Reducing Excessive Barking

Barking is one of the ways dogs communicate different emotions and information. They bark when they’re excited, when they want something, when they’re afraid or to alert others to intruders. While barking is normal dog behavior, many people find it frustrating. To reduce excessive barking, it’s important to first understand your dog’s underlying motivation and emotional state.

Let’s say your dog drops a toy at your feet and starts barking. To make him stop, you pick up the toy and toss it. Your dog learns barking works to get the toy tossed, so he’ll likely repeat it again. This is Demand Barking. To reduce it, you’ll need to stop rewarding the barking. Remove yourself from the area or put the toy away as a penalty for barking. Don’t throw the toy unless your dog is quiet. Be warned though that the barking will likely get worse before it gets better. Don’t give in, no matter what.

Dogs who bark at people walking by, cars pulling in the drive or doorbells ringing, are Alarm Barking. It’s your dog’s way of alerting you to the presence of an intruder and to let the intruder know they’ve been noticed. For some alarm barkers, modifying the environment can help. Remove his access to windows where he might be able to see passersby. Applying window film can obscure the view, while allowing light in. Give your dog interesting food puzzles or chew items to keep him busy.

Dogs who alarm bark when visitors arrive (usually triggered by the doorbell or knock) can be taught to lie down and stay on a mat in exchange for yummy treats. If your alarm barker loves to fetch, teach him to go get his toy when someone knocks or rings (it’s hard to bark you’re your mouth is full). Teach the behavior before actual visitors arrive so the doorbell or knock becomes the prompt to “get your toy”.

Another technique is a time-out for barking. When he barks, say “thank you”, or “be quiet”, and then reward with treats when he stops barking for second. If he doesn’t stop, say “oh darn, too bad” and escort him to a time-out space well away from the door. With repetition he’ll learn barking gets him removed and he’ll start to heed the warning.

If your dog is fearful of strangers or visitors, he may be Spooky Barking. It’s his way of saying, “Please stay away, I’m not comfortable.” Spooky barkers are typically under socialized and need to learn that visitors or strangers predict good things for them. This is one reason early socialization for puppies is so important. Punishing a fearful dog for barking will do nothing to assuage his fears. Working with an experienced trainer or behavior expert your fearful dog can become more comfortable around strangers and the barking will decrease.

Dogs left alone all day, can develop unacceptable behaviors including frustration and boredom barking. Dogs are highly social and don’t cope well with prolonged isolation. Consider a dog walker or daycare if you’re gone all day. Provide daily physical exercise and mental enrichment. Searching for and unpacking food puzzles are great mental exercise. Fill them before you leave and hide them around the house. If your dog must spend part of the day outdoors, install fencing he can’t see through to reduce barking at people and dogs passing by. Provide him with chew bones and other food-dispensing items scattered around the yard to keep him busy.

Dogs who bark when left alone and exhibit other behaviors including whining, howling, trying to escape through doors or windows, and urinating or defecating indoors may have Separation Anxiety. Dogs with this affliction have a phobia of being left alone or separated from a specific person and need professional help to get better.

When dealing with excessive barking, understand the motivation behind it and then teach your dog an acceptable alternative.

Easy Peasy Dog Treats

Check out this easy way to make perfectly sized dog treats! It uses a pyramid style silicone baking tray. If you turn the tray over, the little pyramids are hollow and you fill those with the batter for your treats. I ordered my trays online, but they may carry them at Freddies or BiMart.

Here’s a recipe I used.

1 can salmon (I also made a batch with sardines)

2 eggs

1 cup of flour (I used rice flour but any flour will do).

Blend the ingredients in a food processor to a smooth batter that’s close to waffle or pancake texture.

Put the silicone trays on a metal baking tray or cookie sheet. Spread the batter into the holes on the silicone tray. The recipe fills 2 trays. Make sure the batter fills the holes cleanly or they won’t come out as individual pieces.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 mins (adjust time for your oven). I like the treats to come out fairly dry, but for a softer treat you could increase the temp to 350 and bake for 15 or 20 minutes or until they’re done to your liking.

