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Tag: alternative therapies

Prescription Dog Foods: Do They Really Help?

Short answer: It depends on the food and your dog’s condition. Prescription dog food can help, but sometimes they make matters worse!

The general concept of veterinary or prescription diets is sound; it’s well-accepted by all nutrition experts that nutrient levels and ingredients can be manipulated in various ways in order to have beneficial effects on animals (including humans) with specific health conditions. We’ve known this ever since the 1930s, when veterinarian Mark Morris innovated the first diet for dogs who were suffering from kidney failure (see “The Morris Family and the Dawn of Veterinary Diets”).

Unfortunately, nearly a century later, the concept is in danger of being a victim of its success. In the past 15 years or so, there has been a tidal wave of prescription foods being brought to market. Pet food makers have been enjoying seemingly endless success by marketing foods to the owners of dogs of ever more specific descriptions – there’s a food being pitched for adult Yorkshire Terriers! there’s one for Pug puppies! – and this trend has spread to the veterinary foods.

There are so many products that even veterinarians are often confused about which food to recommend to their clients.

The development and marketing of these products got so out of hand, that in 2016, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) created a guidance document for its staff, intended to educate them (and, sort of subversively put pet food makers on notice) about the laws that apply to these products.

Prescription Diets for Dogs Defined

There are a few differences between a prescription diet and an over-the-counter food.

Prescription diets are defined as those that are labeled and/or marketed as intended for use to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent diseases and are labeled and/or marketed to provide all or most of the animal’s total daily nutrient requirements by serving as the pet’s sole diet. They are meant to be marketed by and used only under the direction of a licensed veterinarian, who bears the responsibility of ensuring that the pet receiving the diet has been properly diagnosed as suffering from a disease or other health condition for which the food would constitute an appropriate treatment. A veterinarian is also expected to provide periodic assessment of how the animal has reacted to the diet and to discontinue the product when warranted.

Consumers are not supposed to be able to purchase prescription diets without a prescription, due to the potential for misusing the product and/or misunderstanding its role in the treatment of the pet’s condition.

There’s one quirky aspect of the rules regarding the labels of prescription foods: They are not allowed to include any representation that the product contained therein can be used to treat or prevent disease. Discussion of that technical information and the specific factors of the food that are therapeutic or beneficial to pets with the diagnosed condition are supposed to be limited to veterinarians only. That’s why manufacturers of these foods maintain separate websites – one for veterinarians and a separate one for pet owners – that describe their products.

Our Peeves About Prescription Dog Foods

Though we love and believe in the concept of truly therapeutic foods, we have a few peeves with prescription foods, starting with the practice of making the technical information about the products inaccessible to owners. We believe that interested owners can and should be trusted with information about how the prescription diet is supposed to affect their dogs. We also think that giving owners access to this information would also help them discern the differences – if there truly are any – between the prescription foods and non-prescription foods whose labels may also wink and hint at certain nonspecific health benefits. Over-the-counter food labels probably read as more therapeutic than prescription food labels!

Our biggest pet peeve, though, has to do with the ingredients that tend to appear in prescription diets. These foods are full of by-products!

In a way, this is a legacy of the original inventors of prescription diets, the father and son veterinarians who developed all the original diets for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. It’s unclear whether there were any nutritionally adequate dog or cat foods on the market before Dr. Mark Morris, Sr., formulated his first products. Dr. Morris graduated from veterinary school as the Great Depression dawned. There were shortages of food for humans, so you could be certain that what was left over for making into pet food was not the most appealing material. But Dr. Morris had something that few (if any) pet food makers at the time had going for him: a scientific mind, honed at the best veterinary college of its day, and knowledge about the nutritional requirements of animals. He, and his son after him, focused on meeting those requirements – proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals – from whatever foodstuffs were at their disposal, at the right price. Nutrients, not ingredients, became the Science Diet way – and the company’s formulators defend it to this day (though the marketing people have pushed for greater inclusions of ingredients that are more appealing to consumers (“humanization” is the industry parlance).

