Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big little Louie

If there was ever a dog who looked good in clothes, big little Louie is it.

I visited my friend Julie not long ago while she was dogsitting Louie for her parents. Louie is the biggest little Dachsund I’ve ever met and thanks to Julie, the most stylish as well.

When she brought Louie out in the stately sweater she’d purchased for him, I just had to get out the video camera to share the moment with all of you. See the video below.

Julie reports that her parents aren’t crazy about the sweater.

“But I swear, it’s just perfect for him. He looks so good in it!” she said, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Julie is one of the most stylish friends I have and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that she managed to pick out the perfect outfit for a Dachsund too.

Now, there is a reason I’m calling the dog big little Louie. Obviously, he’s a small breed dog. Very small. But he’s pretty big for his breed.

Louie has a bit of a weight issue and he’s far from alone. The headline for an article published recently by MSNBC sums up the issue pretty well: “Great. Now our pets are fat, too.”

The article quotes CDC statistics that 34.2 percent of Americans older than age 20 were overweight in 2008 and 33.8 percent of that age group was obese. Our pets statistics are even worse: in 2009, 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats were overweight or obese.

If my mother had her way, my dog would be part of that “overweight or obese” category. And most people are like my mother — they can’t eat in front of a dog without feeling guilty, or they over-treat a dog to make it happy, or they worry that the dog is hungry and since the dog can’t talk, they just assume it is hungry and continue to feed it.

Little dogs are even tougher to manage — we tend to give out treats often, and for a little dog, that can be dangerous. Especially if you’re keeping junk food treats in the cookie jar.

Human food is the biggest sin. That tiny corner of your sandwich is loaded with calories and carbs your dog doesn’t need. Table scraps are terrible.

But, human food can also be our savior in terms of slimming down our dogs. You just have to use the right human foods.

As someone who does positive reward training on a regular basis with my dog, Sensi gets treat overload when we go to work. For a long time, I tried to purchase small, low-fat dog treats to use during these sessions.

But I found something he likes much better and something that’s much healthier for him — vegetables.

Green beans and carrots are his favorite. He goes nuts for some frozen green beans. Potatoes, bananas, other varieties of beans, squash and even pumpkin — oh yes, this means Sensi loves Halloween — are good for your dogs.

And this is how I balance the feelings my parents have about feeding my dog with the beliefs I have about feeding my dog.

“Here, give ‘em some carrots,” I say, and then they can’t scold me for withholding human food goodness from him.

Sure, some dogs — you know, the ones who have grown up sampling McDonald’s until they refuse to eat kibble — won’t be interested. Most dogs will enjoy vegetables, though, and I encourage all of you to give it a shot.

Use them for treats. Use them for training. Use them when your dog is giving you those begging eyes for a bite of your sandwich. Use them when you can’t help yourself from assuming your dog is hungry and you must feed him to make him happy. Use them to take away the guilt you feel and replace that guilt with the feeling that you’re actually doing something healthy for your dog while providing him with food enjoyment.

If your dog is not a regular vegetable eater, though, start small. Big changes to a dog’s diet can cause some really messy digestion issues. Perhaps include a small portion of chopped veggies with his breakfast or dinner to help his tummy get adjusted to healthy foods.

And, never forget that there are lots of human foods — vegetables and beyond — that can be poisonous to your dog. Grapes and apple cores fall into the category. Check out a good long list of things not to feed your dog here.

Obesity can cause some very major health problems for dogs. Many overweight dogs will have to deal back problems, hip problems, arthritis, breathing issues and more.

One last tip: Let’s stop thinking we have to feed our dogs treats and table scraps to make them happy and instead, think of our dog’s happiness in terms of its health.

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