Monday, August 22, 2011

Run Away Dogs!

Stop Your Dog From Running Away, Escaping, Roaming & Bolting Out The Door
Does your dog escape from your yard, charge out the front door at any opportunity or simply not come back to you when off leash?
Frustrating isn't it?

You are not alone. Dogs running away, roaming, chasing, escaping or not coming back when called are a very common problem for us dog lovers. Although this running away behavior satisfies many of your dog's instincts and is a completely natural thing to do, it is also totally unacceptable and dangerous in today's fast paced world.

Roaming or running away behavior can be a tricky problem to turn around. One of the biggest issues we face when addressing this problem is that each time our dogs get out and explore the world they actually get rewarded for doing so. They get to raid your neighbors rubbish bin, chase the cat from next door or hang out with some other dogs... you get the idea.

That's why running away is often called a "self rewarding behavior". Basically what this means is that once a dog gets into the habit of running away / escaping (and getting rewarded for it) it can be a very difficult behavior to extinguish.

I've put together a 3 step plan that will hopefully put an end to your dog's days of roaming the streets. As with most behavior problems it is preferable to prevent the problem from arising rather than trying to correct an established bad habit.


Here's The 3 Step Plan To Help Stop Your Dog From Running Away:

Identify What Causes Your Dog To Run Away.

Ensure Your Dog Is Happy, Comfortable, Involved, Safe & Stimulated At Home.

Address The Specific Cause or Trigger.


1. Why Do Our Dogs Run Away?
Generally speaking you could say that dogs run away for one of two reasons. They take off in order to get to somewhere or something they want or to get away from something or someone they're not comfortable with.
More specifically you can usually trace your dog's running away behavior back to one or more of the following causes:

Boredom, roaming for a mate, loud noises (such as a thunderstorm or fireworks), separation anxiety, isolation, escaping from mistreatment, lack of obedience training, easy access to "freedom", predatory drive, following a tasty scent, eliciting play, other animals around, psychological problems or inadequate socialization. Plus you've probably got some more that should be added...

As you can see there are many reasons for a dog to run away - don't take it personally.

2. Ensure Your Dog Is Happy, Comfortable, Involved, Safe and Stimulated
The following measures are designed to prevent your dog from ever trying to run away. They are the ingredients which make staying within your yard a more attractive option than taking off. If you implement these measures you can be sure that your dog will be far, far less likely to attempt an escape or run away - even if your dog does make an attempt they probably won't be successful anyway.
In truth the majority of this list could be summed up simply as being the essential elements of "responsible dog ownership".

Provide comfortable, clean and dry bedding for your dog in a quiet and private area, free from cold drafts. Your dog should also have unrestricted access to clean fresh water and be provided with a suitably well balanced dog food diet.

Bond closely with your dog through games of fetch, frisbee, long on leash walks and whatever else you enjoy doing together. These activities are great for providing your dog with much needed physical and mental stimulation. This is all part of demonstrating to your dog that he/she is a much loved and valued member of the family.

Regular visits to the local dog park are a great way to provide your dog with interaction with other dogs.

Obedience training is the key, it is absolutely essential for any healthy owner-dog relationship. Not only does obedience training provide fantastic stimulation for your dog but also sets you up as the respected and always fair leader in the relationship you share together.

Some interesting toys scattered around the yard can occupy your dog's mind for many hours. Keep the toys fresh and alternate them each week. Stuffed Kong dog toys are a clear favorite at my house.

Secure your yard. Make it impossible for your dog to escape - take away the temptation to run away. If your dog likes to dig trenches or is a fence jumper check out this article for some good tips - stop fence jumping.

Self closing doors and gates are also a good safety measure that can be a worthwhile investment.

In some cases it can pay to block out the outside stimulus that is causing your dog to run away. An example of this would be to place black plastic sheeting up on your fence to block out your dog's line of sight towards an outside stimulus - such as other dogs or maybe the postman.

If stray dogs are a problem in your neighborhood call in animal control.

Dogs that are neutered / spayed are far less likely to run away or roam. If you're not a professional dog breeder then it is always advisable to neuter your puppies.

If you are away from home for long periods you could employ a dog walker to come in and break up the day for your dog.

