He Refuses to Come Inside!

This is an expanded version of a piece that ran in Northern Virginia Today, Fall 2018


Every morning when the Smiths needed to get out of the house, something was making them late. His name was Sparky.

medium coated tan dog running on dirt road between green grass near trees

Photo by Country4k on Pexels.com

Sparky was a young dog the Smith had not owned long.  Each morning as the Smiths tried to get kids to school/daycare and then the adults off to work, Sparky refused to come inside so the humans could leave. Obviously, the Smiths needed this fixed, so they sought training advice. Even with “training,” Sparky became increasingly difficult to get inside. Finally after working with other trainers and things getting worse, I was contacted.  During my initial consult, this is what I discovered.

(1) Each morning Sparky was put outside as the chaos of getting people ready for work, school and daycare began.  Just before humans dashed out, Sparky was rushed inside and immediately crated. Coming inside meant boring things. This was why Sparky initially began refusing to come inside during the morning routine.

(2) Sparky did not really understand his name.  The Smiths assumed when Sparky did not respond that he was being defiant. This assumption led to them becoming frustrated and wanting to stop this defiance.  If Sparky did not know he was supposed to respond to his name, how could he learn to come when called? Not only that, the Smiths called him in a frantic and not pleasant manner.  Dogs try to avoid things like that are scary and not fun.  Sparky was not defiant, he was avoiding a negative and he was confused.

(3) The early training advice they were given was outdated and not science-based. It included leash corrections when Sparky did not respond to “come.“ Various levels of pain and dragging Sparky through the door were recommended.  This would continue until Sparky figured out when he came inside when called, the yanking would stop. When Sparky was not on leash there was nothing to force him inside, so he ran to the back corner of the yard and cowered.  Why?  The word “come” for Sparky meant bad things would happen.  When not leashed, Sparky could avoid the bad things by running.

My game plan was: enrich the inside of the house so Sparky would find it as fun as outside; rebuild the relationship between dog and humans; teach Sparky coming when called was a good thing; address the hectic morning routine that was overwhelming Sparky.

I used food and different food releasing toys, indoor appropriate activities and such to make inside as fun as outside.  We worked on name games and bonding exercises.  The more Sparky wanted to be inside and with his humans, the easier it would be to change the situation the Smiths were in.  You see, outside Sparky could chase fuzzy tree rats, hunt bugs, dig, the kids played with him there and left their toys outside which were great fun.  Inside it was all “Quiet dog!  Go lie down!” or Sparky was shoved in his crate and humans raced out the door. Why SHOULD Sparky want to be inside?

The Smiths were gaining a better understanding of what Sparky needed as a dog and how their tone and actions were what led to how Sparky behaved. Next I taught them how to make coming in the door an awesomely good thing. Since the word “come” meant bad things would follow, it was easier to train a totally new word than risk the chance Sparky would remember the pain and corrections with “Come” and suddenly refuse to respond.

Finally, I tweaked the morning routine, so Sparky was not being brought inside and immediately crated.  This, combined with the other work, would help change Sparky’s emotions towards coming inside. Once inside there were fun things to do and some relaxing.  Then into his crate with some food releasing toys.

What is the takeaway from this?  Dogs are not defiant.  They respond to their environment.  What we do with them increases or decreases the chance of what we need for various behaviors.  Sparky was simply a dog who responded to what was going on around him.  He was not defiant Sparky was confused and afraid.

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Doctor Google – issues with internet medical advice

It is common for pet owners to seek internet medical help long before calling a vet.  There are two things we must realize about internet advice.  First, no one can accurately diagnose issues without seeing the animal in person.  Second, there is a reason why many people recommend seeking medical care.  Why?  See the first reason.  Here are a few things I have seen online to help show the importance of seeking medical advice to get a correct diagnosis:

gray and black stethoscope

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

A dog owner asked a grooming group about his dog’s skin condition. The dog was not scratching but was developing flakes and an odor. Now he was digging at his ears and acting off.  People instantly “diagnosed” the issue and recommend various treatments including: feed a different kibble, feed raw, injectable ivermectin from the feed store, bathe the dog in cider vinegar, add coconut oil to the food , homemade ear flushes, etc.  Other people suggested seeking medical advice instead of only treating symptoms.  These people explained there were various things that could cause the symptoms and the dog may have several things going on.  If one or more were the cause and not addressed, the dog would not improve. There was no way anyone could tell what was causing the issue without seeing the dog and possibly running tests.

