In Part 1, I gave examples of non-medical causes for dog obesity. In this post, I’ll discuss each cause in more detail and provide strategies for preventing/reversing obesity.
How Can Obesity Be Prevented
Depending on the cause of obesity, depends on how easily it can be prevented. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing the owner’s mentality and other times it might take diligent training and management. Let’s take a look at the original list of non-medical causes for obesity listed above and go into some detail on strategies that can help.
Food = Love!
Dogs are not people, for the most part they do not find comfort in food like people tend to do. Yes, dogs do tend to like people who give them food, especially free food. You like people who give you good things too, right? We need to somehow break the human mentality of overfeeding our dogs to make us feel better. It is literally killing our dogs! I often hear in my classes when I discuss proper weight management, “Well Fido likes me more, so my spouse/significant other likes to make Fido a sandwich too!” or “Fido just expects that he’s going to get XYZ food every time my spouse/significant other opens the fridge!” Usually Fido can get the humans well trained pretty easily. However, it is our duty as our dogs’ caregivers, and protectors, to do what is right for the health and well-being of the dogs we love. Slowly killing them with food because it makes you feel good is quite selfish. The dog will adjust to new routines and less food! If your spouse/significant other feels like they just HAVE to feed the dog, you could reduce the amount of food they get at meals, or ask your spouse/significant other (whoever is overfeeding the dog) to only give a small portion of what they would typically give the dog.
This is when an owner always has food available to a dog. When the bowl is empty the owner fills up the bowl. It seems pretty practical. The dog will eat when he or she wants, whenever he or she wants too. I do not like this method of feeding for a number of reason, especially when it is a multi-dog household. The first reason I do not like this method is because you have no idea how much food your dog is eating. Most owners do not really pay attention to the bowl unless it is empty, so what happens if the bowl stays full for a number of days? This is compounded even more if there are multiple people in the house that fill the bowl. If the bowl stays filled, everybody in the household may assume someone else filled it.
On an unrelated note, you may miss the beginning of a medical emergency. For example, my dog Aidan, did not eat 3 pieces of kibble one night at dinner. He was always a clean bowl type of dog. Those 3 pieces of kibble were a huge red flag that something terrible was going on. The next evening after close monitoring and more red flags, I took him to our local Emergency Clinic since it was on a weekend, where he was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer that was killing him. Fortunately, the first red flag clued me in that he would need medical help soon. He only had one bad day. If I was free feeding it is likely that I would not have noticed that small change, and he would have suffered longer.
The next reason I don’t like free feeding, especially in a multi-dog household is because it can encourage resource guarding behavior between the dogs. This means one of the dogs might keep the other dog from eating, which has its own set of behavioral or medical complications. Dogs should not have to compete for resources, they’re not wolves.
The “Chow Hound” and Breed
These two examples often go hand in hand. What breeds can you think of that are typically chow hounds? Beagles, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Pugs, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, most dogs in the Hound group, and mixes thereof. I know of some Portuguese Water Dogs that will eat their weight in food every single day as well. These are definitely not breeds you would want to free feed. If your dog is overly excited and voracious with food, it might take some training and management to keep your dog from stealing food every chance he or she gets. Often time these dogs will eat their kibble, plus they are VERY skilled at stealing any food that is readily, and not-so readily available. I know of a family who had to store most food that would typically be left on the counter, in their microwave or oven because the dog could also open the kitchen cabinet doors. Even the upper cabinets. Does anybody want to guess the breed? If you guessed Lab you are correct! All of these “extras” the chow hounds find are often unaccounted by and large, which means there is no adjustment to “meal time” allotments.
Chow hounds are also pretty notorious for stealing the other dog’s food if they live in a multi-dog household. For multi-dog households I often recommend careful monitoring of the dogs during meal times, or feeding in separate areas. This is especially true for dogs who will bully another dog out of their food dish or if you have a super slow eater. Since my puppy has little manners about who’s food is who’s, she is crated during meal times. Since Trek is respectful of Armada’s food dish, while Armada is slowly eating, Trek does not get locked into his crate during meals, but we still keep an eye on him.
For chow hounds, I often recommend teaching a dog an alternative behavior to counter surfing (stealing food off the kitchen counters or tables) and management, such as blocking access to the kitchen or other sources of food when the dog cannot be monitored. Two of my dogs are what I would consider chow hounds, as I’m writing this I have two filet Mignon steaks marinating on the kitchen counter. The steaks are at the back of the counter, which would be considered out of reach for most dogs, but I have no doubt that if motivated enough, Trek could jump onto the counter to get the steaks. Because of training, all of my dogs are currently in the office with me without access to the kitchen being blocked. It can take some effort, but training and management does work.
There are dogs out there that are legitimately lazy dogs. I have one dog who regularly comes to classes, he is absolutely EXHAUSTED about half way through Fitness Class. He really is pretty lazy and much lazier than his housemates. These are also typically the chow hounds. The good thing is, this dog comes to class, which is super helpful. He has gained muscle mass in the time he has been coming to class. If you have a dog that is fairly lazy, looks a little pudgy, or is lacking muscle mass, it is important for the dog to be active for a specific amount of time each day. That specific amount of time, how often, and what kind of exercise is very dependent on the particular dog. I cannot safely give a general guideline for this because each dog’s history and abilities vary greatly. If you would like help getting your lazy dog, less lazy contact a Canine Fitness Professional, such as myself.
Since I believe this topic is very important, I don’t want to kill my readers with information overload. In Part 3, I’ll discuss what I consider the most important cause of obesity. As warning, I get a little geeky and I wrap it up with my final thoughts.