Quick and Dirty interview with Jolanta Benal

Interview with Jolanta Benal
By Laure-Anne Visele: Interview date Dec 2013. Release date August 2014
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About the author

I am a dog trainer, canine behaviour therapist and budding researcher. I graduated in Zoology, certified in dog training, then got my postgrad specialization in applied animal behaviour. When I am not training dogs for OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague) or helping rehabilitate them, I read and write about dog behaviour.

About the interview project

This portrait is part of a series of talks with dog professionals around the world. I’ve interviewed behaviour-curious vets, certified dog walkersassistance dog trainers, and university lecturers. I have these chats to get you a fly-on-the-wall view of what goes on in the world of pet professionals and their various specializations.

About Jolanta Benal

qdtJolanta used to write and host the famous The Dog Trainer’s Quick and Dirty Tips podcast and weekly column. She has also written one of the best dog books I have ever read, and Dog knows I do my homework (Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy and Well-Behaved Pet). Jolanta is also one of New York’s most reputable behaviour trainers.

Read on for our chat about dog training in the Big Apple, the ups and downs of the trainer-vet relationships, and the role of critical thinking in dog training.

A day at the Benals’

LV: So tell me about your family life.

JB: My wife, Sarah, is a hospice physician. I could gush about her, but this is supposed to be a dog-related interview, right? [laughs]

LV: Certainly is. How about the furry side of the family?

hot dog hot cat july 17 2012

JB: Our dog Juniper turned twelve in December. He’s a giant pain in the butt. He is the king attention-seeker and he is so comical that it always works for him. He brings objects from around the house hoping we’ll trade him for a bite of what we’re eating. “Do you like this shoe? What about this squeaky toy? How about this other shoe? This plastic bag? No?” By the time we’re done eating, the floor is littered with his offerings.

He is unruly and sets a bad example for other dogs. I suppose this means I set a bad example for trainers, but the entertainment is endless.

LV: Any other animals?

JB: We’ll say “several” cats, mostly old. My dog Izzy found one of them, Stella, hiding under a park bench. Stella has never shown the slightest gratitude, either toward Izzy or toward any other dog. Juniper particularly likes our cat Button because she allows him to smell her anus.

LV: Did you adopt them all, or have you bought some of them?

JB: All our animals are adopted.

About podcasting

LV: How did you get the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast gig [a weekly podcast about dog behaviour]?

JB: It was the purest, most insane stroke of luck. My clients knew someone who worked for QDT, and knew they were looking for a dog trainer. I auditioned and got the gig.

LV: How much competition was there?

JB: [laughs] None, as far as I know. I always think “Thank goodness!” It could easily have been an intimidation-based kind of trainer.

LV: You’ve turned me onto other QDT programs as well. I really like Grammar Girl, and the Get-it-Done guy. I understand from my personal efficiency-obsessed friends that Stever Robbins [GID guy] is an absolute guru. So how does QDT get it so right when they pick their hosts?

JB: I have no idea. The woman who does Nutrition Diva  is a science-based nutrition person. No fad diets out of Monica. And the Math and Science guys are pretty good too.

LV: Don’t tempt me to subscribe to those too! I really have a bad podcast addiction.

JB: Here’s a dirty secret: I cannot listen to podcasts. I can read so much faster that I get nuts listening to someone talk about something.

dogtrainer_275x221LV: Here’s my dirty secret: I don’t listen to music. Whenever I’m on the road it’s podcasts all the way. Drives my husband and kid crazy.

So, how much work goes into writing the scripts? Please tell me you’re not ad-libbing the podcasts?

JB: [laughs] I write abjectly slowly. Each podcast takes about 6-8 hours from start to finish. Sometimes I’m really lucky with a topic, and the words just flow out.

You can write about puppy nipping off the top of your head. But I did one last week about Jean Donaldson’s bite threshold model. It was difficult to represent it in my own language because I’m so used to thinking about it in her terms.

LV: Six to eight hours of work for a five minute broadcast! It is worth it, the podcasts are excellent, but I had no idea it was so much work.

JB: And I get a lot of technological help. There’s a producer too.

LV: So, are you proud of them? Do you realize how good they are?

JB: I work hard on them and I get a lot of positive feedback. So I feel that they’re doing the job I want them to do.

About science communication

LV: I can’t believe the reliability, and breadth and depth of the podcasts (and how hilarious they are). And don’t get me started on the breath-taking reference section of your book. So how much background research goes into your writing?

