What it Takes to Be a Guide Dog

There’s a big difference between guide dogs and therapy (or emotional support) animals – both are a wonderful addition to their owner’s lives, but guide dogs are rigorously trained to complete tasks like opening doors, retrieving items, and serving as their human’s eyes and ears, which is no easy feat. It’s hard not to see a working dog and be in complete awe of their intelligence, patience, and loyalty; but it’s the thorough training process that will really earn your respect. April 27 is International Guide Dog Day, a nod to the dogs who make life possible for individuals with disabilities. Here’s a brief recap of what these incredible canines go through to become the life-changing companions they are.

Most guide dogs are essentially designated at birth to be trained as such, but not every pup makes the cut. Trainers are looking for a number of qualities like intelligence, willingness to learn, a good memory, the ability to concentrate, and great health (among others.) But even if a dog possesses these qualities, they aren’t a shoo-in; potential guide dogs can’t have an extreme reaction to other dogs and cats, or nervous or aggressive tendencies. Once they meet those qualifications, they’re then tested to assess their self-confidence, as only the most confident dogs can handle the pressure of both training and becoming a guide dog.

Typically, training lasts about 4-5 months – but it’s not your usual obedience training. When teaching guide dogs, food is never used as a reward because the animal can’t be distracted in the hopes of getting a treat once on duty. Instead, praise or other reward systems are used to encourage proper behavior. What do they learn?
How to walk. Guide dogs have to learn to walk in a straight line, to the left and slightly ahead of their owners. They cannot succumb to distraction.
Stopping at curbs and stairs. A skill that is absolutely necessary when it comes to safety.
Selective disobedience. Possibly the most fascinating facet of guide dog training. Dogs learn how to handle themselves around traffic, busy intersections, and other potential dangers so they know not to continue walking if their owner is heading toward harm’s way.
Navigating obstacles. Dogs must consider their handler when obstacles are present, which becomes difficult in small spaces. Through reward and correction, the trainer eventually teaches the guide dog that they should never enter a space that is too narrow or low for their owner.
Once the trainer feels these things (and other necessary commands) are second nature, they do their best to pair the dog with the right owner so ensure they live a safe and wonderful life together.

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Pets & The Environment: Being Conscious Matters

When you’re shopping for your pet, how often do you consider the environment in your purchases? Don’t worry, it’s not a connection most people make – but owning an animal certainly impacts our carbon footprint. Earth Day is April 22, and we wanted to take the opportunity to remind everyone that when it comes to the environment, being conscious and proactive is becoming our only option. Here are a few tips and things to look for to be a more eco-conscious pet parent.
Biodegradable pick up bags. Pet waste is impossible to avoid, so if you’re going to take the time to pick it up, you may as well dispose of it right. Regular plastic bags won’t break down and, thus, neither will what’s inside.
Recycled/DIY. Look for brands that boast that their toys are made from recycled plastic or can at least be recycled; you can even take it a step further and make your own toys from old shirts, water bottles, and more.
Resourcing. Unfortunately, some major companies don’t responsibly resource their ingredients and most pet owners are completely unaware they’re supporting it. The U.S. has more regulations in place when it comes to pet food, so the best place to start is with brands that are made in the USA. Furthermore, the less processing, the better – not just for nutritional purposes, but also for the environment. Read more about the ingredients we use in our Learning Center under Product Benefits. Or, you can always contact us with specific questions you may have.

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It’s Pet ID Week!

Your pet is a part of the family; they have a name that they answer to just like we do, making it important to identify them to everyone they meet (since they can’t exactly introduce themselves.) In the event your pet were to get lost, hearing their name could be the small piece of familiarity they need to approach someone trying to help them. This year, approximately 5-7 million dogs and cats will end up in the shelter, many of which are companions that got lost and never reunited with their families. April 17-23 is Pet ID Week, dedicated to reminding pet owners of the importance of tags and microchips.

The best way to ensure your pet comes back to you is to opt for both tags and a microchip, because sometimes collars and tags can fall off. A microchip is a small chip, about the size of a grain of rice, that is painlessly inserted into the thick of a dog or cat’s neck and houses all of the necessary information, which comes up when scanned. Nearly all veterinary offices and shelters have a scanner, making it easy for people helping a lost pet to access the information – IF the animal is chipped, that is. In a recent study of 7,700 stray dogs, of those that were un-chipped, only 22% were reunited with their owners; the same study found that those that were chipped had a 51.2% chance of being returned home – a near 30% difference. Talk with your vet about microchipping – it’s an affordable, reliable, and comforting way to make sure your pet is always claimed.

