Today we talk to canine nutrition specialist and research enthusiast Linda P Case about how to figure out what's right for our dogs... and to have her debunk a few training myths for us while she's at it.
Links & Notes
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Linda Case.
Linda Case is a science writer, dog trainer, and canine nutritionist who lectures throughout the world about dog nutrition, training, behavior, and health. Her academic training is as a canine and feline nutritionist and trainer. She earned her B.S. in Animal Science at Cornell University and her M.S. in Canine/Feline Nutrition at the University of Illinois. She was a lecturer of companion animal science at the University of Illinois for 15 years and taught companion animal behavior and training at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Linda currently owns AutumnGold Consulting and Dog Training Center in Mahomet, IL. She is the author of numerous publications and eight books, as well as the popular blog "The Science Dog," which I'll make sure we link to in my show notes. (http://thesciencedog.wordpress.com/).
Hi Linda! Welcome to the podcast.
Linda Case: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Did I totally butcher the name of where you live?
Linda Case: No, you got it exactly. It was great, first shot.
Melissa Breau: To start us out a little bit, do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have, and what you're working on with them, and a little about you?
Linda Case: Sure, sure. Currently my husband and I live with and love two dogs, which is low for us. We had a bad year last year and we lost two dogs in succession. But our two current dogs are Alice, who's a 3-year-old Golden Retriever, and Cooper, who is a 7-year-old Golden Retriever.
What we're working on with them right now, which I know a lot of folks are excited about, all of the AutumnGold instructors — I have a group of great instructors that work with us at our school — we went to ClickerExpo last spring and we all got excited about concept training with Ken Ramirez, so I'm working on match-to-sample with them. We're also working on object and identification in concept training with objects — colors and shapes and things like that. That's not going so well, but match-to-sample is going well.
Melissa Breau: That's pretty cool.
Linda Case: It is. It's really cool. I love it because it brings together what's the topic of my latest book is animal cognition and higher levels of thinking with behaviorism. I think it meshes those two so beautifully.
I no longer show competitively, but I love to train tricks, so I'm doing quite a bit of tricks training with Alice and Cooper. My current goal … Alice is being trained to scoot backwards, like a backwards crawl, under a bunch of … it's like basically a backwards Army crawl, and she loves that. And Cooper is doing a forwards Army crawl. My goal is to get them to do it together. Again, not going so well, but that's my ultimate idea.
Also I just want to mention that our school — I kind of separate these two — our school primarily works with what I call the highly interested pet owner. We have folks who want to do basic manners training and oftentimes want to do more, but they're not generally dog sports folks. They're people who just want to get out and have fun with their dogs.
And so our school, we're kind of challenged a lot of the time to provide things that are fun for them but not too intense, because then they may not want to do the competition stuff. So we recently came up with a concept that we call Life Skills Courses that are a bump up from your basic manners courses and things like good greeting behaviors, or being out in a park or even a dog park behaviors, or behaviors at doggie daycare, or behaviors at the vet. We also do things for CGC.
So that's where our school is, too. We wanted to do concept training with the school, but again that's probably a little bit higher level than most of our clientele like or are interested in.
Melissa Breau: I can see that. It definitely takes some commitment and some playing with things and a pretty solid understanding of training mechanics.
Linda Case: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I think we have a view … we look at it through rose-colored glasses, like, "Oh, everyone will love this!" And people are like, "Yeah, but I really just want my dog to sit when he says hello."
Melissa Breau: Right. I mentioned in your bio that you're a science writer, dog trainer, and canine nutritionist — so which came first? How did you originally end up "in dogs," as they say?
Linda Case: I came by it very naturally. I actually grew up training, so I guess training came first. My mom was a dog trainer and she showed dogs, primarily in obedience, some tracking, and a little bit of conformation. She was also the leader of our 4-H Club when I was a kid, and that was a dog-training club, which was pretty cool, because back then those things were pretty rare.
I started out with a Sheltie, and then, when I graduated from undergrad, that's when I got into Goldens. My mom and I did a lot of training and showing around the country together, because when I started moving around, she would meet up with me and we'd go to seminars together, we'd go to shows, so that was a lot of fun. It was something really special in my life. So training definitely came first.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. That sounds like such a unique opportunity to have family-bonding-type stuff but enjoy your dogs, too, especially as you travel around and do stuff with them.
Linda Case: I know. I feel lucky to have had that.
Melissa Breau: How did you get from that to focusing on nutrition?
