Your Dog's Health and Happiness Is All Up to You
Most dog owners don’t realize that the best and most important ways there are to help their dog live a long and healthy life are completely under their control. They are simple and inexpensive and pay off big dividends in the long haul. They can also save you big bucks at the vet’s office. Most importantly they will not only add quantity to your dog’s life but also quality. So, without further ado:
Say Hello to Vinney
Vinney is a six year old Pembroke Welsh Corgi who until recently had such serious dog behavior problems his owner, Sue couldn’t even take him for a walk. He barked and charged at any people or dogs he saw on the street. He was also very hard to handle at home. He didn’t like having his feet messed with or his mouth touched.
Consequently Vinney had become very obese which was affecting his back and hips. He was on the verge of developing osteo arthritis and type 2 diabetes. His nails were so overgrown that his toes were starting to twist and his stinky breath could knock out a horse. Gingivitis was taking hold in his mouth. Vinney was only middle aged but he was moving around like an old man and on daily pain meds. Things had to change.
So Sue decided to get serious about Vinney’s health and well-being. She found a dog trainer who specialized in behavior problems. The trainer explained that they couldn’t even start working on his issues with being walked until they got his nails trimmed up. If they tried walking him too much with such long nails they could split up into the quick and that would mean a trip to the vet and a big setback to his training. The trainer helped Sue teach Vinney to tolerate being handled. Together they got Vinney’s nails under control and got his teeth brushed on a regular basis.
Not all Dog Foods are the Created Equal
1.) Get the best high quality dog food that you can easily afford and that your dog does well on. My clients often ask me “What is the best dog food?” I have to tell them that there is no one dog food that is perfect for every dog. For instance, my Jack Russell has terrible seasonal allergies. I knew that finding a food that gave her the kind of nutrition that she needed would help alleviate some of her issues.
I tried a lot of different foods, even raw diet but nothing helped until I came upon a holistic diet with fish and vegetables. All three of my dogs do well with it. A friend of mine tried it for her lab and he broke out in hives from nose to tail.
Some dogs do well on cheap foods but many are a mess. Just keep in mind that ingredient wise you get what you pay for. Read the labels. Look for meats and vegetables in the beginning and then try it on your dog.
Next on Vinney’s hit parade were diet and exercise! Sue thought she was feeding Vinney a healthy dog food because there were pictures of meat and fresh vegetables on the package. The trainer told her to start reading the ingredients. To her amazement the food consisted mostly of grains and meat by products. Up until now Sue just followed the feeding recommendations on the bag plus some additional treats during the day including some of whatever she was eating. It doesn’t take much for a little dog to pack on the pounds!
Sue found Vinney a high quality dog food that consisted of meats and vegetables and started to carefully measure the amount of food he got. She even added some green beans to help him lose weight a little faster and feel fuller. It only took a month before Sue began to see a difference in Vinney’s energy level and his ability to move around. His coat was even starting to look better.
Portly does not Equal Happy
2.) Watch your dog’s weight. I can’t stress this one enough. The obesity epidemic is not limited to humans. According to an article in the January 2016 edition of Forbes there are an estimated 43.8 million overweight or obese dogs in the United States.
The list of health problems related to obesity in dogs includes: heat intolerance, joint problems (osteo arthritis), type 2 diabetes, reproductive problems, some types of cancer and up to two and a half years shorter life expectancy just to name a few. Fat builds up around vital organs such as the heart and liver causing yet more health issues.
What can you do? First of all take your dog to your local vet and ask if his weight is good. If not start measuring your dog’s food. There are guidelines on the package and they are just that, guidelines. If your dog is gaining weight cut back just a little. Start keeping track of how many treats your dog is getting and how many cookies Grandpa may be slipping your dog when no one is looking. You are in control of your dog’s food so his obesity is on you.
Please! Don’t let him Open his Mouth.
3.) Brushing your dog’s teeth not only helps keep his breath from making you want to gag it can add to his life expectancy. Just like with human beings poor dog dental care can lead to heart problems. Those same deadly plaque germs that infest our mouths when we don’t practice good oral hygiene affect our dog’s mouths. You also need to be sure to use a toothpaste designed for dogs as fluoride is toxic to them and they don’t know how to rinse and spit. And who doesn’t love a good chicken or beef flavored toothpaste?