And, of course, let’s never discount the good ol’ collar and tags. Not only are collars a fun way to express your pet’s personality, but the information is easily accessed and doesn’t require the person helping to transport the animal anywhere, which can sometimes be a challenge. Whatever you choose, we hope you take the opportunity to make sure your pet’s ID is up-to-date and available so they can always come home where they belong.

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Kids and Pets: So Much More than ‘Cute’

April 26 marks Kids and Pets Day, a nod to the bond children and animals share and, hopefully, prompt adoption. While everyone can see what makes pets and kids so darn cute together, the true magic is happening on the inside. In honor of Kids and Pets Day, we wanted to share a few of the pawsitive impacts pets have on children.

• Responsibility. It’s inevitable that caring for a pet will give children a sense of responsibility and teach them to be kind, gentle, and empathetic.
• Self Esteem. Caring for a pet teaches children that what they’re doing truly matters and makes a difference in the life of something they love. As an added bonus, studies show that pets help children gain confidence in school by lending a non-judgmental ear to help practice reading aloud.
• Better Immune System. It’s been proven that children who grow up around pets are less likely to develop common allergies and a 2012 study showed that children who grew up with dogs were generally healthier in their first year of life. Of course, some kids are legitimately allergic to dogs/cats, so be aware of that before bringing a pet into your home.
• Less stress. Brushing, patting, petting, and bonding with an animal is proven to lower blood pressure and reduce stress – and that goes for mom and dad too!
• Bonus Perk: Studies have shown that children with autism smile more and cope better when in the presence of a pet.

Always research the breed you’re considering to ensure they’re a fit with your family, but some breeds are notorious for being wonderful with kids like Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Wheaton Terriers, and Boxers, to name a few.

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Celebrate Easter with Stewart!

Besides bunnies, Easter isn’t exactly the most popular time to think of pets. But here at Stewart we put together a basket for our pets just like we do our kids. While they obviously don’t get chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies, here are some of our favorite things to put in our furry friends’ baskets:
Pro-Treats. The gift of delicious, wholesome treats. For ferrets, too!
Dental Treats. To help give breath a boost.
● A plush, squeak, or chew toy.
● A fun new collar.
● Maybe even a trip to the spaw for the very pampered pooch.

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Your Dog’s Summer Body: Tips for Trimming Down

When the weather cools down, it’s easy to put exercise on the back burner and, unfortunately, that usually includes your pup. And while you’re dog won’t exactly be in a bikini this summer, it is important to keep their weight consistent and get them down to size for a fun and active season. Here are a few weight loss pointers you can use all year ‘round.

● Most recommended feeding amounts are tailored to adult, intact animals. Having your dog spayed or neutered can make them more susceptible to weight gain, so consider subtracting a small amount if that’s the case for your pet.
● If you’re like us and enjoy treating your pet, you must allot for it in their feedings. When measuring your pet’s food at mealtime, ask yourself how many treats or extra calories they’ve gotten (or will get) that day and subtract accordingly.
● Exercise is key. A good off-leash run is always the best exercise, but when life kicks in that’s not always feasible – try to aim for three 30-minute walks a week; it’s good for both of you! (Hint: swimming’s even better!)
● If your pet is significantly overweight, consider a leaner diet, feed less than the recommended amount, and withhold treats, especially table scraps. We know how easy it is to overfeed those sweet faces that love to eat, but having an overweight dog is unhealthy and can shorten their life considerably. (Just for reference, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention cites that even 10 extra pieces of kibble per day can yield up to a pound of weight per year – multiply that by a lifetime and you’ve got one overweight unhappy companion.)
● Make them work for it. Consider a slow feeder or activity-based feeding ritual that makes your pet eat slower or move to get their food (think running them around the couch two or three times before putting the bowl down.)

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Let’s Talk Nutrition this National Puppy Day

With all these viral ‘holidays’ popping up, it’s only natural puppies would get their own because, let’s face it, there are few things cuter than a soft, wrinkly, curious little puppy. And while we know everything we love about them on the outside, it’s our responsibility as owners to keep them healthy on the inside. Much like babies, puppies require different nutrients for their development, so here are a few things to look for when feeding your baby…dog, that is.

