Six months of raw

All our dogs have been fed kibble. Our first dog, Kayak, a malamute-mix, ate grocery store dog kibble. She did fine on it, healthy, happy, and long-lived (almost 15 years). Cleo, a Chow-mix of some kind from the Humane Society, also ate kibble. Having lived on the streets, she was used to scrounging, so she also self-supplemented her diet with food off the counters and dining room table. She was a contented dog with a beautiful dark tri-colored coat, who lived only to about 6-ish, dying early of a heart defect – nothing food related.

It was only when we got our first purebred dog, Cooper the Irish Water Spaniel, that I began to learn that there even existed higher- and lower-quality kibbles.

As a puppy, Cooper came with instructions, one of which was a recommendation to continue feeding what he’d been getting, which was definitely not to be found at my local grocery store. So we switched to a kibble that looked pretty much the same as the grocery store brand, but was about twice the price.

But hey, he was my special puppy, and I wanted to do what was best.

As time went, we moved in to more and more high quality kibble. Cooper developed Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy, and I started reading. In addition to all the recommendations about salmon oil and vitamin E, almost everything I read recommended feeding a grain-free food. So, OK. I can do that. And again, the kibble looked about the same, but cost three times the price of the grocery store brand. Admittedly, the ingredients read much more like food and much less like chemicals. There was no corn, wheat, rice, or any other grain. And there was more recognizable meat ingredients, like “beef liver” and “chicken fat” instead of “meat meal”.

Then two things happened. We got another Irish Water Spaniel puppy, Carlin, who almost right away lost his coat due to skin infections, and I finally got really tired of Cooper’s cycling through seasons of shiny thick coat, then dry woolly coat. Tooey can eat anything and stay perfectly healthy doing it, but for the boys I thought maybe better food might be at least a partial answer to their skin and coat issues. So I decided to try feeding raw food. As in mostly raw meat.

If you’re interested in really jumping into controversy and argument, try reading about feeding raw food to dogs. Try asking a raw-feeding advocate a question, and then prepare to duck. Unless, of course, you’re talking to someone kind and reasonable – I’ve been fortunate to have found several of those. But even so, strong opinions are held in this arena, and a few folks can be quite combative. Based on my reading and conversations, here are some things people apparently want to argue about:

  • Should you feed fruits and/or vegetables to your dogs? What about grains?
  • Can you feed both kibble and raw foods? If so, must you feed them in separate meals, or can you mix them within a meal?
  • Can you cook some of the meat, or do you have to feed it all raw?
  • Can you mix meats in a single meal?
  • Can you grind the meat, or do you have to feed it in chunks, or perhaps even in the form of an animal part or whole animal?
  • Is there a proper ratio of muscle meat, bone, and organ meat? If so, what is it?
  • Is it OK to feed your dog fish? If so, what kinds? And does it have to be raw?
  • Should you add any supplements?

So basically I’ve come to my own answers, and here’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months.

Typical dinner: section of turkey neck, ground beef heart and green tripe, and blended veggies

So far, it seems to balance convenience and quality, the dogs love it, and it’s only four times more expensive than grocery store kibble (if four is an exaggeration, it’s not by much):

  • Weekday breakfast consists of half (by approximate calorie count) very high-quality kibble and half ground meat. Usually the meat is ground beef heart and green tripe, but sometimes its ground turkey or chunks of pork. Lamb is just way too expensive, and I think chicken is too “hot” (in the Chinese medicine sense) for dogs with skin issues. Weekend breakfasts don’t include kibble.
  • Dinner consists of something boney, like a chunk of turkey neck or chicken wing, plus some kind of ground or chopped meat. About once a week I’ll include whole cooked high-fat fish like sardines or mackerel (the dogs make disgusted faces when given raw fish and won’t eat it), organ meat like beef or lamb liver, or an egg.
  • To each meal, I add a vitamin supplement formulated for raw diets.
  • Each meal also gets moistened with hot water, or if I have any, hot homemade meat broth.
  • Dinners also include a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil, plus a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.
  • About three or four times a week, I add chopped and blended raw vegetables to the dinners, usually leafy green, cruciferous, and/or non-starchy vegetables blended with water and fresh garlic.