Linda Case: I would like to be one of those people that would say, "Oh, it's been a passion of mine all my life," but that would actually not be the truth. The truth is that I was an animal science major at Cornell, and at that time most animal science majors, if you were interested in companion animals rather than farm animals, you went to vet school.
I wasn't that interested in vet school, because I was training and showing dogs a lot and I knew I really wanted to do something with behavior and training. But this was a while ago, and at that time — I think things have changed amazingly in the years that followed — but at that time there really were no academic graduate programs in canine and feline behavior training.
So I went back to my advisor, he was a great mentor at Cornell, and said, "I want to go back to school for something with dogs. What is there?" And at the time he said, "Linda, go into nutrition. You'll get a job that way." And he was right, because nutrition … it was in the mid-'80s, and nutrition was taking off as a field of study. Luckily my mentor here at U of I was also a former student at Cornell and a good friend with my advisors. She took me under her wing and was both my mentor as a dog person and in nutrition. So I did that and did find that it did become a passion, even though it wasn't originally a passion, it was just "I want to do something with dogs."
Melissa Breau: Looking at that, is there a "best" or a "right" choice when it comes to nutrition? I know that's kind of jumping straight into things, but …
Linda Case: There probably is not a single "right" choice, but what I can say with confidence is that there are too many choices today, and that's what baffles people and frustrates them and makes people finally throw up their hands and say, "How do I choose?"
In my view, there are two problems with where we're at right now with nutrition. One is that owners and consumers are not provided with adequate information about the foods that are available to them in order to choose well, and that's a drum that I beat very hard in Dog Food Logic, in that book, things such as the food's digestibility, ingredient quality, even ingredient sourcing. Many of those factors are hidden from pet owners, and they shouldn't be. We should have full access, we should have full transparency, and we do not have that in the pet food industry. In fact, a lot of regulations are set up to hide many things from, or at least to not make them available to pet owners. So we don't get the information that we need to choose.
And the second is that there are so many choices and there are such small differences. I call it "a distinction without a difference" among these foods that it makes no difference, and people get confused because there are such small and subtle differences among these many choices in the different categories of foods.
So that's the long answer to say there is no clear choice, and even if there was, it would be hard for owners to choose because of the information they're given today.
Melissa Breau: Thinking about that, are there factors they should be considering? What should they be looking at when they're trying to make a nutrition decision for their own dog?
Linda Case: That's actually the primary focus of my book Dog Food Logic, and the four primary factors that you can break that down into are, first and foremost, the dog, and that's what I'll be talking about primarily in the upcoming webinar — your dog's life stage, their activity level, their health.
And then the second would be the owner, and those factors really have a lot more to do with the owner's values — what they think is important, what they'd like from a food, and also, sadly, economics. Lately I've been exploring some different types of foods, just exploring their digestibility and how valuable they are in terms of their nutrient content and their quality. One thing you'll find is that there's such a huge range in price point in these foods, so economics can affect a person's decisions.
The third thing, of course, is the food itself — the type it is, the ingredients, the information the owner is provided with and can have access to.
And then number four would be the manufacturer — the manufacturer's size, are they multinational, are they a small, private-owned company, certainly their long-term reputation, how many recalls have they had. Again a big one, this is my drum I keep beating: how transparent they are, how forthcoming they are with information when they're asked by consumers.
Those four factor categories are, I think, are the most important when you're selecting food.
Melissa Breau: It's almost like you knew I was going to talk more about manufacturing in my next question! I used to actually cover pet food and pet manufacturing for my day job. I used to be a magazine editor at a business-to-business magazine covering that stuff. Of course, every manufacturer out there does their absolute best to make a case for why their food is the best on the market. What research is there that actually tells us what dogs need for a balanced diet? What do we really know, from a scientific perspective, about what we should be looking for?
Linda Case: Of the questions that you sent me ahead of time, this was my favorite question, and the reason is that — you present it really well — is that it's marketing today. Twenty-five years ago, when this field was really first taking off, science did govern the day. There were really great, small, start-up pet food companies that were hiring scientists, hiring nutritionists, they were doing really good research, they were partnering with universities and academic institutions to do this research, and food was about the science.
But starting probably about 15 years ago, marketing — just as in the human food industry — became more and more the driving force, and it now pretty much owns pet food companies, so everything is driven by marketing. And so while marketing is very good at its job at selling pet foods to people, it tends to downplay and sometimes even mislead about the science. In fact, that's one of the reasons "The Science Dog" was born, was trying to bring the science to the people that need it.