The treats pop right out and are the perfect size to use in training (about the size of your pinkie finger nail). Store them in the fridge or freezer.

I first saw the idea on the eileenanddogs blog. She recommends using tapioca flour to make the treats noncrumbly. I’m planning to try that next time, although these treats didn’t crumble.

I tried a ground turkey recipe, but the stringiness of the turkey meat was difficult to spread in the trays and didn’t come out very cleanly. I’m making another batch today using canned chicken meat. Let me know if you try this method and how you like it!

Easy Indoor Enrichment Ideas

Is your dog going stir crazy from not getting out during these cold snowy days? Here are some easy homemade ideas to keep your pup happy until the weather warms up.

Hide some tasty treats in various locations around the house and encourage your dog to “search”. Make it more challenging by putting several

empty cardboard boxes on the floor and toss some treats into one of them. Your pup will have to search the boxes to get the goodies.  If you have small critter pets or birds, put some of their used litter in a baggie, poke some holes in it and stash it for your dog to find. You’ll need to supervise this one to make sure she doesn’t eat the baggie or the litter.

Spread some kibble on the floor and cover with an old towel or blanket. Your dog will have to burrow under the blanket to get the goodies. Caution, my dog decided it was easier to just chew through the blanket, so you might not want to use anything valuable.

Fold the end of an empty toilet tissue tube. Drop some kibble or yummy treats inside and fold up the other end. Hand it to your dog and let her tear it open! Other variations on this theme include placing treats in an empty yogurt or cottage cheese container. Slap on the lid and encourage your pup to open it.  Wrap up some treats in some butcher paper, twist the ends and let your dog rip it up. To make a bigger challenge, stuff the paper inside one of those holey-roller toys, or pack inside a cardboard box (taped up for the doggie PhD). Snuffle mats are all the rage these days and when loaded with kibble give your dog foraging opportunities. The mats are easy to make or you can order them online.

Do some reward-based training. Tricks are a fun way to bond with your dog and have fun together. Anything from high five, to opening the fridge can be taught with rewards. Have fun with it.  Create a mini obstacle course and teach your pup to crawl under the coffee table, circle the sofa and jump over a broomstick. You get the idea. Have fun and before you know it spring will be here!

Keeping dogs safe and healthy over the holidays

What a glorious autumn we’ve had!  Chilly nights, warm days, colorful trees and blue skies. Unless you go into a shopping center where Christmas decorations are already on full display, it’s easy to forget the holidays are just around the corner. Including our pets in the season’s festivities can be enjoyable for everyone if we keep some tips in mind.

Halloween can be especially scary for dogs. They simply don’t understand the little goblin or ghoul at the door is really a child in costume. The sight of a strange human combined with doorbells ringing and kids yelling “trick or treat” can be frightening to nervous dogs, causing them to bolt through the door. Territorial dogs may growl or bite an innocent child. If your pet is wary of strangers, or easily frightened by all the activity, don’t let her greet the scary monsters at your door. Confine her to a crate or other room with a good chew item to keep her comfortable until the trick or treating is done.

Dressing our dogs up in costumes can be a lot of fun for us, but our dogs may not feel the same. Many short-coated breeds or small dogs get used to wearing coats and sweaters during cold weather and may not mind a costume, while other dogs find the experience unpleasant. Watch for signs of cowering, tucked tail, flattened ears, panting (when he’s not hot), or refusal to move, as these may be signs your dog is stressed and not enjoying the experience. Respect your dog’s comfort level and let him choose if he’s okay dressing up. If Fido does wear a costume, just as with children, make sure he can see clearly and move freely.