I don’t know yet if this is having an impact on their coats. But here’s what I do know:

  • They almost always eat all of the food. (Well, Tooey has always eaten all of her food plus whatever the boys leave, but since I’ve been feeding mostly raw, the boys don’t leave her much anymore.)
  • The skin on Cooper’s elbow calluses has softened.
  • The inside of their ears stay clean longer and are much less gunky.
  • Cooper has much less discharge from his eyes.
  • Less poop.

If I didn’t feed any kibble at all, probably that would be even better. It’s just that I get so rushed on weekday mornings, that including some grain-free kibble has been just easier on me.

So, how much do I feed? I know the approximately calorie count of the ground meat and kibble I feed, and I just adjust up and down based on whether or not I can feel the dog’s ribs. Right now, I feed the equivalent of these amounts:

  • Carlin, 1 year old intact male: 2.5 .lbs of meat per day (plus a bite of apple for dessert, please)
  • Cooper, 8 year old neutered male: 1.6 .lbs of meat per day (sometimes he asks for more, and I give it to him)
  • Tooey, 6 year old spayed female: 1.0 .lbs of meat per day (which she believes is way, way too little)

Most likely I’ll adjust all this as I go along. But as long as I can afford it, I’ll keep feeding mostly raw.

My friend Kay was working hard to keep Carlin still on the grooming table. He was getting antsy and just couldn’t keep himself in a steady stand. Sit, twist, squirm, attempt to lie down, try to jump off, sit again, squirm, twist, anything but stand still.

That makes it tough for a person to practice giving a show groom to an Irish Water Spaniel. Admittedly, he’d been on the table for a while, and I could see he was bored and tired. Treats weren’t doing it. So while I was trying to figure out something that would help keep Carlin’s mind occupied, it came to me: practice holding birds.

So I got out a frozen chukar, which I just happened to have handy in my freezer, put it into Carlin’s mouth, and told him to Hold!

Huh... am I a show dog or a bird dog?

Huh… am I a show dog or a bird dog?

All of a sudden he stopped moving. You could see the wheels in his head grind to a slow stop: being groomed and holding birds do not belong together, so, ah, what is happening here? And as his mind slowed, so did his body. He quieted down, held the bird, and stayed still. He held the bird. He didn’t drop it, or squirm, or twist. He just held the bird.

Then he started whining. I could see a new thought bloom in that head of his: I want to jump off this table with the bird, and take it away somewhere. But I can’t! But I want to! But I can’t! Whine. So I told him to drop the bird. He had to think about that one. He wanted to keep it.

He’s thinking, Could I actually jump off the table with the bird? No. Darn it. OK. I guess I’d better give it up. But with all that thinking, he stayed still. Good boy!

The Internet is a wonderful thing sometimes. Today I was trying to find some corroboration of a news story a friend emailed me about, and what did I find? A news article that features Russ and his nameless Irish Water Spaniel, along with our friend Norm and his Boykin Spaniel, Scarlett.

Russ and Norm, along with Cooper (Irish Water Spaniel) and Scarlett (Boykin), helped teach a pheasant hunting workshop last September, and the article was written by one of the students.

Here’s a link to the article on TDN.com, the web outlet for The Daily News Online, a local publication for the people of the lower Columbia River.

But the Internet being what it is, I can’t guarantee that that article will always be available, so I’m posting a PDF of it here. Click the image below to access the full article in PDF format.


Oregon Springtime Pheasants

The end of the month of March is near. This point on the calendar has seen the transition to daylight savings time, and soon, the vernal equinox (Spring). But it also means the end of the hunting preserve season in Oregon. And so with that as motivation, we took to the field one more time.

