Tag Archives: dog care

Too Much of a Good Thing

Most dogs are food-motivated. Many to an extraordinary degree! My GSD mix, Kita, gets so excited when I get out treats that she can’t even listen to how to earn them, and I have to wait, ignoring her for a few seconds, until she calms down! And that’s when the “treats” are just pieces of her kibble. If I get out hot dogs or chicken, it’s more like a 3-minute wait!

Humans like to feed people. We celebrate holidays and special occasions with a big dinner. We serve coffee and cookies to visitors automatically. Candy is considered a special gift and now we’re even making “bouquets” out of food! Feasting and hospitality have been ingrained in our cultures for so long that it might be almost a genetic pre-disposition to shove food at those we care about — and that certainly includes our dogs!  I read in a novel by D.E. Stevenson years ago that “if people are very fond of someone, they want them to be just a little bit plump.” That’s a paraphrase, but the point is clear; we equate food and the result of eating it with affection!

Combining how much dogs love food and how much we like to feed them, it’s not surprising that many dogs are overweight. There are extreme cases, like the Dachshund who was so fat his feet couldn’t touch the floor. When I was volunteering at the Humane Society, a Beagle was brought in, weighing at least twice her ideal! She’d been kept in a crate nearly 24/7 and given food every time she made noise! Those are extreme cases, but if we’re honest, most of us would have to admit that our dogs are carrying some extra poundage!

Part of it is not enough exercise. Just like us, if a dog lies around all day, it’s metabolism slows down and the fat piles on! Part of it is those labels on the dog food bag that give a recommended feeding schedule. Bear in mind that the dog food people are trying to sell MORE DOG FOOD. The companies aren’t lying — exactly — they just don’t mention that the dogs those figures are based on are walked vigorously for hours every day. Most of our pups AREN’T!   So, one step is to make sure our pups get more exercise and eat less.

If you feed a good-quality food, a dog doesn’t need very much to keep at a good weight! Kita, at optimum, is around 84 pounds. She gets 1 cup of food twice a day. She also gets additional as treats during training, so that’s maybe another 1/2 cup total. Putting a cup of food in a bowl sure doesn’t look like enough for my big beast! But if I give her more, the beast gets a bit porky around the ribs!

Keeping your dog LEAN isn’t MEAN! It goes against all our instincts, but it’s best for the dog! For a while, Kita’s weight was over 90 pounds. During that time, she blew out a knee and had to have surgery. I really wonder if she’d been 8 pounds lighter if that would have happened? I’ll never know, but I’m trying a lot harder to keep her slim since then — partly because I don’t want her to re-injure that knee, and partially because the vet said dogs who blow one knee are statistically very likely to blow out the OTHER one.

The number one cause of joint problems in dogs is that they are carrying too much poundage! It’s easy to tell if your dog is too plump! Feel the rib-cage. Can you easily feel each separate rib? If there’s a thick layer of fat, that’s not good!  Look down at your dog’s back. Is there a defined waist? There should be an hour-glass indentation after the ribs and before the hips. Look at her from the side. Does her tummy “tuck up” towards her flanks? If the answer is “No” to any of the above, she needs your help to slim down.  Of course, a Greyhound will always be slimmer than a Bulldog, but ANY breed can be too fat!

Our dogs only have us to take care of them. They are totally dependent on what and how much we feed them. If you put a big bowl of food down and let the dog eat as much as she wants — just like us – most dogs will eat more than they should!  (Labs are notorious at over-eating!) If food is left down all day, most dogs will put away a lot of extra — snacking! I strongly recommend three feedings a day for puppies up to 6 months old and two meals a day after that. Feed only a measured amount and put bowl down for 15 minutes — pick up what isn’t eaten after that. Only give the same amount at the next feeding — don’t add on what was left in the dish! It may be that the dog doesn’t need that much food at a time! Don’t let the dog fool you into thinking she’s starving. Like most of us, dogs enjoy snacking and if they don’t have anything better to do,  they’d like to eat!

Of course, it’s a balancing act — feeding just the right amount. First getting the pooch down to where she’s not wearing a pouch, then giving her enough so she doesn’t KEEP losing weight. Just don’t think that feeling ribs means she’s too skinny!  For the good health of our dogs, we need to be just a wee bit hard-hearted!  We might feel guilty, but that’s no reason to indulge the dog in a way that will harm her!  No table scraps and treats only when training!  It’s hard because we love them so much, but especially where food is concerned, our dogs can EASILY have too much of a good thing!