JB: I read a lot and I spend a lot of time on Google Scholar.

LV: It struck me that you use peer-reviewed papers to back up what you write. Most people don’t get within a mile of research articles. It seems to intimidate them. So did you get any formal science training?

JB: No, I have no formal academic training. I took an online Harvard course on learning theory and dog behaviour a few years ago, but that’s it [and Jolanta has an impressive string of professional credentials: CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, PMCT-2]. I discovered Google Scholar a few years ago and have used it all the time since then. It’s got to the point that I have been asked to prepare and present an on-line course for raisingcanine.com about finding and assessing journal articles.

Raising canine

LV: Well you certainly have the knack of making the driest scientific concepts come to life. How have you learnt to communicate science like that?

JB: The podcast has been good for practicing saying accurate things  in a way that laypeople have no trouble understanding. And I have the gift of an editor who’s very intelligent but neither scientist nor dog person. If she gets confused, I know I need to clarify.

About writing

LV: So how did you get the book deal?

JB: The idea was always that there was eventually going to be a book if the podcast worked out.

LV: You’re so lucky! That’s a dream of mine.

JB: It was an extraordinary piece of luck. When I get tired of doing the podcast week after week, I think: it gets several hundred thousand hits a month and still a lot of the mail I get starts with ‘I am the alpha to my dog and yet he…’ Then I think I can’t give up that platform. That’s the tricky part: we need someone who’s sciencey AND a good writer.

JOlanta

LV: I enjoyed reading the book so much [it is now compulsory reading for our interns at the training school]. Your writing is colourful and conversational yet fact-based. Where in the world did you learn to write like that?

JB: It’s just how I write. I was an English major in college, and I used to work in copy editing. That makes you aware of what other people are doing wrong both grammatically and in terms of clarity and presentation.

LV: I’ve even been shamelessly using some of your catchphrases and sending links to my clients about your articles on dog behaviour issues. What impresses me the most are the analogies you make between dog behaviour and the human experience. This triggers empathy in clients as it helps them put themselves in the dog’s shoes and reframe the problem.

JB: And for emotional things, I think it’s valid. The parts of a dog’s brain that govern emotions are quite a lot like our own. When it comes to some topics, I get more nervous about anthropomorphizing because dogs so often get into trouble when we do that. If I peed on someone’s pillow, it would be anthropomorphizing for sure. “That MUST be why the dog is doing it.”

LV: [laughs] I would say that’s where the analogy breaks down for sure.

JB: So I make empathetic analogies, but I am sometimes wary of whether it’s appropriate.

LV: I guess that, the more you find out about dog behaviour, the more you realize how little you know. That makes you cautious.

JB: Oh yes. When I had a dog for a year, I knew everything. I was such an expert then. [laughs]

About dog training in New York

LV: I am curious, what does a typical week look like for you?

JB: Sunday and Monday are devoted to the struggle with my script.

Tuesday to Thursday, I usually see clients. And sometimes Saturday too. I find behaviour work emotionally taxing, so I don’t schedule more than three clients a week or I’ll be completely exhausted. If I’m seeing manners people, who just need help with their dog coming when called or whatever, I can see much more.

Other than that, I’m also some kind of a house wife: grocery shopping, picking up dry cleaning, walking the dog, and doing the cooking. My wife’s a doctor, so her hours are very long.

Jolanta training Juniper and Pasha

Jolanta training Juniper and Pasha

LV: How are things for trainers in New York? Here in The Hague, it’s only a few of us who work with dogs full-time. The market is really tough for full-time work.

JB: When I was visiting the Netherlands, I was struck by how few dogs there were compared to here.

LV: My husband wouldn’t necessarily agree there. Whenever I see a dog, I drop everything to go gush. He’s complaining it’s near-constant thing. [laughs] But I keep hearing from fellow expats how dog-friendly the Netherlands are. Dogs are welcome in restaurants, doctor’s waiting rooms, etc.

As a society, their attitude to dogs tends to be great. But when it comes to investing money in their pets’ behavioural health, the market doesn’t seem to be as mature as it is in the US. Too many people here will still abandon the pet the instant things stop working out perfectly.

JB: There are people on both ends of the spectrum here.

Some don’t even have money to spend on themselves. I do some work for Pet Help Partners from the Humane Society. It helps keep animals out of shelters through free and low cost behaviour and training advice. The dogs in that context are often, by yours or my standards, maltreated. They don’t get much exercise, they don’t get much time outside, people hit them to discipline them. A lot of those people operate out of how limited and constrained their own lives are and how little information is available to them. I can’t even send them to my podcast, because they don’t have internet at home.

