Well, hello there!

We’ve restarted Dog Sense, the Kindred Spirits blog, as you might have noticed!

We have a few new trainers and lots to say, so watch for updates! We’ll be posting about games to play, tricks to teach, training skills, new and favorite products, dog body language, and life with dogs!

We hope you’ll read, comment, share, chat, email suggestions, and enjoy! After all, we’re all dog lovers here!
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Product Review: My Perfect Pet frozen dog foods

By Liz Palika

My Perfect Pet, Poway, CA  1-858-486-6500 www.myperfectpet.net

Disclaimer: I have no association with My Perfect Pet and have received no compensation from them.

Regular readers know I’ve been studying nutrition and dog foods for many years. The huge recalls of 2006/2007 were certainly a turning point for me and convinced me that the pet food industry had some problems. Let’s just say, some people/companies/corporations didn’t have our pets’ health in mind when they created their products.

When one of my dogs was diagnosed with a congenital illness, I discovered The Honest Kitchen’s foods. These foods supported her health nutritionally so that even though there was no cure for her illness, she was able to live a long life. I continue to feed The Honest Kitchen’s foods today because they are excellent foods and I enjoy the company’s ethics and business philosophies – a rarity today.

I continue to study nutrition and watch dog foods and dog food companies. Not only are companies bought out by corporations on a regular basis but recipes and formulas change. Recalls also continue to happen with pets suffering from bad ingredients or contaminated foods.

The industry doesn’t have many bright hopeful moments but a new company out of Poway, CA (San Diego county) appears to be one. My Perfect Pet makes cooked frozen dog foods. The foods are in bar form that need to be thawed before feeding.

The phrase that the company uses to describe the foods is, “Lightly cooked.” This is apparently used to differentiate their foods from kibbled or canned foods that are cooked at much higher temperatures. These high temperatures can destroy nutrients while the lower temperatures that My Perfect Pet uses maintain nutrients yet destroy bacterial contamination that could potentially be in the ingredients. Cooking at lower temperatures can also help make the ingredients more digestible.

There are several recipes. One, Boomer’s Blend, contains chicken (skinless breast and thigh), beef (London broil and brisket), whole sweet potato, whole grain brown rice, whole egg, beef liver, organic safflower oil, natural calcium, organic flaxseed oil, and other ingredients that supply oils, vitamins, and minerals.

Another recipe is Hunter’s Blend. This is a cereal grain free recipe that contains turkey (skinless white), chicken (skinless thigh), whole sweet potato, salmon, spinach, chicken liver, and other ingredients.

There appears to be a focus on using whole foods (versus food parts) in the recipes so that more complete nutrition is provided. For example, in many dog foods the egg ingredient is listed as dried egg product. This often means the eggs parts are the leftover from another recipe. My Perfect Pet uses whole cooked eggs with the shell removed. The company states, “While the shell is relatively high in calcium, they can be abrasive to the more delicate digestive tracts and so are never included in our products.”

While looking at the guaranteed analysis on the packaging of the food, you might think that the foods are low in protein and fat. Many of the foods show on the label that they contain 11 to 12% protein and 6 to 7% fat. Compared to most dry kibble foods, this is low. However, these foods have a moisture content that can be compared to canned foods. So if the dry matter content of the foods is figured out, the figures change. Looking at the Hunter’s Blend food, the dry matter protein basis is 37% and fat is 20%. These are comparable to many other high quality foods.

Overall, I really like the My Perfect Pet foods. The foods are of good quality, the ingredients appear to be of good quality, and the processing helps the foods retain essential nutrients. The company’s website is informative. Plus, my dogs eagerly ate the foods.

I had a problem with the foods, though. I’m not used to dealing with frozen foods. The foods need to be thawed before feeding so at each meal, the next meal’s bars need to be moved from the freezer to the refrigerator. Because I’m not used to doing that, invariably I would go to feed the dogs and the bars would be frozen. But this isn’t a problem with the food; it’s my issue. I’m sure that if I fed the food regularly I would develop the habit.

The cost of the food might be prohibitive for many dog owners. I compared costs for a 50 pound dog (as my Australian Shepherds average 50 pounds) for one day. The My Perfect Pet foods were significantly more expensive than The Honest Kitchen’s Keen. If I were to feed all three of my dogs the My Perfect Pet foods, it would be an expense that would need to be considered.


