Spare the Treats, Spoil with Exercise
By: Brittney Frazier, Found Chicago
As dog owners, we often pride ourselves in the kind of life and environment we can provide for our canine companions. Especially for a dog that has been rescued out of a negative situation, there is usually an understandable instinct to nurture and even spoil the animal a person considers part of their family. As dog trainers, we see it as our job to teach the public how to fulfill their individual dogs’ needs, whether that be structurally, behaviorally, or physically.
When taking into consideration the factors that are affecting a dog’s behavior, health is one of the first things our trainers examine because it is very telling about the emotional state a dog is in and reflects the experiences the dog receives on a daily basis. A common issue we see with pet dogs is obesity and carrying extra weight. While the extra “chub” might be adorable, there are several concerns extra weight can cause in a dog’s behavior.
Dogs have adapted alongside humans over time into domestication to live as our companions. However, we tend to overlook the fact that there was a time when dogs were solely animals depending on each other and their own instincts for survival. Overweight animals don’t exist in the wild due to the amount of exercise required of them daily and their high protein diet. However, as “difficult” a life as we might perceive this to be, it is one that fulfills a dog’s body and mind, naturally teaching them discipline, exposure to new environments, routine, and proper energy release.
Now, take the average couch potato pet, for example. Waking up every morning to a walk around the block, food dropped into a bowl, then sleeping all day while their owner is away at work. Most family dogs are lucky to get a good energy outlet, such as hiking, running, or dog park fun, once or twice a week. Being that this is a far cry from our pets’ ancestors, we can expect behavioral changes to present themselves as dogs’ instinctual needs are not met. An overweight dog is not only unhealthy, but it’s a clear representation that the dog’s life balance is off-kilter. This is usually a good place to start when solving the puzzle surrounding behavioral issues as a dog trainer.
At Found Chicago, our training regimens almost always includes what the dog’s exercise and feeding needs are and if they are being met. If an anxious or aggressive dog is overweight, the two can be correlated in the fact that the dog is naturally working with more calories than they are expending naturally on a daily basis. The frustration of this discomfort can be seen in a dog’s anxiety and need to find an outlet for these extra calories. There are scenarios when a simple adjustment in diet and exercise fulfills a dog to the point where they are no longer anxious or aggressive because it no longer feels the need to be.
Overfeeding a dog can also have detrimental effects on the dog’s willingness to please and work for a handler. If a dog is always full and physical needs are overly met, a dog’s motivation will be extremely difficult to find. While it’s our job as a dog’s leader to win their respect, that job becomes a lot easier when we can use their kibble or treats as a tool. The instant that tool is removed, our job becomes much harder, even impossible. Whereas a wild dog would be required to work and search for their food, house pets that have their needs met without any work whatsoever can begin to lose sight of any sort of purpose and become poorly behaved for that reason as well. Playing on a dog’s natural state of working for their meal can keep that balance enabling the best relationship between dog and owner possible.
Remember to consider not only the emotional, but also physical, impact obesity can have on a dog. Like any animal, years of excess weight can cause serious health concerns. Joint damage to hips and legs, and stress on the dog’s back, can have major consequences later in life. In order to ensure our dogs live their most enriching life possible, a healthy weight is essential in achieving the most time with our beloved companions. Check annually with your vet that your dog is at their healthiest weight for their size, breed, and activity level. Like humans, a dog’s weight can fluctuate and keeping up with that fluctuation over the years in changing feeding and exercise requirements is our responsibility as their loving caretakers.
When you’re tempted to spoil a dog with excess food and treats, understand that your dog will appreciate new experiences with you as their leader more than we can imagine. Spoiling with exercise, rather than with calories, will create a more stable and well-rounded animal for your household. A fit and tired dog is truly the happiest version of your dog and the best way to give your best friend the life they deserve most.