So there is a real disconnect today between the scientific knowledge and the great research that's being done, and I would argue this is true in behavior and training as much as it is in nutrition, between the science that's being done and getting it to the people that need it, the people that are really interested in dogs, that want to do the best by their dogs, both in terms of the nutrition and training.
So in terms of what we know, we know a lot. We know all of the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats, we know age differences, how activity affects the dog's energy and basic nutrient needs, how certain health problems affect a dog's nutrient needs. That knowledge is solid and it's backed by good science. The problem is that it often doesn't get where it needs to go, or it's again misrepresented because of marketing practices.
We also know a lot about many of the ingredients that are used in pet foods. I'm sure you're aware of the recent grain-free scare and DCM in dogs. One of the problems with that — it's a great example of ingredients that are relatively new to the pet food market and have not been studied in-depth.
Things like chicken and rice and even lamb, all of those, certainly meat, pork, have been studied a great deal in terms of their nutrient availability, what happens to them when they're extruded, what happens to them if they're fed raw. We know a lot about those ingredients, but what we don't know a lot about are the newer ingredients such as legumes and peas. They just haven't been studied that much. It doesn't mean they're necessarily bad or they're necessarily dangerous; they just haven't been studied.
We also know a lot about ingredient digestibility and safety, but again, does it get where it needs to go. It's in the literature. It needs to just be disseminated in a better way, in my view.
Melissa Breau: To dive a little more into that, it does seem like there are a lot of people trying to put out information. Everybody and their dog seem to be blogging about dog behavior, nutrition, all these things, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are all doing their research, or that the research that they're doing is very good. Do you have any advice for, when you're out there on the Internet, figuring out what's reliable and what's … not? How can folks tell what is based on research and what maybe is just somebody's opinion dressed up as fact?
Linda Case: What you're really describing is evidence-based decision-making or evidence-based choices, which refers to saying, "If I'm going to make a choice, what evidence is there to support that choice and how reliable is that evidence?" Reliability of course is key.
I hate to keep plugging my books, but I have a book called Beware The Straw Man, and the entire purpose of that book was to help interested dog owners and pet owners, and professionals as well, to understand how to sift through evidence that is reliable and evidence-based versus evidence that is just anecdote or opinion.
Of course, you can always go back to the original research, but most folks don't have the time or the interest to do that, so you have to find out where that information came from, what the original source was, how it's being presented. But again, as far as the average pet owner goes, it can be really challenging. So I think critical thinking skills and being aware of some of the cognitive biases we have when we make decisions can be really helpful.
This is why I said earlier this could be a three-hour conversation really easily, so I'm going to refer them to a book instead.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough, fair enough. I know in addition to the nutrition stuff, you occasionally debunk training myths. I was curious: What are some of the oddest myths you've heard when it comes to training? I was wondering if you could debunk a few for us.
Linda Case: When I looked at this question I thought, Hmm, how do I pick? Because I probably have about twenty that I've written about, either on "The Science Dog" or in books.
Probably one of my favorites, and I think many listeners will agree with this, but remember there's a difference between what we intuit and what we believe to be true versus what we have actual evidence to be true, and it's pretty common for the evidence to not support what we believe or to at least support part of it and hopefully change our beliefs.
But this is actually one that most trainers already are onboard with but most pet owners are not, and that has to do with the guilty look. There's the belief, this prevalent belief, amongst pet owners that when they come home and their dog is showing what they call "the guilty look," which is usually just fear or submission, that that shows the dog knows he did something wrong or chewed something up or did something they didn't like him to do, and therefore he's showing guilt.
There was a series of studies by Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht, and Adam Miklosi also was involved in these, that showed once and for all it's not guilt. It's fear, and it's fear of impending punishment. They did this through a series of very unique and creative studies, and I present it in the book Beware The Straw Man. It's called "Death Throes of the Guilty Look," and literally walks step-by-step through and say, you can actually fool the dog into thinking he did something, or into thinking that he's going to be punished, rather, and he will show what's called the guilty look. My hope is that that information can help trainers then convince their clients who are saying their dog feels guilty and shows guilt to understand that no, your dog has learned to show fear because they're afraid of an impending punishment.