And then, you have the ones who spend all kinds of money on the animal, but not necessarily appropriately: “Have this lovely designer jacket.” And there’s a fad now for shock collars. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk and I’ll see three dogs with shock collars, sometimes with a prong collar underneath!

LV: What do they use it for?

JB: I have no idea why. I always wonder why they can’t hurt their dog with just one of those devices? Why two? I would say that people aren’t so utilitarian about their dog, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that their dogs’ lives are better. People ‘accessorize with pets.’

LV: So, what’s your proudest moment?

JB: I love a lot of small moments. When I see a client really understands why it’s more helpful to be a gentle, supportive guiding force to their dogs. Why it’s helpful to become their ally rather than their master. And when I can ameliorate a dog’s conditions, reduce a dog’s fear….

"Be an ally, not a master"

“Be an ally, not a master”

LV: What is the most fun part?

JB: I love it when manners training, like recall practice, is fun. I have a thing about incorporating games into the routines. I love watching the dog come galloping joyfully instead of that awful slow, head down, gaze averted, lumbering by aversively trained dogs.

LV: This is a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, but how many sessions does one case require generally?

JB: A lot of people will see me just once. Sometimes it’s because things are ‘good enough’ now as far as they’re concerned. And that’s OK. But usually, we’re talking about five to six sessions, mainly because I see serious behaviour problems.

Working in a city environment, forget about D&C [Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization, a technique to help reduce dogs’ reactivity to particular things]. If a dog is scared of garbage trucks here in New York, there’s no such thing as predicting when one will come.This makes behaviour modification extremely challenging. Particularly for dog-dog reactivity, because of the high dog density in New York. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for that dog is making it an indoor dog. Even with lots of anxiety medications on board, that dog can’t leave the apartment without being over threshold. I have this conversation with rural and suburban trainers, and they have no idea.

LV: What is the most problematic side of the job for you?

JB: It’s miserable when I am called too late, for a dog that lives in a tiny apartment with an extensive bite history and a baby two weeks away. I can only responsibly tell people that they have to re-home the dog right now, or euthanize it. That’s hard. Because you see the people in untenably dangerous situations. Or when the baby has just become mobile, and then gets in trouble with the dog. People love the dog and they want me to guarantee that the baby will be safe with the dog. Then they want to know if there’s a way they can adopt out the dog. And I have to say: “Well, that’s problematic.”

And this also makes me miserable: when a shelter group inappropriately re-homes a dog with a significant behaviour problem and then blames the owner…

And I see people with the euthanasia word in front of their faces. And they’re just horror-struck as they can’t believe it’s come to this. I see a fair bit of that because I get referrals from the local veterinary behaviourist. It’s so upsetting.

About vets and breeders

LV: You get referrals from the vet behaviourist! Good going.

JB: There’s a few of us in New York who get referrals from her E’Lise Christensen. There’s a whole little posse of very smart trainers here. We have good colleagues.

LV: So how do you collaborate with her?

JB: She deals with the medication side of things, and she formulates the behaviour plans. I typically refer to her in cases like a mature dog with abrupt behaviour change. Or a dog with a really generalized anxiety.

When we refer cases to each other, we keep each other in the loop. We copy each other on every communication and we often talk. I love working with her. She’s smart, she knows her science backwards and forwards, and she has the vet skills I can’t bring to the table. I always feel that, when we’re working together with a dog, the dog is getting the best behavioural care a dog can get. But it’s only the wealthiest who can afford to have both of us together.

Jolanta training dogs outside

Jolanta training dogs outside

LV: If you work together with a vet behaviourist, does it get reimbursed by insurances?

JB: Oh no. Maybe the vet behaviourist would be partly reimbursed through the pet insurance, but very few people have that. People have to pay out of pocket.

LV: So what’s your relationship with GP [General Practitioners] vets?

It’s mixed. Some refer to just me, and some refer to both me and the local force-based trainer, on the theory that different dogs need different methods. And I hate it when GP vets prescribe behaviour meds, because they’re not necessarily trained on that side of things.

What I find disappointing, is that, although the vet behaviourist will consult with the vets for free about what behavioural medication would be best for a particular case, most of them refuse to call her.

LV: And breeders?

JB: They’re not always being reality-based: “Our entire principle for breeding dogs is based on Naziism.”