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Never Hesitate

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and someone posted this quote of his on FB:

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.  Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

This is quite a co-incidence.  The low temperatures and blowing snow of the past day reminded me of a time I “looked the other way” and I’d already decided that today’s post would be about that incident, though I’m not proud of what I did — or rather DIDN’T do.

I don’t remember how many years ago it was — at least a dozen, though it could be more.  I don’t remember what month, only that it was in the depths of winter.  I was driving home from work in a particularly nasty snowstorm, a blizzard, really.  Stopped at the last traffic light before home, I happened to look to my right and in a gap between buildings only wide enough for viewing from exactly where my car stopped, I saw a dog outside in a backyard. 

I don’t remember what breed she was, though my mental snapshot shows me a dog without a double-coat of insulating fur. I don’t know why I think of her as “she.”  I don’t really think I saw a chain on her, but that is my mental picture.  Perhaps I imagined a chain because her body posture spoke so eloquently and obviously of cold and suffering, and being unable to move someplace warmer.  She was sitting, ears slicked flat against her head, hunched with her back to the wind and her eyes squeezed shut.  I also seem to remember that she was shivering, but couldn’t possibly have been close enough to see something like that.  Snow was piled around her and on top of her.

I wish I could say that I don’t know why I didn’t stop and hammer on her owner’s door.  It was late.  I wanted to get home.  I didn’t think her owners would appreciate me barging in.  Those rental houses always seemed to hold “undersirable” sorts.  I was afraid, but even more than that, was disinclined to put myself out and take the time to help a poor suffering creature.

Dr. King was right; by looking away I have wounded my soul so deeply that it will be with me forever.  I’ve thought of that miserable dog many, many times in the intervening years.  I wonder if she survived that night.  If she ever got brought inside to the warm. If she had to suffer again and again through many more such snowstorms.  

No, the wound I inflicted on my soul will not heal.  I don’t want it to get better! It’s not so much that I think I deserve the punishment, but that I need the reminder — the pain as a spur to action.  I hope the memory of that long-ago, pathetically helpless dog will be such an irritation of spirit that I will never again hesitate to act on behalf of an animal in need.     

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A Tired Dog…

Trainers have a saying, “A tired dog is a good dog.”  I like to add “and a happy dog!”  Between our busy schedules, the weather and our own tiredness, it’s often hard to tire out our puppies! 

Take today, for instance.  I think the temp has finally creeped up to about 14 degrees, with the wind-chill it’s only about 6 degrees.  Not the kind of day I really want to take Kita for a walk.  SHE loves this weather, and gets positively puppy-fied and eager to play when she feels the frost.  I, on the other hand, get cold even thinking out going out in this weather.  However, that’s another part of the pact we make when bringing a dog into our homes — to give them what they need including exercise. 

I’ve heard a lot of clients say their dog gets lots of exercise because they have a fenced-in yard.  Unfortunately, dogs are just as unmotivated as we humans when it comes to exercising themselves.  Unless they have a playmate — another dog to wrestle and chase, or a human to throw a ball — they pretty much just meander around, sniff a bit, eliminate as needed and call it done.

If the dog is a small one, playing fetch and tug or having two people alternately call her from opposite sides of the house can give a pretty good workout on yucky-weather days.  However, this would only be a drop in the bucket for a 90-lb GSD.  

Oddly enough, the exercise might not have to be physical.  Dr. Patricia McConnell (who I think lives in Minnesota, or some other truly frigid state) finds that 20 minutes of obedience/trick training provides a good alternative to working the sheep for her Border Collies.  She says they’ll happily curl up and take a nap afterwards.   Exercising those mental muscles tires them out just fine.

This really seems to work.  Kita and the dogs who board and come here for daycare seem happy with a few mental challenges on truly awful days.  Now, that wouldn’t be a good idea to try everyday.  Our dogs need that cardio-vascular workout!  And so do their humans! That’s why I made myself bundle up like Charlie Brown in his Christmas special and head out into the face of the wind with Kita today.  OK, so it was a slightly shorter walk than usual, and Kita could have gone on a lot longer, but I didn’t get frostbite and Kita curled right up and took a nap afterwards.  A tired dog is a happy dog!

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