We don’t think there needs to be a wall between these schools of nutritional philosophy. Of course the nutrients in a food are the most important thing – but why can’t they originate from less-processed ingredients?

We developed WDJ’s dog food selection criteria with the quality of ingredients as the most important factor. In prescription dog food, the factors that are responsible for the therapeutic action of the food are of the utmost importance; we can look the other way when we see powdered cellulose as a fiber source or corn gluten meal as a protein source when we know that there are other functional attributes of those ingredients that have qualified them for inclusion. (Though when lay people can’t access the rationale for the inclusion of those ingredients, it’s frustrating!)

Fortunately, change is coming – and the newly crowded veterinary-diet market affords consumers more options, even for highly specialized products.

The Morris Family and the Dawn of Veterinary Diets

The concept of pet foods formulated to benefit dogs with specific health problems was innovated by Mark L. Morris, Sr., a veterinarian who started his first practice in 1928 in Edison, New Jersey, after graduating from Cornell University. At a time when most veterinarians treated mainly livestock and working farm animals, Dr. Morris focused his veterinary practice, the Raritan Hospital for Animals, on the care of companion animals.

At that time, the nascent pet food industry produced two types of foods for dogs: baked biscuits and canned foods that consisted almost exclusively of horsemeat. Most people fed table scraps to their pet dogs; only more affluent, urban or suburban owners augmented their dogs’ diet of leftovers with a commercial dog food.

These products were anything but “complete and balanced” – living conditions caused by the Great Depression meant that only the least-nutritive foodstuffs were going into pet food. Dr. Morris noticed that his veterinary practice saw an unusually high number of dogs with kidney disease, and he speculated that this had something to do with their diets, comprised mostly of poor-quality protein. He started conducting research on pet nutrition; he believed that he could better treat his patients by using proper nutrition from a balanced diet.

Dr. Morris worked with Dr. Jim Allison at Rutgers University’s biochemistry department to develop techniques for diagnosing diseases in small animals and to develop and test recipes for better dog and cat diets; he started selling his first pet food formulas in 1939.

That was the same year that he met Morris Frank, a young man who had lost an eye in an accident as a young child and lost vision in the other in a boxing match as a teenager. Frank traveled to Europe in 1928 to acquire his German Shepherd guide dog, Buddy; shortly after he brought Buddy back to the U.S., Frank started America’s first guide dog school in New Jersey. In 1939, he and Buddy were “The Seeing Eye” guide dog school’s national ambassadors – though Buddy was by then an old dog suffering from kidney disease. Frank sought out Dr. Morris, desperate for anything that might help Buddy.

Dr. Morris formulated a special diet for Buddy, canning it in glass jars in his kitchen with the help of his wife, Louise. Legend has it that the dog’s health improved and soon, this formula – dubbed Raritan Ration B – was in great demand. Frank sent Dr. Morris a canning machine and a commission for thousands of orders. By 1948, with the popularity of the food growing – and no doubt, wearying of operating the canning machine – Dr. Morris took his formula to a Topeka, Kansas, canning company, the Hill Packing Company (named after its founder, Burton Hill), which had been canning dog food (as well as horse meat for human consumption!) since 1930.

The business relationship thrived and by 1948 became a partnership, Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Raritan Ration B was given a new name, “Canine k/d” (for “kidney diet”). Dr. Morris continued to create new formulas for diets that addressed pet health problems and Hill’s produced, packaged, and marketed them. In 1951, Dr. Morris moved his laboratory to Topeka, where new products are developed and tested at the Hill’s Global Pet Nutrition Center to this day.