All those Halloween candy treats can present hazards for dogs. Many candies and sugarless gums contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is particularly dangerous for dogs. Ingesting even small amounts can cause hypoglycemia, seizures, liver failure and even death. Chocolate contains stimulants that can cause a range of problems from gastric upset to seizures and death. The darker the chocolate, the greater the danger. Keep the candies out of Fido’s reach.

While indulging in all the special foods and treats is the norm for most of us over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, too much of a good thing can be bad for our canine companions. Too many rich, fatty or new foods can cause gastric upset for many dogs and in some cases lead to pancreatitis, a painful and severe inflammation of the pancreas. If your dog is used to eating home cooking and leftovers, make sure it’s low fat, and don’t give too much. Stick to items such as mashed potatoes (no gravy) a bit of turkey and plain green beans. Stay away from cooked bones, as these can splinter and cause lacerations in the digestive system. For dogs with sensitive tummies, keep them happy with some healthy dog treats.

The festivities wouldn’t be complete without all the beautiful holiday decorations. Unsupervised dogs and young puppies are at risk of electrical shock by chewing through cords and strings of Christmas lights. Some dogs will eat anything that remotely resembles food, including holiday wrappings, tinsel and even candles. Consider restricting your dog’s access to the decorated areas of the house during the holidays. Supervise carefully when your dog is near the Christmas tree, and provide entertainment in the form of a food-dispensing puzzle, or interactive dog toy.

Sudden changes in routine and lots of holiday guests can be upsetting for some dogs. Stick to normal feeding and exercise times to minimize stress. Give shy dogs a safe, quiet place away from the fun to relax and rest. The exuberant greeter may need a brush up on how to greet guests politely. If there is no time for training, use baby gates and leashes to manage the situation when guests are arriving. With some careful supervision and a few adjustments, your dog can have a safe, enjoyable holiday with the family.

 

Starting out right with your new dog

You’ve made the big decision to bring home a new canine companion and can’t wait to start enjoying life together. With some preparation, consistency and patience you can help your dog easily adjust to life with his new family.

Do some shopping first to make sure you’ve got all the must-have supplies you’ll need. Equipment, including leashes, a flat collar with ID tags, and a no-pull style harness for leash walks. Food, bowls, and chew items or food puzzles to keep your pup busy. Don’t forget the training treats. You’ll need them for teaching good manners. You’ll also need husbandry items including nail clippers, brushes, shampoo and toothbrushes (use doggie toothpaste only). Get a variety of toys too, including tug ropes, rubber balls and toys that squeak.

Crates and baby gates are essential for in-home management. Dog barriers, crates or dog seatbelts are important for safe transport in the car.

Before bringing your dog home, set up a confinement area. We can’t always keep our eyes on the dog, so we need to prevent unwanted behaviors with careful management. Untrained dogs and puppies should never have access to more than a small, easily cleaned area in the house until they’ve mastered house etiquette. A confinement area helps prevent destructive chewing and potty accidents and helps with alone training.

While ‘confinement’ may sound harsh, it’s the best possible way to successfully help your dog transition to his new home. Dogs are going to follow their natural inclination to investigate, chew and eat anything that looks interesting, as well as using the bathroom when the urge strikes. When we let the dog have the run of the house right away, we set them up to fail. Instead, plan a routine so your dog has supervised free time and safe confinement when you can’t keep an eye on him.

The ideal confinement area should be easy to close off and free of illegal chew items. Furnish the space with a dog bed or crate to sleep in, food and water bowl, fun toys and chew items to keep your pup busy when he’s alone.

When you arrive home with your new best friend, take him out for a short leash walk and potty break. Have other family members greet the dog with treats. Keep the greetings low key for now. Remember this is all new and easily overwhelming for your dog.

Other canine family members should have met the new dog prior to adoption, but will need to meet again, either in the yard or in a neutral location.

