Video I Posted Yesterday

Yesterday I posted a video on the Muck Creek Kennels facebook page.  The video showed a kind of taste test that happened at the kennel yesterday morning.  One of our boarders, Zeke, a 6 month old Dobie pup, was not eating his regular food.  The stuff his guardians sent with him was Purina Pro Plan.  I put down a dish of Orijen Red Meat right next to the Purina he was ignoring and guess what?  He chowed down the Orijen like he hadn’t eaten in a week!  Then, later that day at evening feeding time he chowed another bowl of Orijen like it was going out of style!

You can see the video here.

In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I also sell dog food for a living, so I have a vested interest.  Keep in mind though, that I realize most folks who read this blog live hundreds of miles from our store and will never buy so much as a biscuit from us.  So, I’m not trying to sell you dog food, I’m trying to show you that sometimes when you have a feeding problem it’s because the food does not contain enough protein, it’s inappropriate for the dog’s needs and he knows it!

The argument can easily be made that there are tons of dogs who do just fine on Purina and other supermarket brands that contain mostly corn.  I would like to point out that for the first 30 or so years of my life I did just fine on sugar, fast food and beer.  Things started to change in my thirties though.

Another argument can be made that what a dog likes is not necessarily what’s best for him.  That’s a good point.  I have a dog that would happily gobble Twinkies all day long.  That certainly doesn’t mean that Twinkies are a good dog food.  At some point we need to put that argument aside and just look at this dilemma through the clarifying lens of common sense.  Cheap dog food contains large volumes of corn and corn gluten meal.  Why?  Because it’s cheap!  Ever see a dog grazing in a cornfield?  I didn’t think so.

Now that I’ve made myself sound like another whacky dog food snob, let me confess that I used to feed Purina to my dogs.  For many years, Purina and other popular brands were trusted names in the pet food industry. About 14 years ago, when I got a dog with hip dysplasia, I got to learn a lot about dog food. It started with the guy at the local feed store and I’ve been reading and learning about dog food and the dog food industry ever since.

You can learn all this stuff yourself too.  The info is all readily available.  If you don’t have time to go on your own quest for the best dog food, just take this advice:  If it’s cheap, it’s cheap for a reason.  If it’s spendy, there’s a reason for that too.  The easiest way to get a good dog food is to read the ingredient label.  Look for protein percentage in the mid thirties to fourties and NO grain, i.e. rice, corn, soy, wheat, etc.

Honestly, table scraps would provide a better diet for dogs than corn-laden kibble.  Before WWII there was virtually no kibble on the market.  Dogs ate table scraps, butcher scraps and bones.  There are lots of advantages of feeding kibble including the ease with which we can provide consistency and balanced nutrition.  The challenge is in providing a good healthy kibble.  Because the dog will have little variation in diet, the kibble he eats needs to be of very good quality.  Once again, the junk food analogy works well here.  We can eat fast food once in a while, but if you chow down at McDonald’s three meals a day for few years you might eventually develop some diet related health issues.

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

Here’s a couple of good buddies:


Zeke, the dobie pup is boarding with us while his guardians are vacationing.  After a couple of days of being kenneled close to each other these guys had to get out for a some romp time together.  I introduced them very carefully because they are both young, unaltered males.  They’re both high energy dogs and it was a blast to watch them together.


Zeke also enjoyed some romp time with Bailey, who is always the life of the party when she boards with us!


Yep, they all love Bailey!


She’s not afraid of a little dirt.


Bye, Bailey!  See you next time!


But Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Brrrrrrrrr!  There are times when I wish I had fur all over my body like my four legged friends.  I have a feeling my wife might object, saying we have enough shed hair in the house already!

Even with all that luxurious fur, it’s probably not too comfy outside when the mercury drops below freezing.  That’s why I installed a pellet stove in the kennel house when I built it.  At night I close the doors and start the stove if the outside temperature is near freezing or I suspect it will drop below freezing before morning.

The doors are open all day between the individual kennels and runs, so the cold air comes in, but I still leave the stove running if it’s freezing during the day.  I figure it takes the worst of the chill so the dogs have a relatively warm place to curl up and rest.  The heat from the stove also helps dry out the kennel when the dogs bring in snow or rain on their paws and coats.

It’s 5:30 AM as I write this.  In a few minutes I’ll go out to the kennel and start airing and feeding dogs.  I can see a little wisp of smoke coming from the stove-vent.  It’s good to know the dogs are comfortable even when it’s freezing outside.


Here We Go Again!

I suffered an enormous personal loss last Friday 12/13/13, when my Dad passed away after a long, painful battle with lung cancer.  I have been unable to write anything the last few days, but rest assured that work continues here at Muck Creek Kennels.  We have been training every day just as we normally do.

I couldn’t continue to keep the dogs here if I thought for a moment that I was unable to properly care for them.  In reality I have spent more time than usual with the kennel dogs.  Their unrelenting cheerfulness and goofy antics have sustained me and helped give me the strength I needed to keep moving through some difficult times.


