Using Positive Interactions (Instead of Food) With Your Dog
Canine obesity is a big problem. In fact, most dogs are overweight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity, around 56% of dogs are overweight or obese. Veterinarians consider obesity a major canine health crisis, mainly due to the many serious health conditions that accompany this problem:
- Behavioral issues
- Chronic pain
- Heart problems
- Liver problems
- Kidney disease
- Mobility difficulties
- Joint problems
- Trouble breathing
- Canine arthritis
- Skin issues
- High blood pressure
- Certain types of cancer
There is not agreed upon numerical standard for what qualifies as “obese” or even “overweight,” but there are visual markers that pet owners can pay attention to and determine if their dot is overweight. This is important because even if a dog is just a little overweight, it can have a significant impact on their health.
Is Your Dog Obese?
Weighing your dog is the best way to know if they are overweight or not. However, if you do not know what their ideal weight is, that doesn’t do you a lot of good. That is why veterinarians have visual markers that give you a better idea of whether your dog is a healthy weight or not.
You can determine if your dog is overweight by looking at their body shape. Stand over them and look at them from above. What shape is their body? If it’s oval or round, that is a good indication that they are fat. What you want to see is a defined waist toward the hindquarters and along the sides, they should be straight.
Next, look at your dog from the side. If the waist sags or the stomach swings, then your dog is very likely fat. The waist should tuck in slightly just past the rib cage, not at the same level. It should not hang down or be roundish in shape.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a body condition score chart that can help you better determine if your dog’s weight is healthy.
If you suspect that your dog is overweight, or if you aren’t sure, talk to your veterinarian. Diagnosing obesity in dogs is serious and a professional should be involved in the process of helping your dog get to a healthy weight. They are able to assess any health conditions your dog may have due to obesity and can prescribe any special foods and medications to get your dog healthy.
How Did My Dog Get Fat?
Barring a medical condition, the reason your dog got fat, as is the case with most dogs, is they ate too much. This means that someone in their life overfed them, gave them too many treats, and didn’t encourage them to exercise – much the same way a person becomes overweight.
Typically, the owner or caregiver free feeds the dog, meaning that they leave food out for the dog all day. This makes it very easy for the dog to overeat.
However, there is another reason that a dog becomes overweight. The owner or caregiver uses food as a way to show love. They give the dog food and treats in an effort to show love to the dog and get love from them. They often don’t know how to interact with their dog in healthy ways so they use food as their love language and the result can be tragic.
What is a Love Language?
“Love language” is a term that was coined by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The 5 Love Languages. While the book is about human relationships, the concepts are the same. The book’s premise is that there are five love languages that people use to show love and they use their personal love language as a marker to determine how loved they feel.
Food is not a love language in the book, but it is a common (and usually unhealthy) love language that is true for many people. They love someone or something, so they feed it. This has the potential to have detrimental effects on both parties, human, canine, or otherwise, mainly because it isn’t real.
Food Does Not Equal Love
Most people know that food does not equal love, but they don’t know what else to do, so that is what they default to.
What is important to understand is dogs love their humans. No, they adore them. Petting them, talking to them, going for a walk, anything that allows you to give all your attention to your dog is what they want.
Now, if you put food in front of them they are likely going to take it. They’re dogs after all.
But if you find that you are using food to connect with your dog, know that there are other, healthier ways you can do that. And your dog will be happier because of it.
How to Connect With Your Dog Without Using Food
There are ways to connect with your dog without using food, but it may mean that you need to change your love language. And that can take some time. It’s a hard habit to break.
- Train your dog – Taking the time to train your dog is one of the most loving things you can do. When you teach them something and they do it, you praise them. They like the praise, so they do it again. The more you work together in this mutually beneficial activity, the deeper your bond will become.
Do not use treats though. Instead of treats, pet them, give them an ear scratch, and make sure you say, “good boy!”
- Go for a walk – You can learn a lot about your dog by watching how they act on walks. What grabs their attention? What scares them? What do they like? Not like? Use your walks to really tune in to your pup and get to know them on a deeper level. Talk to them, react to their actions, let them know that you are focused on them.
- Play – Play is one of the best bonding activities you can do with your dog. You can teach them boundaries, give them positive attention, spend time with them, and you can both learn about each other. If they get too rambunctious, don’t yell. Say “No” in a stern voice and withdraw from play. When they settle, resume play. They will learn.
- Make eye contact – Dogs are the only animals other than primates that make contact with their humans. When your dog is staring at you, they are wanting your attention. When you make eye contact with your dog and you feel those emotions of love and closeness, your dog is feeling something similar. When your dog looks in your eyes, their brain releases oxytocin which is released when someone feels love. When you make eye contact, both of you can experience that and you can give them the biggest dose of love with no treats in sight.
- Carve out special time to spend with your dog – You take time to spend with your family and friends, do the same for your dog. You are their world, and they love spending time with you so make sure that you spend time with them each day, even if they just snooze on your lap while you pet them. Even when you have been at work all day and they have been a doggy daycare, just sitting, relaxing, and unwinding together can be a great bonding activity.
There are many ways that you can love your dog without overfeeding them. Think about what your dog likes and build bonding activities around them. You will find you have a healthier, happier relationship as a result.