Alright, this past weekend (well, Friday/Saturday) I attended full-day dog behavior seminars with Sarah Kalnajs. I need today to “digest” everything, but tomorrow (hopefully), I’ll post about the experience… so hang on!
Alright, this past weekend (well, Friday/Saturday) I attended full-day dog behavior seminars with Sarah Kalnajs. I need today to “digest” everything, but tomorrow (hopefully), I’ll post about the experience… so hang on!
Alright, so you gave your dog a once over and have discovered he is not as lean as he could be….now what? Well, that sort of depends just how much extra weight your dog is carrying. If your dog packed on a pound or two of winter weight (for a medium sized dog), you can approach things differently than a dog who is 25lbs overweight.
Before starting any plan, you should consult your vet so they know what you are working on and can make sure your dog is healthy enough for the activities you are planning.
Becoming overweight (in an otherwise healthy dog) is a combination between overfeeding and under exercising. To lose weight both of these things need to be addressed.
The first step is changing the way you feed–NOT necessarily what you feed. I am not a fan of changing to a diet/weight control food because often times the quality of ingredients diminishes as they stuff it with filler instead of quality meat sources. So instead of changing what your dog eats, we will change how much they eat. I am a very strong believer that if you are choosing to feed kibble (the hard food sold in bags) you should be measuring out the food for each meal. Many dogs are simply eating way too much because their food isn’t being measured out. Each bag should have a suggested serving size. This is just a starting point… once you start feeding the advised amount of food, if you notice your dog gaining weight you should cut back on the amount of food (or if your dog is getting too skinny, add food). When the bag suggests 2 cups a day… it doesn’t mean two 32oz “sweet tea” cups from McDonalds–it is talking about standard measuring cups. You’d be surprised the number of people who say “he only gets two cups a day” but through further discussion admit the cup is a large beverage cup, so in actuality they are getting closer to 6-8 cups a day.
When you are deciding how much to feed you should not be basing it on the current weight but the ideal weight. So if your dog currently weighs 55lbs but he should weigh 45lbs, you should feed based on the 45lb ideal weight. The second piece of the puzzle is to also cut out treats (oh sad face!!). Many dogs are given a crazy amount of treats each day between the various family members. If you are doing training you can do a few things–1. use your dog’s measured out kibble meals for training treats 2. compensate… when you do training, reduce the amount of food given during meal times and 3. you can use things like cut up fruit, boiled chicken breasts, or other low-calorie treats.
If your dog is giving you the sad eyes, staring at the bowl, nudging the bowl… or otherwise looking like you are starving them, you can add green beans to their kibble. This is a very low-calorie filler. It will help your dog feel more satisfied without adding much in the way of calories.
Along with modifying the diet, increasing exercise is an important tool. This is where you need to be very careful. Depending on how overweight your dog is, adding exercise may have to wait until some weight loss has already been achieved. If your dog is moderately mobile (gets winded quickly or is a bit of a slow mover), adding just 5 minutes to a walk is a good place to start to make a difference. If your dog is still pretty active, you can do a little more… add more time to the walk, make the walk faster, add some moderately strenuous games of fetch outside, maybe start teaching them out to trot next to a bike. Like with humans, dogs risk some pretty debilitating injuries if they attempt too much too soon in terms of exercise. When you start increasing exercise, you must do it pretty methodically and in a predictable manner. Add a few minutes, gradually increase the pace, add some semi-strenuous games of tug/fetch–slowly adding more duration or increasing the speed/intensity of the game.
There are so many different ways to increase exercise and not all of them are high impact or overly strenuous. Here are some activities to increase exercise–swimming, walking, tugging, fetch, nosework games, training work (hand target games can get your dog up and moving), recall practice, hiking, biking, flirtpole games, rally-o classes, or doggie-exercise activities (balance ball work, stretching, core strengthening, etc). Like I’ve said before, you need to take it easy to start–don’t go from 0 to 100 in a day. If your dog is currently going for 15 minute walks try adding 5 minutes to your walk OR up the pace for five 1-minute parts of the walk.
