredible amount of patience and empathy and loads of unconditional love to give Gracie, which makes them the perfect match for this kind of dog. Having a lot of time on your hands helps with a Nervous Nellie, too, but with enough love and encouragement, this pup can become fearless in no time. Or at least he can succeed in training his owner on how life needs to be, as was the case for Honest Kitchen customer Brooke L.:
Payton is a Chow, Boxer, and Shar-Pei mix. When we adopted him as a puppy 5 years ago, we quickly realized that something was wrong with him. He was very nervous. We started calling him Houdini because when we left, he would escape his cage! We had to videotape him to see how he got out. He ate my couch and mattress and even chewed my door handle and swallowed a door lock! (It did pass in a few days.) After trying all kinds of treatments to help him, we finally decided that his separation anxiety is just too bad to leave him. So everywhere I go, he goes.
HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN GINGER NIBBLES
Even if it’s not Halloween, you can make your new dog feel at home with these delectable treats. They’re grain-free (which means they’re suitable for pups with gluten sensitivities), and pumpkin and ginger are both incredibly soothing to upset tummies, which could be caused by the anxiety of moving. Makes 12 to 24 treats, depending on the size
1 cup Love dehydrated dog food
1 cup warm water
1 cup lean ground beef
½ cup mashed, cooked pumpkin
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup cream cheese
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 free-range egg, beaten
1Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.
2In a large glass bowl, hydrate the Love with the warm water. Stir thoroughly. Mix in the ground beef. Add the pumpkin, honey, cream cheese, ginger, and egg. Stir well to combine.
3Using your hands, scoop out small quantities of the mixture and shape it into balls. (Depending on the size of your dog, these could range in size from marbles to golf balls.) Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet and flatten them gently. Bake smaller treats for 30 minutes and larger treats for up to 45 minutes.
4Allow the treats to cool and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze them, if you’d prefer. For a crispier version, try making tiny treats and leaving them in the oven for several hours after switching it off, which will allow the treats to dry out more.
The dog park is no match for this wild and crazy hound. No time for agility training or hours outside? No problem. Your beloved high-energy pup will just run circles around the house, jump on the couch, inadvertently knock over your elderly great aunt, and make your home the eye of his own personal hurricane.
My two rambunctious Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Taro and Willow, aren’t necessarily in this category all of the time, but they certainly know how to tear it up and go a bit loco when the mood takes them. For some reason, weekend morning Skype sessions with our families back in England and sunset drinks with friends on our front porch are two activities that have a knack for setting them off on boisterous wrestling sessions. One of them will start things going with a bit of flirtatious tail wagging, followed by some play bows, while the other starts to leap and spin around. The next minute they’re off, whizzing round the house, boxing up on their hind legs, and generally causing a ruckus. It’s a standing joke with our neighbors that I spend all my spare time straightening out our area rugs after these sessions occur.
If you’re not sure how to deal with this sort of rough-and-tumble behavior, a companion animal can help absorb your dog’s excess energy. Unfortunately—as is the case with my dogs—there might be even more household chaos if the new chap ends up being drawn into the mayhem instead of acting as a calming influence. You could also hire a trainer for a bit of expert help, try herbal remedies or flower essences to calm him, or take him for extra walks throughout the day. Or maybe you can appreciate him for who he is, just like Honest Kitchen customer Jennifer Coleman.
My girl Ruckus is also known as Run A Muckus Ruckus! Her name may imply total chaos, but her personality encompasses so much more. While she’s always up for play and crazy fun, and her bark is full of joy, she is loving and sensitive and has an amazing heart for those who need affection the most. To me, the name Ruckus fully embodies reckless abandon and living life to the fullest.
He’s moody and expressive and might as well be singing confessional lyrics in a ’90s indie band. If you own this kind of dog, you know he has deep feelings that come out in two ways: plaintive howls or lying sullenly with his chin between his paws. He’s also perfected the art of giving you the most incredible stink-eye.
Very sensitive people who crave deep connections often do especially well with this kind of dog. Even if your personality’s a bit more on the happy-go-lucky side, you may still end up with an Emo Dog. You can tailor activities to meet his needs by taking long walks on cloudy days or listening to The Smiths or Nirvana together in a dimly lit room.