Another owner was concerned her dog was refusing food.  The suggestions get the dog to eat were many: he will eat when he is hungry, feed raw, add broth, add cooked meat, feed a better food stop feeding kibble, feed canned only, try baby food, etc.  Some people suggested a vet visit and listed a bunch of things that could cause a refusal to eat. The owner chose the non-vet route. Over the next weeks the dog began losing weight and condition.  Finally, the owner went to the vet.  The dog had abscesses in his mouth. He was not eating because it hurt.

A cat owner was worried about litter box refusals. The first thing to do is rule out medical causes while addressing environment.  She chose the “cheaper” route of addressing environment only.  The situation worsened. Finally, the cat stopped urinating all together.  He started with urinary crystals, which would have been easier to address, and now had a full-blown urethral blockage.  Her medical bills were significantly higher now that the cat needed surgery to remove the blockage.  

The sooner you seek medical advice the better for your pet.  Also, it could be better for your wallet.  I spoke to a vet who was having a rough week.  He had euthanized several animals.  What upset him the most was most animals had been exhibiting symptoms for some time.  The owners went online to seek advice before calling him. They were told to give recommended treatments several days to weeks as some can take time to show any effect. Instead the conditions worsened, the vet bills were going to be much higher because treatment would be more involved.  Some of the pets were too far gone to save while for others the choice to euthanize was financial.

Another concern is internet advice is designed to treat symptoms only.  If someone says they have a dog who has developed an infrequent cough some would say early kennel cough, others would say allergies (depending on season). Well in the case of one of my senior dogs her cough was a symptom of developing heart issues.  Discovered how?  By a vet.  Why?  People cannot diagnose things without seeing the pet. I knew that cough could be a host of things from simple to the beginning of something life threatening.  

As a trainer I am often asked to diagnose a medical condition or say what I think may be going on.  First, I am not a vet. No one but a trained vet can legally diagnose a medical problem.  What can I do? I can encourage you to seek medical advice.  I can explain why to see medical advice. After that, depending on the diagnosis, I can adapt my work to the needs of your pet.

-Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training

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A Few Sports for Spot

Over thousands of years man has developed different breeds of dogs to perform needed jobs. Even in modern times there are jobs dogs do more effectively than man or robots. For example, livestock guarding is a job a few purposefully bred dogs (with the right guidance of their inherteited behaviors) can do far more effectively than a few humans.  Dogs are more effective at moving livestock.  Dogs who are working are getting physical and mental activity. However, The average pet is not going to be protecting sheep from coyotes, sniffing out accelerants at an arson scene, or helping people in the frozen north transport things.  Yet many undesired behaviors dog owners report can be a symptom of needs not being adequately met.  One way to address physical and mental needs is through sports.

The nice thing about many sports is they can be worked informally at home. Your dog never has to compete either for these sports to help meet your dog’s needs. I do recommend for some activities that you take a few classes to learn how to train in a safer manner.  Let’s look at a few sports to consider:

Rally – Sometimes called Rally-O or Rally Obedience, you and your dog follow a numbered course with various stations.  Each station has a task to perform before moving to the next.  The tasks may include stays, sits, downs, turns, spirals and figure eights.

Rally Nov 24 06 (5)

Ryker 2006 in Rally (c) West Wind Dog Training

Agility – Dogs and handlers run through a numbered course with obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, A-frames, dog walks (raised plank they go across). Though some breeds seem to excel at this sport, all dogs can do this if they are physically capable.