This is not an exhaustive look at canine dieting or weight loss. You always need to keep your dog’s safety as your primary concern… if your dog is not capable of safely completing a 15 minute walk, don’t force it. Take your time… no crash dieting or extreme exercise regimes. It’s not safe for humans and it’s not safe for our canine partners!
About two years ago I had Shayne at a park hiking when I was approached by a woman and her lab. As she approached I began shoveling food in Shayne’s face to keep her from being too concerned about the lab. Out of absolutely nowhere, this woman began yelling at me and berating me about starving Shayne (yeah, I know, ironic since I was shoveling hot dogs in her face). She threatened to call the humane society and report me for abuse/neglect. Pointing toward Shayne, she said, “She is absolutely too skinny! You can see all her muscles … she’s all skin and bone!” The kicker? She had a show-line lab who was … well, rather rotund. Okay, that’s a really nice way of putting it… this lab had easy 15-20lb more weight on him than needed… that’s about 20% heavier than he needed. As nice as possible, I respectfully replied that Shayne is fine. She’s a competitive athlete who needs to be lean so she can safely compete, since a dog that is too heavy could injure themselves and that if the woman still wanted to call the humane society, I’d welcome the call since they would say she’s in excellent condition.
Shayne is lean, yes, but she is not starved or emaciated. This woman had absolutely no idea what a dog in proper condition should look like. What is so sad is that I regularly encounter people who have no idea what a dog in good condition should look like. There is plenty of blame to go around to why so many people are ignorant to proper canine conditioning. I think the sheer number of overweight and obese pets has made it seem like it’s normal for dogs to be fat so people aren’t worried when their canine packs on the pounds. Certain breeds in large kennel club dog shows are being shown grossly overweight or in poor condition. Vets are tentative about alerting patients to weight problems for fear of offending the humans. People are simply unaware how to tell if their dog is in the proper condition.
So, today I’m going to talk a bit about how to determine the proper condition of your canine companions–okay maybe not just talk, but show some pictures. I’m going to use some pictures of Rio as examples of underweight though he is not actually underweight. Due to some very specific lighting and his breed mix, I’ve been able to take pictures that make him look much skinnier than he is in actuality. He is on the lean side of normal but his visible ribs and hips are largely due to his sight-hound heritage.
One thing to note is that photos and looking at your dog can only do so much. You really need to get your hands on your dog and feel them to determine conditioning. Rio, in some of his photos, looks very thin and frail almost, but put your hands on him and you feel that he is actually quite solid and muscular. If you are unsure about what a dog in good condition feels like, you can use your hand as a guide.
Run two fingers across the back of your relaxed hand (not completely flat and not a fist, just a nice relaxed position) just below the knuckles. You should be able to feel the individual bones in your hand without pushing hard and with only minimal fat covering. This is pretty similar to what your dog’s ribs should feel like if they are in proper conditioning. Run your hands across your dog’s rib cage… is it similar to your hand? Can you feel the individual ribs without pushing hard and with only minimal fat covering?
If you turn your hand over and run your two fingers across the palm of your hand below your knuckles, this is about what an overweight dog feels like… you have to push pretty harder to feel the individual bones as there’s a moderate covering of fat.
If you run your fingers across your palm down by your thumb (even just circles in that area)… this is what an obese dog would feel like… a very thick covering over the ribs. You can maybe tell there is a bone in there somewhere but you can’t feel it.
Now make a tight fist and run your fingers across your bottom knuckles. This exaggerated valley/mountain is representative of an emaciated/underweight dog. There is no fat and the muscle/tissue in between each rib has diminished resulting in the big valleys in between the ribs.
If that’s what the various conditions feel like, what might some of them look like? Well an underweight dog will likely have multiple ribs showing (while standing still or relaxed, many dogs in proper condition show ribs while running or while breathing heavy), an exaggerated tuck, a very noticeable waste (when viewed from above), hip points or vertebrae may show, and there are often sunken areas of the face (fat stores above the eyes are pretty common)
A dog in proper condition should have a noticeable abdominal tuck (some breeds will have more than others but it should be there), a waist when viewed from the top (again some breeds more noticeable than others), with smooth coated dogs you should see some muscle definition.
