I follow lots of positive reinforcement and force free dog trainers and behaviourists on social media. Some of them produce the most amazing content which I share, and there are always new ideas to be picked up. But not everyone following them is a fan. On one post about a training exercises and owner commented, “why are you always training your dogs?” She said she hadn’t trained her dog at all and he was just naturally well behaved. “Why,” she asked, “should I tell my dog what to do all the time? We just love walks and hanging out. He chased a deer once so we keep him on the lead near them now.” On a gundog training group a new puppy owner asked, “When should I start training my puppy? He is 10 weeks old.” The first answer was, “I don’t train my puppies until they are 6months old.”


Were these people lying? No. They just have a different definition of training to me. But the idea that they haven’t trained their dogs is just nuts!

Take the first lady. She definitely doesn’t just allow her dog to be a dog. Just being a dog would mean he slept where he wanted, took any food he found, toileted when and where he chose, and explored the world at will. She has taught her dog to walk on a lead without pulling, and to come back when called (unless there are deer about!). Indoors she has set out the ground rules about where the dog can go, toilet trained the dog, taught food manners, and a host of other things that make her dog nice to be around. She just doesn’t call setting some basic rules on good manners and teaching them to the dog ‘training’. But it is! Her dog can only ‘relax and be a dog’ because he has been taught the rules that allow that to happen.

Take our gundog guy. If the novice follows his advice to the letter he will be looking for someone like me to help him out when his 7 month old Cocker is a self-employed hunting machine and menace to all furred and feathered creatures. The gundog guy means that he doesn’t start formal training until 6 months. The gundog guy doesn’t call rolling socks along the floor for his puppy to fetch, using a whistle to call the pup in for his grub, waiting until the puppy sits before feeding him, or playing tennis ball hide-and-seek in the long grass training. But that is exactly what it is.


Before your puppy comes home agree a list of ‘ground rules’ with the other people in your house. Agree the words you will use as cues for your puppy, and ask the breeder what cues they have already introduced (a puppy from a good breeder will come with some basic training already started!).

As soon as your puppy is home use food and toys and the comfort of being near you to start moulding their behaviour to fit your ground rules. But be flexible… you aim might be for your puppy to sleep in the kitchen on their own, but they might need you closer for their first few nights.


From the minute your puppy opens their eyes, to the minute they fall asleep they are learning, so you are training! If you aren’t helping your puppy to learn the right behaviours by setting them up for success, you are making lie harer for both of you in the long run.

Training isn’t just sit, stay, come, give paw and roll over. The best owners help their puppies to learn self control and life-skills as well as following cues.


We highly recommend enrolling in a puppy class either in person or online. Choose a trainer who uses positive methods (they may call themselves positive, fear free, force free or similar).

You might also enjoy the following books:

Mission Control – Jane Ardern: a book that uses fun games to help dogs learn self control.

Life Skills for Puppies – Helen Zulch and Daniel Mills: how to have a dog that fits into the modern world.

Easy Peasy Puppy Squeazy – Steve Mann: A very easy to read, and funny, guide to understanding and training your puppy



Some of you may have noticed my brief appearance on The One Show earlier this year assessing the health of dogs on vegan or meat based diets. Environmental concerns are leading to more people investigating alternative diets for their pets, including feeding dogs vegan diets. Although the investigation by the show (in conjunction with Wanda McCormick at The University of Northampton) was on a very small scale, it found that homemade diets, both vegan and meat based were not providing everything the dogs needed for longer term health, but neither was the commercial vegan diet… you might also have read about grain free diets being linked to heart disease in dogs in America, raw meat diets being a health hazard to pets and their owners, and even insects being touted as the next big thing in pet foods…so…what’s going on?


At the time of writing the diet related dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases appear to be limited to North America. The affected dogs have been fed one of a range of grain free or exotic meat based diets. Although these diets contain adequate nutrition on paper, they seem not be support heart health in some dogs. The exact cause remains unclear but the use of legumes (peas and beans) as a significant part of the diet may be to blame. 

Take home message: small pet food companies may not be doing any testing to ensure they meet minimum nutritional guidelines. Those that do may only do computer balancing. Larger manufacturers do feeding trials to ensure a food can maintain health in dogs over a period of time. Look for food from PFMA members, or ask if the food meets FEDIAF guidelines.


There have been a number of papers published in the last few years highlighting the potential risks of raw meat based diets. Major areas of concern include the risk to owners from handling raw meat, and the potential for raw fed pets to shed harmful bacteria into their environment. Contaminated meat could also make pets sick, and there are numerous case reports of dogs requiring treatment for broken teeth or intestinal obstruction after eating raw bones. Studies have also shown that homemade diets may not be nutritionally balanced.

