Is your dog ready for swimsuit season? If you’re feeling bad about offering less food, you can actually give your dog “more” while feeding her less at the same time! Yes, it’s true! There are ways to make eating enriching (this is great for all dogs, not just for beefcakes (details below)), last longer and turn eating into a game and/ meditation:)! But, why is it SO IMPORTANT to get your dog lean? Studies have shown (and looking to nature as a guide), animals (including ourselves) run best on less. When the body is lean, metabolic functions work like they should. I don’t think there’s a coincidence between most pets being overweight and 1 out of 2 dogs getting cancer in this day and age. The other problem is overweight dogs are at greater risk for injury.

A lot of dogs turn up with injuries. In agility, depending on a dog’s structure and regardless of how fit they are, it is common for dogs to have strains and even major injuries. Part of that may be because when a dog lands from a jump, they put about five times their weight onto their front limb and, sometimes, they are turning and are predominantly taking that weight on a single leg! Agility is a sprinting game and a lot of dogs are literally ripping around the course. Unfortunately, dogs are very good at hiding their injuries and a lot of them go undiagnosed. Some could argue that an animal needs to hide an injury for a better chance at survival in the wild. For some dogs, they are so excited about life that their adrenaline will mask pain much of the time. After spending $15,000 on surgeries, regenerative medicine, rehab and therapies for 1 dog, I think about this sort of thing endlessly. And, I want to do everything I can to keep dogs healthy, happy and having fun!

As far as carrying extra pounds goes, that is resolved almost completely through alterations to the diet. I hope that you are open to this discussion. Because of what I know, it’s my responsibility to really push this matter.

There may be some things you haven’t yet considered. The first thing to ask is how much you feed your dog every day, and I don’t just mean in his bowl. It’s surprising how much food comes in addition to that through treats, snacks, and scavenging or dropped food. You’ll have to ask everybody, including your husband and your kids and the people who come over… like a relative or anyone like that…who might be giving him tons of love along with piles of food because he is so adorable. It adds up really fast, especially for a little dog! Keeping that in mind, the treats your dog gets during training may be as many calories as he should consume in the entire day. 

When I train a dog with treats, I subtract that amount from what I would otherwise feed during their meal twice a day.  It’s totally possible that we will skip breakfast or dinner (or both) if the dog will eat enough that day through treats. The treats given during training, out on a walk, or wherever else your dog gets snacks might meet (or exceed) my dogs’ caloric needs. So it’s important to feed nutritious treats and not junk food.

Typically, the treats you’ll find in a grocery store are junk food made of starch and sugar and processed beyond recognition (often they are actually toxic!!).  Dogs are not designed to metabolize much of the “feed” on the market. Look for dried meat products as a rule of thumb. You might be able to use fresh, low glycemic vegetables (veggies only if your dog is fully interested in them). Dried or freeze-dried products that come in small pieces work well and are probably your best choice (of course, read the label). Cheese is okay for most dogs, but it shouldn’t comprise too high of a percentage of the dog’s diet. Lunch meat can work but usually sticks and interrupts reward delivery (and may have nitrites and other undesirable junk in them). And hotdogs are not even food.

When you do set down food, it is good for your dog’s emotional and mental well being to give her food in less traditional bowls. A slow feeder with nooks and crannies can make it more of an adventure. There are a number of these on the market and they come in all sorts of shapes but make sure it’s enough of a puzzle (like a spiral or other complicated pattern). Another way to feed is to use things like Kongs or the West Paw Toppl or Tux. These are great tools to use when you need to keep your dog occupied and relaxed (like when your dog needs to chill in a crate or while you get some work done). With these options, putting the food in and then freezing it makes it even longer-lasting. Another way to achieve that end is to put your raw food in ice cube trays and then insert the frozen cubes into a Kong (or like object) (then you only need 1 Kong per dog). Animals are designed to look for their food, so they actually have a better quality of life if they have to work at it and for it. If you feed dried food there are even more food dispensing toys available. You might simply sprinkle food around in the grass (if you aren’t worried about ants or your dog eating rocks). And last but not least, one of THE best enrichment items is a snuffle mat. When dogs use scent, they experience an additional level of satisfaction. I would never have guessed how enriching this item is, otherwise I would have bought one long before!

The goal shape for a dog is to have a tuck in their waist when viewed from above and you want to be able to see their last three ribs. A lot of vets will say a dog is a good weight when they are, in fact, actually overweight. Too many vets are unfortunately not well versed in performance sports and you won’t find many that encourage the lean body that athletes (in my opinion all dogs) need to stay injury-free. This is because, sadly, the education of vets is not up to speed with high performance and Sports Medicine.
When a dog gets sick (cancer or whatnot) one of the the first ways to help a him regain health is to help with his metabolic functions by getting him the the right kind of food at the appropriate quantities. The other thing that really helps is exercise. Exercise moves stuff around in our bodies and it releases endorphins and gives us something else to do other than thinking about bon bons 🙂 

When a dog, or any animal for that matter, is too overweight, we do need to be very careful about exercise because that excess excess weight sets them up for injury (especially if jumping and twisting like in agility). Which is why I feel hope to convince you to come up with a plan to get your full-figured Fido down to his proper weight in the next 6 months. Who knows, it could add years to your dog’s life, help him feel better, and save you a fortune on treatments and avoid unnecessary downtime. It might even save your dog’s life!! And just think of how many heads will turn when they look at your gorgeous dog 😉 It could be his best summer yet!