Dr. Marty Becker
Does your dog have the basics -- food, water, shelter and veterinary care -- but never does anything but sit around? Pretend your house is an exhibit at the zoo. You wouldn't want visitors to come by, look at your dog inactive and bored, and think, "Oh, that poor thing!" would you?
A dog's body is made for motion -- as a hunter and a scavenger -- and thanks to centuries of selective breeding, also for countless physical tasks in the service of humankind. If you want to see it for yourself, just watch for your dog's prey drive. They all have it, though it's buried deeper in some dogs than others. Everything about a dog is designed to see and go after potential prey: the way his eyes focus, the way his nerves are routed, the way he's on his feet and after that squirrel, tennis ball or the opening of the treat drawer, or the movement toward the door for a walk before even the dog himself seems to fully process what's going on.
An animal with that strong an instinct to take off running wants and needs exercise to be happy and healthy -- no matter how cushy his spot is on the couch.
Get your dog back to his roots: He needs to move, to work, to play and to prey to be healthy and happy. Movement helps a dog shed excess pounds as well as behavior problems. And keeping him active is good for you: Studies show you'll be more likely to be more fit as well, and you and your dog will be more tightly bonded.
Long before the canine family tree was split by human intervention into such diverse branches as the Irish setter, the bulldog, the Alaskan malamute and the Yorkshire terrier (and all combinations thereof), feral dogs spent their waking hours using their wits and their bodies to search for food. Sometimes they hunted and sometimes they scavenged, but they were on the move, working for the next meal to keep them alive. When humans came into the picture, many kinds of dog became even more active. The majority of breeds worldwide were developed through selective breeding to help hunters and farmers get and protect their own food supplies. All the retrievers, hounds, terriers, setters, shepherds and collies of the world are a testament to these work-dogs, who are born with a drive to earn their keep by working alongside their owners.
Exercising your dog is a responsibility, right up there with providing him with food, water, shelter and veterinary care. Without an adequate outlet for their energy, even sweet, easygoing dogs can quickly develop a trifecta of serious issues: bad behavior brought on by boredom, excess weight and potentially significant health problems.
The best exercise for any dog is something that engages both body and mind. These activities can help your dog prove to you the tenet all veterinarians hold dear: A tired dog is a happy dog.
You can start with something simple, or dedicate your life to training and competing with your dog -- it doesn't matter, as long as you start. As the saying goes, "Every journey starts with a single step," which is why there's a natural place to begin. Walking! What are you waiting for? Grab a leash and hit the road with your dog!
dog who wolfs
Q: We got our dog from a rescue group. I know she was starved by her previous owners because she inhales her meals. Do you have any idea how to slow down the vacuum act? -- via e-mail
A: Your pet's history may have nothing to do with the behavior. The instinct to eat as much as possible, as fast as possible, is so strong in some breeds (and some individual dogs), that they can make themselves ill with their rate of consumption. These are dogs who will "counter surf" and "garbage dive" for any scrap of food they can scrounge.
Labrador retrievers, beagles, bassets, cocker spaniels, corgis, dachshunds and pugs, as well as mixes with these breeds in the family tree, are among the dogs I think of as prone to wolfing. Not coincidentally, these are also the dogs who most often lumber into my veterinary office looking as if they need to lose a pound or 10.
Eating too quickly is a bigger problem than just eating too much: Wolfing can lead to excessive gassiness and possibly contributes to a life-threatening emergency commonly known as bloat, where a dog's stomach enlarges and twists, requiring a fast surgical response in a bid for survival.
To slow down a wolfer, choose a couple of smooth stones (make sure they are too big for your dog to swallow), wash them, and put them in your dog's dish with his food. Arrange the food so the dog will have to move things around to get to his meal -- thus making him take his time. You can also find bowls designed to make eating more time-consuming, such as the Brake-Fast bowl that makes eating more difficult, or Le Bistro food dispensers that slow the rate of food availability.
You can also try using food puzzles (toys that make a dog work to get food out), or even scatter your dog's meal in the grass or on the vinyl flooring and let him "graze." -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
show adoption bump
-- Dog and cat adoptions have increased while the number of pets given up has decreased. According to Pethealth Inc.'s look at the numbers from 850 animal welfare groups across the U.S. and Canada, the relinquishment of dogs declined 5 percent; 6 percent for cats. The killing of pets for population control decreased 10 percent for cats and 7 percent for dogs. Despite the struggling economy, adoptions rose slightly: Cat adoptions increased 3 percent in September 2010 over the same month a year ago; dog adoptions were up 2 percent. The company collects data from shelters that use its PetPoint software system.
-- Full moon madness? A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association looked at emergency room intake over an 11-year period and found that emergency room visits increased 23 percent for cats and 28 percent for dogs during a full moon period.
-- The harder a mouse has to work for a treat, the more rewarding the animal finds the activity. According to Scientific American, mice were trained to press one of two levers that would dispense different flavors of sugar water. One of the levers was increased in difficulty, up to 15 times the effort to pull than the other lever. The mice preferred whichever water they worked the hardest to get. They seemed to think it was tastier as well, which was gauged by the rate of consumption.
-- African dwarf frogs carrying salmonella have sickened at least 113 people, most of them children under 10, with a median age of 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The frogs have been traced back to a single breeding facility that houses 800,000 to 1 million frogs. Experts strongly suggest pet frogs not be kept around children. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.