Over the course of the last week we have been working on recall with Diesel.  Our goal is to have excellent response to the HERE command even in the face of major distractions.  We’ve made some excellent progress!

Jessie, who is here for basic obedience, has also made significant progress in his training.  We are seeing good responses to all his basic obedience commands.  Over the next few days we’ll be raising our criteria and motivating Jessie to show us what he is really capable of in terms of cooperation, focus and response.

Jackson is a young fella who has been through some training here earlier.  I was very pleased to see how he has held on to his previous training and how he is eager to work and learn more stuff.  I know that his owner has plans to breed him with another really nice lab that has been trained here at Muck Creek.  I’m particularly excited to find Jackson to be so tractable and eager to learn.  When the time comes, he and Coco will make some really wonderful puppies together.

Over the last few days I have been rebuilding the doors that connect each kennel to its corresponding outdoor run.  Originally I built the door frames out of wood because that’s what I had lying around.  The dogs quickly showed me the error of my ways as they began to chew on the door frames, reducing my handiwork to a pile of slobbery splinters.


Luckily, my friends David & Cynthia Froembling of Columbia Sheetmetal had a solution in the form of steel door-surrounds.  I finally got those installed over the last couple of days.  Being a professional sheetmetal guy, David would probably have preferred me to use powder coated screws so they weren’t so visible, but I had a box of regular sheetmetal screws that worked just fine.  The dogs don’t seem to mind that it looks a little… well… screwy!


Slack Leads!

OUCH! (Coulda been worse)


Having a reasonably well behaved dog is important, no matter who you are.


Proper use of a leash is not an instinct.  It is a skill that must be learned.


Hint:  Don’t allow your dog to jump on toddlers.  It’s dangerous.

Take a good look at the catering staff in the background.  It’s interesting to note that they could see what was coming.

I would like to offer my services to the White House.  If anyone there is interested in learning how to prevent this kind of incident I would be happy to help.  The only pre-requisites are a collar, a lead, and a handler with a modicum of common sense.

I don’t care what your politics are.  The scene depicted above was a stupid stunt.

I preach about training with a slack lead for a good reason.  It’s the only way you can teach good lead manners.  But the lead IS there for a reason.  It CAN be used to prevent this kind of thing.

‘Nuff said.

Grandma’s Rule

Jessie’s training is underway.  One of the things I’m doing to address his overabundance of energy is letting him romp with Diesel.  It does them both good to burn off some of their energy and it allows me to work each of them in the presence of a powerful distraction.  Diesel has enough obedience for us to expect good responses even with a moderate level of distraction.  Jessie is just getting started so our expectations are much lower for him.

I let them run around the exercise yard and roughhouse for a about 20 minutes or so, then I put Diesel on lead and walk him through some Heel/Sit exercises while Jessie is still running around in the yard.  After a few minutes of this with Diesel, I turn him loose and put Jessie on lead and do a few simple Sits and try to get him to hold his Sit in spite of the distraction Diesel provides.


This is just part of their daily training, but it’s a convenient way to get them both some exercise.  The obvious challenge is to keep them both connected to me.  They can get so involved in their chasing and roughhousing that they forget about me, so I call them back every few minutes and put them both in a SIT, then release them for more fun and games.

Another variation of this involves retrieving which Jessie LOVES.  I know I’ll be using his love of retrieving for a motivator as his training progresses.  By building some simple rules around a game he enjoys, we get the added benefit of those rules beginning to have relevance in other activities, whether we’re working or playing.

The principle behind this kind of training is called the Premack Principle.  We could spend a lot of time describing this in behavioral terms, but most of us already have a thorough understanding of Premack as “Grandma’s Rule”.  Simply stated, Grandma’s Rule is this:  “You can have some ice cream as soon as you eat your peas.”  So… for Jessie the “peas” can be a SIT and the “ice cream” is a retrieving bumper being tossed so he can make a retrieve.


I’ll try to get some video of this so you can see it in action.  Until then…

Slack Leads to you all!

Have a Frosty Rainier!

We try to get out every morning for a walk.  It was a little chilly yesterday.  That doesn’t bother us at all.


Sometimes I hunt with a shotgun and sometimes I hunt with a camera, but we’re always hunting as far as Kaia and Peck are concerned.  I enjoy the scenery and they enjoy the “smellery”.



When the temperature gets this low there is always ice to contend with.  Ice can be a very dangerous element for retrievers.  There’s really no way to teach them how to handle ice other than to expose them carefully and allow them to figure it out.  There are many different kinds of ice that a retriever needs to be able to navigate.  There’s solid ice, wet slippery ice,  thin cracking ice, cutting ice, slushy ice, ice breaking at the edge, and on and on.  If a dog’s first encounter with ice occurs while he is running a retrieve, the odds of injury increase exponentially.  It’s far better to allow a dog to learn about ice while he can approach it with some caution.