Ollie, a Pit Bull mix who belongs to Christin, our corporate sustainability manager, has mastered the art of displaying his many moods. Hers since she rescued him as a pup, he has the most unbelievably cushy life at our dog-centric office every day. He sleeps in any one of our many beds; eats nutritious, gourmet meals twice a day; and gets pedicures, cupcakes on his birthday, and trips to the dog park practically whenever he pleases. He also has a rain jacket for when it sprinkles and a sweater for when the weather’s cool. But somehow, it just never seems to be enough. He looks permanently disdainful, as though someone could be doing just a little bit more for him. Even when he starts his daily 11:00 a.m. rounds of the office to remind everyone it’s time to go for his morning walk, his whimpers and low-angle tail wagging tell everyone that if they don’t start making a move, his world just might end.
SUMMER SEAFOOD NIBBLERS
Dogs will love these tiny bite-size fishy treats in the summer—or at any time of the year! My favorite dolphin-safe, eco-friendly tuna is made by Wild Planet, a company wholeheartedly committed to looking for ways to maximize the health and resources of our planet and, thus, to boost its food production and its ability to sustain harvesting. Makes up to 36 tiny bite-size treats
1 cup Brave dehydrated dog food
1 cup warm water
1 can dolphin-safe tuna in water or olive oil
½ cup shredded kale (tough stalks removed)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh papaya
1 free-range egg, beaten
1Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a paper towel, lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.
2In a large glass bowl, hydrate the Brave with the warm water. Gently stir in the tuna, including most of the oil or water. Add the kale, papaya, and egg. Stir until thoroughly combined.
3Using your hands, gently roll the mixture into marble-size balls and place them on the baking sheet about ½” apart. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the treats inside to crisp up and dry out a little more. These treats can be frozen (use parchment paper to separate layers, if needed) or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Trouble Is My Middle Name
You might have lost your favorite cashmere sweater to this rowdy, unruly, rambunctious pup. Worse than that, you may almost have lost your boyfriend, too. Little Miss Trouble is one of those hounds who just can’t help being naughty.
Many dogs will go through the normal “troublesome” phase as youngsters, but if your dog has this personality type, the behavior goes well into adulthood. He might unravel your loo roll when you’re out of the house, help himself to your sandwich if you glance away, devour an entire box of donuts while everyone’s in a meeting (like Honest Kitchen co-woofer Felix, picured below), or spend long afternoons trying to work out how to infiltrate the fence to your chicken run.
Being Dog Obsessed doesn’t mean you let your dog run all over you. (One of the Cardinal Rules of Dog Obsession, is that you—not your dog—are generally in charge.) But if you’re absolutely fine with a dog whose idea of a delicious snack is your neighbor’s pygmy goats’ droppings, far be it from me to tell you otherwise. You’re the best judge of how much you can take.
We asked our Honest Kitchen customers to tell us about the worst things the Trouble Is My Middle Name canine criminals in their lives have eaten.
“My glasses! Ground to powder . . . in fact, I thought it was sugar or salt on the floor instead of my lenses!” —Linda MacKinnon
“I had a Chihuahua who ate and passed a used tampon. This was way back in the ’70s, when they were a lot bigger than today’s compact items. YUCK.” —Caroline E. Macpherson-Mueller
“My girl killed my beta fish 2 weeks ago. My middle son found him in the couch cushions.” —Vanessa Peloquin
“Elvis Costello tickets.” —Mary Louise Rifkind-Vitulano
“My bathroom wall.” —Julie Granlund Meehan
While the Dog Obsessed should always remember that they make the rules, the bossy dog may not always acknowledge this. As long as he doesn’t overstep his bounds, though, this type of dog is perfect for a house overrun with unruly cats (as in the story below) or a yard full of irritating chipmunks who need to be chased up a tree.
Bear in mind that the bossy dog’s behavior may sometimes border on the obsessive-compulsive. Some dogs will fetch their leashes to remind their owners when it’s time for a walk, or they may plant their bottoms in the middle of the kitchen floor lest you forget that mealtime’s approaching. My blind, senior, rescue Pug, Johnson, was a perfect example of this. We adopted him at the age of 8 and, gosh, was he all about the routine! He knew precisely what should be happening when, and his days were totally governed by the rumblings of his tummy. If he was expecting something like a bedtime biscuit after his evening wee, it really needed to happen when he thought it should, or he’d sit and make the most incredible yodeling noises in the middle of our kitchen, wagging his tail (often facing the refrigerator because his blindness meant he sometimes lost his bearings) until he got exactly what he wanted.
If you live with Mr. Bossy Britches, just trust that he knows what he’s doing, and all will be well (for him, even if not for you or the other pets!). That’s what Honest Kitchen customer April Pilz has realized and accepted.