Similar to the point above, you could drop your dog off at the dog minders or a friends place on your way to work to alleviate long boring days of isolation.

3. Address The Specific Cause Of Your Dog's Running Away Behavior
You've seen some general techniques you can put in place to help stop your dog from running away but now it's time to get specific. You know what is causing your dog to escape and you just need to put a stop to it! Ok lets go...

Your Dog Escapes From The Yard:
As we've already discussed, there can be any number of reasons why your dog will escape from the yard. A couple of proven techniques you can put to work straight away are:

Secure the area by making the yard "escape proof". This article has some great tips - stop your dog from escaping.

If your dog looks out from the yard and something he/she sees triggers an attempt to escape then you should block out his vision of this object. Black plastic sheeting does the job well in most cases.

Can you control the area outside your yard? For example, if your dog chases after the postman every time he places a letter in your mail-box would it be possible to put the mail-box out of sight?

Desensitize your dog to whatever is causing him/her to run away. This method is only appropriate in certain circumstances. This technique basically involves getting your dog used to whatever it is that triggers an escape. Desensitization can be an effective tool in the case of a phobia towards thunderstorms or firecrackers.

Check out this great article written by a genius clicker dog trainer called Karen Pryor. It outlines the different methods we can employ to modify any problem behavior in our dogs - the eight ways of changing a dog's behavior.
Dog Runs Away When Off Leash & Doesn't Come Back When Called:
The simple answer is obedience training - and plenty of it. Earn the respect of your dog, always be consistent and make coming back to you a better alternative to your dog than running the other way. Check out this article for step-by-step instruction of the recall command - please come back to me!

Take Away The Motivation For Escape:
If you know exactly why your dog escapes then take this motivation / reward away. For example if your dog gets out every Monday night when your neighbor puts his rubbish bins out then make sure that the bins are tamper proof. When you extinguish the reward for escaping (the bins) your dog will stop trying after a few unsuccessful attempts.

Does Your Dog Charge Out The Front Door?
Any dog that rushes through an open door is a very dangerous proposition. This behavior must be stopped before disaster strikes. Try these few tips:

As mentioned earlier a self closing door could be a worthwhile investment.

Once again obedience training can help with dogs who like to charge through open doors. The "down-stay" and "wait" commands are particularly useful. A dog who is obedience trained will look to you for guidance/leadership before taking a step through the door.

Set it up so you always go through the door first, before your dog - if you don't go through the door then neither does your dog. Make this a habit.

Try playing this game at the door. Stand at the door and open it up wide. No doubt your dog will rush toward it in anticipation of an escape. As he gets close to the door swing the door until it is almost closed. This will surprise your dog. If he chooses to sit down and wait you should praise him and toss a tasty treat his way. Continue this process many times until your dog will sit and wait even with the door fully open. When this occurs you then walk out the door and call your dog through.
I'd be lying if I said that getting your dog to stop running away is an easy fix. It is not. The fact that you are fighting against your dog's natural instincts makes this a challenging problem to turn around. The good news though is that if you come up with a good plan from the techniques listed above and apply it with consistency, you will see some improvements before long.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Camping with your Dog

Camping with Your Dog

Camping with your dog can be extremely rewarding and tons of fun, as long as you prepare properly for the trip and remember to be considerate of your dog and others on the trails.

Preparing for the Trip

Call ahead and find out if your desired destination allows dogs. Even if you have been to a particular campsite before with your pooch, a bad dog experience and irresponsible owners can cause parks to change their rules. Also, find out the location and phone number of the nearest 24 hour vet.

Once you have ascertained that your dog is welcome, if possible, take your dog to the site a couple of times before you head out for a camping trip. Your dog will be more relaxed and comfortable if the location is familiar. If you intend to take a separate tent for your dog, set it up in your house or yard for a few days and let your pup check it out. He will be a lot more likely to consider the tent a safe getaway if he has had a chance to get used to its presence and smell. You should do the same with any other equipment for your dog. If he is going to be carrying a pack, take him for several walks with the pack to make sure he is comfortable with the added weight. If you’re bringing booties or a light up collar, try these out on him before the trip as well. In the event that you dog is not going to take well to his new equipment, you’ll want to know before you’re out on the trail.

