Category Archives: Information

Informational Posts

Secrets of Dog Training: Baiting the “Bait Bag”

puppy on leash

Secrets of Dog Training: Baiting the “Bait Bag”

With the arrival in my life of Maisie, the gorgeous Blue Weimaraner we recently drove up from Tri-State Weimaraner Rescue in Virginia Beach — I find myself thrust back into the world of dog training. I have to teach basic manners and build reliable communication and response from a 10-month-old large puppy who hasn’t had much consistency in her life. For me — and probably for most dog owners — the most important command that I need to feel confident about is “Come!”

And that is where the “bait bag” comes in — it’s a small drawstring pouch that clips on your belt or pocket (they are available anywhere that dog supplies are sold). You fill it with the best, most delicious treats you can find. Some people cut up hot dogs or bits of cooked meat, but then your fingers get all greasy and you have to scrub out the bait bag when you are finished each time. For myself, freeze-dried protein treats like Halo Liv-a-Littles are the only bait I want to use: they are lightweight so many can fit in the bag, they have zero carbohydrates, and even a small piece gives a dog such a taste delight that she will learn immediately that when that bag emerges, good things happen for her! And by making the bait a freeze-dried protein (Halo makes it of several different proteins — chicken, salmon or beef) it gives you an insurance policy that what is in your bait bag is more appealing than whatever else your dog might want to focus on.

I have learned to have that bait bag with me all day. It allows me to practice commands randomly with Maisie throughout the day. Having seen the value of being able to reward a behavior instantly, I now believe no dog owner should be without one, whether with an aging pooch or a young whipper snapper as I have now. I live in Vermont, where one of the joys is to be able to take walks in wide open fields, over hills, and in wooded areas. However, being able to safely allow a dog to run free with me means that I must “have a solid recall” on her — she has to respond without hesitation when I call or whistle for her, even from far away. That’s where High Value treats enter the picture — once Maisie tasted a Halo-Live-a-Little dried salmon treat, I saw that my bait bag became as valuable to her as an Hermes Kelly bag is to some people! And I know that when I have that bait bag, Maisie will never be far away.

For good advice and information about dog training, please listen to my show GOOD DOGS! on the Radio Pet Lady Network, co-hosted by the breeder/trainers from

–Tracie Hotchner

First Puppy Training Class (c) Ann Miller (Cropped/Resized, Creative Commons license)

House Training a Puppy Means Being a Helicoptering Pet Parent

attentive puppy

House Training a Puppy Means Being a Helicoptering Pet Parent

A fundamental rule of house training a puppy successfully and quickly is that you should know at all times exactly where your puppy is — which isn’t difficult, since there are really only three places the puppy should ever be during the house-training period. First, she can be in her crate (resting after playing or waiting for you to take her out). Second, she can be outside with you relieving herself. Third, she might be eating (Halo Spot’s Stew for Puppies is tip top!) — while you watch, waiting to take her right outside when she finishes.

The best way to know the puppy’s whereabouts at all times is to plan to keep her with you. The “house rule” needs to be that when the puppy is out of her crate, she cannot be left unattended. Not even for a second. Keep the puppy’s leash tied to your belt or loop it around your wrist. You go to the bathroom, she goes with you. You sit down to eat or read the paper, she’s right there on her leash beside your chair — and when she’s not with you, she’s in her crate. There has to be a basic, inviolate rule about how to utilize the crate for house-training: the puppy NEVER roams free in the house. No Exceptions. None. She is in that crate unless your full attention is on her, and full attention means just that — a totally focused “quality time” of playing, grooming, feeding and/or taking her for a walk. In humans, we are critical of that kind of helicopter parenting, but with puppies it is a necessary element of successful house training.

Here’s the perspective: anytime she is not under your direct control and she eliminates in the house, she has practiced (and therefore reinforced) that behavior. You have set back your house-training progress. This cannot happen if the puppy is in her crate or under close supervision. It’s cruel to a puppy to be inconsistent — you are setting her up for failure by giving her a freedom she can’t yet handle. By keeping her right at your side you remove the opportunity to pee anywhere, and you have gone a long way to developing house-training habits.