Mark Morris, Sr., was instrumental in the founding of the American Animal Hospital Association. He also established the Morris Animal Foundation and served as president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Mark and Louise Morris had two children, Mark Jr. and Ruth. Mark Jr. earned a doctorate’s degree in veterinary medicine in 1958. After serving in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, he completed a Ph.D. in veterinary pathology and biochemistry. Later, he joined Hill’s Pet Nutrition, where he expanded the company’s offerings. In 1968, he oversaw the development of a new line of dog and cat foods called Science Diet, formulated with preventative health in mind. Mark Jr. was a founding member of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and co-authored Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, the definitive textbook for companion-animal nutrition.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition has been purchased by large corporations twice: Riviana Foods bought the company in 1968, and in turn was purchased by Colgate-Palmolive in 1976. Hill’s is currently ranked fourth on the list of the largest pet food companies in the world, with $2.5 billion worth of sales annually.

Recommendations for Prescription Dog Food Use

We can’t (won’t) tell you which company’s prescription diets to choose for your dog; only a veterinarian can do that! But we encourage you to dig in for (and prepare to pay for) an extended conversation with your veterinarian about any prescription diets she may recommend for your dog. We’d suggest the following discussion points if your veterinarian recommends a prescription diet for your dog:

  • The first thing to ascertain is whether your vet can describe what, specifically, the product offers to your dog. What are the specific attributes that are therapeutic for your dog’s condition? It’s not enough to just point owners toward a “kidney diet” any time there is a dog of any age with almost any sort of abnormal urine test result.
  • Ask follow-up questions. If, in the example above, your vet suggests that her recommended “kidney diet” has lower-protein, and that your dog should be on a lower-protein food, ask her what amount of protein she thinks is suitable for your dog. Many kidney diets have protein levels that are very low, far too low for a young or middle-aged dog in the early stages of kidney disease – so low, in fact, that dogs who are fed these diets for a long time start losing muscle mass as their bodies attempt to function without enough dietary protein. It’s easy to find foods at any level of protein she thinks is appropriate, with higher-quality sources of protein than are typically used in prescription diets.
  • Buy a small amount of the food for the first time. Many prescription diets are not very palatable.
  • If your dog won’t eat it, don’t fall for the “He’ll eat it if he gets hungry enough” speech. If your dog is not well, going hungry will not improve matters. As soon as possible, ask your vet for a more palatable alternative.

Alternative Dog Food

Starting below, we’ve listed all the prescription dog foods currently on the market in a searchable database. We’ve included the complete ingredients list, as well as the protein and fat content, of each of the foods on this list. We strongly suggest that you compare the ingredients of all the products that are formulated for whatever condition your dog is being treated for. Then ask your veterinarian if she could investigate the technical information for your preferred product and perhaps prescribe it for your dog, too.