I hear, “He’s not overweight, he’s just solid as a rock” all the time and unfortunately the vast majority of the dogs are overweight, not just solid. Dogs, unlike humans, do not always get “squishy, jiggly” fat on their ribs, they often get this very solid type of fat (men with beer bellies often have this quality… it’s not a jiggly belly but somewhat solid). Another way to assess the conditioning is to check your dog for common fat-stores. Many dogs will carry their jiggly fat on the front of their chest in between their front legs… run your hands down the front of your dogs neck and stop when your hand is between the shoulders, many overweight dogs will have a jiggly fat store here.
Perhaps what is the most frustrating is that people are simply unaware that their dog is overweight. Vets are reluctant to tell people the truth because they don’t want to lose the business or offend the people… if they mention it at all they generally say, “Oh fido looks like he could lose a few pounds”–this for a dog who is 30% heavier than he should be. Also, kennel clubs show certain breeds, like labs, pretty overweight. Lab breeders will say that the dogs are “bone heavy” but when you put your hands on the dog, it’s really clear that it’s not bone.
This is what happened to an online forum friend of mine recently. About 9 months ago she started a weight loss journey for her 4 year old lab, Savannah Blue-Belle (Savvy). She is one of the many people who didn’t intentionally make her dog fat… Savvy just started packing on the pounds but her mum just thought she was filling out since she didn’t look too much different from the labs being shown on T.V. It wasn’t until someone (okay it may have been me) mentioned her dog was obese or bordering on obese and needed to lose weight did she realize it. Honestly, Savvy DID resemble the show labs and her vet hadn’t mentioned, in any serious fashion, that she needed to lose weight so her mum didn’t think it was a serious issue. Now, 9 months in, she’s probably lost 25lbs with another 15 or so to go. She’s made this journey publicly and I love her for that… it’s hard to make a dog diet and it’s hard to take the weight off… but she’s doing such an amazing job bringing Savvy back to a healthy weight.
Today I took the dogs to the farm again. We are supposed to have wicked afternoon storms for the next few days so exercise must be done in the morning and the farm is one of the ways the pups get knocked out for a long time on not too much exercise (only two hours at the farm in the heat can buy me an afternoon of relaxed dogs!).
Now, this is probably the 5th trip for Dexter. It’s really become a favorite because there are only two places on our hike where he can see a road/cars in the distance and they are pretty easy to avoid. Dex hikes on a 50ft long line so he has quite a bit of freedom to explore, he even gets to drag the long line when we play ball in the fields. When we are in the areas where he can see cars, Dexter can be a little unpredictable. I learned the hard way that even though the cars (in one corner of the property) are probably 1/4 mile away, that he will make an attempt to chase them (I ended up with some rope burn on my hands). The other part of the property has quite a long view of the road from about 250yd away–during our first trip on the farm, Dexter absolutely lost it here. He was lunging on the long line to chase the cars, barking/whining, and circling me like a mad man. Even at that distance it was WAY too much (lesson learned on my part, we got out of there ASAP).
Today was nothing like that first day–today gave me some hope (LOL!). Today on our walk Dexter was brilliant. He’s really learned to stick with me and now rarely hits the end of his long line. During part of our walk today, I even dropped the long line and let him drag it. Perhaps the most prolific and most exciting moment happened in the orchard. The orchard is the part of the property that has the long road view. Today Dexter just wowed me with his behavior. We were walking through the orchard and Dex got significantly more alert and was obviously seeking out cars to chase (since he knows that he can see them from here). In the distance he heard a car and he froze, very upright/forward position, stared at the road, and just waited to see the car to explode. I was about 20 feet back and gave him the smallest amount of slack giving him the chance to make a good choice but making sure I could safely control him if he didn’t. What do you know, he saw the car and made 1/2 a bounce toward it then turned on a dime and ran, full speed, back to me. I threw him a huge party and was so excited!! Was this just a fluke? Had I put just enough pressure on the line a second before the car was in sight (so he was cued to come back to me)? It didn’t take long to find out, Dex alerted to hearing a car and became tense scanning the road, staring… and again when he saw the car, instead of exploding to the car he exploded and ran to me. He repeated this 4 or 5 times and I began to reward his coming to me by running away and letting him play chase.