According to Dr. Dunn of PetMD poor oral hygiene affects our dog’s kidneys, heart, liver and even the brain. To top it off dogs are very stoic and can be in an immense amount of pain before we realize that things are critical. By the time it hurts too much for your dog to eat a lot of damage has been done. Just think about if it was your mouth. Have you ever gotten a cavity or broken a tooth? Your dog feels it the same way.
Mani / Pedi Anyone?
4.) Keep your dog’s nails trimmed. This is one that so few people are aware of and it is so important. When your dog’s nails are too long they force the toes out of alignment. This prevents them from walking normally so that their shoulders, elbows and hips are forced to move incorrectly. This can in turn affect the spine and in many long-backed breeds this can be almost crippling. Long nails can cause the pasterns (doggy wrists) to start to break down and cause arthritis in the feet. Your dog won’t enjoy walks or runs and may start to get grumpy and gain weight. (Refer back to step #2)
Long nails are also prone to splitting up into the quick on walks which is very painful and requires a trip to the vet. They can catch on carpet threads and rip out entirely. Again, painful and requiring a trip to the vet. I have personally seen dogs whose nails were so long that they curved back into the toes. The poor dog could barely walk and it was obvious from looking at him that he was in a great deal of pain. His toes were terribly twisted and distorted.
For keeping your dog’s nails trimmed up properly or getting help to get them where they need to be a dog groomer is your best friend. She can help you get your dog used to having his feet worked on and show you the best ways to safely get your dog’s feet back on track. Most of them take nail trims on a walk in basis and charge very little. They are worth every penny though.
At the same time the trainer got Vinney conditioned to a head halter and fixed his aggression towards people and dogs and the walks started. Because Vinney was very out of shape and overweight the walks started slowly with just a trip around the block twice a day. If they had pushed him too far at this stage Vinney (just like a human) could have developed some serious injuries like a torn cruciate ligament or back injuries.
After about six months Vinney was practically a new dog. His weight had come down by several pounds. He was moving easily and happily out on long walks. He rarely needed his pain meds and hadn’t seen the vet in months. Vinney had a beautiful shiny coat and his teeth were pearly white. Since he was feeling much better Vinney was actually becoming more social out on walks.
There were also some terrific benefits for Sue. With Vinney being happier and healthier Sue’s stress levels came down. The daily walks helped her feel better and even lose some weight herself. She even got involved with a Corgi Meetup group and went on regular Corgi walks with other members. Except for the walks all these major changes took only a little research and a few minutes a day of effort to make life so much better for both Vinney and Sue.
Takin’ it to the Street
5.) Last but not least by any means is exercise, both physical and mental. A good walk is great physical and mental stimulation for both of you. Your dog not only gets out and moving but he experiences all kinds of new sights and smells. If your dog is out of shape you need to start out slowly for a couple of reasons. Just like people who aren’t used to exercise your dog won’t have much endurance. Also, if he is overweight as well he has an increased chance of injuries such as torn cruciate ligaments which will set you even further back than you are now. So, start slow.
Besides walks for mental stimulation you can help your dog be calmer and happier by doing some training with him. Teaching him tricks is a great way to deepen the bond between the two of you and keep his mind sharp. Teaching your dog new obedience skills helps him behave appropriately out in public which even broadens his horizons and gives him even more opportunities for mental stimulation.
Getting your dog out for frequent walks and socialization doesn’t just help your dog. It gets you outside in the fresh are and gives you more opportunities to socialize. You could lose some weight, feel more fit and even make some new friends. It sounds like a win for everyone involved. Don’t you think?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laurie Yakish is a dog trainer and dog behavior specialist working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is certified through Animal Behavior College but more importantly Laurie was mentored by Gary Wilkes who pioneered clicker training and many other groundbreaking behavior modification protocols. Laurie is an active member of IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals). Dog obsessed since she was four years old, by seven she was frustrating the daylights out of her mother by stealing snacks out of the cupboards to use as treats to train her dog Pepper to play high jump.
You can learn more about Laurie and her unique brand of dog training by visiting www.dogtraininglauriesway.com