Take the pup out to her potty area frequently and give her generous praise and an especially delicious treat immediately after she has relieved herself. A puppy’s accomplishment in relieving herself outdoors should be the cause of celebration and congratulatory treats. Halo’s Liv-a-Little freeze-dried protein treats fall into the category of Super Dooper “high value” treats and should be part of your toolbox in raising the best puppy you possibly can.

–Tracie Hotchner

photo credit: pmarkham via photopin cc

Healthy Weight Challenge–Week 8 results–slow and steady wins this race!

dog lying on floor, looking glum

Dog’s diet plan might need tweaking to see results

Healthy Weight Challenge—Week 8 results—slow and steady will always win this race!
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Donna Spector

Here we are in week 8 of the 12-week Halo Healthy Weight Challenge. Fritz continues his slow and steady weight loss and successfully weighs in with another 0.6 pounds of weight loss. He is at a slimmer and trimmer 45.5 pounds–way to go Fritz!

While our original goal for Fritz had been to lose ½ to 1 pound each week, Fritz’s body seems to be more comfortable losing at about 0.3 pounds per week. At this rate, his hunger is also more manageable for his owner and everyone seems content.

Although every weight loss plan should start with a target of how much weight to lose per week AND an ultimate final weight goal, adjustments will be required as we go along. It is most important to follow trends instead of the absolute numbers. We feel like we have found Fritz’s slow and steady weight loss rate–at this pace he will most certainly finish and win his weight loss race!

Weekly Weight Loss Tip: If your dog has been on a diet and exercising with no appreciable weight loss in 3 months, changes must be made. If you haven’t been working with your veterinarian, now is the time to get him or her involved in a specific weight loss program. Your vet can make more specific calorie calculations and help fine-tune your weight loss efforts. As each dog’s metabolism is a bit different, a new diet approach may be warranted–your vet may want to consider a high protein, low-calorie diet or perhaps a higher fiber diet to help your dog with weight loss.

Fritz is the first participant enrolled in the Halo Healthy Weight Challenge on THE EXPERT VET of the RADIO PET LADY NETWORK. Fritz is eating Halo’s Healthy Weight Turkey & Duck Recipe and canned Spot’s Stew Wholesome Chicken as his main diet.

photo credit: Finger Food via photopin cc

FOUR PAWS UP for “Le Sauvetage” — Halo’s Movie About Pet (and People) Rescue!

FOUR PAWS UP for “Le Sauvetage” — Halo’s Movie About Pet (and People) Rescue!

What a wild and crazy idea: a pet food company dedicated to pets in shelters and the people dedicated to rescuing them — finds a filmmaker who can celebrate the human-animal bond in the most delightful and profound way — thereby inspiring more people to adopt a pet!

And not only that, but “Le Sauvetage” will premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival, where it is sure to inspire laughs and maybe even a few tears (of joy).

On my NPR show DOG TALK (and Kitties, Too!) this weekend, I will be interviewing the filmmaker Peter Mcevilley, who explains how he was chosen by Halo CEO Steve Marton, to make a short film celebrating the delights of rescuing a pet from a shelter.

The film features The Olate Dogs, some very talented and sassy little pooches who were winners of America’s Got Talent. Peter chose to make it in the style of “Amelie,” an unspoken “French” film that is even more touching and funny for the lack of dialogue.

This movie brings to light the bumper sticker that says “Shelter Pets: Who’s the One Being Rescued?” This heart-warming little movie shows adoption from the canine point of view — and will leave you scratching your head, wondering how your own dog feels about adopting you!

Here’s a link for the sneak preview of “Le Sauvetage” — share it with your friends (especially those that have not yet adopted a pet themselves!)

–Tracie Hotchner

The Bed of Maisie’s Dreams

West Paw Design dog bed

West Paw Design dog bed

The Bed of Maisie’s Dreams

It is pretty funny to see our new adopted Blue Weimaraner puppy, Maisie, make the tour of the extraordinary assortment of dog beds in our house. The reason every room has three beds — all of them different styles and designs — is because every dog is an individual with his or her own preferences on shape and firmness. And their desires can change from hour to hour and room to room!