That seems amazing right? So how could that have anything to do with handler frustration!? Today I saw the absolute best Dex has to offer me at this point… I mean this was amazing for him. Since I’ve seen this type of behavior, I know he is capable of this type of behavior, it’s hard to accept that he may not always be this good. It’s a lot easier to become frustrated with a dog when you know they are capable of being better. If I’m not having the best training session with Dexter, I’m okay with that.. he’s still learning, it’s a lot for him…but if I’m having a bad training session with Shayne (working a behavior that she does know) I do get frustrated more quickly and have to take a break sometimes. Since I know Dex can, in these circumstances, act in a highly desirable manner… if next time it doesn’t go so well, there is a good chance I’ll be a little frustrated.
I cannot take this one instance of phenomenal behavioral response as being the norm… I can’t hold him to that behavior in all instances because I also know he will still probably have melt downs in similar situations in the future. If I hold him to the behavior he displayed today I will be frustrated and upset because I’m sure he will have challenges in this process. It’s hard to not hold him to the behavior I know he’s capable of but I know that would be setting him up to fail and me to be frustrated since he may not be capable of that behavior on a regular basis.
I think we, as handlers, need to be realistic in our expectations and in doing so, we can reduce the level of frustration we feel. It’s excellent to reward and reinforce like crazy when your dog does an amazing job with something, but that one response (or one day) isn’t necessarily representative of the overall capabilities of the dog… yet. When you have one of those amazing performances or amazing days… love it, lavish it, but don’t instantly raise your expectations to that level… keeping it in perspective should help you reduce frustrations.
Alright, I’ve dropped the ball … again (it was a sad hockey night). I find myself exhausted after a ridiculously busy day (and of course the hockey game) and unable to commit to writing a post and searching for and putting together a spiffy photo/title thing for the post I want to write. So, you all will have to suffer through another video I put together for students who missed class–this one is not NEARLY as interesting as the last one.
This one has Rio doing some behaviors he knows (though we clearly hadn’t practiced much LOL). Some It’s Yer Choice and the first recall exercise I introduce in class.
I am a huge fan of It’s Yer Choice… I trained Shayne before I heard about It’s Yer Choice (perhaps before it was published?), and while she has a really reliable “leave it,” taught in the same basic style as IYC, I’ll never teach it that way again. I taught Rio following IYC and I love not having to tell him “leave it” for basic things on the ground. I love that his default behavior is to NOT pick up stuff on the ground. I taught him a “leave it” after we had IYC well under control, but I so rarely need to use it because he generally makes good choices.
We will be back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!
This is more of a personal rant I suppose, but it’s something I’ve heard a few times recently and it started to bug me and I just want to get it off my chest. Since the weather has turned nice, I’ve stared to bike with the dogs again and I’ve overheard some pretty… negative comments.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was on Saturday. I took Shayne and Rio to the park with my mom and her dog Bandit. I wanted to run Rio so, I brought my bike and my mom agreed to walk Shayne. Rio kept turning around while running with me to look for my mom and Shayne. He was being a bit of a pain and forced me, on a number of occasions, to turn around and bike back. He was not being dragged by the bike or run into the ground… he was turning around, I was encouraging him to keep going forward, and ultimately, I was turning back. This was for about the first 1/3 of the when we “warm up,” I never take him above a moderate trot (about 7mph) and would slow down if he was turning back. Once he got over having to see Shayne, and we were in a groove, he was pulling forward like normal for the last 2 miles.
As we were cooling down, I over heard someone saying (though they were certainly saying it loud enough for me to hear), “I can’t believe she forces him to run like that. She was just dragging him along, he could barely keep up! It’s awful!”
