People have been waiting for me to start this blog for a while. I haven’t jumped into it because I think blogs are pretentious. And since I’m a nobody, why would anyone want to hear what I have to say? However, a high school classmate told me I’m “the George Carlin of rescue,” mostly because people think my outrage is funny (my humor doesn’t even deserve to breathe the same air as George Carlin, he was quite the master of reason and comedic frustration). People crack up at my rants and keep asking me to write something, so here it is. I’ve gone back and forth regarding the very first topic that should have the honor of launching this blog. Surprisingly, the topic I’m picking isn’t rescue related. I’m going with the thing that makes me the most furious…..FAT DOGS.
You want to see me lose my ever-loving mind, waddle a fat dog out in front of me and tell me that you love it. That situation makes me speechless (ask around, I’m never at a loss for words, just look at the length of this blog – so, to witness me stunned silent, it’s a sight to see and an opportunity to behold).
And it’s not just one or two people posting photos on Facebook, or the occasional person I bump into at the vet where I find a fat dog – it’s absolutely everywhere. It’s everybody. It’s people that should know better…and do it anyway. I’ve seen a nurse with a Master’s degree (who is studying to become a Nurse Practitioner) with a free-fed Schnauzer that was so fat that its nub was buried in its plump rump. You could barely see it wag its tail! I bring her dog’s excessive weight to her attention. In a shocked response, she says to me, “she’s SOLID!” and pats the dog on the side. Sounded like someone was patting the tree trunk of a 150-yr-old Oak tree. “Yeah, solid FAT,” was my response (angered at the fact that this dog is probably going to be diagnosed with Diabetes soon, a common Schnauzer ailment if they’re obese, ending their life entirely way too soon).
I’ve had friends text me pictures of fat dogs, and pretty much everyone makes sure to point out a fat dog if they’re in my presence just to see my reaction. I’m hard on my adopters if they allow a POMH alumni dog to get fat, the ones that have will tell you that they got a lecture (and slimmed down their dog). I will stop someone in their tracks and praise them for a proper-weight dog, it’s such a beautiful and rare thing that I can’t help myself when I finally see one. If I died tomorrow, people who have known me will go through life and think of me with each fat dog that crosses their path by saying, “if Lauren was here, she’d die!” I’ve at least taught a few people to identify it, that’s why I’m writing about it; so others can be aware and change their dog’s life for the better.
The thing that I’ve noticed over the years of doing rescue is that people will go wild over a Facebook post of a skin and bones dog that was picked up by animal control. Rescues who take in the starved dog raise all kinds of sick money from the fury that arises from the community. Where are those same people when they see a dog that’s morbidly obese? It takes empathy to feel sorry for the skinny dog. The morbidly obese dogs, no one feels empathy for it. They think it’s cute, loved, etc. People have actually been proud of it, like it’s evidence of how well they can love something. A dog that can barely move or breathe is proof that they’re a good-natured person. Where does this idea come from? I have tried making sense of that but I can’t find the reasoning behind it at all. Countless times I’ve taken in fat dogs, showing the video of them struggling to exist, then thin them down to a fit weight eliciting applause from my Facebook followers. They see a depressed, fat dog turn into an energetic, fit, happy dog. Yet, for some reason people can’t step outside of themselves, examine their own dog’s weight, and give them the same gift of a fit existence. I just shake my head. If I can do it, anybody can do it.
Like I’ve said before on my website, I’ve known Sam Malatesta since November 2004. I’ll never forget that November seminar – it completely changed the way I look at a dog. And like most seminars given by gifted dog behaviorists, once you know it, you can’t un-know it. You’re haunted for the rest of your life with this newfound knowledge. He was then, and is to this day, the ONLY dog trainer I’ve encountered (and I’ve attended/watched countless seminars, classes, youtube channels, week long training camps, and online courses) that talks seriously and directly about fat dogs. Sam is a drive-based trainer and stresses how important the food drive is to a dog.