Connor and Foster

Connor and Foster – learning on a rock board (c) West Wind Dog Training

Tracking and Nose Work – Dogs are expected to follow a scent trail (tracking) or find a hidden scent (nose work). Tracking and Nose Work are based on something dogs love and need to do – sniff.

Lure Coursing – Dogs follow a lure pulled through a course.  Dogs are scored based on how they follow the lure and time. Some tests are open only to sign hounds (think Whippets, Borzois, etc.). Coursing Ability Tests are open to all dogs and are a pass/fail. Fast CATs are hundred-yard dashes after a lure and is also open to all dogs.

Uhura Run 2 cr adj 2

Uhura – lure coursing fun day – she does Fast CATs now and is working towards her second title. (c) West Wind Dog Training

Herding – Tests a dog’s ability to work sheep, ducks and other livestock.  There are herding instinct trials which tests the dog’s natural ability for this job.  From there training is done to hone the instinct for working, competition, or both.

Uhura earned her Herding Instinct certificate June 2018.

Mushing – This is not just for huskies anymore nor do you need snow!  Check out urban mushing, skijoring, and similar sports.

PD snow Skijour 20030002

My husband and Hunter in 2003 preparing to skijour the neighborhood in the first major blizzard after we moved to VA. (c) West Wind Dog Training

Weight Pulling – Dogs are asked to pull weighted carts or sleds on ground, rails, or snow.  This is not a big dog only sport. I have watched Papillons, Chinese Cresteds and other small dogs compete and love it.  The key here is asked to pull.  Dogs who want to do this will be most successful.

Dock Diving – Dogs run across a “dock” and leap in to a long pool.  Often, they are encouraged to do so by chasing a tossed toy or retrieving dummy.  If your dog likes to swim and is good at it, you may wish to check out Dock Diving.

Over the years I have done various sports including competitive obedience, Rally, Agility, Skijoring, packing (dog carries a back pack), conformation showing and lure coursing with my dogs. Currently my daughter and I are involved with conformation, junior handling and Fast CATs.  Even my senior dogs enjoy formal activities. The big thing with sports is to train positively and respect it if your dog is not keen on a sport. Just because you want to do something does not mean your dog does.

Finally, should you want to try competing, both the American and United Kennel Clubs have provisions for dogs who are not purebred or who are purebred but do not have papers to take part in a variety of competitions.  No matter what you have for a dog, there is a sport out there for you.

  • Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training
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Should He Stay or Should He Go?

There are times where pet owners will consider rehoming pets. Before you make the decision to give up your pet, seek professional advice.  A professional can advise how to increase the chance of a good resolution. This may include a full veterinary check to rule out medical causes, environmental changes, training and management protocols, enrichment ideas, and different services to help meet the pet’s needs. Education will help you make the best decision for you and the critter. Let’s briefly look at two situations and the decisions made with the help of a professional.

Holiday 2002 auto level

The two dogs at the top both came to me when their owners could no longer keep them.  (c) West Wind Dog Training

When Fred was a puppy his owners were told he would stay around 50 pounds and be lower energy.  He was a known cross.  One parent was a breed that can be moderately active (though many assume they are low energy) and over 130 lbs.  The other was a much smaller breed that can be quite active.  At barely a year old he was 100 pounds and very active.  Fred’s owners were overwhelmed and considering rehoming him.  Their vet recommended calling a trainer first.  With my help, the owners realized though Fred was much larger and more active than they hoped that he was still a dog they could live with now that they knew what he needed.  Some changes in environment, lessening his confusion, better utilization of the large yard made a lot of difference.

Maggie was owned by knowledgeable people who did everything they could to increase the chance of success.  As Maggie matured, she began developing aggressive behaviors towards older dogs in the house – dogs she grew up with – and any dog seen while on walks. Professionals were consulted, and work begun.  Eventually, Maggie tolerated dogs on walks but would not tolerate dogs in the house. Maggie began attacking the dogs. No amount of work or management alleviated the issues in the house. She had to be separated from them always. After many tears and long talks with different professionals, it was decided Maggie would be better off as an only dog.

