Often, writing something to appear on this page is the last thing I do before shipping the issue to the printer. That’s true tonight, too. Exhausted from making the calls and compiling the information that goes into our annual dry dog food review, I was drawing a blank on an idea for the editorial. So I did what I often do when I’m all wrung out; I took my dog Otto out for a walk.
It’s crystal clear and freezing tonight, and the stars were shining brightly. Otto trotted ahead of me off-leash, stopping to smell bushes and waiting at the street corners for me to catch up, look both ways, and give him permission to race across the deserted streets. There is a park near our house with a low concrete wall around it, and as he often does, Otto jumped up onto the wall, pranced along it for a ways, and then stopped and looked back at me, a free dog, eyes alight with interest and affection and health. And it struck me how far I have come as a dog owner, thanks to Whole Dog Journal.
Fifteen years ago, I thought that I was an above-average owner because I fed my dog Purina Dog Chow, rather than one of the lower-cost, generic dog foods in the grocery store. I failed to consider that there might be a connection between that diet and my dog’s propensity for breaking out in hot spots and frequent ear infections. I didn’t know anything back then!
Then I was hired to edit this magazine. Previously, I had edited horse magazines, and my most immediate prior experience was editing a holistic horse magazine. I figured that while I had a lot to learn about dogs, I knew a fair amount about holistic healthcare for horses, and how different could it be? I threw myself into the job, buying every book on the subject of holistic canine healthcare (there weren’t many yet) and positive dog training, and signing up for lectures and conferences such as the annual meeting of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
I was horrified to learn, pretty much immediately, that all the dog training I had ever done was outdated and nonsensical – and the dog food that I was so proud of buying was far better suited to feeding a chicken or a pig.
This is one of the reasons that I am patient with friends or acquaintances who still use choke chains or feed grocery store foods; I was in their shoes not that long ago. I’ve learned that there are healthier alternatives to both of those things, and moving away from them has led me on a journey that has influenced how I feed myself and my family (including the dog, of course) and even how I raised my son. (It’s a family joke, although one that sometimes startles people who don’t know us well, that I regularly praise my son by saying, “Oh good dog, Eli!”)
When you’ve been immersed in a subject for a long time, it’s easy to forget the period of ignorance that came before. It’s also easy to forget how ashamed you may have felt the first time you realized that some of the training techniques you used on a beloved canine partner in your past bordered on abuse. Or that all those annual vaccinations and poor-quality food may have helped to shorten that dog’s life.
Seeing Otto’s eyes twinkling at me in the starlight as he proudly balanced on the park wall, it just hit me: I deeply love and enjoy the company of my vibrantly healthy and well-behaved dog. I’m grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to spend my professional life learning about something that is fascinating to me personally. I’m also appreciative of the opportunity to promote the power of positive training and holistic healthcare for dogs to other owners. Thanks so much for your support of WDJ.