The food drive, if this is the first time you’ve heard this term, is the foundation of a dog/handler relationship. The professionals all use food drive to some degree, whether it’s treats during training in the beginning, or the feeding routine; just about every great trainer I’ve met is in control of it, their dogs have intense focus, and they are well-adjusted, peppy dogs. Here’s a video that I just love watching that perfectly demonstrates food drive with a young dog: Dog Training With Food Drive
Sam taught me all about the fat dog. How a fat dog doesn’t need you. How fat dogs most certainly don’t look at you like the Doberman in that video above. Look how happy that Dobe is working for the handler! If the dog is fat, and is free-fed (no feeding routine, just a full bowl at all times so the dog can graze when it wants), they don’t perform like that. Their “affect” (the experience of feeling or emotion, in this case intensely involved with the stimuli/handler) isn’t even in the same ballpark. Moreover, if the fat dog got out/ran off, what reason would it have to come back? There is no feeding schedule that makes it return home at dinner time, no sound of a bowl being filled with food to make it salivate and come running (or stick close). As well, it has enough fat on its body to last it a few weeks with drinking water out of puddles and streams it encounters on its journey across the landscape. You can’t train fat dogs because they’re “full” – no treat you have to offer is going to make them fully engage. I’ve seen fat dogs roll around a piece of hotdog in their mouth and spit it on the floor. And if they kinda/sorta sit for a treat, they’re not that eager – they’re basically sitting there to get it because what else do they have to do? I’ve had fat dogs come into rescue that were completely embittered by their physical “fat prison” in which they’re incarcerated. They can’t move as fast as other dogs, and they know it; sometimes that makes a dog so insecure that they turn aggressive or reactive. Worst of all, the fat body shortens a dog’s life with diabetes, pancreatitis, tearing ligaments, and suffering with spine issues and pain (fat Dachshund owners should be ashamed of themselves – anything with a long back is guaranteed spine issues when the dog is overweight). But….we love them, right?
A recent article posted about fat dogs/cats in America: 1 in 3 Pets are Overweight
With all that said, I want everyone to consider this: If we know better than to have a fat dog, then why do we continue to do it?
I have criticized fat dog owners for years. I can count on one hand how many people who have actually slimmed their dog down. One of them is a gal named Beth, who did a fantastic job slimming her dogs down to a fit weight (with one dog in particular, a senior Airedale at that, she had to hire a trainer because it had newfound energy that was unmanageable. Outstanding!) Now that she’s slimmed her Airdale down by about 23 lbs and her toy poodle down from 7.8 to 5 lbs (that doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s over 1/3 of its body weight. Think about that…what would it be like for YOU to lose/gain 1/3 of your body weight), I had to ask her what it was like for her to go through it all. She said it was very hard emotionally. I asked her specifically what made it hard, and here’s her response:
“Here’s where my mind use to be. If my dog wanted food I wanted her to have all she wanted because she loved food. Never facing the fact that I was slowly killing her. When she struggled to stand from a sitting position and struggled more from a lying position I would think she needed to lose weight as if she could calculate the appropriate food intake. Free feeding was my way of giving my dog food whenever she wanted it.
As I began reading your posts on making dogs fat (therefore creating health problems, decreasing activity, and sending them to an early grave), I began to think about my responsibility as a dog owner. No longer could I say I loved my dog if I was creating health problems and destroying her ability to walk and run. I saw the truth in your statements describing a happy, healthy, well mannered dog with boundaries. My dog was so far from happy, healthy and well mannered that I was ashamed of myself. I’m working diligently to love my dog completely.”
Below are before and after photos of Madison. Look at how far apart her front feet are to hold herself up in the first photo, and take note of the size of her head compared to her body. Photo on the right is the new Madison showing off her waist and proportional head size. That’s 23 lbs of fat between those two photos – hard to imagine that she has lost the weight comparable to the weight of an average human toddler. (How many of you out there would like to lose 23 lbs? We can send you to Beth’s house!)
