Positive Reinforcement Training Made My Dog Fat | Dog Weight Loss

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Okay, I’ll fess up.  I took the treat reward portion of positive reinforcement training to an entirely new level with our dogs.  Although Rodrigo was fine, he gained a little weight, but he’s an active dog so it was barely noticeable.  Sydney, on the other hand, is all too happy to lie in the grass and watch us play catch with Rodrigo.  She may jump in for a toss or two, but mostly she just likes to roll around on her back in the grass with a happy look on her face and a very fat behind.

There’s More of Me to Love

As you know, the “more of me to love” mentality just doesn’t work for our dogs.  It’s awful and although my boyfriend has been mentioning Sydney’s weight for a few months, it took a comment by a coworker for me to see my Princess Pretty Paws as the Fatty McChubChub that she had become.

Sydney’s Weight Loss Progress

Well, I’m happy to report that Sydney is quickly trimming down and I want to share briefly our Dog Weight Loss plan.

(1) We go for 1.5-3 mile walks almost every day.  The dogs get 1-2 days off, but on those days, they get extra play sessions with my boyfriend in the yard.  My boyfriend has started coming home midday to play with them – how awesome is THAT?

(2) We cut down on the treat parade.  I got into the habit of rewarding them for everything.  It’s gotten so bad that Sydney sometimes won’t sit unless she’s getting a treat.  So I stopped.  They still get cookies, but I break them up into small pieces to feed them.  So instead of 6 cookies, she has 1 or 2 broken up into 3-6 pieces.

What really just breaks my heart is that Sydney has so much more energy, she’s playful, and running around like crazy.  The weight was holding her back and now she’s doing fantastic.

Helpful Dog Weight Loss Tips

Now that you know my story, here are some tips to help dog owners with dog weight loss…

If you’re wondering if your dog is overweight; then your dog is probably overweight.  I had anxiety over Sydney’s approaching annual vaccination appointment.  What would her veterinarian say?

“The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s survey (http://www.petobesityprevention.com/big-pets-get-bigger-latest-survey-shows-dog-and-cat-obesity-epidemic-expanding/) revealed that 53% of adult dogs and 55% of pet cats are classified as overweight or obese by veterinarians, while 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners felt their pets were of normal weight when they were actually overweight or obese.” ~ Dr. May, Veterinarian Medical Association

The Rib and Spine Test

I was told that we could determine if our dogs are packing on some extra weight by doing a rib (or spine) test.  If we can rub our fingers down their side, or along their spine, and not feel their bones, then they’re over weight.  But when I rubbed my fingers down Sydney’s side, with a little pressure, I did feel her bones.  How am I supposed to do this?

Dr. May shared “You’re right that if you push hard enough, you can feel ribs on all but the most obese dogs. The trick is how much pressure you have to apply – you should be able to feel them without a lot of pressure, as if there’s some palpable muscle and tissue between the rib and your fingers but you’re not pressing hard. If you can run your fingers along their side and their ribs feel like a xylophone, the dog is too skinny.”  Use this Pet Weight Check as a resource.

Are Dog Treats Evil?

“All treats should only be fed in moderation because they provide extra calories – and they should be fed in small amounts and infrequently because they aren’t nutritionally balanced and shouldn’t be a large part of your dog’s daily intake. If your dog likes veggies, treats like broccoli, carrots, and greens are lower in calories and can be fed in larger amounts. (But avoid onions, grapes, raisins, and other potentially harmful foods – see http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.aspx for more foods to avoid feeding pets.)  Most people would be surprised, and maybe even shocked, by the amount of calories that treats may contain (the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a table of dog treat calorie counts.” ~ Dr. May

The Dangers for Overweight and Obese Dogs

Just like humans, overweight and obese dogs face serious health risks that are attributed to their condition and shorten their lives.  They are at risk for diabetes, joint disease and arthritis, heart and respiratory disease, and high blood pressure.

Sydney pulled a muscle in the spring and it took forever for it to heal.  This is partly due to the fact that she’s constantly using the muscle and mostly to do with the weight that muscle had to carry.  Once we got her weight down, we noticed a significant decline in her limping.