In the photo above you can see Peck’s trail through the ice near the top of the photo.  He charged through a thin layer and I think he was surprised to find it rather uncomfortable.  After charging through the thin layer he turned around to go back and check it out.  I could almost hear the wheels turning in his doggy brain as he stored the data for future encounters with the cold, hard stuff.

This is how dogs learn to deal with a lot of things they encounter.  All we have to do as trainers is get them out into the wilds where they can gather these experiences.  No amount of classes or training programs, books or DVDs can ever replace the simple act of getting out there and doing it.

The dogs and I were walking through a field of mowed Scotch Broom the other day.  I was thinking about a friend who was deathly afraid of allowing his dog to run through the stubble.  It seems his dog had sustained a foot injury on a previous jaunt through the field of sticks.  He didn’t want to let his dog run there, ever again.  My dogs have been running through stubble since they were puppies.  We’ve never seen a foot injury resulting from this. (Knock on wood!)  I believe they have a way of paying attention to their feet that allows them to trot right through this stuff without a problem.  They only learned it by doing it.

Obviously you have to pick your poison carefully.  I would not have chosen to let the dogs learn about porcupines by attacking one.  Unfortunately they made that decision on their own.  But, other things like ice, streams, stubble fields, and numerous other hazards can be learned by the  dogs through repeated exposure.  You don’t want your dog to learn about moving water by having him swim for a 40 yards retrieve across a raging river.  The hazards need to be introduced gradually, beginning with the easy stuff, so the dog avoids injury and fear.

Labrador Retrievers aren’t the only dogs that conquer hazards in this fashion.  They’re just the first breed that comes to my mind because I work with them every day.  Please help me broaden my horizons by sharing how your dogs learn to navigate hazards through repeated exposure.

Slack Leads to you all!

Diesel Makes a New Friend!

Bailey is a really sweet Golden Doodle who is staying at Muck Creek Kennels over Thanksgiving.  Diesel was pretty skeptical about her at first.  He has some fear of other dogs that could stem from being bullied as a puppy.  It’s not really very helpful for us to make assumptions though.  It’s much more important for Diesel that we move on and learn to interact courteously with other dogs.


Bailey is the perfect pal for our boy, Diesel, because she’s around his age, she’s female and she’s about as sweet and friendly as a dog can be.  Naturally I took all the necessary precautions when I introduced them.  I didn’t expect any trouble, but we can’t be too careful either.


We were hearing a lot of frustration-barking from the kennel because they were both curious about each other and they couldn’t wait to get a good game of “chase-me-chase-you” going.  I let them run around in the exercise yard together for about a half hour under my close supervision.  The pictures speak for themselves.  They had a blast!


I just put them back in the kennel a little while ago and the kennel is finally quiet for the first time today.  I think they wore each other out!


Enjoy this sunshine and Slack Leads to you all!

Another Sunday in the Church of Dog


We decided to take the shotgun for a walk so the dogs and I headed toward Mt Rainier.


..and we drove up in the boonies near Morton.


Peck is pretty sure there’s a grouse up here somewhere:


C’mon, we’re almost to the top!


Hmmm. No bird on that hill either!


There was lots of time to take pictures and I could have left the shotgun at home.  We didn’t see a single grouse.  None of God’s innocent little creatures were harmed in the making of this blog post, but I must confess that we had mayhem in our hearts and minds!  We just couldn’t find any birds that wanted to cooperate.  It was a beautiful day and everybody agreed that the air was fresh and the sun was bright. We were thankful for that!

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Nutrition War Rages On!

Image           Image

This article by Dr Doug Knueven in Dogs Naturally Magazine explains recent research on lupine/canine adaptation to a human diet.  The research shows evidence that part of the genetic adaptation which occurred as wolves became dogs was an ability to process carbohydrates found in some of the dogs that were studied. 

The title of Dr. Knueven’s article is rather provocative and is meant to be so.  As you read further in the article you find the good Dr. has a balanced approach toward the research.  After careful consideration, he concludes that, while some dogs carry genes that may enable them to thrive on a starchy diet; the vast majority of dogs will continue to get the most benefit from a grain-free ancestral diet.

My conclusion:  Dogs eat meat.  If they eat kibble, they will benefit most from kibble that contains the most meat.

Just as Dr. Knueven predicts, I believe this study will be used by the big dog food manufacturers to defend their extensive use of grain fillers. 

On a related note:  I had the opportunity last September to watch two wolves devour a good sized mule deer doe.  They did not eat the stomach contents.  They tore into the animal through the rectal area and proceeded to rip off and consume large hunks of tissue from the haunches and back area.  The next day the stomach and contents were still largely intact.  Corvids (ravens & crows) were working the carcass over by this time.

So much for the old saw about wolves always eating the stomach contents first.  Yes, I know, one incident is an anecdote, not research.  However one incident is enough to remove some of the certainty of previous assumptions.