Putting a dog on a diet usually means two things – 1) the dog gets more exercise and 2) the dog gets fed less. The “15 minute rule” applies so there’s no free-feeding, an appropriate food routine is established (where you put the bowl of food on the floor, dog has 15 minutes to eat it, then pick it up after 15 minutes). So twice a day, 15 minutes, that’s it. That’s the food drive. It doesn’t sound hard, so I’m curious as to why it would be emotionally hard for our culture to implement?
This is the part that can send you down the rabbit hole.
Listening to a Joe Rogan podcast guest starring Robert Sapolsky (Standford University professor, neuroendocrinologist, and author) while I was landscaping, it hit me. Before you go any further, listen to it yourself here (the whole interview is fascinating but it starts at the point to which I’m referring. If you really want your mind blown, start from the beginning): Joe Rogan Interviews Prof. Robert Sapolsky
I’m not a scientist, doctor, or vet. However, I want to see if maybe this might make sense to those who can’t bring themselves to drop the excess weight off of their dogs. If someone has made a comment to you about how fat your dog is, think about this long and hard, and be honest with yourself as a human being.
Oxytocin is the “cuddle hormone” that moms get after giving birth to a baby (a common mammal thing). Research states, like Sapolsky mentions in the interview above, that humans and dogs get high on Oxytocin when one looks into the other’s eyes. Note that this does not happen in wolves (who just give off Oxytocin at birth, not by a gaze.) So it’s crossing species, as Sapolsky points out. You don’t think maybe that might be a weakness in our fat dog epidemic?
What increases Oxytocin in humans? Go down this list and consider the feeling each of these items give you:
– Hanging out, laughing with your friends
– Watching your favorite band play live
– Getting an invigorating massage
– Seeing a 4 star movie
– The rush of emotions you got when your child was born
– Giving away money
– Showing pets affection
Those are Oxytocin highs. It is a powerful feeling. It’s so powerful that Oxytocin can help relieve withdrawl symptoms from narcotics or alcohol. It’s so powerful that it can increase the social skills of people with Autism (another function of the Autism service dogs).
Are people driven to get the Oxytocin high? There’s research on social media and the way it affects the brain, that people do in fact get a high from using it (from a variety of “feel good” hormones). We all know a “selfie addict.” Next time you go out in public, look around at all the people staring at their phones (a new term called “Phubbing” – phone snubbing)…it’s super rude to do that to the people at your dinner table, the very people who hugging or looking into their eyes will give you an Oxytocin high, but your face is in your phone. You can let your mind wander about this topic; science has just recently caught on to how influential this specific hormone actually is. So one has to consider, hearing all this and looking at the list above, notice the last entry – “showing pets affection.” If Oxytocin wires your child, lover, or pet to your reward system in your brain, and so does social media, what are your chances of getting your dog down to a fit weight once you realize how our culture can’t control our social media attraction? So, I’m wondering if the amount of anguish you would endure by cutting off all access to social media would also be equivalent to putting your dog on a diet? Prepare for it to be that much of a lifestyle change. The correlation of the two would make for some fascinating research.
You can see why people say “it’s so hard.” One could also say some people project their food needs/addiction onto the dog (over-identification) and having to divide the two – your food need versus their food need – could be what makes this tough. The dog will be completely fine, I assure you – they’re far more resilient than we are. After all, you don’t see dogs on Dr. Phil crying and throwing a tantrum when all the sugary foods are removed from the house.
“You made me feel bad, now how do I put my dog on a diet?”
Check out this chart and see which one describes your dog and confirm where your dog is on the scale. First doggie diet step you take is make sure your dog doesn’t have a thyroid problem. Consult your vet and ask them the steps you need to take in order to bring your pet’s weight down. They will look at you like you’re from Mars – nobody makes appointments to put their dog on a diet plan. You will probably be the first person, or one of a few, who has done so in their entire vet career. You’ll need to give your vet a minute to pick himself/herself up off the floor. Note: if your dog is fat according to this chart (can’t feel the dog’s ribs) and your vet says the dog is fine, you need to find a new vet. You are going to a vet that wants to make money off of prescription diet dog food and insulin injections, they do not care about you or your pet’s wellbeing.
