by Jay Blotcher
Thirty-nine percent of American households own at least one of the 78 million dogs living in the United States, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2012 survey.
But ownership doesn’t automatically guarantee expertise; numerous misconceptions about raising, training, feeding, and caring for one’s dog persists.
We contacted three canine experts in the Valley for the real story: Lab breeder Tammy Smith, also manager of Emmanuel’s Pet-Agree pet store in Stone Ridge, Dr. Robert Codacovi of Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls, and Ira Licht from Pet Country in Rhinebeck. They shared the most stubborn myths and the correct information needed to ensure a long, healthy, and happy life for our pooch pals.
Please note: before making major changes in your pet’s diet, speak to a veterinarian. Different animals have different nutritional needs.
1. All dogs need to be on raw, grain-free diets.
Not quite, says Tammy Smith. “I am personally not on the grain-free bandwagon.” If a pup has corn and grain allergies, then remove them from the diet. Raw food is best suited for dogs in the wild, she added, but we domesticated our dogs long ago; they no longer live in a hole in the ground and hunt for their meals. A combination of food types is best: raw food, canned food and kibble. If you’re serving freeze-dried foods, make sure Fido has sufficient drinking water at mealtime. Feeding dogs twice a day is best.
2. Monthly topical liquid preventatives repel ticks and fleas.
Dr. Codacovi cautions that topical flea and tick medications (like Frontline or Advantix) do not repel the pests. The medications take up to 24 hours to kill ticks, so there is still a chance the bugs will attach to your dog long enough to pass on diseases like Lyme’s Disease, ehrlichiosis, etc.
3. Big dogs prefer big snacks.
“A dog does not realize the how big the treat it is,” says Tammy Smith. “They only know how often they are getting it.” Therefore, your furry friend—whether big or little—will prefer ten little snacks to a large bone. Reward their good behavior several times a day with small treats.
4. Bad doggy breath (halitosis) is a symptom of age.
“Dental disease may happen at any age to any degree,” says Dr. Codacovi. “Poor dental hygiene and genetics are the biggest culprits for dental disease, not age.” Tammy Smith is dead-set against placing a dog under anesthesia for annual teeth cleaning. She recommends buying natural marrowbones from your local butcher and letting your pup enjoy a good gnawing every day for less than a half-hour—and always with supervision. After a month, there should be a huge difference in the level of tartar and plaque. Smith also cautions pet owners about rawhide for dental maintenance. “I am totally against rawhide. It comes off in sheets and can get lodged in the intestines and require surgery.”
5. Puppy misbehavior is just a passing thing; they’ll outgrow it.
“If you don’t want them to do something as an adult, then stop that behavior while they are puppies,” Tammy Smith says. For example, puppies will jump up on you because they are short and can’t reach you. It may seem cute, but you should not indulge it. Kneel down to their level in order to engage them and to extinguish the jumping impulse. Patience and consistency are key to successful training. “Dogs want to please you. When they understand what you want from them, it goes a lot easier.”
6. Kibble has a crunchy texture that cleans your pet's teeth.
“The texture of the food, be it wet or dry, will not matter as much as the contents of the diet,” said Dr. Codacovi. “A food high in carbs and molasses will do more damage than a diet with ingredients less likely to adhere to teeth and form tartar/plaque. Look for a diet clear of sugars, flours, and other processed carbohydrates and flavorings that will increase dental disease. Ever watch a dog eat? The tastier the diet, the less likely they are to chew it.”
7. Harnesses are better than leashes.
People come into Pet-Agree to buy harnesses as a remedy for a dog that chronically pulls on walks. Tammy Smith reminds owners, “Harnesses are made for pulling. When you think of a sled dog, what are they wearing for pulling?” Leashes are still best—plus a good training session to stop the pulling.
8. If my dog is suffering from joint pain, he will show it.
Not exactly, says Dr. Robert Codacovi. If your pet suffers from arthritis or joint disease, you may not know until it is too late. They may not whimper or cry out; they hide chronic pain very well. The only telltale sign is they may slow down and move less to avoid the pain. You may only learn the severity of the problem when they fall and injure themselves. Regular vet visits are crucial for older dogs.
9. Only chemical meds will work during flea and tick season.
Just as there are a lot of dangerous chemicals in human medicines inexplicably approved for sale and usage, the situation is similar—or perhaps worse—for dogs. Many pet medicines effectively kill pests, but also batter a dog’s immune system or cause long-term problems. “I like to avoid the poisons,” Tammy Smith says. “We have a lot of natural alternatives that keep the fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes off your dog.” Dr. Codacovi advises that pet lovers seek out a vet who offers both conventional and alternative treatments. “Chinese modalities like acupuncture and herbals are only the tip of the iceberg. Laser therapy, chiropractic care, homeopathy, and herbs have also become more mainstream.”
10. Having a pet is just fun and easy.
When some people see that cute puppy or kitten, all they think of is the cuddling and purring. Yes, there is nothing like the love you can feel for your pet, but the fiscal responsibilities of being a pet owner need to be really taken into consideration before taking Fido home. Ira Licht of Pet Country in Rhinebeck states, “The pet becomes a significant member of the family, and the food they eat, as well as the care you give them, is extremely important to their well-being. They need walks, attention, and high-quality supplements, foods, and treats.” Of course, Ira adds, “The family pet also wants gifts for the holidays and maybe a costume for Halloween. But what the pets give back to us is priceless.”
6830 Route 9, Rhinebeck, NY 12572
3853 Main Street, Stone Ridge, NY 12484
Dr. Robert Codacovi
Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital
8 Nancy Court, Wappingers Falls, NY 12590
Jay Blotcher is the proud companion of Scout, a Yellow Field Lab rescued by Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption. The pair have been inseparable since 2005.