The importance of that is not so much … we don't really need to debate what the internal emotional state of the dog is, because I would argue it's probably the same internal emotional state as humans when we supposedly show guilt. It's basically fear of being caught at something you did wrong. It's not that. It's not that we would say, "Oh, they're not feeling anything internally." It's rather that when we label a behavior as guilt, when we label it a certain way, that can then lead to improper and, in my view, cruel treatment of the dog, because if you say he's feeling guilty, that means you can do something about it, which means punishing that dog, and that's where we certainly go awry, rather than to understand your dog's actually fearful, you should manage his environment better so these things don't happen. That belief in guilt gets in the way of actually changing the behavior and changing how you manage that dog in another way. So that was one of my favorites.
If we have time, a second one was an essay that I believe is still on the blog, but it's also in … I think it's in Beware The Straw Man and I also talk about it in Dog Smart. This one was called "The Kids Are All Right." This I just found fascinating because we all know that it's really important to teach children to be appropriate with dogs, to ask before they come up, and hopefully to learn to read a dog's body language.
I had a personal anecdote very recently with this, in that I was at our veterinarian's office with Cooper just last week, and Cooper is pretty bombproof. He's a very steady, easygoing Golden. He loves all people. But he was at the vet's office, so he was a little nervous.
As I was waiting to leave, I was actually talking to our vet about something, a little girl about 8 years old came up with her mom and she came up and said, "Can I pet your dog?" So I was like, "Good girl. You asked first." And I said, "Sure, yes. He's friendly."
Well, that's where it went a little wrong, because she did start interacting with him, but she was very inappropriate in that she started — I'm sorry, that's a dog drinking behind me, if you can hear that — she was very inappropriate with him. She threw her arms around him, she was leaning over him, she was way, way, way too close.
Cooper put his tail down, he backed up, he was showing her every physical sign that he was uncomfortable. I intervened and said, "Hey, honey, you're a little too close, he's a little nervous, he's at the vet's," and she was having none of it. This was how she interacted with dogs, and she was going to hug him. And Mom did nothing. Mom just stood there, because I think the mom looked at it as, "My job is done. I taught my child to ask before she went up to greet." It ended up fine. We told her, "Back off, let him come to you, here's a treat," and everything ended up fine. But that story fits right into this essay.
It was called "The Kids Are All Right," and what they did, it was a series of studies from different researchers, which is wonderful because that is a really good way to corroborate information is if different researchers did the studies.
They looked at a bunch of different programs that are available for teaching kids to be appropriate with dogs, for teaching kids to not only approach them correctly, but to pet them gently and to show appropriate body language and to read also body language from dogs who are unfriendly. They found that, above a certain age, these programs worked great with the kids. They did a test/retest, so they would test to see how the kids were before they'd had the training, they'd give them these trainings — and there were various types of training; some were online, some were onsite, there were various approaches — and then they'd retest to see did the kids learn something, and sure enough, they did. So this was all good.
Then another study looked at the parents' behavior, and what they found was that oftentimes the kids had learned this behavior, but their parents did exactly what this parent did that I saw. They taught their child to ask first, and then it was kind of like no holds barred, do whatever you want. And even though their child had been given this good information about good interactions with dogs, the parents didn't follow through. The parents didn't learn anything.
So this essay basically is saying the kids are all right, they're learning. We need to get to the parents and to teach them to teach their kids to be more gentle, to not encourage their kids. They even had examples in these studies of the kids showing appropriate behavior, just gently petting, and the parents encouraging them to do more, you know, "Throw your arms around the big dog, lean over him."
So what that particular myth busted to me was that it's not always the kids, that we really need to educate parents as well. Do you want one more, or do we not have time?
Melissa Breau: Sure, sure, give us one more!
Linda Case: OK, I'll give you one more very quickly. This has to do with extinction or sometimes negative punishment, which again I'm assuming again probably most of your listeners know what extinction is. It's removing a reinforcer to decrease a behavior.
The most common use of extinction in dog training of course is dogs who jump up or dogs who pester for attention. Owners are said that to extinguish that behavior, you ignore the dog or you step away, you turn your back to the dog. We have not used extinction at my training school for many years. I'm not a fan of it, I never have been. Although I know it is still used a great deal, veterinarians recommend it, a lot of trainers still recommend it, I've never been a fan personally because I think it causes frustration. That's the short end of the story.
The interesting thing is that there's actually some evidence that the end use of negative punishment, removing something the dog wants in order to stop a behavior, do cause frustration in dogs. It's a very quick experiment. They basically taught dogs to offer eye contact for a positive reinforce, for a treat. The dogs of course learned that very quickly. And then they either would continue to reinforce it or they would use extinction. So now the dog offered the behavior and they stopped reinforcing it and would either turn their back or walk away or just not reinforce the behavior.