Your dog is either one of two types of fat dogs:
1) The Grazer: These are the dogs that will flip the bowl, bury it in their dog bed or couch cushions, or just take a mouthful and sprinkle it all over the floor and leave it for later. For these dogs, I implement the 15 minute rule – if the dog doesn’t eat it in 15 minutes, I pick it up or whatever is left over and save it for the next meal. It can take dogs on average 3 days to understand what’s going on and get into the routine, and I’ve had one really fat dog take almost 2 weeks to get into the routine. For additional information, check out Pat Miller’s book entry here: 15 Minute Feeding Routine. Remove all treats temporarily, you really have to measure the dog’s actual intake of ALL food. Make note of how much food the dog is actually eating each day, subtract what is left over in the bowl that they refuse to eat/leave behind, and you should be able to find the correct amount (if the dog is always leaving food in the bowl, you’re probably feeding too much.)
2) The Gobbler: These are the dogs that do eat every tidbit you give them, cramming it in their gut (so nobody else gets it), shockingly have no problem following the 15 minute rule, and yet are still fat. The way I put this type of dog on a diet is, I ask the person surrendering the dog how much food the dog has been fed on a regular basis (because clearly that’s too much), and I cut it back by 1/4. So if the fat dog is getting 1 cup 2x day, I give it 3/4 cup 2x day. That’s where you start (cutting back too much could make the dog “hangry”.) If you have a really small dog, counting out 10 pieces of kibble less out of the scoop before you pour it in the bowl will have a great effect. It doesn’t seem like it, but 10 pieces of kibble off of what you actually measure can sometimes be monumental.
I don’t train fat dogs until their food drive is up (they won’t do it anyway, they can barely move. It would be hard on their body if you did have them do obedience.) In the meantime, I walk the dog short distances in ideal weather (fat dogs can easily overheat, be very careful) and closely monitor the weight loss and see how the dog is doing.
Quality of the dog food is also essential since the low-end dog food contains carbs like corn (used to fatten up livestock, hello) and will put pounds on your dog at an alarming rate. Switching to a limited ingredient food is the secret (or possibly raw eventually, but do your research and go very slowly. How much diarrhea can you handle is the question. “Dogs don’t get diarrhea from raw!” Yeah, well a few of mine did. Not all dogs are the same.) You do not need the insane-protein-laden dog food for active dogs (remember, yours is fat, let’s be honest about the lifestyle you’ve currently got going for it. This is not a hunting dog or herding dog that runs for 6 hours a day, it’s a pet. A fat pet.) Just a nice, mid-level dog food to switch to is all you need. Not the “diet” dog food, just feed it less and exercise it more (the same is true with people who diet properly – eating healthy and exercise = results.) Some people add green beans until the dog’s stomach shrinks a bit (The Gobbler dogs), that’s okay. I’ve personally only had to do that a few times but for just a couple of weeks.
Getting your dog on the right path to weight loss takes a mild amount of effort, and shouldn’t be difficult except for the emotional stuff you go through. Several months from now, the difference will be amazing. When you go on vacation, your dog will eat when it’s boarded, keeping its immune system elevated so it doesn’t become sick, as well keeping the dog’s stress level down because it has a familiar feeding routine. If a dog is kept at the vet for injury or illness, the functioning feeding routine can help it recover quickly.
If you need more proof that dog diets work and benefits everyone/everything surrounding the effort, just watch this video: Fat Dog/Human Journey
For those who know their dog is fat and yet don’t get the dog’s weight under control, I have no words for them. I do have this graphic that sums up their mentality (in my opinion):
I’d love to hear from anyone out there that hunkers down and decides to give their dog the best life it can have. Email, FB message, or post on our FB wall your success stories so we can celebrate with you!