While you’re preparing for your holiday festivities, picking out a turkey, and inviting your friends and family to your dinner table, please take a moment to consider your dogs’ eating habits, especially during this time of abundant table scraps and leftovers. There are safe and rewarding ways to share the holidays with your pooch; however, sharing too much food or feeding directly off the dinner table can create not only poor health but bad habits, too. Incorporating dog training into holiday meal considerations can not only save you from the stress of having a begging dog at your feet, but it also enhances your canine’s obedience level.
Here are some guidelines for feeding your dog properly in everyday life:
• When feeding your dog her normal meals, make sure to feed her an appropriate amount (not too much, not too little). Take treats used for dog obedience, such as doggie biscuits, and table scraps into account. If you’re confused about how much to feed her, your dog trainer can usually provide you with some guidelines, though consulting your veterinarian is recommended.
• Puppies normally need to be fed twice a day while older dogs can usually be fed once a day.
• However, certain factors must be taken into account, including the dog’s energy and activity level (including animal training sessions), environment, size, breed (if known), and current state of health. Again, talk to a professional animal trainer or your veterinarian if you are unsure of how much to feed your dog.
• Puppies should be fed food meant especially for puppies as it contains the essential nutrients that their bodies need as they grow. As a general rule, they may be switched over to adult dog food as soon as they’ve matured past the puppy stage. This is usually one year for small dogs and two years for large dogs.
• If you notice that your dog is getting skinnier or fatter on her current diet, adjust the portions (by making them larger or smaller) accordingly. Find out what weight is appropriate for your particular dog by consulting your veterinarian, and try to maintain that weight by exercising your dog (dog training is a great form of exercise!) and by weighing her regularly to track her weight.
• If you notice that your dog is not finishing her entire meals or that she finishes her meals and continues to beg for table scraps, she may need to have her meal portions adjusted.
• If you have a dog that is particularly active (e.g. trains for and/or competes in agility trials, plays ball excessively, or simply has a higher level of energy), her feeding rations should be compensated and increased. Likewise, dogs that are particularly lazy (e.g. they live in an apartment and/or lie around all day) should be fed less as they are not burning off as many calories.
• While dogs are not true carnivores and can survive on a vegetarian diet, make sure to speak with your veterinarian if you are considering this route. It is crucial that all dogs get the recommended amount of calories, protein, fat, etc. each day.
Table scraps are an important factor to consider around the holidays, not only in feeding your dog appropriately but also in consideration of her level of dog training and obedience. When eating a meal, do not feed your dog directly from your plate or at any time while you are still eating or sitting at the dinner table. This encourages begging, which can be annoying to you and your holiday guests and is an overall bad behavior. It is also detrimental to any animal behavior that you and/or your dog trainer have worked on with her so far. Instead, wait until after everyone has finished eating and reward your dog for minding her manners by taking her outside, asking for an obedience cue (sit, down, etc.) and treating her with a piece of meat or potato. Or, you may decide to give her an extra yummy dog food meal by putting doggie gravy on top of her everyday kibble as a special treat. Your canine can enjoy the holiday festivities, too, as long as it is in moderation and under the right circumstances.
Also, when cleaning up after a holiday meal, make sure all leftover bones and other discarded food scraps are thrown away in a place where your dog cannot dig for and extract them. It is important to train dogs to avoid scraps, as turkey, chicken, and other animal bones can splinter in a dog’s throat, stomach, and/or intestines and cause major medical issues. If her level of dog training is not sound enough to trust her in the company of a trash can full of yummy goodness, take the trash out or put it up on a counter to eliminate the option for bad behavior. Even with a solid foundation in training from the best animal trainer in the country, you cannot 100 reliably prevent a dog’s desire to dig through the trash for delicious scraps, and the risk can be immense.
May you and your canine have a wonderful holiday season!