West Paw Design dog bedWe have had three large dogs for a long time, and little Maisie is stepping into the very large paws of our darling Teddy, our youngest adopted Weimaraner, whom we recently lost. Watching Maisie make the rounds of the beds, trying each one out, first curled up, then stretched out, is pretty adorable: she is obviously delighted to have found a loving home of her very own, and tickled at all the sleeping options. She reminds me of Goldilocks, trying out each of the bear’s beds until she finds just the right one. Her favorite bed is a handsome new bolster bed from West Paw Design that is just soft enough, yet just supportive enough, for her power nap. It’s also big enough that she can get into it at the same time as her new older brother, Scooby Doo, and they can go off to dreamland together. In these pictures they are taking turns using it, but I know it won’t be long before they are doubled up. (Anybody who has Weimaraners knows they do their best sleeping in the “spoon”position!)

–Tracie Hotchner

Rescue Dogs in Dog-Friendly Alexandria Virginia

Tracie at Kimpton Monaco Hotel

Rescue Dogs in Dog-Friendly Alexandria Virginia

I have always wondered what a dog-friendly hotel would really be like — whether the dog rooms would be like being sent “to the dog house” (kind of shabby) and whether the dogs would only be allowed in some less-than-lovely parts of the hotel and be relegated to the freight elevator? On my recent trip driving down to Virginia to pick up Maisie from the Tri-State Weimaraner rescue, I had to pick a way point where my sister and I could overnight so that we could meet early in the morning at a rendezvous point in a hotel parking in Richmond, Virginia.

On my radio show DOG TRAVEL EXPERTS, my co-host Paris from (who wrote Texas with Dogs and travels extensively with her own two large dogs) had often told me that the Kimpton hotel chain was not just dog-friendly, but one of the truly dog welcoming hotels. She said they did not charge for dogs in the room, had no size limit on dogs and even allowed more than one dog to be guests with their people. So just for the heck of it, I picked the area just South of Washington D.C. and discovered that Alexandria Virginia was apparently the center of the dog-friendly universe because there were actually three boutique Kimpton hotels there, so I eeny-meeny-miny-moed and chose the Monaco Hotel. I was knocked out of my socks when I walked into the elegant lobby and the very first thing I saw was a darling white dog named Charlie, who was the hotel mascot, and very interested in two stunning young ladies who were hotel guests, it turned out — a pair of the most well-behaved Standard poodles imaginable, sitting as elegantly as fashion models beside their people, who were reading in a cozy corner seating area.

One was a chocolate poodle and the other was a black one and I was compelled to go right over and compliment their people on their dogs’ lovely manners. I couldn’t believe my good luck at seeing actual dogs in a dog-friendly hotel — especially front-and-center in the lobby! I discovered that Susie was deaf and somewhat blind at 13 years of age, while Roxy, the chocolate girl, was only two and a half. They told me that because their daughter lived in Alexandria, they drove up from Madison, Florida — east of Tallahassee — many times a year, even though it was a two day drive to get there. They said that the Monaco rooms had plush dog beds, cute dog bowls, and that many of the businesses in Alexandria were just as welcoming to dogs as the hotel. I told them that the following morning I would be on my way to pick up my rescued Weimaraner, and could only hope that one day Maisie might become as good a traveler as their lovely dogs were — who were probably trained from puppy hood. That was when Patty and Bob told me that both their dogs were rescues, too! That Susie had shown up on their driveway many years ago when she still had her sight and hearing, and that Roxy had come from a no-kill shelter which had contacted them when she came in because they were known as “poodle people.” It was because I am known as a “Weim person” that wherever I have lived, when Weimaraners come into a rescue, word will often get to me. What this lovely chance meeting with Susie and Roxy reminded me of was that shelters are full of the most wonderful dogs — all of which are there from no fault of their own — and that one-third of dogs in shelters are purebred.