Cooper has been left out of the big hunts recently, and it was time to let him shine without competing with Tooey or Carlin. We joined up with Norm and Scarlett for a day at one of Oregon’s best hunting preserves (and our favorite), Luckiamute Valley Pheasants, in Pedee, Oregon.

We started with jackets and fog, but ended in shirt sleeves. The pheasants where there, though several eluded the guns. But all the roosters that were flushed and shot, were delivered to hand.

Cooper with a spring time rooster

Cooper with a spring time rooster

Scarlett, taking a break after miles of tracking and flushing

Scarlett, taking a break after miles of tracking and flushing

And Cooper, resting with his day's worth of pheasants

And Cooper, resting with his day’s worth of pheasants

This weekend, I took a gamble, and it paid off: Carlin got his first point in the conformation ring (taking Winner’s Dog and Best of Winners today at the Seattle Kennel Club show).


My gamble? I sent Carlin off to Seattle to be shown by pro handler. This isn’t something I’ve done much in the past. I used pro handlers for several shows when Cooper was young, but after that, I showed both Cooper and Tooey myself. But truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy it until after they had their championships, and winning points no longer mattered to me.

In choosing Marty, I think I chose well. I’d seen him handle several other IWS (including one other idiot male), and I watched him win Tooey over one evening in a motel room by mostly ignoring her and surreptitiously giving her treats.

I didn’t get to see Carlin win — I was instructed to stay home so Marty could bond with Carlin over the weekend. But Marty did take some some snapshots during the weekend:

Ummm…. Carlin. It’s time to wake up! — photo by Marty Glover

Come on, buddy. It’ll be fine. You’ll do great! — photo by Marty Glover

See? I’m a real show dog. I have blue wrap on my ears! — photo by Marty Glover

I'm gonna do good today!

I’m gonna do good today! — photo by Marty Glover

And I got texts telling me what a beautiful boy Carlin is, how pretty he is to watch move, and what a force he’ll be when his coat comes in fully. Marty reported also that other handlers and owners complimented Carlin highly. And I even got a text telling me what a good choice of handlers I’d made.

Staying home did have its benefits. Russ and I were able to spend some quality time with the two older dogs, who firmly believe that they are being neglected in favor of that twerp of a puppy. Saturday was sunny and warm, so we took them to some local training grounds where we threw bumpers onto land and into ponds for the two to retrieve. Cooper also practiced some land blinds, and Tooey got another lesson in taking direction via hand signals (also called handling).

And then this morning, we slept in, had a leisurely walk in the sun, and then spent the rest of the day puttering around the house, fixing little things. It’s been good, and I’ll be glad to have Carlin home again.

Carlin, after 365 days

Living with an Irish Water Spaniel puppy (or any puppy) can be a whirlwind event. But we made it to the 1-year mile post with Carlin. So out came the camera for his official birthday portrait.

Realta's Carlin O'Whistlestop at 365 days

Realta’s Carlin O’Whistlestop at 365 days

He is now 66 pounds, tall, dark and handsome. His brain is still lagging behind his looks, but we were expecting as much after living with Cooper. He’s very active, affectionate, and goes after birds with gusto. He’ll be a great bird dog when he gets his enthusiasm under control.

Carlin in Alaska

Carlin’s 1st portrait at 8 weeks

Retrieving @ 12 weeks

Retrieving at 12 weeks

Water retrieve @ 16 weeks

Water retrieve at 16 weeks

Carlin gets his first taste of duck @ 6 months

Carlin gets his first taste of duck at 6 months

Carlins first live shot retrieve @ 10 months

Carlin’s first live shot retrieve at 10 months

Happy birthday Carlin Baby! And many, many more of the same.

Steady there, Carlin

By now, I’ve met quite a few Irish Water Spaniels who do field work. Most of them are very good retrievers with great noses, who love to find and flush birds and are willing to go long distances or jump into cold water to grab up that duck or upland bird. These are all excellent qualities. But…

Most of the ones I’ve met also have at least some challenge with staying steady — waiting for the handler to give the command before going out to get the bird. Cooper has always had this problem. He’s so eager to go NOW! as soon as he sees the bird fly, that persuading him not to do so has been largely ineffective. With actual hunting, this hasn’t been a problem, but with both retriever and spaniel hunt tests, his not being steady has stopped us from competing at higher than the Senior level.

