One of the common criticisms of positive reinforcement training methods is the fact dogs can become overweight or obese because we use food. Frankly, this is a very valid concern and obesity is one of the leading killers of dogs nowadays, which is a problem we don’t want to contribute to when training.
Here are some tips to help you keep your dog fit and healthy whilst implementing a training plan:
1. Measure your dog's food out on a daily basis
Don’t do it by eye or think you know how much to feed. Measuring it out means that you aren’t accidentally overfeeding your dog.
2. Feed less than the packet says
There’s evidence to suggest that packages of dog food, especially kibbles, recommend you feed a quarter more than you actually should. Look at what the package says and then remove a quarter of that amount to help maintain your dog’s weight rather than increase it.
3. Don't Leave food down all day
Known as free feeding, this way of feeding is significantly correlated with dogs that are overweight. It also makes it hard to identify if your dog is ill or feeling off. A dog going off their food is one of the first signs of illness and being able to see this immediately can save you a lot of money at the vets by identifying problems early!
4. Use your dog's food to train
Especially if you’re training in a quiet environment, such as doing homework at home, then your dog’s food is likely to be the perfect thing to train with. You can do this in little bits throughout the day or use all of the food at your dog’s mealtime, whatever works best for you. Remember if training at mealtimes, if you’re in a rush, there’s nothing wrong with feeding a handful of food for a correct behaviour rather than one piece at a time. Dogs learn best in short sharp bursts, if you’re got hundreds of pieces of kibble that’s going to far too long of a training session if you feed them one at a time!
5. Cut down your dog's food
Remember that if you use treats you’ll need to either increase your dog’s calorific expenditure (exercise them more!) or decrease the number of calories they receive at mealtimes. If you train lots, especially with high calorific treats such as cheese, then you need to remove a handful or two of your dog’s meals to ensure that you’re not having too many calories.
Do you have any other tips for keeping your dogs fit and healthy whilst training? Let me know in the comments!