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Archer, dogs, a 12 year old boy, 1600 miles, and me

My favorite kind of a vacation is a road trip. Here’s my latest adventure:



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Fear Is Not Rational!

What is fear? To paraphrase, fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat or danger whether real or imagined. Fear is useful in helping us determine which situations are dangerous so we can stay safe, but it can also be overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing. The same is true for dogs.

Fear is not rational or logical, and no amount of trying can make it so. It is pure emotion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is easy to get past the fear, and sometimes it is nearly impossible.

There are 2 responses to fear, Fight or Flight. The natural response is different for everyone, dogs included, and can also be determined by the situation. In some instances, it is easy to get away from the fear, so flight is invoked. In others, getting away may not be an option, so fight is invoked.

I have a 2 year old Aussie, Raz, who is fearful of many situations, and I have seen her use both fight and flight. For her, if she can get away from a situation that scares her, she will run away. If she feels trapped and can’t get out of it, she will fight.

Raz is afraid of other dogs, certain sounds and some sights. She wasn’t always like that, but something happened that created these fears. I cannot pinpoint one specific incident that caused her fearfulness. It happened over a period of time where there was a lot of stress in my life and hers.

Over the past year, I have been working with her. She isn’t comfortable in her own skin.
Most of the time, she is wonderful at home and to look at her in that setting you would think she is a well-adjusted, confident, loving girl. Take her out of the comfort of her home or add a certain sight or sound and you know there is a problem.

Fear is not logical and manifests itself differently in different beings. My sweet Raz is nervous and reactive to other dogs; certain sounds, like my cell phone, causes her to run away. It is as if she sees and hears monsters that she thinks are out to get her. It is really hard to watch her struggle with these difficult situations. I could not let her continue down that path of fear, so I started to try different things with her.

The first thing I tried was a DAP collar. DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone and is a synthetic oxytocin that mothers produce during and after birth. It is calming and helps the puppies adjust to new stimuli and situations. She wore a DAP collar for 6 months. During that same time, I also put her on homeopathic remedies such as flower essences. They seemed to take the edge off of her fear a little, so I added training, behavior modification and retraining. She would have good days and bad days, but did not really progress out of her fear. Then, she started getting worse. Nothing I was doing worked to bring her out of her fear. I finally broke down and took her to my Vet. After a full physical evaluation to determine that there were no medical reasons for her behavior, we agreed that the next step was to try her on Prozac with the hope that it would help. According to my Vet, the results of prozac are varied and there is no guarantee that it will help her. I struggled with this decision, but in the end, I could not stand by and let her live with that kind of terror. I had to at least try it.

So, Prozac it had to be. We started it about 2 months ago. It takes time to build up and start working. I have been very careful to not expose her to stressful situations. If I do accidentally run into a situation where she starts to get stressed, I jolly her though it and remove her from the situation as quickly as possible. Luckily, we have not run into many of those.

We just started her third month a few days ago, and she seems to be more relaxed. She is still startled by my cell phone, and certain sights and sounds, but she is no longer running and hiding. When she startles and jumps, she comes to me now and I praise her for her bravery. I am seeing small changes in her reactions to scary things. I am still very careful with her and do not intentionally put her into scary situations. I have kept her away from other dogs as the Prozac takes affect, so I am not sure if it has helped her reactiveness. I will start slowly re-introducing her back into society a little at a time and at her pace with training and control over every situation. That is the next step, and I will repost as Raz and I journey this path together.


Photo: Raz

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I believe in a well stocked first aid kit

In fact, I have three of them – one at the Kindred Spirits dog training yard, one in my car, and one at home. Injuries, illnesses, and emergencies never give you advance warning, after all.




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Be careful when choosing training treats (or any treats!)

From Liz Palika:

The training method we use at Kindred Spirits Dog Training uses treats as a motivator, a lure, and as a reward. That means in the beginning of the training process a lot of treats are used. As the dog masters a particular exercise, the treats are randomly and gradually decreased. At least until another exercise is introduced or you want to tighten or freshen a known exercise.

In our classes we talk about choosing treats, recommending good quality ones; not junk food. Personally I like to go shopping in the refrigerator and use Swiss cheese (because it has a strong scent), grated cheddar cheese, bits of cooked chicken, or microwaved hot dogs. My dogs also like Jillcookies (google them).