Diet and Exercise for an Overweight Dog

Check with your veterinarian.  Ask him/her what is recommended for your dog and take it easy.  When we started with Sydney, we would have to keep her portion of the walk (we’re walking 3 dogs) short, because she tired out easy and she had an injury.  We allowed her to determine the length of the walks and Ms. Princess Pretty Paws made it clear when she’d had enough.

Sydney was just overweight so daily walks (5 days a week at the minimum) were enough to help trim the extra pounds.  If your dog is bordering on obese or is already there, then definitely work with your veterinarian on a proper diet and exercise plan.  You want to make sure that your dog is getting the nutrition s/he needs as well as the most effective exercise schedule that also meets your needs and fits into your schedule. There are even facilities, like the Zoom Room, that will work with you and your veterinarian on your dog’s exercise needs.

“Grazing pets may be consuming more calories than they need to maintain a healthy weight. If your pet is a “grazer”, it is a good idea to switch to regular twice-daily feedings.” ~ Dr. Benson, Pet Plan

Our dogs are on twice a day feedings and doing very well.  We also traded out pork chew treats for carrots and raw bones.  Check out this article I wrote about alternatives to Raw Hide Chews.

“Dogs are carnivores, so when purchasing your pet’s dog food make sure to look at the first three ingredients listed, as these often make up 90 percent of the food, and ensure that at least the first two are sources of protein. Avoid anything listed as an “animal by-product” as these are the parts of animals that humans typically don’t eat (feet, bones, lungs, etc.) and they typically lack nutritional value. Also it is important to avoid dog food where grains (corn, soy, and wheat) make up the majority of the food – grains will definitely pack on the pounds on your pooch!” ~ Amber Andersen, DVM, Certified Veterinary Journalist

“Cutting back on the amount of calories your dog eats (including at meal time and treats) will most definitely work in helping your dog shed pounds. Increasing the amount or type of exercise will also help – especially a more strenuous workout at the dog park! Most dog owners are perfectly capable of monitoring their dog’s weight loss regime, but I would advise consulting with your veterinarian prior to starting any plan.” ~ Dr. Anderson

In the next post, I’ll be sharing tips on exercising with your dog during the summer!

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8 Comments

  1. Great post! I just started a weight loss program with my dogs! How timely for me :)

    Reply
    • I’m glad! There are so many things that we can’t prevent, but anything related to obesity is definitely preventable. I’m careful about the treats they receive now. Luckily Sydney loves carrots.

      Best of luck!

      Kimberly
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      Reply
    • I know! Thanks. We’re so excited to see her trimming down. She’s not at her fighting weight yet, but she’s on her way and I love how much energy she has; she’s having a blast playing with her brothers and running on our walks.

      Loving your blog, Jana!

      Kimberly
      Twitter:

      Reply
    • Ahhhh. I know what you mean. I never realized how stressful an adoption could be for a dog until I saw one that was scared out of his head. You’re a good foster mommy!

      Kimberly
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      Reply
  2. This is an interesting post. Many trainers suggest using very, very tiny treats – say one Rice Krispy – and only doling out every third of fourth reward. A pat on the head is positive reinforcement too, and I think we underestimate the satisfaction touch gives out pets. Healthy bits of turkey, low fat chicken and ham, are also great. My dog loves bits of apple. Citrus can be toxic to some dogs, however.

    Laura Bailey
    Loving Linus, This Blessing Bites
    A loving couple who knew nothing about dogs adopts a dog who knew nothing about love.
    http://www.loving-linus.com
    Laura Bailey recently published..“Who needs a Behaviorist? Moi?”My Profile
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    Reply
    • My problem is that I fall for the puppy dog eyes and Sydney has them in spades. We’ve removed many things from our dogs’ diet and now I break up cookies for treats. Blue prefers praise over treats so I’ve been doing that with Rodrigo and Sydney too and, you’re right, it’s just as effective. I adore them and want them to be happy, but I want them be healthy too!

      Kimberly
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