What they saw — what behaviorist would cause an "extinction burst," cognitive scientists would call it frustration — that the dogs became very unhappy, they started pawing, they started pestering for more affection, they actually got a little distressed, some of them would whine. And so the conclusion of that study, even though it's a very small study, was that maybe we need to rethink the use of extinction, especially if it's not used with training an alternate behavior, which is again the way that a lot of trainers use it. They train an alternate behavior and use extinction. I would argue that just train the alternate behavior and don't use extinction at all.
This essay basically talked about we need to consider the outcome. "Extinction burst" sounds very pure and emotion-free, but actually what we're seeing in an extinction burst is a dog who's becoming frustrated and unhappy, and why do that when we don't need to, when we have alternate approaches. We can just train an alternate behavior rather than the behavior that we don't want.
Melissa Breau: So, I know that we were introduced because you've got a webinar coming up at FDSA. It's titled "Canine Athlete or Couch Potato? - Feeding Dogs to Meet their Exercise Needs," and I wanted to talk about it just for a minute. Can you share a little bit on what you'll cover, the type of person who might be interested in the webinar, that kind of thing?
Linda Case: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to give that webinar. I'm really excited about it and really happy to be part of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
I'm going to focus on exercise because I know that many of your audience are interested in dog sports and that that's an important topic for them.
We'll start off with just a small discussion of obesity. That's again recognizing it, looking at different foods that are on the market that are marketed as light or low calorie, and then we'll really spend most of the seminar on exercise, looking at the three factors that impact nutrition and exercise, and those are the intensity of the exercise, the duration, and its frequency, and how these three factors influence the energy and nutrient needs of the canine athlete.
And then we finish with choosing the best food for a canine athlete, and once again that whole idea that there's so many choices out there, how do you distinguish among them, and what are the factors that someone who is interested in feeding a canine athlete should pay attention to when they choose a food.
Melissa Breau: We're getting close to the end here, and there are a couple of questions that I usually ask first-time guests, so I'd love to go through those. The first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?
Linda Case: Oh, that's a nice one. Can I say two?
Melissa Breau: Sure, sure.
Linda Case: Because I would divide these into an accomplishment that reaches a larger audience versus an accomplishment that reaches a local audience.
I guess one of the things I'm proudest of is my writing, because I think science writing that's brought to interested people, to everybody, rather than just to other scientists is what I've really tried to do in my writing, especially in recent years. And then I feel like it reaches many people outside of my local area, and hopefully to many dog trainers and dog professionals who are interested in learning about the recent science.
The second would be my AutumnGold dog training school for the local audience, that hopefully we strengthen the loving bond that people have with their dogs, and hopefully increase their understanding of positively based training to our local area, because we only serve of course the local area with that.
Melissa Breau: We talked about FDSA is making a ripple and you've got to start with your ripple where you are.
Linda Case: Yeah, I love that.
Melissa Breau: My second question here is, what's the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Linda Case: I think the best piece of training advice is also the best piece of life advice I've ever received. It started with my dad and it has come from other mentors, and that is just simply "Be kind." That's it.
Melissa Breau: I like that.
Linda Case: It's short. Be kind.
Melissa Breau: Makes it very easy to remember.
Linda Case: It is.
Melissa Breau: And the last one here, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Linda Case: Right now I'd say, because I've been thinking about a lot and using his methods, is Ken Ramirez is way up there. Certainly of course Karen Pryor. And one of my personal mentors who I mentioned earlier, who was my advisor in graduate school and who now is also an amazing nutritionist and she's also a KPA certified trainer, so we connected on many levels, and that was my mentor Dr. Gail Czarnecki, who is in the St. Louis area now. She's no longer here. But I would say she's definitely one of my most admired personal mentors as well.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Linda! This has been great.
Linda Case: It's been wonderful! Thank you so much, and I'm really excited about the upcoming webinar, and again very grateful and happy that Fenzi Dog Sports Academy has invited me.
Melissa Breau: We're thrilled to have you! And for everybody who's listening, just so that you know, the details on that, it's November 15 at 6 p.m. Pacific time. It is up on the site already, so if you want to, you can go over and look. She's got a full description up there, and we've got a link to her bio, and all sorts of good stuff, if anybody wants to go take a look at that.
Thank you to everybody for tuning in!
We'll be back next week, this time with Barbara Currier to talk about teaching your dog to love weave poles.
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