If you want to purchase some commercial treats, make sure you read the labels completely. Make sure the ingredients are good – few cereal grains, a good protein, and ingredients that you understand. If there are way too many chemical names, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, look for something else.

Also, avoid any dog treats made in China. After the pet food recall of 2007 (and the deaths of far too many dogs and cats), and the warnings in effective at this writing about jerky treats, I suggest avoiding ALL pet foods and treats that originate in China or contain ingredients from China.

Here is my post from the HonestDog blog:


Be safe and choose wisely.

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More fun games to increase attention

We’re teaching our dogs all the time. Everything we do teaches them something even if we’re not aware of it.

For example, if you’re sitting at your computer while reading this, and your dog nudges your arm, what do you do? If you turn to your dog, talk to him, and scratch his ears, you have just taught him that nudging your arm will get your attention. Now this can be good if your dog needs to go outside to relieve himself. However, what if your dog has a doggy door to go outside and he’s simply trying to interrupt you so that you’ll pay attention to him? You’ll have to decide if interrupting you is good or bad.

So our dogs are always learning something. But what if you’re trying to deliberately trying to teach your dog and he’s ignoring you? And it seems like he’s ignoring you on purpose? Or he’s distracted? Or purposely trying to appear distracted? Hmmm……There’s that teaching/learning scenario again.

In my last post I introduced a couple of games that help teach attention. In this post I’ll build on those skills but make sure you teach and practice those first skills before you teach these.

The walk away attention skill builds on the watch me. When your dog will pay attention to you when sitting in front of you, and is doing it well, then you can begin this game. Ask your dog to sit, praise and reward him for sitting, then step to the end of the leash and ask him to watch you. Praise him at a distance, go back to him, praise him again, and give him the treat. Repeat a few times then take a break and play with him. Then repeat again.

Then as you practice, wait a few seconds before going back to him. Very gradually increase the time. You may only ask him to watch you for three seconds when you’re two steps away. Then increase it to six seconds, then nine. Then go back to two steps away but ask him to hold the watch me to twelve seconds. The training steps you use will depend entirely on your dog. If he’s a wiggle worm and it’s hard for him to hold still and focus, keep the training steps tiny so he can be rewarded for his efforts. Never set your dog up to fail; instead, set him up to succeed.

As your dog gets more comfortable with this, add some variations. When you walk to the end of the leash, don’t just step in front of him but go to the right side, or left, or diagonals. Vary it.

When your dog is doing this well, add walking to the exercise. Begin with your dog in motion; walking forward without a command (don’t ask him to heel) is fine. After walking forward a few steps, ask your dog to watch you, using that treat and hand signal towards your chin, and at the same time, back away from your dog. Praise him as he turns, follows you, and watches you. After a few steps backwards, praise him and pop the treat in his mouth. Repeat a few times, stop, play with your dog, and then repeat.

When your dog has the hang of this, vary it. This exercise can have lots of variations – just use your imagination. Instead of walking backwards, go to the left behind your dog, or in front of him. Go to the right. Dash ahead of him. Back to the right or left. Have fun with it.

When I practice this one with Bashir, I look upon it as a game while he thinks of it as a challenge. I want to see if I can lose his focus while his entire intent seems to be, “I can follow her without EVER taking my eyes off her face! I can!”  And he’s always right and it’s a fun game for us.

All of these attention games are training exercises but think of them as games instead of work. Have fun with them, use high value treats (treats your dog really likes), and lots of praise. Laugh with your dog, pet him, and take a break to play often. Keep the training sessions fun.

Photo: Kate Abbott and Walter practice one of their tricks. Even trick training begins with teaching attention.

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Teaching attention skills should be fun

I was watching a dog owner and her dog in class last week. The dog, a young mixed breed with some lab heritage, was sniffing the ground, watching the birds fly overhead, and was pulling on the leash away from his owner. His owner was holding the leash, braced against her dog, while at the same time was repeating herself, “Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!”

Although I know she was trying to have her dog sit, she wasn’t succeeding and instead of teaching him that sit means put your hips on the ground and hold still, she was teaching him that sit means pull against the leash as hard as you can or alternately, ignore your owner. Although the dog was having a good time, his owner was increasingly getting more and more frustrated. Although she was probably teaching her dog something – after all, everything we do does teach them something – it wasn’t the lesson she was trying to teach.

