Monday, March 26, 2012

Fat Dogs

First things first --- Missy has been adopted!!!! I feel bad that I didn't get some kind of going away photo, so this picture of Secret crashed on the couch will have to do. Secret doesn't really miss Missy. In fact, I think she's happy to have all the space back to herself on that side of the couch....

Missy's adopter spent almost two hours with us on Friday. I kept the rest of the crew locked away in the bedroom so they wouldn't be in the way and distracting. I'm pretty sure it was Secret that I heard scratching at the door several times. They pretty much thought it sucked (although when I opened the door to let them out she was sprawled out on the bed, so I don't think it was that horrible).

Missy was a good girl and showed our visitor all of her tricks and how well she is able to tug and play with toys. I was having a difficult time really getting a feel for how he felt about Missy. If anything I was getting the impression that Missy wasn't really what he was looking for, so I almost did a happy dance when he said he thought he'd have to go ahead and take her home with him. Yay for Missy! She won him over! I haven't gotten any updates yet, so I hope they are doing well together. I think they were a very good fit for one another.

Aside from Missy's adoption, I don't have a darn thing to write about -- Which is why I'm turning this into another soapbox day! This morning I was reading my February issue of Clean Run (yes, I'm still super far behind) and I came upon the article, "How much of a handicap are you giving your dog," by Donna Somers. I don't know who this person is or what her credentials are (there are no D.V.M. letters behind her name or anything), but I do want to reach out and give her a big old hug for just how PLAINLY she wrote this article. She didn't mince words or try to pad the blow -- She outright said, "Don't complain about drive or speed if your dog is fat."

Fat dogs in general are a pet peeve of mine, but fat dogs in agility are a boiling point. If a dog is overweight, there is only one being to blame -- the human. Dogs don't feed themselves (aside from counter-surfing or raiding the feed bin, anyhow!). I've often wished I had someone controlling my diet the way I do for my dogs. Wouldn't that be grand? ;o)

I get so tired of excuses. "But he's always STARVING, I have to feed him extra to get him to leave me alone." Who is training who in that house? "I just can't say no when she looks at me with those big sad eyes." I bet your dog would be just as happy to go for a walk -- sad eyes gone! "He gets into the food bin and steals off the counter." That house needs better management...

With the exception of true medical issues, weight management is not rocket science. Unlike humans, dogs don't struggle with the issue of willpower. Also unlike humans, most dogs think that exercising ROCKS and is the highlight of their day. Dogs are always ready to go for walks, chase balls & frisbees or head to the lake for a swim. My dogs would do this 24/7 if they could.

It could be that part of the problem is that people don't realize that their dogs really are fat. Being overweight has become so commonplace these days that it just blends in (says the overweight person). Watch any televised conformation show and you will think that dogs are supposed to jiggle & wiggle as they trot around the ring (well, if you own a Labrador at least!). I think a lot of people aren't familiar first-hand with what a truly fit animal looks & feels like.

I loved the part of the article that stated, "If you look at your dog and think he could stand to lose a pound or two, he could probably stand to lose more." (Loosely quoted, as I don't have it in front of me.) The author used the racehorse world as an example for her argument of how much extra weight impacts our dogs in agility. A weight of a few pounds is considered a handicap to slow down and animal that weighs over 1000 pounds. That is such a miniscule percentage of the horse's total weight, but it can have a dramatically noticeable effect on their speed. When we talk about taking a couple of pounds off a dog, the effect can be DRASTIC.

Luke was a prime example of this at work. When Luke and I first started in agility, he was definitely what would be considered pet/farm fit. He was heavily muscled from all of the trail rides and frisbee play that we did. He weighed 93 pounds and I don't know anyone who would have called him fat. As we got more involved in agility it was obvious that his weight/size was not doing him any favors. He had several minor injuries in those early days. In an effort to reduce this, I got him down to 85 pounds and he seemed to do much better. In addition, I did notice an increase in his speed (of course we were both gaining experience and that always helps, too!).

Skip forward a few years to 2009 when Luke was diagnosed with Addison's disease. Luke lost a lot of weight when he crashed. At first I was pretty horrified to learn that he lost almost 10 pounds and was tipping the scales at just 76 pounds when I took him home. The more I looked at him, though, the more I realized that he was looking pretty good. I didn't put much effort into putting the weight back on him -- My vet wasn't concerned, so I just fed him as usual. When we started back up in agility, I couldn't believe how fast he was! Even just three weeks off his Addisonian crash, my dog was faster than ever. We had always struggled to make time in Weavers, but after the drastic weight loss there was never a time that we didn't make time on course (save a major error, that is!) and he pounded out the Q's he needed to finish two Versatility NATCH's in less than a year! Weight has a huge impact on speed and course times. FYI, I now maintain Luke at a svelte 77 pounds.

A couple of years ago I would have never believed that Kaiser would now be my most difficult dog for whom to manage its weight. lol In Kaiser's younger days the bigger concern was actually getting him to eat at all. If I didn't leave food out for him 24/7, I honestly felt he'd waste away to nothing. I tried to teach him to eat on schedule when I got Secret, but after he lost over a pound I decided it was easier to teach Secret not to touch his food dish. Kaiser always self-maintained a weight between 16.5 and 17 pounds without any effort on my part.

Then the little fart got neutered. With that, suddenly he developed an appetite and was devouring anything I put in front of him. This is when I realized that I had no idea how much he actually ate in a day. Add in the running contact training we were doing (with copious amounts of CHEESE!) and it's no wonder the little guy suddenly ballooned up to 18 pounds. OMG. I was horrified that I had let that happen. I'm sure the extra weight wasn't helping the jumping problems he was experiencing at the time!!!

Just to prove that weight loss/control in dogs is not rocket science, Kaiser was back down to his fighting weight of 16.7/17 pounds within a few months. He doesn't get on a scale as often as I'd like, but we can generally maintain pretty well with feel. If I were to put him on a scale today I'd guess he'd be closer to 17 again -- he is not as thin as my other two, though, and could probably lose a 1/4 - 1/2 pound or so. Most people say, "Oh, summer is coming and he'll work it off then."" It's the opposite for Kaiser, though. More training in the summer = more treats, so now is the time to start backing off on his meal rations again. That's definitely one benefit to training with toys; you don't have to worry about the extra calories!

Thumbs up to Donna Somers for writing this blunt, to the point article -- and to Clean Run for printing it. I hope people take it to heart and realize that we are doing no favors to run fat dogs in agility (or any other sport). If your dog is sporting an extra pound or two, make it your goal this year to really improve their fitness. And maybe yours, too -- which is a never-ending goal for myself. :o) Who wants to come make all of my meals and implement an exercise schedule for me??

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more! The few people I see with normal weight dogs are usually worried their dog is too thin-they are so used to seeing fat dogs! When I tell the rest their dog needs to lose weight, they frequently ask how they can do that? Seriously? How about feed them less! Apparently they don't realize it works the same in dogs as it does in people. Sigh.