Once inside, show him around the house on leash, ending at the confinement area. Take off the leash, give him his meal or a food chewie to work on, and leave him alone for a brief time, before letting him out to interact with you. If he starts to fuss right away, wait for a lull in the whining for at least 10 seconds then go interact with him. If you respond too quickly to the whining or barking, he’ll learn it gets him out of confinement, and he’ll whine and bark longer next time.

It’s natural to want to spend every minute with your new friend when he first comes home, but it’s important to get him used to the family’s normal routine right away, including spending time alone. Dogs are social animals and isolation doesn’t come naturally to them. Vary the length of time he’s alone from 30 seconds to 30 minutes and repeat the routine at various times throughout the day. If he seems comfortable, you can increase the length of time he’s alone.

Transitioning to a new home is a big adjustment for both you and your new dog. It may take several days or weeks for your dog to settle in. Prepare in advance, set up the environment so your dog can’t make mistakes, pack your patience and provide a consistent routine to help make the transition easier.

Home Alone:  Camera Systems for Pets

Do you ever wonder what your dog is up to while you’re away at work? Is he resting and waiting for you to get home, or is he bored and lonely? Do you ever wish you could check in without having to leave your desk?

Most dog parents want to make sure our fur kids are safe and happy while we’re gone. Now, with some clever smart phone apps and new additions to the standard home security camera, we can check in on them, say hello, play games and even toss treats remotely.

The Petzi Treat Cam features a wide-angle camera (720p with night vision) along with one-way audio and a treat dispenser which is triggered through your mobile device. You can also snap pictures of your pet and share them on the Petzi social platform. The device can be mounted to a wall, so Fido can’t tip it off a table.

The Furbo has a 1080p wide angle lens with two-way audio so you can hear your best buddy when you’re talking to him. The barking sensor will send you push notifications when it detects your dog making noise. Their optional Smart Dog Alerts subscription service uses “dog recognition technology” which lets you know when your dog is moving, take “selfies” when he’s in front of the camera and alerts you to humans in the room. It can integrate with Alexa to dispense treats at regular intervals while you’re away. The Furbo uses adhesive stickers to attach to a flat surface and requires a power outlet (no batteries).

Petcube offers two devices, Petcube Play and Petcube Bites, both with 1080p HD cameras and 2-way audio. The Petcube Play is a small (3 inch) cube which also includes a laser light that you control from your smart phone to give your dog (or cat) some exercise and entertainment. Moving your finger around on the phone display directs the light in the room so your pet can chase it. No doubt very entertaining for pet parents on coffee breaks. There’s also an auto play option which will turn on the laser at various times during the day.

Instead of the laser game, the Petcube Bites has a treat dispenser. Swiping your finger across your mobile device triggers the dispenser to fling treats at your dog. Too busy to buy treats on the way home? No worries, you can order treats through Amazon using the phone app.

For a monthly fee you can subscribe to their Petcube Care service and get discounts on a variety of pet services, share videos on social media, and enable motion and sound sensors which will alert you if your dog starts wandering around the house or is barking.

Think your dog might become anxious if he can hear you but not see you? The PetChatz system solves that with a small LCD display for two-way video chats. A special tone sounds to let your dog know you’re calling and while he’s looking at your happy smile, you can dispense treats and even some aromatherapy to keep Fido calm. The optional PawCall is a paw-shaped “easy button” that allows your dog to call you. You schedule a chat session via your mobile app and a tone and light alert your dog to initiate the call. When he presses the paw device, you get a notification that your dog is ready to chat. The PawCall button can also be configured as a game device which dispenses treats when he presses the button.

The system must be plugged in, but it’s cleverly designed to be mounted directly over a wall outlet, eliminating cords that curious canines could chew through.

Prices for these systems vary but having a way to check on our pets while we’re gone gives us peace of mind and may even help reduce boredom and mild anxiety for some pets.

 

Dog Sports

We’re very fortunate to have access to dog-friendly hiking and recreation opportunities in our area. It’s a great way to get exercise and enjoy time together. Dog sports are another way to spend quality time with your dog, either in competition or just for fun. Let’s look at some of the most popular activities.

