November 24, 2021
At the end of May, my wife and I picked up a Lab pup. Sadie’s role is to start learning the ropes so that she can eventually take over for our eight-year-old Lab who is slowing down by the season. Anyone who has faced the reality of an older dog and the necessity of a new recruit knows that there are big shoes to fill in that situation.
As we all do, I wondered if there was anything I could do differently with this puppy that I haven’t done with my past duck dogs. To figure this out, I spoke with Dr. Craig Grant, who spends his working hours at the Shelby Center Hospital For Animals in Memphis, Tennessee.
It turns out, most of what he had to advise me on involves prevention in many, many forms.
It’s not good for any dog to be overweight. It just isn’t, whether it’s 10-percent heavier than ideal weight or 50-percent. According to Grant, starting a pup out properly weight-wise involves following manufacturers’ recommendations, and just learning to read a dog’s body. “Most of us have forgotten what an in-shape, proper-sized puppy looks like. Body condition is the best way to keep your young dog at the right weight, and it’s not a one-size fits all feeding strategy.”
Grant’s right, of course. Two cups of kibble might be ideal for my puppy and be 25-percent more calories than necessary for a different Lab of the same age. He also mentioned that this mission is most easily accomplished by only feeding kibble and keeping track of it.
This is where a lot of us get into trouble, because we don’t factor in treats to a puppy’s overall intake. In fact, this is the main reason for the obesity epidemic in all dogs. Just like a can of Mountain Dew and a couple Twinkies each day can help us pack on the pounds over time, a couple of extra treats in a dog’s diet often provide way too much food. To protect your dog’s joints, give him the best chance of living a long life, and keep him hunting and active, paying attention to the calories going in is essential. Our responsibility here starts the moment we bring our new pup home.
Punch-Drunk Puppy Love
If you want to see a professional dog trainer tense up, insist that your four-month-old pup should meet the random Rottweiler someone is walking down the street. Puppies are dumb and they like to jump on other dogs as a form of play. Some dogs, young dogs mostly, welcome this sort of roughhousing. Older dogs, or dogs with low tolerance levels, or dogs with high anxiety won’t.
I had a trainer tell me once that he sent a pup home with a family that got a harsh correction from an older dog, and it cost the puppy an eye. If your puppy has to meet other, older dogs that they don’t live with (another story), control that situation in every way that you can. This one can go south in an instant, so be very careful here.
Puppy-Proofing the House
Every veterinarian I’ve ever interviewed has had horror stories about dogs eating household objects that can clog up their plumbing in a dangerous way. Grant says the most common is underwear and socks, but he’s heard of or been involved in cases that ranged from tubes of Gorilla Glue to a buzz bait—which is a bass lure you absolutely wouldn’t want to have in your guts.
As someone raising a puppy and twin nine-year old girls, this category scares me. My daughters have a very, very weak grasp on puppy-proofing our house and what it actually means. In fact, I probably should start building an emergency-vet fund because the amount of hair ties, random clothes, food wrappers and other assorted puppy killers left out in our house is a constant source of frustration for me. We are working on it, but the potential for us to be the source of another “you won’t believe this” story worth telling at a housewarming party by a veterinarian is all too real.
Like most potential health issues, whether it’s the slow(ish) creep of weight gain, gum or teeth issues, or gulping down an impossible-to-pass toy, the best way to deal with them is keep vigilant with preventative maneuvers. You can’t protect young dogs from every random thing that might come their way, but you can do a lot of defensive work to keep them as healthy as possible while they are still young, and of course, throughout their lives.