When next you are ready to add a dog to your family — and you have a breed that has captured your heart — please Adopt Don’t Shop! Look at and discover the amazing miracle that the very kind of dog you love best may be waiting somewhere right near you (or three days away, in my case!) to offer you a lifetime of forever love for giving them a forever home. And I salute Halo and for making sure their bellies are full of really nutritious food to make them shiny and strong while they wait for you to touch them with the magic wand of being chosen.

–Tracie Hotchner

Healthy Weight Challenge–Week 6 results–don’t let exercise sabotage your dog’s diet!

Dog running

Don’t fall victim to the Reward Rule

Healthy Weight Challenge–Week 6 results are in–don’t let exercise sabotage your dog’s diet!
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Donna Spector

In week 4, Fritz experienced a small weight gain. With a minor adjustment in his food and calorie intake, he is right back on track with a ½ pound weight loss and he weighed in at 46.1 pounds this week.

The last 2 weeks brought an interesting question from Fritz’s owner. The family took a vacation and Fritz was to stay at overnight camp. While Fritz is a camper, apparently he spends his days running around like a madman with the other dogs in residence! Fritz’s owner was sure he would burn extra calories and be extra hungry during his camp experience. She inquired if we should increase his calories to compensate for this extra activity.

While this seems fairly logical, unfortunately it is thinking that often leads to continued weight gain–despite a diet and exercise program. This diet disaster phenomenon in both canine and human weight loss is called the “Reward Rule”. People unknowingly sabotage weight loss by giving extra calories when they feel they or their pet have earned a reward. For example, if Fido had an extra long walk or played vigorously in the park with another dog, an extra food reward is often given. People generally over-estimate the number of calories burned during exercise and tend to under-estimate the calorie punch of a treat.

Weekly Weight Loss Tip: If your dog is on a diet and is exercising but failing to lose weight–check yourself–are you practicing the “Reward Rule”? Don’t let exercise undo your weight loss progress! If your pet had a particularly vigorous exercise session (or stays at dog overnight camp!) just be happy that it may add to the weight loss efforts. Don’t get into the vicious cycle of extra treats for harder workout sessions!

Fritz is the first participant enrolled in the Halo Healthy Weight Challenge on THE EXPERT VET of the RADIO PET LADY NETWORK. Fritz is eating Halo’s Healthy Weight Turkey & Duck Recipe and canned Spot’s Stew Wholesome Chicken as his main diet.

photo credit: tymesynk via photopin cc

The Pilgrimage For Puppy Pick-Up

Sitting Puppy

Shelter dogs are looking for forever homes

As you read this, I am on my way from Vermont to Virginia, driving 10 hours to Virginia Beach, where an 8-month-old Blue (dark gray) Weimaraner pooch named Maisie is waiting for me. It’s thrilling, unexpected, and bittersweet — until the moment I hold her in my arms and then it will be All Good.

As those of us know who have formed our extended canine families through adoption, timing is everything — and pretty much out of your direct control! If what seems like the “right” dog crosses your path, even if you aren’t quite sure you are ready or can handle it, you have to leave your heart open to whatever the universe presents, because there is a destiny to every dog we rescue — who often seems as though he rescues us, too. Afterwards you often kick yourself for even entertaining any doubts about opening your home and heart to that dog-of-the-moment and think, “But of course! This dog was destined to be mine. Why did I even doubt it?”

The reason I have a vacant dog bed in our home — and a hole that needs mending in our hearts right now — is because we recently experienced the devastating sudden dire illness of the youngest dog in our family, a beautiful adopted Weimaraner named Teddy, who was a month shy of his 8th birthday and in the prime of his life. He suddenly succumbed to a fast and brutal cancer that could not be stopped, even with a week of the highest level of veterinary medicine. (Please listen to the podcast of last week’s radio show DOG TALK to hear my thoughts about what happened with some cautionary suggestions for all pet owners.)