Agility is the most popular dog sport and the one most people are familiar with, no doubt having seen videos of dogs (mostly border collies) racing over obstacles at top speed. It’s exciting and looks like great fun, especially for high energy dogs. Really though, just about any dog from Chihuahua to Great Dane can do agility. Teaching dogs to navigate obstacles is great for their physical and mental wellbeing and develops a sense of fun and teamwork with their humans.

Agility has several classes of competition, from standard to specialty classes with names like Jumpers, Snooker and Gamblers. Each course is run for time and accuracy. There are penalties for mistakes like dropping a jump bar and taking an obstacle in the wrong sequence. The team with the fastest qualifying run wins.

Of course, you don’t need to be a competitor to have to have fun with agility. You can easily set up a small course in your backyard. Check out some online videos or courses (I like the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy) to get some basics and you’ve got a great new hobby with your dog.

If you like to show off your dog’s obedience behaviors, then competition obedience might be a good fit for you. At a trial you work your dog through a series of behaviors (e.g. sit, down, heel, come, retrieve) which are scored by a judge. There are three classes of competition; Novice, Open and Utility.

Rally Obedience (Rally-O) is a less formal, and I think more fun version of traditional obedience. In Rally you traverse a course of 10-20 stations that are marked with specific obedience exercises to demonstrate. The goal is to encourage teamwork between you and your dog, rather than focus on precision.

If you like training your dog to do tricks, then Canine Musical Freestyle might attract you. It’s choreographed trick training set to music. Sounds weird right? The routines can be as varied as your imagination and the ability for dogs to perform complex maneuvers in sync with their handlers is truly mind blowing.

Rally Freestyle (Rally FrEe) combines the format of Rally with Musical Freestyle tricks. It’s a fairly new sport with multiple levels of competition.

If obedience and tricks don’t grab your interest, there are a few sports that work with your dog’s natural instincts to hunt and chase.

Canine Nosework is a fun and rapidly growing sport. Think of it as the civilian’s version of military and law enforcement scent detection work. Dogs are taught to seek out novel odors like birch or clove. They’re generally started with searching through boxes indoors and work up to outdoor scenarios. Many handlers claim that nosework helps fearful and reactive dogs remain calm and build confidence. Smells can trigger strong emotional memories due to how they’re processed by the brain, so if doing scentwork is a pleasurable activity for the dog, they’re more likely to associate previously scary situations with something pleasant.

Barn hunts are perfect for all dogs who love to sniff out rodents. A maze is set up using straw bales, and a rat is (safely) caged at the end. The dog must work his way through the maze to find the rodent. The hunt is timed with different levels to master. The founders of the barn hunt sport are committed to humane treatment of the rats as well as the dogs.

Dogs who love to chase and swim, might enjoy the sport of Dock Diving. Dogs compete for height, distance and fastest retrieve, by jumping off a “dock” and landing in a pool of water. There will be an exhibition at the Roslyn Canine Festival on June 23 and 24 so you can check it out and see if it’s something your dog would like to do.

 

What’s My Dog Saying?

Several times a week I see videos on my social media feeds of dogs and kids interacting together. Kids climbing and bouncing on dogs, toddlers hugging them, and in one, a couple of youngsters shoving a hamster into their dog’s face and laughing at the dog’s reaction. The videos were no doubt posted by parents who found them cute and entertaining and I’m sure they weren’t deliberately trying to harm or traumatize their dogs. However, the videos illustrate the difficulty most pet dog owners have in reading signs of stress or anxiety in dogs, and this is critical to avoiding interactions which may lead to a dog behaving aggressively or even biting.

We’re all good at knowing if our dog is happy. The mouth is relaxed and may be open, the eyes are soft, and the ears are in a neutral position. The body is relaxed and may be wiggly and the tail wags are wide and low. And most people can identify a frightened dog; the tail (if there is one) is tucked, cowering body, head down or looking away, or the dog may be trying to flee.

