How to be the Leader Your Obese Dog Needs

A lot of us call ourselves dog parents. But if anyone ever asked your dog about how they see us – chances are they wouldn’t say “mommy” or “daddy”, but “leader”. This shouldn’t surprise us, given that even the cutest and furriest of pugs came from a wolf, and somewhere in his noggin is a dusty memory disc called “pack mentality”.

Dogs will feel an overflowing sense of love and trust towards their human parents. When something is wrong we feel responsible just like parents would. Most people will go to the ends of the earth to find a solution or a cure for what ails their canine charges.

When they are sick, we take them to the vet and give them the best care we possibly can. When they seem down, we give them extra attention. When their health problems are caused by obesity, we begin pondering a life change for them, just as we would with a human.

Worn out joints, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory disease – this is just the start of a long list of problems that can arise as a result of a dog struggling with obesity. As a parent and a true “leader” of our small domestic pack, we have to let them know that they are not alone in this.

If it’s good for our dog, it’s good for us. If your dog needs a lifestyle change, it’s often a great chance to consider if we are the ones who need a lifestyle change as well. A great leader will lead by example. If you start by making changes in your life, it will be easier to tell your dog that these changes are necessary, and for their own good.

Causes of Dog Obesity and How We Can Do It Together

There are a lot of causes for dog obesity, and we have to realize that as true leaders, we have control over most of these circumstances. Aside from a few special cases, we have the knowledge and the power to control what environment our dog thrives in.

This might seem really hard for a lot of us – dogs don’t usually know you’re doing something for their own good and might act like you’re punishing them by not giving in to begging, and other types of snack requests. If you think of this as being the responsible alpha who’s in charge, (instead of a doting parent) saying “no” will come easier to you.

If you decide that it’s the right moment for a lifestyle change for you as well, you might feel a sense of teamwork, and find that you can not only teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach new tricks to an old human too!

Here are some hot flashpoints of obesity for both of you, and how to tackle them as a pack:

Overabundance and carbs – Food is everywhere. There’s a lot of it and it’s cheap. Chances are that you get your dog food at the same place where you get your own food, and this is why the grocery store is a great place to start,  your choice Costco dog food or the crunchy kibble aisle at Whole Foods.

It’s a great place to start and end our dog food buying adventure. No human nutritionist will tell you that eating meat-flavored cereal, no matter how fortified with vitamins, will help you lose weight and be healthy.

Snacking is a big problem with both humans and dogs, and by working together you can learn what healthy snacks you can make for yourself and for your dog, without dipping into the crunchy treat bags, or whatever happens to be lying around.

If you are investing in your dog’s health by learning about their diet and how you need to balance it, keep in mind that you can do the same thing for yourself at the same time. It will be easier to say “no” to those begging eyes if you say “no, we are in this together, we have to stay together”.

You are the leader, so you have to have the strength and the knowledge for both of you. We can all do without fillers and trash food, whether we’re a human or a dog.

Exercise – It’s hard to exercise. We know. But when you hear a wheezing dog who is having breathing difficulty because of the layer of fat around their lungs and neck, you want to help them in any way you can. And the only way to help them is through direct action.

If you need extra motivation to move, your dog will probably be the one to help you out more than they realize. You see – going out on a walk with you is probably one of the best rewards a dog can get.

As a generally accepted rule, 15-minute walks, 3-4 times a day are the recommended standard. This will also depend on your dog’s breed. Some breeds require much, much more. Breeds like Dalmatians, Huskys, Retrievers, Labradors – and many others must be not only walked but taken for runs, hikes and other long excursions.

Try getting up right now and shaking the leash. Chances are your dog will become instantly alert and ready to go. You can use that energy to your advantage – try to see it from your dog’s perspective! Wow! A walk!

“Dog parents find that their dog’s needs motivate them to move more.”Matylda, dog behavior counselor, Palo Alto

Once you’re excited, try to use your human brain to sit down and write down some goals. This is where you can become the perfect team. Your dog will bring in the enthusiasm and you will bring in the written plan. Try to increase the length of your walks by 20% every week. That’s 3 minutes weekly if you’re going on your average 15-minute walk.

The increase is so slow you won’t notice it – but in two months you will be going on walks that are longer by over 20 minutes. The key to everything, especially with obese dogs, is slowly but steady. The “steady” part is the most important. We have to build habits and pretty soon, come walk time, your dog will be waiting for you and expecting you to get up like it’s an obvious routine. How can you say “no” to that?

If you are unable to be as active as your dog needs for medical or other reasons, consider getting your dog a “personal trainer” just like you would for a human. In other words, hire a responsible dog walker.

If you are able to commit to more exercise consider training for a 5k with your dog. Did you know that there are over 20 dog-human team races around the US? If you set a goal, running one can be an incredible bonding experience for the both of you.

Other factors – There are, of course, other factors that can affect your dog’s weight, and they can be out of your control. Things like:

  • Old age
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Neutering (this may cause a hormone change)
  • Insulinoma

How to tell if a dog is obese – not all dogs look like rolly pollies when they hit the “obese” mark. How to tell for sure? Your veterinarian is best equipped to do it, and he or she will use the breed standard as a way of measuring if anything is out of the ordinary.

Family and responsibility

In conclusion, it’s hard to be a leader – to anyone, and especially to those whom we consider our friends or close family. We are a dog’s best friend but we are also the absolute caretaker and their leader.

In order for them to be healthy, we must stand up and take charge. Educate ourselves so we’re better equipped to help them. In return, they can do a lot to motivate us and help us develop healthy routines. They are, after all, the least judgemental and forgiving friends we will ever have.

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