The decision to rehome a pet can be gut-wrenching for owners.  However, sometimes it truly is in the best interest of the animal. In her new home, without the stress of other resident dogs, Maggie flourished. Once an owner decides for whatever reason a pet cannot stay in the home, what next?

If you acquired your pet through a good breeder or rescue there will be a return clause in the contract. Your first call should be to them. This site (click here) has some good information regarding rehoming dogs that can be applied to many species.  It also explains why to avoid sites like Craigslist for advertising.

If you are considering releasing your unwanted pet into the wild, DON’T. First, it is illegal. Second, it can be a death sentence.  Third, it can negatively impact local ecosystems. Goldfish have caused significant damage to lakes and rivers. Released domestic rabbits have caused issues in many areas such as Australia, Las Vegas, and Calgary, Canada.  Never turn an unwanted pet loose.

Make decisions based on education and understanding what is safe, sane and humane for you and the pet. In the end, Fred’s owners realized things were not as bad as they though.  Maggie’s owners realized she could not live with other dogs and decided to seek a better life for her.

Now what are things you can do to try and keep your pet in your home?

First keeping a pet in the house begins long before you acquire the pet. Do not do anything on impulse. Think and research. Can you safely manage the animal you want? What will it need for environment and enrichment?  Can you meet its daily needs for the next 2 – 70+ years? Are you able and willing to appropriately meet dietary requirements? Are you going to be a good fit for the animal and vice versa? Is a new pet going to mesh well with current pets? Will you be raising the pet or expecting a home health aide, nanny, or your children to do the work? Will you bring in help to meet the critter’s needs? What will happen if you move, start a family, bring an ailing relative in to your house?

Know state and local laws, HOA covenants and lease restrictions.  For example, hedgehogs are not legal in all Virginia counties. You need a permit to own a ferret in Washington, DC.  Pit Bulls, as of last check, are banned in PG Co, MD. I consulted with a dog owner who adopted a dog 100lbs over the 50lbs weight limit for his rental.  He admittedly knew the weight restrictions before adopting yet was shocked when he was told by management to move or get rid of the dog.  No amount of training or behavior modification I could do would keep the dog in the house.  To make matters worse the dog had gone after several other residents and their dogs. The dog was very human and canine aggressive. The owner assumed he could fix the dog. The property managers had to think of the safety of the residents. Even if the dog was within the size requirements for rental, the dog’s behaviors were risky and there were multiple complaints on file from other residents.

Be proactive. Confusion, boredom, lack of training, lack of resources (too few litter boxes, toys, etc.), can lead to undesired behaviors. Working to reduce the chance of something starting goes a long way to keeping a pet in the house. Even with proactive owners, things will crop up.  Proactive owners address concerns fast.  Waiting can worsen things to the point where some owners decide or are forced to give up a pet (think animal control complaints, legal issues, insurance).

No matter how much we prepare for things, life can throw us a curve ball. When my husband was in a serious accident, we had two young kids and he needed a lot of home care.  I sucked it up and did two things: I hired a poop scoop service and did grocery delivery for a few weeks.  Just having two tasks taken care of for a few weeks helped. When I was dealing with cancer not that long ago my husband and kids took over a lot of the critter care.  It is OK to ask for help or hire it.

Other life changes include moves. In 1997 we moved from Massachusetts to Virginia with two dogs, four cat, some rabbits and a couple guinea pigs.  It took two cars and planning, but we did it.  We had a great real estate agent who hooked us up with a vet for boarding. The moment you know a move is a possibility you need to begin planning for your pets. Rarely do people have to move at the drop of a hat.  Even evictions take time.  As pet owners we need to do all we can to ensure our pets can move with us.

Being prepared and proactive can go a long way towards keeping a pet in the home.

This was originally two parts of a series done for Inside NoVA.  Since I do not get paid for my writing I am able to expand and blog my writings later.  (c) West Wind Dog Training – Karen Peak

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Are Your Walks Meaningful?