Dogs also offer other signals to express a variety of emotions or intentions, particularly when stressed, unsure or anxious, and these are the ones that people often miss or misread.

Appeasement signals are meant to cut off a perceived threat from another individual, as a means of keeping peace in social situations. It’s the dog’s way of saying, “I’m not a threat.” They’re used when greeting and interacting with other dogs and with humans too. Typical appeasement signals are avoiding direct eye contact, turning the head away, a crouching body position, a low or tucked tail (may be wagging some), ears pulled back or raising a front paw slightly off the ground. Some dogs will roll over to expose their inguinal area, and others will lick their lips, or lick at the muzzle of the other dog.

Some of these signals are often misinterpreted by humans as a sign of a dog’s guilt. The assumption is the dog has done something it “knows” is wrong and is expressing remorse when confronted by his human. A recent study dispelled that myth. See my previous article on Guilty Looking Dogs.

Displacement behaviors happen when a dog is conflicted about what to do next. They are akin to a human scratching their head while contemplating a decision. They’re normal behaviors, including yawning, lip licking, sniffing and scratching, but are performed out of context. For example, a dog who sees a novel object and is curious but unsure about approaching it, may lip lick as an indication of conflicting motivation.

A dog feeling stress or anxiety can display a variety of signals in addition to appeasement and displacement behaviors, including panting when they’re not hot, pacing, hypervigilance and refusal to take food. It’s important to look at the context in conjunction with the overall body language to determine whether the dog is anxious.

The next time you see a cute dog video on social media, try watching it with the sound off and just look at the dog. What body language signals do you see?  Take the time to observe your own dog in various contexts so you can understand when he might be stressed or anxious so you can intervene to keep him comfortable and safe.

Cold Weather Enrichment

I love the change of seasons, but I’d prefer to skip winter. Frozen fingers and toes, icy surfaces, short cold days and long cold nights. Bah humbug. I’d prefer to stay indoors, snug and warm with a good book and hot cup of tea. I’d like to think my dog feels the same, but it’s probably not the case.

While he may look warm and comfy snoozing on the sofa, he’s likely just sleeping out of boredom. When cold weather keeps us indoors more, we have to get creative to keep our dogs active and happy. Fortunately, there is plenty to do with our dogs when the weather turns frightful outside.

Keep your dog physically active with indoor games. Playing fetch in a long hallway or down a flight of stairs can wear out the ball crazy dog in the family (make sure he’s fit and not prone to joint problems). A game of tug-of-war can burn off excess energy. Set up a mini obstacle course in the family room or garage and teach your pup to go over jumps, or crawl through tunnels.

Solving puzzles and playing training games gives your dog important mental enrichment. Create a simple puzzle by placing some treats under a blanket or mat for your dog to discover. Make your dog work for his food by hiding it around the house and set him loose to find it. Alternatively, feed all his meals out of food-dispensing toys to stretch out mealtimes.

Practice short training sessions or sign up for a class to polish up some manners and enjoy quality time with your dog. To improve your dog’s recall, play hide and seek around the house. Have someone hold your dog while you hide, then let him sniff you out. Have a party when he finds you, so he learns coming to you is fun. Look up YouTube videos on positive reinforcement training and teach your dog some fun tricks. Check out some of the videos on teaching husbandry behaviors to make grooming and veterinary procedures less stressful for your dog.

Even though it’s cold outside, most dogs love to get out and play in the snow, and it’s good for us too. Brisk walks through freshly fallen snow are good exercise and a great way to spend quality time with your four-legged friend. Snowball fetch is great game for the retriever in the family. For the sports enthusiast, check out skijoring. It’s a combination of mushing and cross-country skiing. Your dog wears a special harness and a long bungee leash, and pulls you along on your skis. It’s great for dogs who love to run.