So when I started training Carlin (Cooper’s nephew) to retrieve birds, I was not shocked when I saw that Carlin wants to go NOW! without waiting for my command to go.

At first, Richard, the trainer I work with, was not terribly concerned. He was more interested in making sure that Carlin would be eager to go out, happy to pick up and hold the bird, and willing to bring it back to me. He said we’d work on steady later.

Well, later came today.

Carlin seems to have gotten over his distaste for chukars, and will zoom out to find and pick up one he’s seen fall from the sky. He’ll also (occasionally) bring it back to me (yes — we need to work on that, too). But, today’s problem is that he zooms out too soon, getting up from his sit and taking off before I even have a chance to tell him to go.

We’ve tried standing on the long line attached to his collar (he just pulls it out from under my feet). We’ve tried my holding onto a short leash (he pulls it out of my hand). We’ve tried replacing the flat collar with a pinch collar (ditto). We’ve tried having someone behind me hold onto the leash (also ditto). So, sadly, Richard and I began the conversation about whether or not to start using an electronic collar.

Now, I’m not totally opposed to an e-collar. Both Cooper and Tooey were trained using an e-collar. But that’s not my first choice. I’d rather not use one at all, or if I have to use one, to use it to enforce behavior only after Carlin completely understands what I’m asking him to do.

In this case, I don’t think Carlin started out the day completely understanding, but by the end of the day, he began to get a glimpse.

After trying the various leash techniques today, I noticed that Carlin does not leave my side when the bird goes up or when it hits the ground. What jolts him out of his sit, and simultaneously out of his mind (and therefore, out of any ability listen to logic or persuasion), is the gunshot. He goes nuts with the thrill of the hunt when he hears the gunshot. It’s like the start of a foot race. The gunshot rings out, and he’s off! I even began to suspect that he’s not even aware of what he’s doing — it’s just some kind of inherited reflex — if you hear the gun, you must go NOW!

As Richard and I were discussing e-collars, Richard suddenly had an idea. He knew that Carlin and I had practiced some sit-stays in obedience class, where Carlin is sitting and I’m standing, facing him, from some distance away. Russ started this in puppy kindergarten when Carlin was a baby puppy.

So Richard had me put Carlin in a sit facing where the bird would go down about 30 yards away. Then I did what Richard told me to do: I told Carlin to “Wait” and then I stepped out about 3 yards toward the area where the bird would fall, then turned, faced Carlin, and took one step to my left. This meant that Carlin could easily see where the bird would go down, but he could also see me looking at him.

Carlin swiveled his eyes between me and Richard as Richard carried the bird out to the area we’d decided on.

I said, “Carlin’s going to break.”

And Richard replied, “No, he’s not.” Then he said, “I’m going to throw the bird. When you hear the gun go off, wait two beats, and then tell Carlin to go.”

So Carlin sat, and I stood facing him, waiting for the gun to go off. I wouldn’t be able to see the bird fall, but Carlin would. Carlin kept his eyes mostly on Richard, with brief glances at me. In just a few moments, the gun went off. Carlin’s front feet jumped about an inch off the ground, but his butt stayed planted. I counted out two beats and then said, “Take it!” Carlin took off, grabbed the bird, and brought it back toward me.

It was a miracle. Completely unexpected, at least by me. Totally amazing.

So we did the same thing again, and it worked again. And this time, Carlin brought the chukar directly to me and sat.

What a good boy! What a great idea. What a great place to stop for the day.

As I understand it, the plan will be for him to get reliably steady when I’m standing out in front of him like that, and gradually, I’ll move around back to his side. God, I hope it works. I would dearly love to have a reliably steady dog, and for him to be happy while we’re getting there.




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