Company Name Variety Condition Formulated For Ingredients Type Meat, Meal or Both Minimum Protein Content Minimum Fat Content Grain Free or Inclusive
Blue Buffalo KS Kidney Support Kidney Care Deboned Chicken, Potato Starch, Pea Starch, Peas, Potatoes, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Fat (preserve view more Dry Meat 14.0% 18.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo GI Gastrointestinal Support Low Fat Digestive Care Deboned Whitefish, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Potatoes, Tapioca Starch, Pea Starch, Peas, Natural Fl view more Dry Both 24.0% 6.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo W+U Weight Management + Urinary Care Weight Management, Urinary Care Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Pea Starch, Peas, Pea Protein, Powdered Cellulose, Natural Flavor, Pe view more Dry Both 30.0% 10.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo HF Hydrolyzed for Food Intolerance Food Senstitivities Salmon Hydrolysate, Water, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Pea Fiber, Cane Molasses, Tricalcium Phosp view more Canned Meat 8.0% 2.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo GI Gastrointestinal Support Low Fat Digestive Care Whitefish, Potatoes, Chicken Broth, Water, Chicken Liver, Chicken, Pea Flour, Dried Egg Product, Pea view more Canned Meat 8.0% 15.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo GI Gastrointestinal Support Digestive Care Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Potatoes, Whitefish, Pea Fiber, Pea Protein, Natural Flavor, view more Canned Meat 8.0% 4.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo W+M Weight Management + Mobility Support Weight Management, Joint Care Deboned Salmon, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Powdered Cellulose, Peas, Tapioca Starch, Natural Flavor, view more Dry Both 30.0% 12.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo NP Novel Protein Alligator Food Senstitivities Deboned Alligator, Peas, Pea Starch, Alligator meal, Pea Protein, Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Can view more Dry Both 22.0% 14.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo KS Kidney Support Kidney Care Chicken, Chicken Broth, Water, Potato Starch, Potatoes, Carrots, Peas, Pea Fiber, Chicken Fat, Flaxs view more Canned Meat 3.0% 2.5% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo W+U Weight Management + Urinary Care Weight Management, Urinary Care Chicken, Chicken Broth, Water, Whitefish, Chicken Liver, Carrots, Powdered Cellulose, Potatoes, Barl view more Canned Meat 7.5% 2.5% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo GI Gastrointestinal Support Digestive Care Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Peas, Potatoes, Dried Egg Product, Natural Flavo view more Dry Both 24.0% 12.0% Grain Inclusive
Blue Buffalo W+M Weight Management + Mobility Support Weight Management, Joint Care Whitefish, Potatoes, Chicken, Chicken Broth, Water, Chicken Liver, Powdered Cellulose, Pea Fiber, Fl view more Canned Meat 7.0% 2.5% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo NP Novel Protein Alligator Food Sensitivities Alligator
A great source of protein that’s low in fat and cholesterol, alligator can help pe view more
Canned Meat 7.5% 6.0% Grain Free
Blue Buffalo HF Hydrolyzed for Food Intolerance Food Sensitivities Salmon Hydrolysate, Pea Starch
Pea Starch
Packed with the protein, vitamins, fiber and potassium that view more
Dry None 24.0% 12.0% Grain Free
Darwin’s Natural Pet Products Intelligent Design JMS Joint & Musculoskeletal Formula for Canines Joint Care Whitefish (Pollock), Turkey Hearts, Turkey Necks, Broccoli, Sweet Potatoes, Turkey Livers, Zucchini, view more Frozen Meat 13.0% 6.0% Grain Free
Darwin’s Natural Pet Products Intelligent Design CS Cancer Support Formula for Canines Cancer Care Whitefish (Pollock), Turkey Necks, Turkey Gizzards, Broccoli, Beef Liver, Turkey, Beef Kidney Fat, W view more Frozen Meat 15.0% 6.0% Grain Free
Darwin’s Natural Pet Products Intelligent Design KS Kidney Support Formula for Canines Kidney Care Beef Meat, Sweet Potatoes, Beets, Beef Livers, Beef Hearts, Egg Whites, Cabbage, Yellow Squash, Beef view more Frozen Meat 13.0% 9.0% Grain Free
Darwin’s Natural Pet Products Intelligent Design LS Liver Support Formula for Canines Liver Care Whitefish (Pollock), Beets, Broccoli, White Potatoes, Turkey Livers, Beef Kidney Fat, Turkey Meat, P view more Frozen Meat 7.0% 7.0% Grain Free
Hill’s k/d with Chicken Canned Dog Food Kidney Care Water, Pork Liver, Corn Starch, Chicken, Chicken Fat, Dextrose, Flaxseed, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken L view more Canned Meat 16.0% 26.0% Grain Free
Hill’s a/d Canned Dog/Cat Food Urgent Care Water, Turkey Liver, Pork Liver, Chicken, Turkey Heart, Corn Flour, Pork Protein Isolate, Fish Oil, view more Canned Meat 44.0% 33.0% Grain Free
Hill’s s/d Canned Dog Food Urinary Care Water, Corn Starch, Chicken Fat, Pork Liver, Sugar, Egg Product, Powdered Cellulose, Iodized Salt, S view more Canned Meat 7.7% 26.3% Grain Free
Hill’s c/d Multicare Chicken & Vegetable Stew Dog Food Urinary Care Water, Chicken, Pork Liver, Carrots, Rice, Green Peas, Corn Starch, Chicken Liver Flavor, Powdered C view more Canned Meat 22.8% 18.3% Grain Free
Hill’s k/d with Lamb Canned Dog Food Kidney Care Water, Pork Liver, Corn Starch, Lamb, Chicken Fat, Dextrose, Flaxseed, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Live view more Canned Meat 16.2% 26.3% Grain Free
Hill’s j/d Dry Dog food Joint Care, Heart Care Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Flaxseed, Soybean Mill Run, Brewers Rice, Soybean Meal, P view more Dry Meal 19.2% 16.5% Grain Inclusive
Hill’s i/d Dry Dog Food Digestive Care Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Corn, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Egg Product, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken Fa view more Dry Meal 26.7% 14.4% Grain Inclusive