Now, Rio started training to bike with me when he was about 8 months old (started walking next to the bike, learning how the bike moves in small circles, and going short distances at slow speeds–starting at just 50yd at fast walk or slow trot) and it’s something he really enjoys. He is a fast bugger and will trot, with flying strides, up until about 9-10mph when he’ll switch to a canter… I have yet to bike fast enough for him to fall behind. He gets excited at the sight of his bike harness, more than half the time he pulls me on the bike and I actually have to ask him to slow down.
Shayne doesn’t like to bike. At first I thought she was afraid of the bike but after two years of work, she was still not comfortable with the bike. Recently I started biking with the dogs off leash and it hit me, she just doesn’t have a good gait to keep up with the bike… her trot/canter don’t really match the bike well (even when I adjust the speed). She likes to follow about 10-20ft behind me when she is off-leash while I bike. The point is, I don’t force her to bike and I don’t drag her while I bike… I wouldn’t do that… I want her to enjoy exercising.
It’s a bit frustrating working my tail off to keep a high energy, high drive dog happy by providing ample exercise only to be seen as this awful person. Now, I know it’s not the case–I’m not an awful dog parent, but it does eventually wear on me. I’d love to see them tolerate Rio for a week with out extensive exercise…maybe then they’ll get why I “force” my poor Rio to “suffer” through “miles and miles and miles” of “torturous” exercise. Oi. Apparently it’s been one of those weeks… normally this wouldn’t bother me at all.. LOL!
(Ironically, one person who made a comment earlier this week while I was running Dexter, was walking two grossly overweight labs… ).
I love my vet, while we may not always agree, nutrition-wise, he respects my choices and never gives me a hard time about it. He is at the head of his field in terms of some ground breaking work being done with stem cells to improve spinal cord injuries, hip dysplasia, and arthritis. He is a well versed and devoted small mammal veterinarian specializing in rats. Honestly, I really do think he’s a fantastic veterinarian. I love his manners with his clients and their pets and I love that he is the type of vet who is always learning more and staying up to date with the latest information in his field.
That being said, I’ve heard him give some pretty awful training advice to the general public (okay, not awful, but not really necessary). He does t.v. and radio spots regularly (when he’s not globe trotting performing the aforementioned stem cell therapies or talking about it at conferences) and on one such program he was asked, and chose to answer a training question. Now, I do not recall the exact question or wording but it had to do with a dog in a fearful situation. His first piece of advice was not to coddle the dog, which eh, isn’t the worst advice but that particular phrase does bug me. He went on to say you should praise when they offer to be brave (which is fine, though I would reward with food) but that you should correct any fearful growls or nips (this is, as I mentioned the other day, not the best plan). He also had this “face their fears” attitude that does bother me a bit. Now he did not explicitly say “physically correct” the dog for growling/nipping and he didn’t say “force your dog to face their fears” but sometimes the lack of specificity can be just as troublesome.
The point is that you can have the best vet in the world, but that vet is not necessarily qualified to give training/behavior advice. It would be like asking your physician about a cavity… it’s a related field but an expert in one does not make an expert in the other.
Veterinarians are in school for quite a long time… they take biology, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and medicine courses. Many may take one nutrition class (often taught by a Hills S.D. professional… so it’s pretty lacking in actual nutritional information), and some may take an ethology class as an elective but that’s not a given. As would make sense, their education is around animal medicine, not animal behavior which does effect their knowledge of behavior and training. There are certainly anecdotal things they may have learned either with their own pets or though just being around dogs, but again, that does not make them an expert or an authority in behavior/training (I’ve learned how to crudely adjust bike brakes out of experience…but that does not make me a bicycle mechanic or expert). If you have a pressing behavior/training question, you would probably be given a more up to date and accurate bit of information if you ask a trainer and not a vet.
There are, however, some veterinary behaviorists out there who have been schooled in both disciplines (this is a very specific title and requires degrees in both fields). If you happen to have one locally, they can be much better sources for behavioral information (especially when it’s also connected to veterinary issues like hyper/hypothyroidism). This isn’t to say vets are clueless to training/behavior issue, only that sometimes you need to take it with a grain of salt and remember that while they are highly educated and experts in an animal field, they are not educated or trained to be behaviorists or trainers. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to tell your vet any behavior/training problems you are having with your dog since they may have a good trainer to refer you to but it is out of their field and their advice may not necessarily be the most sound. Sometimes even the best vets can give really bad training advice.