My dog Dingo is known in my house as the Manager. She’s a Jack Russell/Australian Cattle Dog mix who is not-so-large but definitely in charge. She “manages” my other six pets by keeping the cats off the counters (or alerting me when they’re on them) and breaking up any rough play between my other dogs. When we go out for walks, she walks right behind me while the other dogs are out in front, keeping her “herd” in order. She’s also been known to herd people at family gatherings!
A part of me hesitated to even mention this category because really, most dogs are babies in one way or another. But some dogs play the part just a bit more, content to let others lead while they sit back and act frisky, cute, or otherwise like the beloved youngest child they are. This type of dog is perfect if you have a bit more time on your hands, because he may need more love, care, and hands-on attention than the average dog. And he’s perfect for children because he’ll rarely complain if (as my sister and I did with our Irish Setter, Holly, when we were probably old enough to know better) they try to put him in a dress and cart him around in a pram.
Bear in mind that The Baby may also be a bit naughty, as with Honest Kitchen customer Megan Moberly’s incredibly lovable pup.
I would describe Ame as the youngest child, spoiled and mischievous. We have seven dogs total, and she’s the baby of the pack. Picked on by her older sister, best buds with one of her older brothers, she likes to play pranks on the adults and pretend as if she didn’t do anything. She definitely fits the youngest child role well.
THE CARDINAL RULES OF DOG OBSESSION
One thing to note is that these imperatives are very different from the Guiding Principles of the Dog Obsessed, which we talked about in Chapter 1. Principles are the warm, fuzzy beliefs that originate in our ever-loving hearts. They’re the philosophies that guide us in a world that doesn’t always believe it’s appropriate for a person to consult their dog through a psychic when making important life decisions. Rules are much more straightforward; they’re hard and fast and should never, ever be broken by an unruly dog or his overly permissive dog owner.
1.YOU’RE THE BOSS. Not your dog, no matter how much he begs, pleads, or rolls on his back and exposes his adorable belly. You make the rules, and it’s up to you to enforce them.
2.THE RULES ARE UP TO YOU. As long as you comply with the basic state laws on dog ownership and have a proper regard for general safety, the household rules you come up with can be entirely your own. If you make a rule (like I have) that your pooch isn’t allowed on your bed until 5:45 a.m.—and then he can hop up and snuggle by your feet until the alarm goes off—that’s up to you. (By the way, it still amazes me how many dogs have the most incredible body clocks. Willow knows to the minute when it’s 5:45 a.m. and time for her morning snuggle with me in bed, and it takes her only a few days to adjust after daylight saving time changes!)
3.LET NO OTHER DOG OWNER JUDGE. We’re all smitten with our dogs in our own peculiar way, and as such, the Dog Obsessed must respect each other and understand that their rules really are a matter of “live and let live,” to each his own.
4.SPOILING IS TOTALLY OKAY. In fact, it’s expected. So if you’re thinking of preparing a special holiday or birthday meal for your pet, there’s no need to feel you’re going overboard.
5.LOVE YOUR DOG. Above all, remember this. The love he feels for you is unconditional, so yours for him must be, as well. It’s just all about choosing the ways you’re going to show it.
BEEF AND BANANA MUFFINS
Baby your baby with these muffins, which are a tasty combination of savory and sweet flavors. With their beef, bananas, and yogurt, they’re incredibly hearty, too. Makes 12 muffins
1 cup Verve dehydrated dog food
1 cup warm water
6 ounces ground beef
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 bananas, peeled and sliced into coins
⅔ cup plain yogurt
1Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin pan.
2In a large glass bowl, hydrate the Verve with the warm water. Add the beef, egg, and half of the bananas. Stir until thoroughly combined.
3Divide the mixture among the paper liners. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the muffins are just crispy on top and a knife can slide out clean. Cool completely.
4Spoon the yogurt into a cereal bowl or onto a plate, and carefully dip the top of each cooled muffin into the yogurt to “frost.” Decorate the muffins with the remaining banana slices and serve them as treats between meals. These muffins are also great for puppy parties and other special gatherings.* They can be frozen or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
*Note: To prevent squabbles, please use common sense when offering treats to multiple dogs at one time. You may need several people and a large area to keep the dogs spaced far enough apart that slower eaters can enjoy their treats without being rushed or intimidated by jealous onlookers.