When spending time in the cold with our dogs, we need to keep them safe. Small dogs and short coated breeds can benefit from a jacket to keep them warm and dry. Protect your dog’s paws with booties or use a paw wax to coat the pads. Dogs can get frostbite just like humans. The paws, ears and tip of the tail are most vulnerable. Watch for skin that looks pale or has a bluish/white hue, due to lack of blood flow. Once warmed, the area becomes red, may swell and become sensitive to touch.

Fun indoor activities and safe outdoor exercise can keep your pooch happy and healthy until spring finally arrives.

Canine Obesity Epidemic

Almost every day we hear or read another warning about the obesity epidemic in our country. Over sixty percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Sadly, our pets are getting fatter right along with us. According to research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), over fifty-two percent of dogs are overweight or obese. The numbers are even worse for cats.

A revealing finding of the research shows that most pet owners who have overweight pets considered them to be of normal weight. APOP calls this the “fat gap” and believes it to be ‘the primary factor in the pet obesity epidemic’. An additional online survey showed forty-two percent of dog and cat owners aren’t sure what a healthy weight should be for their pet.

There is a simple test you can do to tell if your dog may be overweight.  Viewing your dog from above, you should easily see the outline of the ribcage. Behind the ribs and in front of the hips should be a tucked in “waistline”. If your dog is all one shape, sort of like a sausage link, he’s too fat.

Next, look at your dog from the side. The tummy area behind the ribs should be tucked up tightly toward the spine. An overweight dog’s tummy will sag. Finally, run your hands along your dog’s ribcage.  You should be able to easily feel ribs. If you can’t feel ribs without pressing in, the dog is probably too fat. Do a quick internet search on “dog body condition score” and compare your dog to the ideal weight on the chart. You might be surprised.

Having a dog who is a bit overweight may not seem like such a big deal. After all, who doesn’t struggle to lose a few pounds? Consider these examples. If a fifty pound dog gains five pounds, that’s ten percent of his body weight. A ten percent gain for a one hundred fifty pound human is fifteen pounds! That’s a lot of extra weight in either case.

The same weight-related diseases that affect humans, are making our dogs sick too. Osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and decreased life expectancy are all associated with pet obesity.

If you think your dog may be overweight, start with a visit to your veterinarian. In some cases medical conditions can cause weight gain in dogs, and your vet can rule out medical causes. He or she can help determine how much weight your dog needs to lose and how much food and exercise to provide.

For the most part, a dog’s weight gain is due to too many calories and not enough exercise. A general rule of thumb is to cut back on the food by twenty-five percent. Measure the amount of food with a measuring cup, to avoid giving too much. Weigh your dog every couple of weeks to check progress.  Weight loss should be slow and steady. Special “reduced calorie” or “weight control” dog food formulas may not be beneficial. Most of these specialty diets reduce fats, but increase carbohydrates, which can stimulate the body, via increased insulin production, to store extra calories as fat.

Avoid free-feeding your dog. Very few dogs can self-feed without gaining weight. Instead, feed your dog from some of the many food-dispensing toys on the market today. Your dog will have to work to eat, providing much needed mental and physical enrichment.

Make sure everyone in the household participates in your dog’s weight loss program. If someone is sneaking snacks to Fido during the day, it can undo the program. If your dog is in training, be sure to reduce the daily food ration to allow for the extra treats. Choose treats made from real meats to avoid feeding junk, and cut them into tiny pieces, so you don’t need as many. Offer healthy snacks if your dog is begging for food. Raw carrots, green beans, and apple slices (no seeds) are good low-calorie choices.

Increasing exercise will help burn those extra pounds, but too much too soon can cause injury. If your dog has been a couch potato, check with your veterinarian to determine how much and what type of exercise to start with. Walking is a great way to help get your dog moving and is good for us humans too.

Keeping our dogs fit and healthy can give us many more years together with our furry companions.