Separation Anxiety in Dogs

What the mainstream media (and your Instagram feed) gets wrong about separation anxiety in dogs.

The advent of the pandemic in 2020 caused many of us to begin spending most of our time at home with our dogs. Many people used the opportunity of having more time at home to add a new dog to their families.

Then, seemingly overnight, there were reports everywhere in the mainstream press and on TV discussing the huge, catastrophic,impending wave that’s supposedly about to strike our nation: a wave of canine separation anxiety – the common expression for dogs who experience distress when left home alone. On every media (and social media), journalists are worrying about how our canine family members will adjust to being alone once our families return to school and work outside of the home.

The good news? All that buzz created has more awareness than ever about separation anxiety in dogs. And that awareness means that people are clamoring for information.

The bad news is that much of the information that has been made available to dog owners includes confusing or incomplete recommendations, which leaves them feeling overwhelmed and at a loss as to where to begin.

And the really ugly news? With the increase in attention and demand for separation anxiety training services, inhumane and ineffective methods, promoted as guaranteed quick fixes, have flooded into the marketplace. Add the fact that the media has been indiscriminately airing both urban legends about canine separation anxiety (SA) as well as false claims about quick fixes, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a lot of potential cruelty inflicted on an already highly stressed canine population.

Here are some important corrections to the most prevalent and potentially harmful inaccuracies about canine separation anxiety commonly shared today:

WRONG: “The separation anxiety crisis is new.”

CORRECTION: Media attention is new, but this is one of the most common issues addressed in professional behavior practices.

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, problems that occur during the owner’s absence represent up to 40% of the caseload in behavioral practices in North America. That is a lot of separation anxiety. Fortunately, because this concerning behavior is not new, there is also a lot of research available to help with its understanding. In the past four decades, separation anxiety has been the most commonly discussed disorder in published studies of experimental research and retrospective research in the fields of applied animal behavior and veterinary behavior (Ogata 2016).

The process of training a dog who exhibits separation anxiety was originally developed in the 1950s. While the implementation of that process has been refined and improved over the years, the basic principle of systematic desensitization is the same. (See “Amicable Separation,” WDJ June 2020.)

WRONG: “Separation anxiety results when dogs are too attached to their families.”

CORRECTION: Much media attention focused on the sheer number of hours that we were spending at home with our dogs. The worry seemed to be that being home all the time would create hyper-attachment and therefore lead to separation anxiety. However, a landmark study showed otherwise. Video analysis showed that dogs with SA spent no more time in contact with or in proximity to their owners during the attachment test than dogs without SA (P>0.05) (Parthasarathy, 2006). Being more bonded does not mean more separation anxiety.

Our canine behavior practice has focused on SA exclusively for more than 20 years. In all that time, we have not seen a correlation between so-called “Velcro dogs” and separation anxiety. Nor have we seen that dogs who spend a lot of time with their owners are more likely to have signs of separation anxiety than dogs who spend less time with their owners.

As far back as the early 1990s, we began seeing peer-reviewed research that refuted the notion that dogs who are “spoiled” by their guardians are more likely to engage in problem behaviors such as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is not linked to any particular behaviors on the part of the dog’s owners. A lot of our work resides in reassuring these loving dog guardians that they did not create this problem.

Have you felt guilty about what others have said about your supposed role in your dog’s separation anxiety? Please, right now, absolve yourself of any and all guilt. This condition is not your fault.

WRONG: “More exercise will fix dogs with separation anxiety.”