LV: Yup, the old eugenics vision.

JB: How can you not notice that closing the gene pool leads to catastrophe? Wake up!

LV: And the extremes in phenotypes… But some breeders get pretty prickly. I know people who’ve received threat letters for speaking out.

Dog welfare

LV: If you had a magic wand and could convince the general public of one thing, what would it be?

JB: I would love for people to rethink their assumptions about dogs’ welfare. I feel like most dogs live a life of quiet desperation. With a bit of luck, they’ll get four short walks, and they mostly won’t get to do in terms of mental stimulation, physical exercise, or even sniffing time. They just get yanked along when they sniff too long at the same pile of leaves.

The longer I do this work, the less interested I become in precision training, and the more I want to know whether the dogs’ basic behavioural needs are met. I’ve become obsessed about things like playing with dogs, feeding dogs out of interactive toys, doing five minutes of clicker training a day, letting a dog sniff and poke around on walks . All these little things that make a difference to the dog’s quality of life.

LV: I brought the concept of enrichment from my zoology training to my dog training without a second thought. It’s only occurring to me now that this isn’t necessarily how every think. In terms of welfare, dogs are just another captive animal.

JB: Yes. There is a book called “Environmental enrichment for captive animals.” It’s mostly towards zoo and lab animals but he discusses domestic pets as well. When I started thinking of dogs as captive animals the top of my head just about blew off. It got me thinking about their behavioural needs, and how often those are not met.

If I could do one thing for all dog owners, I would invite them to think about their dog’s own species-specific behavioural needs. Not the human ideas of what a dog should want but what dogs do want from a dog’s life. I would lose so much money as a behaviour consultant if dogs had their needs met.

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Using captive animal enrichment techniques

LV: Chance had it I had to attend lots of different lectures lately, but many happened to concern undomesticated species (some rodents, parrots, ferrets, etc.) It struck me that these therapists approached all their cases by spotting the critical differences between the behaviour needs  of that species in the wild and the behaviour possibilities of the individual captive animal. In most cases, the animals were living in severely impoverished conditions. So the focus wasn’t so much psychopathology or training, like it is for dogs, but on welfare.

It’s switched on something in my brain and now I try to start each case with the ethological needs. If you sort that out, you’re halfway there.

JB: Exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly!

One of the things in this book that blew me away, was this: you can buy a hutch in a pet store that is smaller than the minimum size requirements for lab rats!

LV: It’s not so paradoxical, really. The cynical explanation is that lab cages are better designed because the research community is finally accepting that chronic stress introduces confounding factors. So their keepers profit from improving welfare.

Most pet store rabbit hutches don’t even allow rabbits to stretch to their full length. The lecturer was saying: “My first step for a rabbit with aggression, is to x-ray its spine. 99% of the times, the vertebrae have come glued together from a lifelong inability to stand.”

JB: That is a hard thing to accept. All of us who love animals cringe at the life of lab animals. And when you find out that in some respect some of these animals’ lives might be better than a pet’s…

LV: I see your point. The cognitive dissonance is huge between the quality of care that owners feel they are providing and reality.

JB: This reminds me of this case I wrote about: ‘Poor little rich dog.’ He was a tiny little shy Maltese presented to me for ‘aggression.’ His owner would bring him to these crowded shops where everyone would try to pet him. She lived across the street from Central Park, but she just parked her dog in his play pen all day with all these toys and no one to interact with him.

The idea that there was something wrong with the dog that needed to change… No! He needed to have a life that was appropriate for a dog. His aggression, as far as I was concerned, was totally appropriate.

LV: There’s that beautiful question of whether something is normal, appropriate. Is it really an aberrant reaction? Or is it an adaptive response to an aberrant environment? So what happened to poor little rich dog?

JB: I recommended that one of the ‘servants’ take him out to the park every day, and that he no longer got taken to all these shops. I never heard back.

LV: Rise van Fleet’s book, “The Human Side of Dog Training” has really helped me for these cases. It’s helped me get way more compliance and follow-through even from people with whom I find it hard to connect.

I used to get on my scientific and moral high horse but now I sneakily get them there without even mentioning the contentious points. After three sessions, they’ve flipped on their deeply held misconceptions about dogs without even realizing it. That book has revolutionized my practice.

