Eating 101

IMG_6133.jpegWe gave Dilly the last dose of his anti-giardia medication yesterday. By all appearances, it seems to be working. We haven’t seen a sign of anything like diarrhea for the past week, though we’ll have him retested in about 10 days to confirm that the nasty parasites are truly gone.

With no diarrhea to wake him, he has slept through several nights. He woke us at 3 a.m. Saturday night, however, with an urgent need to pee, so we think this particular unpleasant aspect of puppy-raising is not completely over. Still we’re hopeful the end of it is near.

Now our attention has shifted to getting this guy to eat. For folks like Steve and me, who’ve raised eleven Labrador retrievers (purebred and crosses), this is an almost unimaginable problem. Labs, even tiny ones, don’t eat so much as they inhale their food, racing to get it into their stomachs as fast as possible, then instantly looking around for whatever else they might snack on. But golden retrievers can be pickier.

For our first week or so together, Dilly would calmly munch his way through a fraction of a cup of dog food… then stroll away. Both the CCI vet who examined him right before he flew to San Diego and our own vet have decreed that he’s a bit underweight. “See how you can feel his bones,” our vet said, probing behind all the hair that makes him look more like a lamb than a puppy.

Happily, he has begun to seem much more interested in food, greeting most meals with this sort of enthusiasm:

IMG_6093 from Jeannette De Wyze on Vimeo.

He’s now consuming almost three cups of puppy chow daily — our target.

Because he was so restrained about eating, we haven’t done what we normally do with our CCI puppy trainees, namely putting their halters on them when we feed them. If you’re a Labrador retriever who thinks eating is the most joyous experience in life, then eating with the halter on should make you associate halters with good times. At least that’s the theory, and Steve and I have had good luck using that ploy to break through the resistance that many dogs initially have toward wearing a halter.

Now that Dilly has gotten more enthusiastic about eating, we finally steeled ourselves to add the halter. Steve put it on…IMG_6125.jpeg…and Dilly looked a little stunned. But he didn’t instantly try to claw it off. In fact, he ate all his kibble before he seemed to realize that something annoying was wrapped around his muzzle.

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Note the wagging tail!

Since then, we’ve dressed him in the halter for several meals, and it’s gone about as well as we could hope. The next step will be to try walking him around the block with it on.

Stay tuned.

Would you call this puppy fatso?

If you think Dean Ornish is a stickler about weight, you should see our overseers at CCI. They don’t care how much we (the puppy raisers) weigh, but they take a dim view of any dog who packs on extra pounds. The logic behind this is understandable. Labradors, a mainstay of the program’s breeding stock, have a genetic disposition toward plumpness. Moreover it’s the destiny of many successful program graduates to be matched with handlers whose mobility is impaired, making it harder for them to get a lot of exercise. Keeping the animals at a healthy weight when they’re young sets them up for a healthier life in service, or so the thinking goes.

But what’s a healthy weight? That’s where things can get murky. Over the years, Steve and I at times have heard our vet declare our current pup’s weight to be ideal, only then to be told by the CCI staff that he or she should be leaner. I’ve learned a catchphrase from my fellow raisers: “CCI Skinny” and have come to equate it with a level of thinness that in a human might be considered borderline anorexic.

Still, we want to be good, conscientious puppy raisers, so we adhere closely to the feeding guidelines: one cup of Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Chow three times a day until the puppy is six months old, then a cup and a half of the puppy chow twice daily, switching to a cup and a half of twice-daily lower-calorie adult dog food after that. But we also use treats as a training adjunct (with CCI’s blessing), and once again, that’s where things can get a bit fuzzy. Some folks dole out pieces of puppy chow kibble as the treats. But this can leave you with no kibble left over at mealtime, if you train and treat enough, which feels downright cruel to Steve and me. So we use Charlie Bears or Costco beef jerky treat bits or other tasty morsels to encourage correct behavior. Recently, we’ve been enjoying great success at getting Adagio to ignore other dogs by having little slices of all-beef hotdogs close at hand.

Maybe because of our treat habits (or because of his avocado raiding), Adagio was looking a tad stocky to us a month or two ago, and we cut him back to only one and a third cup of kibble for each of his two meals. Still, we quailed when at a recent weight check at the vet’s, the numbers on the digital scale climbed to 72 pounds. (In contrast, his sister Apple, who looked identical to him a year ago, now weighs only 54 pounds — and she gets fed one and three-quarter cups for her breakfast and dinner!)

Sure enough, as we feared, when I reported Adagio’s most recent weight on his monthly puppy report, the program assistant shot an email back, expressing concern. “That seems pretty large for one of our dogs, even a male,” she wrote. “Would you mind sending me a couple of photos so we can evaluate his size and make any recommendations for reducing food, increasing exercise, etc, if need be?”

She attached the following photos as a guideline to what the CCI honchos are looking for:

With some trepidation, we tried to position Adagio in a similar pose, captured the following pictures, and sent them back.

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To our great relief, she answered quickly, “He does look great in these photos! You got the right angles, looks like his tummy tucks up and he’s got the indented waistline. I guess we’re just getting some big boys nowadays! 😉”

We’re kind of dreading the advent of fig season this summer, when those succulent balls of sugary goodness drop from our tree like manna. We’ll have to rake them up morning and night and ramp up Adagio’s exercise, as best we can. Because come August 9, he’ll face the fat police in person.