To teach the dog the behaviors we want them to learn, we must get and keep the dog’s attention. How to do this varies with every dog but here are some of the skills I use with my dogs. I use a lure and reward technique for these exercises.

1. Find a motivator. If your dog likes food, that makes it easier. Choose some treats that your dog normally doesn’t get – Swiss cheese has a strong smell and taste and most dogs like it. Or use left over cooked chicken from dinner last night or some microwaved hot dogs. You need a good treat.

2. If your dog doesn’t like food, find a special tug toy, a squeaky toy, or a tennis ball.

3. The dog’s name is always positive. Say, “Fido!” in a happy voice as you pop that special treat in his mouth or toss him the toy or ball. Do this three or four times and then walk away from him. Repeat it later. And then do it again over the next few days. Pretty soon you’ll find your dog watching you intently, perhaps following you, and then sitting in front of you making eye contact. Praise him!

4. Teach him a word that means, “Watch me!” Start again with his name as you did in step 3 but as soon as he looks at you, say, “Watch me!” Then praise and reward him. Repeat three or four times, then walk away. Repeat several times over the next few days.

5. If your dog begins to look away, put that treat in front of his nose, let him sniff it, and then bring it up to your chin. As his eyes follow the treat to your face, praise him and pop the treat in his mouth.

6. When he’s watching you reliably, you can begin playing the two treat watch me game. Put a treat in each hand and hold your hands down by your sides. Then without saying anything, watch your dog. He can sniff your hands or lick them but don’t respond to these actions. However, when he looks at your face, tell him, “Good to watch me! Yeah, awesome!” and pop the treat into his mouth. Repeat, alternate giving him the treat from the right or left hand. Do this three or four times and walk away.

7. After several short training sessions over three or four days, when he’s looking at your face quickly (rather than nosing your hands), you can move on to the next step. The game is the same as it was in step 6 except hold your hands straight out to each side, at shoulder height. Wait for your dog to look at your face, praise and reward him.

8. After several more days, when your dog is doing well and looking at your reliably, you can move on and make the game a little harder. Now, repeat the game at step 6 but don’t praise and reward your dog until he looks at you for a count of three: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. “Yeah! Good to watch me! Awesome!” And treat. After several days, make it five seconds, then seven seconds.

Some dogs may progress through all of these steps in a week or a week and a half. Don’t try to push through any faster as your dog needs time to master each skill and to learn that it’s fun to pay attention to you. If your dog has a hard time concentrating, take your time. There is no particular time table for this. Just keep it fun.

in my next blog post, I’ll teach some additional attention games that will help make his skills even better.

Photo: Petra Burke practices the watch me with Bashir.

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Service Dogs: Taking Your Dog Everywhere

Sometimes things are just different when a dog is involved.

I was at the grocery store with my service dog when some lady walked up to me and said, “I wish I could take my dog everywhere I go.” The weird thing is that she was angry! I kid you not, she was mad. I smiled anyway, ignoring her tone, and said pleasantly that Toby is a service dog. She made a sort of snort and glared at me. She must’ve already known about service dogs. I smiled and said that it takes a lot of work (I was trying to explain that it’s not as appealing as one might think). She made a sort of harrumph noise then turned around and walked away.

What on earth did she want to hear? I don’t think there’s anything I could have said that would have made her happy. And she was the one that started the conversation! The only other thing I could think of to say was ‘I’m sorry you’re not disabled’. That’s what she wanted, I think. I kept my mouth shut. Probably wise; I didn’t want punched.

Anger is a unique response, but I suspect that a lot of people like the idea of getting to take their dog places. Have you ever considered it? Really, actually, considered what it would be like?

Have you ever not gone somewhere because the pavement was too hot?

Have you ever been in a dressing room and suddenly worried about when your dog last went potty?

Have you ever been in Trader Joes trying to get dinner while simultaneously watching your dog’s tail to keep it from getting stepped on?

Have you ever had to keep your dog safe from children while you’re trying to get out a credit card?

Have you ever had to brush your dog before you could go to the grocery store?

Have you ever tried to maneuver you and your dog into a narrow bathroom stall and close the door?

Mostly, are you willing to train your dog all the time?

It isn’t easy having a service dog! Yes, I do occasionally look down and smile at Toby. Mostly, I just want to run my errands and get them over with. It certainly is not made easier by having a dog attached to my hip.