The People Pleaser
While every sane and sensible dog thinks his owner is wonderful, the People Pleaser is especially concerned with making you happy. As he lies in his dog bed, snuggling the socks you left on the floor, you may wonder whether he’s doing that to keep them warm for you or if he just misses the delicious scent of your feet. He showers you with wet kisses when you come home from work, takes great care to hang out near you if it looks like you might be going on a trip (even if it’s only a quick one, to the loo), makes you laugh if you’re feeling stressed, and perhaps even brings you your slippers in the morning.
This is Taro to a tee. He’s our younger Ridgeback, now 6 years old, and he’s the funniest, most sensitive boy you can imagine. I honestly think he believes he’s a person! He absolutely loves to be in the middle of family time, and nothing brings him more happiness (except for maybe helping himself to our CFO Michael’s sandwiches) than making people laugh with his front-arm-batting technique accompanied by quite flamboyant prancing when he’s especially excited. He’s also quite fond of backing up and plonking his bottom right down on your lap while you’re sitting on the sofa.
HOW MUCH IS THAT DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW?
When you’ve decided you want to add a dog to your family, there are several places you can find one. While some people inherit dogs or decide to take one off the hands of a friend or neighbor, most of us go to one of three places: a breeder, a shelter, or a pet store.
It’s time for me to get a little serious. If there’s one kernel of wisdom I can impart to you in this book, it’s this: Please, please don’t ever even think about buying a puppy at a pet store. I’ve actually felt very strongly about this for many years, and despite a couple of threats of lawsuits from displeased pet shop proprietors, ever since the company began, I’ve refused to allow The Honest Kitchen’s products to be sold in stores that sell puppies. The true cost of that doggie in the window—in terms of animal welfare, health concerns, and other problems—is unbelievable. Some people find it next to impossible to resist picking up that adorable puppy who’s rolling around in shredded newspaper behind a wall of glass. But if you buy one of these dogs, you’re doing more harm than good on many different levels.
Practically all dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills—hideous places that raise animals in terrible conditions without the proper socialization or health care that’s so essential to the making of a good long-term pet. These irresponsible breeders mass-produce purebred dogs with no concern for genetic quality, instead focusing on profit. Puppy mill dogs are notorious for having a host of chronic conditions including epilepsy, kidney problems, and diabetes. A responsible breeder would ensure a sick dog is removed from the husbandry pool, but that’s not the case with a puppy mill operator who’s mass-producing dogs to be sold like any other inventory in pet stores.
Puppy mills are downright inhumane, with deplorable conditions that cause dogs to suffer and die prematurely. Can you imagine letting your precious pup live outside in the dead of winter, or forcing him to live in a wire cage with no padding for his tender paws? Puppy mills do this on a regular basis. Unlike most happy puppies from responsible breeders, these dogs aren’t in the kitchen surrounded by things like children, cats, and normal daily activities and routines. This lack of socialization to people means they don’t have well-developed manners, which essentially sets them up for failure as house pets.
Most puppy mill puppies are taken away from their mothers by 6 weeks of age—a time when they are still learning their way in the world and desperately need a mother’s affection. Then they’re shipped like freight on trucks, and many perish on the road to their temporary shop-window homes. Chances are that the store makes little to no effort to ensure that the right animal is placed with the right family, and if you end up with a problem with the puppy later in his life, neither the store nor the breeder is going to help you out.
Finally, puppy mill pets are not sufficiently socialized to normal everyday situations—like going out into the yard to pee and poop—which causes them to suffer various behavioral problems like nuisance barking or difficulties with potty training because they’ve had no choice but to live in contact with their own urine and feces. Frustrated owners then give up on them, sending them off to shelters, where they may be rendered unadoptable.
You might believe that you’re “saving” a dog if you buy him at a pet store, but in actuality it perpetuates a huge, long-term problem. So please, end the sad cycle of abuse started by puppy mills and channel your energy into buying or rescuing a dog responsibly.
Breeder or Shelter?
Now that you’ve eliminated pet stores from your search list, you have to decide between a rescue dog and a dog from a breeder. No choice is wrong or right, and it’s not my place to tell you what’s more appropriate for you or your family. I’ve gone both routes; I’ve owned a rescue Pug and three Rhodesian Ridgebacks from a responsible breeder that I’ve been close friends with for more than 15 years, and I’ve loved all of my dogs equally.
As you weigh the pros and cons of each option, bearing in mind the following things and consulting a few handy resources may make your choice a little easier.