About dog behaviour ‘experts’

LV: I loved your post on behaviour ‘experts.’ How do you deal with Joe Public assuming their gut feeling weighs as much as your expertise because they’ve “lived with dogs for twenty years?” It’s insulting to see years of studying and experience get valued so little. Imagine a paediatrician having to compete with old wives’ tales like we do all the time…

JB: I come across this too. There is no licensing to regulate training and behaviour work. So a layperson has no way of evaluating claims. I can say till am blue in the face that I read the science and that I’ve studied this and that but Joe Schmoe down the block can just say: “I have twenty years’ experience and this reward-based cookie bribing stuff is nonsense.

Or the people who call themselves “balanced trainers.” They’re reward-based up to a point, then they break out the choke chain. The assertion that “Of course, you have to let the dog know what they did wrong” sounds so plausible to people.

LV: They have human intuition on their side.

JB: They do. I have several arguments that I hope make sense to people. For example, when their dog is barking and lunging at other dogs. They’ve been told to yank on the dog’s neck and force him to sit. People tend to stay on board at least as far as: “If you know nothing else, you know the dog is not at ease. From that, it would seem to follow that if you add to the dog’s unease, you’re not being productive. But if you find a way to help the dog through the situation, you can be productive.”

LV: That’s a nice angle.

JB: I spent a lot of time thinking about this. I will say that a lot of people seem to be very happy to hear that they don’t have to yell or hurt their dogs.

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“…happy to hear they don’t have to yell at or hurt their dog”

LV: Oh absolutely. I love to see the look of relief on their face: “So you mean I don’t have to keep hurting my dog?”

So how do you cope with the “I-have- 25-years’-experience-and-this-cookie-stuff-is-bribe-and-the-dog-should-respect-you” jocks?

JB: I point out that other professionals have to keep up with the literature in their field. It’s all very well to have a doctor with twenty five years’ experience, but if he has not been reading the medical journals for the past twenty five years, you’re not going to get very good medical care.

LV: Absolutely! If tradition was all we needed, we’d still be bloodletting. So what do you call yourself? ‘Behaviourist,’ ‘trainer?’

JB: I don’t have a good answer for that. I don’t say “behaviourist” because that label is preferred by people with a doctorate degree, or vet behaviourists. And I am neither. I usually say that I am a trainer specializing in behaviour problems. What do you call yourself?

LV: I say “I am a zoologist and I deal with dogs that have behaviour problems.” No offence to dog trainers, but because the profession is unprotected, anyone can call themselves that and it shows. I don’t want my services to be associated with that of the less qualified or scrupulous trainers.

JB: I wish I had something I could call myself that make it clear I actually try to learn things.

LV: Yeah, exactly. “Am good with dogs and I grew up with them” just doesn’t cut it and it’s an insult to the profession that this could act as any kind of serious credential.

About dog cognition

[warning, it gets a little speculative and technical]

LV: I’ve often read that a dog who has destroyed the couch doesn’t know he’s the one who did it a few moments later. I wonder: could it really be that they have no sense of their own agency? That seems hard to swallow. It’s convenient, but I haven’t found any research to back this up.

JB: Let’s back up. What is “destroy” to the dog? Likely, the dog has no opinion on the couch’s aesthetic value, and can’t conceive of this object’s value is to you. But he might know “I performed x activity and now there’s fluff all over the floor.”

Existential question: "Do dogs know how much my Ikea futon costs?"

Existential question: “Do dogs know how much furniture costs?”

LV: I used to tell people this example to illustrate why it was useless to punish the dog hours after the facts, but I don’t think it’s a fair example.

JB: These are two different questions. He might “know” he did it, but he won’t know there is a link between that and the punishment. The other question is: “Is it really effective to deliver a scolding hours after the fact? Does it decrease the likelihood of the behaviour happening again?”

LV: On the contrary: the delayed punishment is likely to increase the problems, as it introduces unpredictability in the dog’s life and…

JB: … and that increases the anxiety that led to the behaviour in the first place. I think answering the question about agency doesn’t get near answering the question about responsibility and value, and the relationship the anger has to the behaviour. But this is a pretty subtle conversation to be having.

About pseudoscience

JB: That’s another thing am going to be talking about in my science presentation for Raising Canines. One of the things people hate about science is the uncertainty. Science is all about questioning your conclusions. You don’t get definitive answers and people hate that.

LV: I am passionately involved in the skeptics scene. And it gets frustrating to get back down to earth and deal with average levels of credulity again. Whether something is accurate or based on a valid argument ranks so low for most people when they’re trying to work out whether to believe something.

"Why do my dogs (and cat) do that?" Keep it simple - you can't read their mind.