It’s hockey playoff season and I’m … well I’m a hockey fan. Tonight the game went into double overtime and I may have been glancing at a blank blog entry for the entire time I focused on the game (which we won!! LOL)! So, I hope you can enjoy some photos of the pups taken a few days ago. I will totally make it up to you, I got some good feedback on my video blog post and I had a few people miss class today so I’ll probably pull together another video to share for tomorrow.
Thanks for humoring my nearly text-free post!
I’m still recovering from a two-day headache/nausea (does that constitute a migraine?) so please forgive any incoherent phrases LOL! Also, I didn’t realize I have used this photo before… there are only so many angry/growly photos to use! LOL!
“Fido has a bad habit of growling when we are playing tug and when I try to clip his nails. How can I correct the growling so he stops? It makes me feel incredibly disrespected when he growls and it needs to stop.”
Well, then. I think it’s high time we listen to our dogs and what they are trying to communicate to us. A growl is a communication tool that dogs have at their disposal… it’s one of the more blatant and overt ways they have at communicating. I really think it’s important that we back away from this idea of correcting the dog for a growl and move toward addressing the reason behind the growl.
It is an incredibly dangerous act to correct a dog for growling. When we talk about corrections/punishments in a very scientific manner, a punishment will reduce the likelihood of a behavior repeating. So, each time you are correcting a growl you are making it less likely for them to growl again. Which sounds fine until you remember what a growl is a precursor to… yep, that’s right, a bite. Essentially, what happens is you create a dog who will not growl and will seemingly bite “without warning.” Instead of a very overt and blatant warning of a growl, you may end up with just a body freeze, pushed forward whiskers, a vibration in the tail, or an ear flick. These warnings are obviously much more subtle and easy to miss unless one is specifically looking for them–and chances are folks who are correcting a growl are not those who will know to look for these smaller warnings.
Now this isn’t suggesting that you allow the dog to continue to growl when being handled because if you continue to just force them to growl, chances are, you will eventually push one too many times and you will end up with a bite. Instead, I suggest you work on the reason behind the growl.
Instead of punishing a dog for growling during nail clipping, how about change the reason behind the growl. The dog is afraid/concerned about the nail clipping, so my first step would be to change that feeling by pairing the process of clipping nails with super yummy food. I would counter condition every aspect of nail clipping, from holding the leg, to touching the foot, to separating the toes, to putting the clipper near the nails, to squeezing the nail, and eventually to actually clipping the nail. By the end of the process the dog doesn’t feel the need to growl. I respected their fear/concern and addressed it not by hitting/tsch-ing/leash popping for the growl but eliminating the reason for the growl.
One of the more frustrating point of views I encounter is that people take things so personally. They are offended that their dog would growl at them… they say “my dog has the nerve” or “my dog has the audacity,” or they see it as disrespect. Look, it’s not personal. It is just their way of saying, “I’m not comfortable with this” or “please stop, I don’t like this” or “I’d really rather you didn’t” or any number of things. Although the growl itself sounds gruff and offending to our human ears, it is no more offensive than the aforementioned phrases… at worst it can be like a “Knock it of!!!” which is a little more forceful, but not really disrespectful.
Long story short… I wish people would value the growl for what it is… a communication tool. It is one way dogs communicate with us and is a very clear warning that a bite could be a next escalation.
Last night I had a killer head ache with some nausea so I couldn’t get to writing a nice post (I struggled through an email to a training student). This morning I’m just not feeling so hot in general… SO, no new blog post for today BUT I’ll share a video I made for students who missed class last week–I wasn’t planning sharing with everyone BUT, it’s a nice video of Dexter.
I was working Dexter with loose leash walking, an about turn –“this way,” and stay. You can see how I work with my green dog, Dexter. Also the good progress he’s made!
Hopefully I’ll feel better by tonight and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blogs!