I do two types of walks with my dogs. First is “We Must Get From Point A to Point B while ignoring things like trash, other animals, things in a hotel lobby or hall, pedestrians, etc.,” walk. Then there is the “It’s OK To Be A Dog and Sniff” walk. Many of our walks are a combination of the two.  Why do I do this when for decades trainers have pushed teaching walks where dogs are next to you, not sniffing, and being perfect?  Simple, what many dog owners and some trainers think is a good walk or run with their dogs can be frustrating for the dog.



Yeah, this sniff walk ended up becoming a sniff wade (c) West Wind Dog Training

I worked with a dog belonging to a runner. The dog was a high energy, working breed. The owner was giving him more than ample exercise.  However, he could not understand why the dog was developing undesired behaviors especially when on walks.  They had no yard, so the dog had to be walked or run.  The owner’s idea of exercise was a deliberate walk or run with no stopping unless the dog had to potty.  It was fast and deliberate and long.  The dog was never allowed to poke or sniff as dogs need to do.  Several times a week they would run for several miles.  Again, no ability for the dog to be a dog. No ability for the dog to meet certain needs he had as a dog.  There were social and behavioral aspects to walks the dog was not getting.


What do I mean by social and behavioral aspects?  I am not referring to expecting the dog to meet and greet every human and dog he passes.  For me, having a dog who demands to meet and greet everyone without permission is risky. I am talking about allowing a dog to sniff and poke and gather information about his environment.

“Sniff, sniff, sniff. Hmmm, Sparky may be developing a urinary tract infection. Sniffy sniff-sniff… Oh, I do not know that dog smell, he must be new here. Sniff. What did Buster eat for dinner last night?  Ok let’s sniff over here! Wow, a coyote walked past here last night!  Deer! And what’s over here? Whoops, Billy dropped his ice cream here and rats cleaned it up.  Hey human I want to sniff over here now!  I think I smelled the Jacobson’s cat out again!”  Being able to sniff is a way dogs gather information. When we deny dogs this chance we are removing something important for them to do.  Imagine being cut off from an important part of your world.  Imagine no ability to check on what is going on around you.  Dogs need to have sniffing time while on walks.



After a nice walk across the parking lot to the trail, we can allow our dogs to sniff and poke. (c) West Wind Dog Training


Does this mean I allow my dogs to haul me all over on walks while they sniff?  No.  This means I walk them to places where it is OK for them to sniff. I check the area for things that may be a problem like trash. If the area looks good they are told they can go sniff. During sniffing I follow them. After a good sniff they are cued again to return to the walk and we move on to the next sniff.  In some areas I may use a long line, so the dogs can range out but still be leashed to me.

While on walks, make sure your dog has ample time to stop and smell the roses and other things.  He will be happier for it.

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Trigger Stacking – It Adds Up

Your alarm never went off.  You are running late so decide to grab breakfast on the road.  You spill coffee on your new suit.  You get to work and see someone has parked in your reserved spot and the rest of the lot is full.  You have to park at the pay garage two blocks away.  At work, you find the two people working on a project did not complete their parts over the weekend.  The project is due the next day. You work through lunch and stay late to complete their part of the project while your coworkers go out for an extended lunch with a friend and sneak out early.  As you are heading home, your vehicle’s “check engine” light starts to flash.  You get home to see toys scattered all over the drive way and side walk.  Your Home Owners’ Association person greets you with a warning that the toys were left out too long today.  You are at the end of your rope.  Now your child comes dashing, naked, out of the front door.  You scream for her to get back in the house. Your stress level is extremely high and you just lost it.

man person face portrait

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Normally each of these events would cause stress but you would be able to recover and cope.  What if you did not get a chance to recover from these triggers and they kept, building, stacking, your blood boils and…

This is often called “Trigger Stacking.”  Even if the individual stressors do not elicit (trigger) a reaction, they are still building emotional stress.  Stress is stacking and tolerance levels drop and each stress builds until…  Let’s apply this to a common pet: the cat. (And the same happens to dogs).

You go to the shelter and adopt a new cat.  The cat is supposed to be good with dogs and children.  However, within hours of being home, the cat badly scratches your youngest on the face.   Were you paying attention to what was going on or happening?  What stresses were stacking?  Let’s look at Kitty.