CORRECTION: We’re all for physical exercise and mental enrichment, but these aren’t a cure for fear in this or any case. We shout from the rooftops that dogs need appropriate enrichment both physically and mentally.

However, this is because enrichment contributes to the overall health and wellbeing of our dogs. More physical exercise or mental enrichment unfortunately does not result in a resolution of fear-based behaviors like separation anxiety, despite how prevalent these recommendations are.

Let’s say you are terrified of flying on an airplane, but you must make a flight later that day. What if your friend told you to run 10 miles prior to boarding in order to feel less afraid? We think you’ll agree that this would not help. Physical exertion cannot overcome panic, particularly not in the long term.

WRONG: “You can prevent separation anxiety.”

CORRECTION: Helping your dog learn about spending time alone is a great exercise for many reasons. But the idea of prevention gets fear in dogs all wrong. We cannot “prevent” that for which we don’t know the cause. Separation anxiety may be well-researched, but what causes it still remains unclear.

We can do a lot to help dogs learn that alone time is safe, and we can prepare them for the eventuality of time spent without us. However, even these worthwhile tasks do not guarantee the prevention of separation anxiety.

WRONG: “Separation anxiety in dogs can be fixed quickly.”

CORRECTION: It’s so tempting to think that there’s a way to speed up fear recovery. If there were a gadget, a pill, or an app that fixed separation anxiety, we would be all over it, but none exists.

It’s imperative to understand that separation anxiety training has to be adjusted to the individual dog with whom we are working. The dog sets the pace, and no two dogs are the same. These are living, breathing, sentient beings, and we can’t apply cookie-cutter training and expect resolution.

Separation anxiety is akin to a phobia in humans and the level of panic that the dog experiences when left alone may not be logical to us, but it is very real to the dog. Fear like that cannot be modified by using quick fix remedies.

But you can take comfort in this: The scientifically supported training that is used to resolve SA is not new; it’s been tested and true.

WRONG: “Nobody knows how to help these new dogs with separation anxiety!”

CORRECTION: We do know how to help dogs with separation anxiety. Thankfully, we already have good practical experience and don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

The successes that we have witnessed are countless. Additionally, members of our team have helped many more dogs, and the collective accomplishments are inestimable. The dogs we’ve seen are incredible. They just need help feeling safe in this modern world. Our clients’ dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are truly extraordinary in every way; they are simply terrified of alone time. We can help them thrive.

The premier specialists with this behavior issue are Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSATs). CSATs are the only separation anxiety practitioners recommended by the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior.


Are you worried about leaving your dog alone? Don’t heed the myths and confusion shared in the popular press and social media. Contact a qualified dog professional and get started. We’ve been here all along and we’re here for you now. You can get through this and your dog can, too.

Malena DeMartini-Price is renowned in the dog training world for her expertise in dog separation anxiety issues. She is the author of the books Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs, as well as Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Next-Generation Treatment Protocols and Practices.

Maia Huff-Owen is a KPA-CTP and a CSAT. She is also an instructor for Malena DeMartini’s Separation Anxiety Certification Program, a 14-week, intensive course that teaches dog trainers how to work successfully with separation anxiety cases. See “Resources,” page 24, for contact information.

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Does Your Pup Suffer from Separation Anxiety?

Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be an extremely challenging behavior issue for dogs and owners alike. This comprehensive guide includes all the information you need to help your dog, and to lower your own stress levels as well.

You’ll get plenty of tips, ideas, and step-by-step instructions; the interactive format will allow you to customize an effective rehabilitation plan for your individual dog.

Topics include the role of management, nutrition, and exercise, whether pharmacological intervention could help, how to build canine confidence, creative management solutions, step-by-step behavior modification protocols, alternative therapies that can be invaluable, and how to put it all together in a customized plan.

Also included are real-life stories from experts telling how they handled separation issues in their clients’ dogs and their own dogs. Written in a down-to-earth, straightforward, and often humorous manner, this book will enable you to successfully teach your dog to feel comfortable being left alone. courtesy: Whole Dog Journal

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