The other day, I was getting fruits and vegetables and passed the bananas. Woops. Then I made a sudden stop, made sure Toby stopped, had Toby backup, then turn left with me, then cross in front of me to avoid him sticking out into the aisle, then I had him circle around back to the heel position. That was just for the bananas. Then we had to do more turns, stops, and backups to get around people and to the cilantro. Having a service dog is like a really complicated impromptu dance with a four legged partner who doesn’t speak English!

It gets easier after practice, but that doesn’t make the dance any less complicated.

It takes work. During classes at the yard we have to remind people to stop and work with their dog, and that’s the people that come to class, and during class! And, most of our students don’t spend much time training their dog. It’s just a fact of life; people are busy and often find dog training boring. If our students do a few sessions a week in their living room, I’m thrilled! Imagine asking the average dog owner to take their dog out to a store to practice training. Regularly.

I get to have Toby with me, but he also has to be well behaved. I don’t stop and play with him, or scratch his belly, or snuggle him a whole lot. He’s supposed to be walking next to me, paying attention, quiet, and calm. It’s not the same as being at home with your dog.

It might be fun to be able to take your dog some places, but imagine if you had to take your dog everywhere. Having a service dog is probably way less fun than most people imagine. It’s not a privilege that you want. And, even if you still like the idea, for goodness sake, try not to be angry about it!

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What Makes a Good Dog?

We hear it so often. “He’s such a good dog.” People say it with that look on their face, I’m sure you’ve seen it! That dreamy “you know what I mean” look. And they say it with such finality on the subject as though it is all there is to say about the dog no longer in question. But… what does it mean?

After all, I need to know what it means. I am a dog trainer. Many people bring dogs to Kindred Spirits, hoping that some time and training later they too can get that look on their faces and say she’s such a good dog. This is our job—how can we perform this miracle without understanding our task?

I had been pondering this, and by “pondering” I mean waiting to interrogate the next person to utter it. Then someone did—my  unsuspecting husband. Poor guy. He had no idea what was coming.

Bradley (back) and Jake (left), both great dogs

He was talking about one of his old dogs, Bradley. I accosted him with queries: What did Bradley do that was so good? What of parts of his personality were good? What commands did he know? What specific traits qualified him to receive this honor? What made him a good dog?

My husband was in shock. I’m not sure if the shock was caused by someone questioning what the phrase meant or if it was the barrage of questions. There was puzzlement for a while, then a bit of false starts on answering. “Well, uh, he, um, he…. well, he just … was.” Did my sweet husband think that I was going to accept that for an answer? Oh, no, no, no!

After much pressing, he started giving examples. I was looking for overarching theories here, but okay, I can work backwards. What did Bradley do? As it turns out, not a lot. Bradley could go with him on errands. He would play fetch for a long time. He was mellow and friendly with everyone. You could balance a treat on his nose. You could take him anywhere (I told my sweet husband that he’d said that one twice, no doubling up allowed). He kept listing things, things he’d already said.

Taco, a good dog and an easy companion

What I gathered is that Bradley didn’t know many commands, he didn’t do many skilled activities, he just never caused trouble. It was really that he was well mannered, mellow, and knew a few basic house rules. He was a pleasant companion.

It soon became apparent that what my husband really liked was all of the things that Bradley didn’t do. He didn’t bark excessively, dig, chew couches, counter surf, bark on car rides, pull on the leash, dash out doors… He was cool to hang out with and didn’t do anything that particularly annoyed anyone. Really, he just had good self control and walked well on a leash.


That’s it? Really? He was sure. That was it. That’s all he wanted from his dog. It took me a while to get over my surprise, but then I realized that it wasn’t that surprising. Bradley was a good companion.

Most people just want their dog to be a good companion. That’s why we have dogs, right? Often, just a few commands help make life with your companion better.

Riker, good dog extraordinaire

With this in mind, I’ve really been trying to emphasize walking nicely on leash and being able to call your dog. I’ve been a cheerleader for having fun with your dog.

It takes a little time and effort to teach your dog, but it’s so worth it. Pat smiles when he talks about Bradley. The joy of a good companion lasts a long, long time.

I can’t tell you how re-affirming it is that so many dogs are “such good dogs”. For the vast majority of dogs that have an area or two to that needs practice, being a “good dog” is so very close! Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t wait for class!

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