Kitty has gone from a home into a shelter (big stress).  While at the shelter, there were sights, sounds and loads of things she was not used to (lots of stress with no ability to escape the stress in the environment).   You adopt the cat and shove her in a box for a car ride (stress).  At home, you dump her in the middle of the living room where your puppy barks at her (stress).   You older child brings over friends to see the new cat (stress).  They spend the afternoon playing loudly in the house (stress).  Your mother-in-law comes for dinner and fusses all over kitty as the poor thing tries to eat and rest (stress).   Just before bed, your younger child races up to kitty to give a good-night kiss (stress).  Cat hisses and smacks the child, claws extended, in the face.  Next day, stressed kitty is back at the shelter.  Step back and look at all the stress stacked upon the poor animal and it is no wonder kitty scratched the child.

Stress stacking up and triggering a reaction happens to us and our pets.

Learn to understand subtle signs your pet is stressing.  Pets rarely scratch or bite without warning.  Often there are early signals that stress is adding up long before we hear a growl or a hiss. Watch for stressors stacking up and intervene before an undesired response is triggered.


Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.

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Tackling The Extra Pounds

This was originally run in a shorter version in Northern Virginia Today


As a dog professional it is not uncommon for my clients to have chunky pets.  It is something I need to address because we use food and such to help develop behaviors we need.  Maybe you have decided your dog is little pudgy – or even obese – and you have decided to address this.  Maybe your veterinarian has brought this to your attention.

According to PetMD.com, obesity is when your dog has 10-15% excess body weight.  For a 10 pound dog this would be an extra 1.5 pounds and 15 lbs for a 100 lb dog. The first place I would begin a weight loss program would be with a vet consult.  Though the vast majority of obesity in pets is a direct result of the owner’s actions, you should still rule out the chance of things like thyroid issues that can affect weight loss. I have a senior, hypothyroid dog.  Foster’s ideal weight should be 16 – 17 lbs.  At his heaviest he was over 20 pounds and at one point pushing 25 – even on LOW rations. Along with seeing other changes and with strict diet failing, I had him checked out.  Yup, thyroid.  Once we got him on medications and made sure the dosage was what he needed, addressing his weight became easier.  Now, thyroid meds are not a magic weight loss potion removing the need for diet and lifestyle changes, but addressing Foster’s thyroid made getting his weight down easier.

Sarah Dog Show MKC

Foster in his chunkier days – this was around the time we learned he had a thyroid issue.

If your dog is fuzzy get under the fur.  A really fluffy dog may look fat when in reality he is OK.  Know your dog’s body type.  Sighthounds are a lean type of dog.  If we were to get enough weight on them to hide all their ribs and hips, they would be FAT. If your dog is a type that is a more stocky built make sure he is truly stocky and not fat.


Foster 01-27 Fast CAT 2 crop

Photo by Wayne Ramsey – Foster at age 10 1/2 and a much healthier weight


Why is being obese bad for your dog?  Obesity can cause or at least increase the risk of various problems including but not limited to:

  • less tolerant to heat
  • less tolerant to exercise – they tire out faster
  • high blood pressure
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased risk of lameness
  • increased risk if anesthesia ifneeded
  • skin folds can become irritated
  • difficulty breathing
  • back problems/disk issues
  • various masses and certain cancers
  • it makes an examination harder for your vet to perform

Since the vast majority of pudgy pooches is caused by humans, let’s address food and treats first.

Many foods and treats have extra and “hidden” sugars.  Some foods with extruded, formed bits (different from freeze-dried pieces) may be higher in sugars.  Foods too high in carbohydrates and fat can contribute to obesity.

You think your dog is active do you need a performance diet?  Your active pet dog does not need a performance food.    These foods are formulated for dogs who are hard-working on a regular basis such as sled dogs, dogs regularly training at high activity sports, etc.  Even at that, many truly active dogs do not need a performance diet. My dogs do several activities and they are not on a performance food. Coconut oil is NOT a medical miracle supplement and yes I have seen people suggest it for pet weight loss. I have seen overweight dogs that were fed diet foods (the dog was free fed and the bowl always filled when it emptied).  I have seen overweight dogs fed homemade food and raw diets.