Before you leave, make sure your dog is up-to-date on all his vaccinations. If possible, take him for a well checkup before you hit the road, and make sure you obtain copies of his records. Also, make sure your dog is covered as far as flea and tick treatment, and consider the Lyme disease vaccine if you’re going to a heavy tick area. If your destination is a popular hangout for mosquitoes (coastal areas, marshlands, anyplace with a lot of standing water) your pooch should be on a heartworm preventative as well.

It is important before you introduce your dog to any unfamiliar situation that you take some time to understand his language. Dogs have different postures, barks, growls, and whimpers for different circumstances. How does he sound when he is scared or feels threatened? How does he sound and behave when he’s about to be aggressive? How does he act when he’s too worn out to exercise anymore? What sounds does he make when he’s hurt? This awareness on your part of your dog’s condition is always important, but it is especially necessary when you’re in the wilderness, as unforeseen situations can, and often will, arise without warning.

As with any time you go camping, be sure to tell someone at home where you’ll be and how long you expect to be gone. If possible, notify local park rangers that you’ll be camping with your dog in a particular location and how long you’ll be there. This can come in extremely handy if you get lost or injured on the trail. If no one knows where you are or when you intend to be back, they won’t know to worry if you don’t come home. Never depend on a cell phone!

What to Pack

There are lots of fun and handy products out there for camping with your dog, but there are some things you absolutely must not leave home without. Your dog should always wear his rabies vaccination tag and ID tags. If the contact number on his ID tag is your cell phone number, or your home phone and you live alone, have a new tag made with the number of someone you know is reachable while you’re out on your trip.

Outfit your pooch with a reflective collar, and preferably a brightly colored pack or vest. Even if it is not hunting season, or you are on protected land, there’s still a chance you’ll cross paths with hunters. Your dog is not likely to be mistaken for a deer if he’s in brightly-colored attire (the same goes for you.) Orange is the universal “don’t shoot at me” color in the woods; if nothing else, accessorize your pup with a bright orange bandana. Although those products make your dog more visible to hunters, they are still not much help with a lost dog in the woods at night. Pick up a Ruff Wear Beacon Safety Light or Night Time Collar Safety Light to affix to your dog’s collar. If he gets away from you, he’ll be hard to miss on even the darkest night with a big red light attached to him.

You might consider purchasing a set of Ruff Wear Bark’n boots for your pooch. Especially if you’ll be traveling on rough or rocky terrain, or hiking long distances, you’ll want to make sure your pup’s paws are protected. If your dog is trained to spend his nights in a crate, he’ll take well to having his own tent. The Instent Dog Haus is a convenient and affordable option.

You should have the following items in your pack:

-A canine 1st aid kit. Most of the items this kind of kit similar to what one might find in a human first aid kit, but they include instructions and items that are especially useful for dogs.

-Dog coat or sweater--Especially if you have a short-haired dog, keep in mind that even in the summer it can get extremely cold at night.

-Plenty of the dog food your pup is used to (enough for two or three days longer than you intend to stay) and fresh water.

-An airtight container for your dog’s food so it doesn’t attract wild animals or get contaminated with moisture or creepy critters.

-Collapsible food and water bowls—they pack much better than regular bowls and are lighter.

-An extra collar and leash—you never know what could get broken or chewed. An extra leash also doubles as added length to your current leash, a tourniquet, or rope.

-A current picture of your dog, with a written description on the back including unique markings. This will be good to have if your dog gets lost.

-A comb to help remove burrs and bugs from your dog’s fur.

-Baggies to pick up after your dog. Biodegradable bags are available, so there’s no excuse to not clean up!

-Current records of your dog’s health and vaccinations.

Now you’re Camping!

Never let your dog out of your sight or your site. There are all kinds of trouble your precocious pup can get into in the woods, from wild animals to other campers; the best way to avoid this trouble is to keep your pooch by your side and on a leash. Never, ever let your dog chase wildlife. It might seem like harmless fun to let your dog run after a seemingly gentle animal like a deer, but one well-placed kick from those graceful creatures can be the end of your beloved dog. Not to mention that whenever camping, with your dog or not, it is important not to disturb the natural environment, which includes the wildlife.