Our other two old, adopted dogs are depressed to the point of not eating — and my husband and I are in a daze of sorrow. None of us knows what to do with our sadness. To give myself something to look forward to, I contacted the two Weimaraner breeders I know and asked to be put on their waiting lists for puppies, both of whom said they were planning litters for the late summer. My husband had never owned a dog before we joined our lives, and Teddy was his first dog, his adored, shining boy — so his loss was particularly bitter. Even though my instincts are always to get a dog from a rescue, I felt my husband had earned the right to experience a puppy right from the beginning. But the Guardian Angel of Dogs in Need stepped right in — because one of the breeders who put my name on his future list, also runs the Virginia Tri-State Weimaraner Rescue. He told me that just recently an older couple had reluctantly relinquished a beautiful, super friendly, well-mannered young female because they did not have the time for her she needed. At eight months old she may not be an eight week old puppy, but will be young enough to bring joy and healing into our hearts — while we have the privilege of offering an idyllic life to a deserving dog, who has already suffered the shock of losing her first human family.

I packed the car with a big baggie of Halo Salmon kibble to introduce her right away to her new food-for-life, a jar of Liv-a-Little freeze-dried treats to reward anything good she does, and a bottle of Cloud Nine shampoo since she may need a shower with me after her stay at the rescue’s doggy daycare. My sister Holly left her Brussels Griffons, Lulu and Sprout, at home (with their Halo Small Breed Spot’s Stew meals all measured out with their babysitter), so she could accompany me on this 3-day marathon voyage to give Maisie a glorious new life after her bumpy beginnings — and to give me, my husband and our two remaining dogs the delightful distraction we need to move through our mourning so we can begin to enjoy our memories of Teddy.

He, too, was a re-homed young Weimaraner — only 7 months old when I got him because a dog trainer did an “intervention” — and convinced the mentally ill owner to give him up to me, a veteran Weim rescuer. Teddy was locked in her house, crated and un-housebroken, destroying furniture in his frustration. The trainer said she had never before seen such sadness in a dog’s eyes. I had three dogs at the time but couldn’t imagine leaving this young one in such a compromised environment — so I said yes, not sure what sort of dog I would be meeting or whether it would “upset our apple cart” at home.

Halo celebrates dogs in shelters and rescues; gets Halo food into their bowls while they are waiting for their Forever Homes. It is a noble cause. No one should doubt that dogs for adoption can overcome their past to bring pure joy to their new people — and are able to shed all remnants of their miserable beginnings. Teddy was a prime example of how dogs in shelters are not “damaged” and were not discarded because they were “defective.” It is people who let dogs down, all the time. But dogs have incredible resilience and are willing to forgive and forget whatever has come before and open their hearts to their new people. Teddy never had an accident in the house, made us laugh in delight at him, and never had a day that wasn’t The Best Day Ever Isn’t Life Grand! He should have lived another eight happy, healthy years, if life was fair. Instead, Maisie will get a fresh start, and so will we. There is a circle of love between people and dogs that remains unbroken.

–Tracie Hotchner

photo credit: ryantron. via photopin cc

What Does Crude Protein Really Mean in Dry Dog Food?

Halo, all natural kibble, in bags and on plate

Halo, all natural kibble

What Does Crude Protein Really Mean in a Dry Dog Food?

The most popular blog I’ve ever written was about what “crude protein” really means — and whether the amount of crude protein in kibble is a reliable way to judge the best dog food for your own pooch. So I want to tell people who may not know it that I think the words “crude protein” should have a blinking caution light on dog food labels because these two words can be misleading. If there is a high percentage of crude protein on a dog food label we might assume it indicates high quality protein, and top notch food — but if we really understood what those two words mean, we would think about it differently when choosing a dog food for our tail-wagging family members.

Protein is the most expensive ingredient in any food, whether for pets or people. Protein — especially good quality protein from muscle meat — is the most costly part of a meal and therefore, savvy pet owners have learned to seek out high protein pet foods, believing those foods are the best. But there is a huge difference in where that protein comes from! To me, the most significant advantage Halo has over other kibble is that they use meat in their recipes — real meat, the way they do in their canned foods — and they do not use any rendered products or meal to achieve their protein content. It’s the only kibble I will feed my own dogs as part of their daily meals.