“Why do my dogs (and cat) do that?” Keep it simple – you can’t read their mind.

JB: People start speculating about what’s going on in a dog’s head and invariably wonder whether the dog is doing something to spite them. And I say “Look. I’ve been living with the same person for going on twenty five years. We’re the same species. We’re the same sex. We both speak English as our native language. We have similar ethnic backgrounds. We have similar educational attainments. Nevertheless, I often have no idea what she’s thinking. So what are the odds that you know what your dog is thinking?” That sometimes penetrates.

LV: So what drives you nuts when it comes to lacking in healthy skepticism?

JB: One thing that drives me banana crackers is advocacy of “alternative medicine” on trainer lists. When I hear someone who’s working with anxious dogs recommending Rescue remedy®… It violates the principle of not doing any harm. Because you’re forcing this quackery on people and in the mean time the animal is suffering.

LV: Although the placebo by proxy effect… But what sort of a justification is that hey?

JB: I really like the Skept Vet blog for addressing these questions.

About TV trainers

LV: So how do you handle the die-hard fans of pseudo-sciencey TV trainers? I used to get caught in hot situations as these characters seem to breed that kind of strange, aggressive loyalty in their fans.

JB: Honestly, I try to stay away from it or I’ll spend a lot of time unproductively angry. It is essentially a religious attachment and therefore not amenable to rational discussion.

The one thing that I find useful, for people who haven’t thought about it a lot, is to ask them to watch with the sound off. To point out that we listen to a narrative, and that the words override what we can see.

LV: Do you think that people can detect distress signals in dogs?

JB: If they’re not being told what that something is “calm submission” they’re capable of noticing that it’s actually terror. I find it extremely difficult to watch these episodes but every so often I force myself. In such and such an episode, I’ll say “Did you notice that puddle under the dog’s hind quarters. He urinated in fright.”

LV: I am still caught off guard by perfectly rational people saying: “But it works!” And I think, “Yes, like magic and time travel do on TV. You DO realize it’s edited, right?”. But then I get told I am just being jealous. Sigh.

About dog food recalls

LV: As soon as people become vested in an idea, truth becomes less important. I have similar reservations about people who get unconditionally supportive of one fad diet or another.

JB: My idea is: dogs evolved as scavengers on the periphery of human settlements, and they are really good at getting the nutrients they need out of rubbish. But I have to confess, I feed homemade food, and I feed raw. I started out that way not because of a particular ideology, but because the person who introduced me to clicker training fed that way. But I’m so half-arsed about it. And my dog is so healthy. I just throw a bunch of vegetables and yoghurt and meat at him. And leftover pasta and Chinese food (with the sauce washed off). And his kibble in his treat toy and… I don’t care. He’s an omnivore.

But these claims that are made for raw feeding. I am sorry, but plenty of dogs have been perfectly healthy on the most revolting supermarket dog food.

Books and dogs...

Books and dogs…

LV: Am not so sure on this one. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t though. I have concerns about both BARF and commercial kibble. All these recalls are scary and I have zero trust left in the major commercial brands, never mind the minor supermarket ones. But at the same time, I can’t be bothered to do enough research into this to start putting together my dog’s balanced diet myself. Nutrition is not my specialty and I am not about to get a PhD in this just to find out what to stick in his dish. So I read the label and buy the best brand I can afford – and feed him leftovers.

JB: The recalls seem to be associated with products manufactured or sourced in China. China has is notoriously terrible for food preparation supervision. The whole meat jerky thing has been frightening. The US FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) has been attempting for years now to figure out what’s going on with meat jerkies from China. There have been several hundred deaths of dogs and cats over a decade or so. With GI [Gastro-Intestinal] problems, kidney failures, etc. They haven’t been able to identify a particular disease-causing agent or specific toxin.

I did a blog post about the jerky. I don’t think it’s a fake scandal.

LV: And how about the ash content? Wherever I look, it’s 6% at least. And that’s on the really expensive food. Am sure all that ash can’t be good.

JB: Well there’s a scientific statement if I ever heard one!

LV: [laughs] On that note, you can quote me!

Conclusion

After listening to so many of her podcasts, it was incredible to hear Jolanta’s voice ‘live’ down the telephone line. The conversation got more lively by the second as we discovered our shared passion for evidence and our common irreverence for dogma. If you live in New York do yourself and your dog a favour and book an appointment. The rest of us world citizens will have to “make-do” with her hilarious and informative podcasts.

Related reading

More about Jolanta

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