If your camping trip includes a long hike to the site, or if hiking is part of your itinerary, be considerate of your dog’s limits. By the time your dog refuses to go any further, he has been too exhausted for too long. Take plenty of breaks for water and rest and check his paws often for cuts, scrapes, thorns, and burrs. Do a thorough tick check on yourself, your family, and your dog at the end of each day.

Remember that every traveler with a dog is an ambassador for dog owners everywhere. Set a good example, be a contentious dog owner, and maybe, one day, more sites will allow dogs. Always, ALWAYS pick up after your dog! Dog waste spreads disease, attracts pests, and is an icky inconvenience to other campers. Every dog owner who doesn’t clean up after their pup is one step closer to your favorite site being closed to dogs. Carefully store any left-over dog food where it won’t attract pests or wild animals. Your camping neighbors will not be pleased when a bear lumbers into the area in search of your dog’s kibble. If your neighbors are not amused by your dog’s antics or just the presence of your dog in general, just move. It is much easier to set up camp elsewhere than to spend your camping trip with a combative neighbor. Those of us who choose to camp with our dogs are, unfortunately, the minority, and because of irresponsible, inconsiderate dog owners, in many places we have been given a bad name. Do your very best to show the world that camping and dogs go beautifully hand in hand… because they do!

Thanks to Next Day Pets for this article!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Different Forms of Dog Aggression

Forms of Aggression
Although types of aggression have been identified and neatly categorized here, the reality is aggression is not so neatly segregated. It is rare to see a dog with only one type, thus complicating the diagnosis and treatment. [1].

Generally the methods to treat aggression are:

Avoiding situations that provoke the aggression

Taining (behavior modification)

Pharmacological intervention (use of behavior altering drugs)

Surgical intervention (usually castration of the male dog)

Owner directed or "Dominance" Aggression
The most common and complex of category of aggression. "Dominance" aggression is somewhat misnamed, as it is about the concept of control. Truly "alpha" and confident dogs are usually quite tolerant of subserviant members of the pack. A dominant or pushy dog does not mean it is or will be aggressive.

Indications: growling, lifting a lip, snarling, snapping or biting directed primarily at family members or people (see Dog-On-Dog aggression) with whom the dog is familiar. The dog usually has conflicts with who the dog regardes being mostly closely ranked to him or her. It is both inherited and learned.

Approximately one in five aggression problems brought to a veterinarian are dominance related. [2] Generally the belief is the posture of aggression is a self confident one opposed to a submissive one (fear aggression). It tends to be in response to competitive contexts, dominant-appearing postures or interaction by the owner. However, dogs might be divided into two groups - those that know they are in control (less common) and those that are unsure of their social role and use aggressive behaviors to determine what is expected of them (more common).

Dominance aggression is the dog's problem and not caused by the response of the owner, although the owner could inadvertently encourage the inappropriate behavior to develop.

An association between territorial aggression and dominance-related aggression has been reported.[3]

Things that could set off the dog:

Attempting to dominate the dog (staring at, punishing, etc.,)

Disturbing the dog while resting

Approaching while the dog is eating, playing with or near a valued resource or object, reaching for

Handling/touching the dog

Fear Aggression
Fear aggression occurs when the dog is scared whether or not an event has occurred that scared the dog. The difficulty for owners hearing this diagnosis, is that is encourages them to reassure the dog which reinforces the inappropriate behavior.

Initial behaviors can include:



escape attempts

Other behaviors may include:

changes in pitch and volume of vocalization,

snapping and biting if threat continues

possibly urination, defecation or anal sac expression.

Body postures associated with fear aggression include:

a lowering the the head and body (ears are often flattened)

piloerection (hackles)

ears moved back

wrinkled muzzles

horizontal then vertical lip retraction


These dogs try to avoid the situation by backing up until they are cornered, then they bite. This is in contrast to the normal dog who puts his tail between his legs, cowers, and hides when afraid, but shows no signs of vocal or physical signs of aggression. It is a learned behavior that can become habitual and continue even after the dog is no longer afraid.

