Or technically, the "Teenage Dog 5". Last week, I began to notice that Snickers, my 20 month old "puppy" was looking a little, shall we say, "thicker"? So we got on the scale this morning and sure enough, she's gone from 42 lbs to 47 lbs since the last time I weighed her, which was probably in October. Yikes! That 5 lb weight gain for her is comparable to a 15-20 lb weight gain in just 2 months for a 150 lb human, which is not something to be taken lightly.
Historically, she has had so much energy and been such a lean little playing machine that I just hadn't been paying attention to her weight. But looking back over the last month or so, I had noted a moderate decrease in her energy level at times, which I'd attributed to her moving out of puppyhood. But now I'm wondering if she hasn't also been feeling the effect of those extra pounds. In her role as "playroom supervisor" at Savvy Dog, she gets quite a bit of exercise during the week, but with the onset of winter weather, we have been slacking off on weekend walks. Ideally, I should have been adjusting her food intake to match her changing metabolism while maintaining a steady level of exercise. Since she's young and overall very healthy, my failure to do either of these things is the most likely cause of this weight creep...what a slacker I am!
And it's not the first time I've let a weight gain sneak up on one of my dogs. (Or for that matter, on myself....but no one wants to hear me whine about that!) Last winter, I thought Jackson was looking heavier, but kept telling myself it was his "winter coat". When an old family friend exclaimed upon seeing him "Wow, that one hasn't missed many meals!", I began to get concerned and sure enough, he topped the vet's scales at 95 lbs, which was the most he'd ever weighed. So I randomly cut back on his regular portions of food, was more stingy with between-meal snacks and more disciplined about taking him on regular walks, which he LOVES. By July, he had slimmed down to a much healthier 88 lbs.
This time, however, I'm going to be a bit more methodical in how I approach Snicker's "Program". I want to educate myself so that I make sure she's getting the right nutrition and feeling satisfied without completely eliminating the use of food as a motivating training tool...she still has lots to learn! And I'll share my research in the coming weeks on how to accomplish all three of these goals.
You may wonder what does weight loss have to do with training? Or why does it matter if my dog gains a little weight? Eating makes them SO happy and they're not entering a beauty pageant or at risk of being bullied at the dog park!
Not surprisingly, the short answer to "why does it matter" is HEALTH. Being overweight can shave years off of your dog's life and lead to all sorts of chronic health problems such as diabetes, joint problems and heart disease. They become inactive, mentally and physically lethargic and can't enjoy many of the activities that a healthy, slim dog enjoys. I noticed a SIGNIFICANT increase in Jackson's energy level, alertness and desire to play when he slimmed down by those 7 lbs.
From a training standpoint, an energetic, alert dog is typically easier to get interested in training and to stay engaged. Also, using food as a motivator can be an effective training tool, but "treats" are often the first thing to go when a dog needs to slim down. However, it is possible to safely cut back on your dog's food intake while still utilizing food as a motivator for training and my goal is to show you how!
So I'm off to the store for some green beans, carrots and a few other items I'll build into the "Snickers Slimdown - 2014" project. Stay tuned!