It’s sort of logical for pet owners to believe that the percentage of crude protein on a label (as required by the regulatory body AAFCO) refers to how much animal protein there is in the food. Instead, “crude protein” is actually a chemical analysis of the food whereby the amount of nitrogen present is used to estimate the amount of protein in the food. While nitrogen does come from animal protein, it also comes from non-animal proteins like grains, as well as other non-protein nitrogen (NPN) sources. This obviously creates a gap between what you think you are buying and feeding your dog (especially thinking you are getting a food with a high percentage of animal protein) — and what has actually been used to determine that number. Keep in mind that the toxic melamine was added to pet food as a non-protein nitrogen source to increase the appearance of high protein content in those pet foods that were part of the nationwide recall. (Halo has never been recalled).

In addition, for many dry food manufacturers, “crude protein” includes carcasses and other waste from slaughtered animals, rendered into a “meal.” The word “meal” on a pet food bag may indicate the inclusion of such ingredients, along with meat not fit for people to eat. This certainly helps clean up the slaughterhouse floor without having to call the garbage company! Unfortunately, inferior protein meals can give a dog food a high percentage of crude protein — without being high in quality protein.

Since pet food can include a variety of questionable ingredients, and crude protein measurements always include non-animal protein, here are ways to find a dog food with high quality protein.

  1. Choose a food that lists real whole meat on the bag as the first ingredient — chicken, lamb, salmon, etc. — because then you are getting true quality protein, not ingredients used to increase the nitrogen levels (and thereby give a higher crude protein percentage).
  2. Seek out foods that use whole vegetables, whole grains and real fruits — all hallmarks of a higher quality nutrition source.
  3. Read the entire label and make sure you understand all of the ingredients. A pet food doesn’t need to have any mysterious words on the label — it should be plain as day.
  4. Call the pet food company and ask about their protein or any of the ingredients you have questions about. A company should have a well-trained customer service staff as well as a veterinarian or nutritionist that can answer your questions. (Halo promptly answers phone calls from interested customers.)

Personally, I choose Halo and I don’t have to worry! They oversee their ingredient sources and other environmental variables and I believe Halo kibble is a great foundation for the quality dry portion of any dog’s nutrition.

–Tracie Hotchner

Healthy Weight Challenge–Fritz’s 4 Week results are in–it’s called CHALLENGE for a reason!

Dog begging for table scraps

Don’t give in to dog’s begging

Healthy Weight Challenge–Fritz’s 4 Week results are in–it’s called CHALLENGE for a reason!
Guest Post by Dr. Donna Spector

Fritz has experienced steady weight loss during the first 3 weeks of the Halo Healthy Weight Challenge–3.8 pounds so far. So this week it was a little disappointing when Fritz tipped the scale at 46.7 pounds–up 0.5 pounds from last week!

Fritz is the first participant enrolled in the Halo Healthy Weight Challenge on THE EXPERT VET of the RADIO PET LADY NETWORK.

Fritz is eating Halo’s Healthy Weight Turkey & Duck Recipe and canned Spot’s Stew Wholesome Chicken as his main diet. Although he has been getting daily veggies to help curb his munchies, his owner describes him as begging constantly. Last week we had adjusted Fritz’s food intake a bit to prevent him from eating everything that wasn’t nailed down! Unfortunately that small amount of food tipped the weight scale against us. Remember, every little bit counts!

So this week, we go back to the original food “prescription” and add even more zucchini–we know how he loves it! We will check back with Fritz next week for hopefully more good losses!

Weekly Weight Loss Tip: Don’t give in to begging (and pleading and pestering and staring and pawing!). Many overweight dogs are accustomed to getting treats for many things–such as when they go outside, after play, when they give their owner a certain “look”, before bed… and the list goes on. They don’t like it when they are not rewarded with food anymore. They often take to whining, pawing, pacing and even pestering you in the middle of the night. Just remember these dogs are begging for food that they WANT…not that they NEED. Anyone who has been on a diet will understand the cravings and how their dog might be feeling. You have to outlast your dog–they are smart and will eventually give up the begging behavior if it is not working! Give love and attention instead of food–try an extra walk or play session. If you must give a treat, consider veggies or Halo’s Healthsome baked treats. Try breaking treats into multiple pieces and make one treat last through 4 or 5 treat-giving sessions to help cut the calories. Good luck!

photo credit: cseeman via photopin cc