Territorial or Protective Aggression
Territorial aggression is defined when the dog protects an inappropriate location as its territory, or an inappropriate location in an inappropriate context.

It presents as aggression to strangers when what the dog considers as the dog’s turf (owners, home, surrounding streets, car, etc.). is perceived by the dog as being threatened in some way. People in uniforms are a particular target. Can be friendly on neutral territory such as a veterinary clinic.

Protective aggression relates to the dog's perception that his owner is being threatened in some way. Its important to understand this is what the dog perceives, not what we perceive. Again, true protective aggression is when the dog reacts inappropriately and out of context when there is no real threat.

Both dominance aggression and fear-related aggression can be components or can be independently of the behavior. Generally speaking it is the intensity of the territorial or protective drive that is inherited, and is augmented through learning.

Dog-on-Dog Aggression Related to Dominance
Can be generalized or specific to situations. The dog is aggressive to some other dogs and displays both posturing (body held erect, tenseness, tail held up, eyes fixed on other dog) in the presence of other dogs and other signs of dominance at home (being overly confident or pushy).

It is considered abnormal behavior when the dog responds to another dog whether or not the dog is challenging or appears threatening in anyway. Additionally is is difficult to know if the dog is actually fear or territorially aggressive. Only a careful, context specific history can provide this.

Dog-on-Dog Aggression— Related to pack (sibling
Usually occurs with a known dog or between dogs living in the same household. It usually involves challenges for status. Challenges may involve access to resources (toys, attention, food), or may be more passive and involve posturing and manipulating the trajectory and behaviors of the other dog. Often occurs between dogs of similar age, or when the younger dog reaches social maturity. If the older dog refuses to give way, or neither can maintain sufficient status to win over the other dog, interdog aggression results.

A less common form is when submission of one dog is not enough to discontinue the aggression. To the extent that this aggression is considered abnormal depends on the intensity of the (potentially lethal)response to normal canine behaviors designed to resolve the conflict.

Dog-on-Dog Aggression Related to Fear
Can be generalized or specific to situations. This involves more-generalized aggression to all dogs or dogs of a certain breed or size. The dog’s history may be important (for example, aversive events may have occurred in the dog’s life). Posturing may be a clue, as for example if the dog backs off with its tails tucked. Many of these dogs respond well to the combination of behavior modification and pharmacological intervention (anti-anxiety medication).

Predatory Aggression related to small animals
Two types: Dogs that stalk, stare at or silently pursue small animals, (including dogs), and sometimes infants, and those who chase moving objects such as bicycles, etc., although some dogs exhibiting this behavior may be exhibiting territorial behavior. For example, dogs that bark and discontinuing the chase once out of the dog's territory is not characteristic of predatory behavior.

Stealth is an element of hunting behavior and is considered more dangerous since the intent is to kill. This problem can not be treated easily. However if there is a problem within the home with a baby or other pet, these dogs can go to other homes and not be euthanized. Predatory behavior with small animals does not guarantee the dog will react inappropriately with infants, but indicates the dog is at risk for such problems. These dogs should never be off lead, unsupervised, or confined in an area where other animals might cross.

Possessive Aggression
Dogs that do not relinquish toys or objects to owners. If the owner tries to take the object the dog growls. Often the dog will present the object for play, and then strike when the owner reaches for the object. They may solicit attention and then respond to the attention with a challenge.

Aggression Towards Babies
Dominant, fearful and predatory dogs may all present a threat to babies and young children if they are not properly controlled. Dominant dogs often do not pose a threat until children reach toddling age.

Fearful dogs are most likely to be aggressive if they cannot escape the unwanted attentions of unfamiliar or seemingly obnoxious children.

Predatory dogs may pose a threat to newborn infants, but when the child can sit up, the infants often no longer elicit predatory responses from the dog.

Redirected Aggression
Dogs may redirect aggression if interrupted in another aggression (i.e. dog-on-dog aggression). The dog may turn and threaten or bite the closest person or animal to them, who are often not involved. These dogs may be non-aggressive in the absence of the interruption of another threat.