DHA – DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary component of the brain and its functionality, making it a key ingredient for brain development in young dogs.
Calcium – Calcium aids in strong bone development, giving puppies a strong nutritional foundation.
Antioxidants – Antioxidants counteract the damaging effects of oxidation in body tissue, which can release cancer-causing free radicals, which helps build a strong immune system.
Wholesome ingredients – Just like a human diet, the simpler the better; pay close attention to the ingredients on the side of the bag, the more familiar they are to you, the better they are for your pet. Read more about our ingredient benefits here.

Sure, you could scour the aisles for the perfect puppy formula, but we make it easy! Our Freeze Dried Puppy Formula boasts all of these wonderful components in a convenient, easy-to-feed freeze dried nuggets – it gives your puppy all the benefits of a raw diet, without the freezer!

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The Luck O’ the Irish Breeds!

What started as a religious celebration for the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day has since evolved into a widespread celebration that includes parades, food, dancing, and a whole lot of green. But it all started in Ireland – which made us think of all the awesome breeds that originated there, too. Here’s a wee recap of some of the breeds that are lucky enough to call themselves Irish.

Irish Wolfhound
Experts think this breed came to Ireland some 5,000 years ago and were once quite the threat on the battlefield. But, now, they’re really just big sweeties with a gentle nature.

Irish Setter
Setters aren’t just beautiful, they’re among the most affectionate breeds in the species when properly exercised and loved. Their high energy can lead to destruction if they’re not taken out to run, ideally once a day. There’s also the Red and White Setter, which has a white coat with spots of mahogany.

Irish Terrier
This active, headstrong breed requires considerable physical activity daily and a dominant leader. They’re sturdy, smart, and have a thirst for action, making them great for agility training.

Irish Lurcher
Experts think this breed emerged in the 14th century as a loophole to the British rule that commoners couldn’t own ‘established’ sight hounds, so they bred their own.

Do you own an Irish breed or dress up your pup for St. Patty’s Day? Share them with us on Facebook!

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Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day!

Finally! Someone loved dog treats as much as we do and dubbed February 23 Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. While it may sound silly, we at Stewart think every dog and owner can appreciate a good treat. Think about it, how many times have you bribed your dog with a delicious ‘biscuit’ to get them to do what you want? In fact, training would probably be out the window without these delicious morsels. And how many times have you given your dog a treat just because it makes them happy? Yep, around here we think the pet/owner bond would suffer greatly without the silent token of affection known as the treat, which is why we dedicate our brand to making healthy ones they’ll love and you’ll feel good giving them.
But who do we talk to about changing the term “biscuit”? It just sounds so archaic, fattening, and bland in comparison to 100% pure beef, pork, bison, lamb, turkey, or chicken liver. Just saying.

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Dogs of Presidents’ Past

Seeing as President’s Day was yesterday, we thought it’d be fun to recap on some past presidential pooches. You can see the full rundown here, seeing as we’ll only be going back a few terms – but here they are! Looks like Ronald Reagan wins for biggest dog lover!

Barack Obama – 2009-Present
Bo and Sonny – Portuguese Water Dogs

George W. Bush – 2001-2009
Miss Beazley – Scottish Terrier
Spot – English Springer Spaniel
Barney – Scottish Terrier

Bill Clinton – 1993-2001
Buddy – Chocolate Lab

George H.W. Bush – 1989-1993
Millie – English Springer Spaniel (and George W.’s dog, Spot’s, mom)
Ranger – English Springer Spaniel (also offspring of Millie)

Ronald Reagan – 1981-1989
Lucky – Bouvier des Flandres
Rex – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Victory – Golden Retriever
Peggy – Irish Setter
Taca – Siberian Husky
Fuzzy – Belgian Sheepdog

Jimmy Carter – 1977-1981
Grits – Border Collie
Lewis Brown – Afghan Hound

Gerald Ford – 1974-1977
Liberty – Golden Retriever (and Misty’s mom)
Misty – Golden Retriever
Lucky – unknown

Richard Nixon – 1969-1974
Checkers – unknown
Vicky – Poodle
Pasha – Terrier
King Timahoe – Irish Setter

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