Even Uhura who does coursing events and will be starting other sports hopefully does not need a performance dog diet.


Portion control is important to weight loss.  The recommended feeding amounts on a bag of food are often way too much.  For example, Foster, a 16 – 17 lbs Shetland Sheepdog, eats a total of 1/4 kibble in the morning (this includes what is scattered or put in a toy).  In the evening he gets 1/8 cup of kibble and 1/3 cup of a rice/veggie/canned mix.  According to many food bags Foster should be getting twice that food amount or more.  Even my younger dogs get far less than the recommendation on the bags.

Portion control includes accounting for training treats, food stuffed toys, edible chews like pig ears, etc.  I have known more than one morbidly obese dog that was eating diet food in carefully measured amounts. The dogs were getting a high amount of treats throughout the day – the owners mistook giving food with giving love. Also owners who forget to account for the food used in training to help reinforce behaviors we need increase the chance of pudgy dogs.  One thing I recommend to my clients is measure out the daily ration and if it is a high enough reinforcing food for behaviors, we can use that as our training rewards.  If not then we cut the food back to account for the food we use in training.

So how do we begin a weight loss program?  As already stated, with a trip to the vet.  Depending on how overweight your dog is will help determine where you begin.

When I am working to get a little chunk off my dogs I begin with portion control and activity.  My dogs are fed two meals a day.  Only part of it comes from bowls (two of my dogs are on medication).  They rest they work for. In the morning they get partial rations.  A little of the kibble is scattered in the yard for them to hunt. Then they get the rest in toys meant to be stuffed with food. Read this for information on toys you can stuff with food. Different food games also helps meet a dog’s mental and behavioral needs.  Read this for more information on playing with food. I cut rations and replace with other foods.  Every night my dogs get a mixture of rice, green beans or peas (sometimes I use squash or pumpkin as a change), canned food and sometimes plain gelatin I mix in with the water or sodium free stock I make the rice with.  Make sure you use plain, unflavored gelatin because other types may have Xylitol which can be deadly to dogs.  A couple of times a week I make this mix and keep it refrigerated in a large container.  I do 2 cups of rice, 1/2-1 bag frozen vegetables, a can of dog food, a packet of gelatin.

I also account for things my dogs get to chew like bones.  When my dogs get natural bones I make sure I remove as much fat as possible  I adjust their meal intake on days they get things that are edible toys. Those nights their meal may only be the rice mixture and a find the kibble game with less kibble used.

A note on find the kibble games – if you have multiple dogs you may have issues with one dog getting more kibble than needed so keep an eye on your dogs. Watch for things like one dog watching where the others go and then forcing them away from the find. Alternatively give each dog a food releasing toy and supervise the activity or put them in separate rooms. 

Increased activity helps with weight loss.  If your pet is morbidly obese discuss an exercise program with your vet. Even if your dog is just a little pudgy, be careful when starting an exercise regiment, pushing too hard, too fast can cause damage.  Look for lower impact exercise options like swimming. Walk on sand or other softer surfaces.  Does your dog fetch?  Throw a ball up a hill (dogs tend to run faster after a ball and return slower – you want the faster run to be up the hill for increased safety).  Hide your dog’s kibble throughout the house and yard.  Use food releasing toys that encourage movement to eat.  Do sniff walks – put your dog on a long line (not a retractable lead) and allow him to roam around you, poke and sniff.

Finally track your pet’s weight loss.  This may mean weekly weight-ins at your vet.  You should not be charged for these if all you are doing is going in and using the scale.

Obesity is a problem with dogs in America.  However it is preventable and reversible.  Please do not take offense if a pet professional mentions your dog’s weight.  It is never nice to hear but for the health of our dogs, maintaining a healthy weight is important.

  • Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training
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