However, if it is in response to an individual who was punishing or threatening to him then other aggressions types would have to be considered. It is possible that it could be part of dominance aggression.

Food-Related Aggression
Dogs react inappropriately to people or dogs around food. Generally the higher quality the food, the more pronounced the aggression. It can be difficult to treat because protecting food may be ancestral adaptive behavior.

When directed at people it may be an early indication of developing dominance aggression later in life. It easiest to feed the dog in an area that guarantees no disturbance. The behavior won't improve, but it won't worsen. Some behavior modification can be beneficial, but anyone who doubts their ability to execute desensitization around food should avoid it. Free feeding is not recommended.

Play Aggression
Barking, growling or snapping while playing. A play growl is different from a serious one. True aggressive growls are lower pitched and prolonged. A play growl is usually high-pitches, short, and repeated frequently. Changes in the pitch may happen too quickly to safely detect.

Puppies that have not been exposed to other dogs often to other dogs may play inappropriately, or may play inappropriately because the owner encouraged rough play. Some play aggression is the result of abandonment, lack of interaction (in a shelter for example), or restricted access to other dogs in a normal play situation.

Maternal Aggression
A female protection of her litter, or even toys or possessions during false pregnancy. This can appear to be competitive aggression however it is hormonal based. This aggression only lasts two months during the false pregnancy stage or longer if there is an actual litter produced. It can frequently occur with out a threat display.

However, some hormonal imbalances can cause abnormal maternal behavior that requires treatment with medication, and is particularly important to seek help from your vet if the mother dog injures her pups. Spaying reduces maternal aggression.

Health Related Aggression
The health of a dog can be a big factor a dog’s behavior (see aggression related to seizures, pain, old age, and medications below). Always talk to your vet first about your dog’s aggression. See medical issues of aggression for greater detail.

Some diseases causing aggression could be Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease), hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, brain tumors, cognitive dysfunction. Increased aggression around food and an increased appetite could be related to hormonal diseases.

Seizure Related Aggression
Caused by seizure-like brain disorders. Directed toward anyone or anything. Indications– violent, uncontrollable aggression is elicited by trivial stimulus. There is a pre aggression mood change, which last for minutes or hours before an attack and a post aggression depression with reduced responsiveness. It is sometimes associated with compulsive behaviors, such as self-licking or snapping at imaginary flies. See medical issues related to aggression for greater detail.

Pain Related Aggression
Response to illness, injury or chronic pain, such as underlying medical problems such as painful muscles, joints, and teeth, an uncomfortable gastrointestinal system or neurological problems. Aggression can be toward nearest human or animal.

Aggression Related to Old Age
The loss of hearing or sight can cause a dog to be caught off guard, resulting in aggression. Also a dog may have some health issues (also see Health, Pain and medication related aggression).

Aggression Influenced by Medications
Always check with your vet if your dog is taking any medication to see if the medication could contribute to aggression, or if the aggression may be a reaction to the medicine. Some common medications that can contribute to aggression: Phenobarbital (required medication for seizures, Prednisone or other corticosteroids.., NSAIDs, including Rimadyl

**Aggression categories complied from:
Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D. Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, Mosby, Inc. 1997

The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs, Dr. Nicolas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Bantom Books, 1997


[1]Special report, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Newsletter by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Newsletter 53 Park Place, new York, NY 10007

[2] The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs, Dr. Nicolas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Bantom Books, 1997

[3]Canine Aggression: Neurobiology, Behavior and Management, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, Phd, DACVB, Orgiginally posted on :

Thanks very much to K9 for this wonderful article!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Dangers of Rawhide

“I never buy at Wal-Mart, I only buy organic and nothing from China, ever!”
This is how Danielle Devereux, whose German Shepherd Sammy is a ravenous consumer of snacks, describes her treat-buying strategy. Sammy prefers his rawhide toys soaked in warm chicken broth first. “As you can guess, he’s a little bit spoiled.”

In Devereux’s remarks, I hear echoes of my own long search for the right dog chew toys. From the time my Shepherd was a wee pup, we combed the pet aisles looking for enticing substitutes for couch and chair leg. She quickly sniffed out her favorite section among the knuckle and femur bones: the bins where the rawhide is cached.