But…most of the papers on the risks from bacteria highlight a possible risk, rather than actual cases. With good hygiene practices, a raw fed dog should present very little extra risk over a kibble fed dog. After all, most dogs will eat cat faeces or roadkill given half a chance! Both raw and kibble diets have suffered recalls due to contamination in recent years. That said, caution should be taken if the household contains babies, toddlers, the elderly, or immunocompromised members, and the recommendation that PAT dogs should not be raw fed seems very sensible. Broken teeth and intestinal obstruction risks are present with raw bones, but also with many toys and chews. As with toys and chews, supervision and choosing appropriately sized bones is the key to risk mitigation.

For a balanced raw diet choose a commercial diet from a PFMA member who is meeting FEDIAF guidelines. Honey’s recently did a version of a feeding trial which showed their foods keep real dogs healthy. Alternatively, seek out the advice of a vet with raw feeding experience who can help you devise a home prepared diet for your dog.


If you are cutting back on meat to save the planet, or have gone fully vegetarian or vegan, can your dog do the same? Dogs can survive on vegetarian diets, but may require supplementation of certain vitamins and essential amino acids. Vegan diets present a much harder challenge, especially as synthetic versions of key trace elements are removed from the market. There are several commercial vegan diets available, but if you read the small print all are described as ‘complementary’ meaning they are not designed to be fed as the only food. FEDIAF compliant complete vegetarian diets are available however, and can be useful in diagnosing and treating adverse food reactions.


Is the future eating bugs? The first dogs treats and foods based on insect protein are hitting the shelves and are said to offer an alternative which is better for the planet than pets consuming large amounts of high carbon footprint meat. But, pet food is made from the by-products of human meat consumption. Despite the pretty illustrations on the packaging, your dog’s dinner is not made from prime cuts of meat, but from the parts people don’t want…tongue, tendons, fascia, skin, tripe, old animals, and meat recovered by mechanical means from the bones. If this ‘waste’ didn’t become pet food it would be truly wasted… if humans significantly reduce their meat intake perhaps there won’t be enough to go around for our pets, and then we may need to look at alternatives. Personally, I think I’ll get my protein from plants rather than bugs, but a kibble made of insects will look (and I presume taste!) very much the same as one made with meat so it could be a way forward for pets. However, the problems with grain free/ exotic meat diets in the US gives me cause for concern. More work is needed to ensure insect protein provides the nutrition dogs need when fed as well as on paper.

Where does this leave us as dog owners who just want to do the right thing by our pets, the planet, and our wallets? I think we should investigate new ideas in pet feeding with an open, but enquiring, mind and we should ask pet food manufacturers large and small how they are ensuring diets are safe and nutritious for our pets to eat.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we take an, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to pet diets and never ask a pet owner to change for the sake of it. However, diet can be used to treat a range of conditions and our vet Vicky will work with clients wanting to use commercial, homemade, or raw diets. Email for more information.



After a long winter and slow spring it seems summer has arrived in the UK, if only for a few days so time for a few small pointers on helping your pets cope!


Although getting out and about is essential for your dogs mental and physical wellbeing don’t overdo it in the sun! Take extra care if your dog has health problems, is overweight, has a heavy coat or a short nose.

Walk when it’s cooler, choose shady woodland or a breezy beach or swap walks for brain teasing back garden games such as bobbing for toys and treats in a large bucket or paddling pool!


Both dogs and cats love playing with food stuffed Kong toys all year round but in the warm weather make them a Kong ice-pop. Use any ingredient they would normally eat or make up some salt free chicken stock then freeze and serve.


Make sure your small pets have plenty of shade too and remember to apply pet-safe suncream to any pets with pink areas of skin. Just like humans they can get sunburn and skin cancer!



When Vicky was studying herbal medicine she came across some interesting historical uses and memorable stories about herbs. Here she shares a few of her favourites.


Devils Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is known as the grapple plant due to it’s unusually shaped seed cases. Some sources say these have been traditionally been used as mousetraps, though with no explanation of exactly how!


Velcro was invented after a scientist noticed how the seeds of Burdock (Arctium lappa) stuck to his dogs coat!



Although not used in making the modern day sweets the root of the Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) was once an essential ingredient.


Turmeric (Curcuma longa) makes the yellow dye for Buddhist robes. Indigo (Baptista tinctora) makes a blue dye.


Finally for today, did you ever wonder why Peter Rabbit fell asleep in the vegetable garden? Well, it may have been the wild lettuce! Lactuca virosa, a relative of garden lettuce is renowned for inducing sleep.