Promoted as an “all natural” treat, rawhide does keep dogs entertained, perhaps even more so in its many basted, twisted, even brightly colored mutations. It’s the equivalent of that gummy-worm-fortified cereal made with real oats that children howl for all the way down the breakfast aisle. Those looking to improve on the bone are like the clever marketers who expertly tune a child’s whining pitch. Your dog would like to convince you that rawhide is primal therapy for his carnivorous soul!

But if rawhide manufacturers were held to the same standards as drug makers, they’d be forced to add an equally long list of warnings to their labels: May cause stomach torsion, choking, vomiting, diarrhea, salmonella poisoning and exposure to various chemical residues.

The closer you look at the rawhide gravy train—its tentacles in China, typically, at one point or another—the more you may want to wean your dog off this dubious by-product.

The Dose Makes the Poison

“The most potent compounds for stimulating the taste buds in dogs, and presumably wolves, are amino acids that taste sweet to humans”—so goes the discussion of canid diet in Wolves, edited by David Mech and Luigi Boitani. Judging by an explosion of patents for flavored rawhide, which include “tastes” such as bubble-gum and hickory, chew-chefs have apparently done their research. However, in creating treats dogs will chomp for hours, they’ve also produced potentially more toxic products. The more dogs lick, chew and swallow the material, the greater their exposure to any contaminants it contains.

In the case of bubble-gum flavoring alone, the Material Safety Data Sheet reveals a toxic confection containing the carcinogen FD&C Red 40, along with preservatives like sodium benzoate. But tracking the effects of chemical exposure is nearly impossible when it’s a matter of slow, low-dose poisoning. The FDA’s veterinary branch, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, checks into pet food additives only after numerous complaints about a particular chemical.

While chews made from rawhide, bone or other animal parts are consumable, and are therefore considered “food” under FDA law, as long as the label contains no reference to nutritional value (such as “high protein”), the agency advises that manufacturers “may not have to follow the AAFCO pet food regulations.”

Producing rawhide begins with the splitting of an animal hide, usually from cattle. The top grain is generally tanned and made into leather products, while the inner portion, in its “raw” state, goes to the dogs. Removing the hair from hides often involves a highly toxic recipe: sodium sulphide liming. A standard practice is to procure rawhide in the “split lime state” as by-products from tanneries, facilities that top the list of U.S. Superfund sites. In the post-tannery stage, hides are washed and whitened using a solution of hydrogen peroxide. And that’s just one step.
Other poisonous residues that may show up in rawhide include arsenic and formaldehyde. Even dog skin is a possibility. An ongoing investigation of the fur trade by Humane Society International, an arm of the HSUS, resulted in this information, as listed on their website: “In a particularly grisly twist, the skins of brutally slaughtered dogs in Thailand are mixed with other bits of skin to produce rawhide chew toys for pet dogs. Manufacturers told investigators that these chew toys are regularly exported to and sold in U.S. stores.”

Back to the Factory (Farm)

There’s no knowing where it’s been, and where it begins is also unsettling. Rawhide is a by-product of the CAFO—or concentrated animal feeding operation, the bucolic term for today’s industrial farm.
“Nasty, brutish and short” is how Ken Midkiff, author of The Meat You Eat, describes the life of the animals who give up their hides. He’s no expert on rawhide, but Midkiff says he knows far more than he cares to about CAFOs, where thousands of “sentient beings,” crammed together inside huge metal buildings, “never see the light of day until the truck comes to pick them up for slaughter.”

“There’s also a major problem with various drugs,” he adds, citing a CAFO cocktail of antibiotics, arsenicals and hormones used to boost production.“While the claim is made that these don’t remain in the meat of hogs or beef, that claim has not been tested by any federal agency.”
Pattie Boden, owner of The Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., where organic toy enthusiasts shop, doesn’t carry rawhide. Instead, she stocks free-range chews, bully sticks, and organic raw bones, from shins to lamb necks. Her purchasing-protocol (and philosophy) is one owners might apply in their own search for healthful treats.

“I’m not going to be the most financially successful pet store,” Boden says, “but I feel confident in the products I select, and I can sleep at night.”

Thanks to for this aticle!