My friend Jacqueline is a devoted pet owner. If reincarnation is actually possible, I’d happily come back as one of her dogs, chickens, or horses. It is no secret among our community of friends that Jacqueline is also a terrible cook. Dog bless her, the woman could burn water. She hates doing dishes and eats out at least three or four times a week.
Jacqueline is also preparing for her wedding. She is unhappy with her current weight, and also wants to prepare her dogs for the at-home wedding by building good behavior. We were sitting and chatting over a bottle of wine, and came up with the perfect solution to a) help Jacqueline lose weight and b) get better behavior from her dogs.
Jacque is all carnivore. She loves steak, pork chops, hamburgers, chicken, and a variety of types of seafood. I proposed to Jacqueline that each time she went out for a meal, she try to save at least 1/3rd of her protein from that meal and bring it home. These tasty tidbits would become, you guessed it, training treats!
What’s that? The sound of my living room filled with gasps of shock from my readers? “You mean, you want her to feed people food to her dogs?” Meat is not people food. Meat is dog food, lion food, cat food, snake food, etc. Believe it or not, dogs did eat for millennia before processed kibbles and treats laden with preservatives, sugars, and chemicals. Guess what they ate? Yep, meat. I don’t know when it became so culturally abhorrent to feed meat to a dog, but rest assured, meat for dogs is not a problem in dog culture. Personally, I would much rather feed my dogs meat which is actually human grade than a processed treat with ninety seven ingredients, only two of which I can pronounce.
When Jacqueline began saving her portions for training treats, she found that she was obviously eating less. She’d always struggled with portion control, but found the task much easier when she knew her leftovers would be put to such good use. The improvement she saw in her dogs behavior from increasing the value of the reinforcement was very reinforcing to Jacqueline!
As a result of our new plan, she had a steady supply of very high value treats, and quite a variety of treats at that, allowing her to avoid reinforcement satiation (a dog gets tired of one particular kind of treat because he receives it so frequently). If she had more treats than she’d use in a given day or week, the leftovers went in a bag in the freezer to be saved for a later date. Sometimes the leftovers would get mixed with kibble and canned dog food and frozen into Kongs. Other times, bits were stuffed into food dispensing toys or hidden for “doggy scavenger hunts.”
Because it was important that Jacqueline’s weight loss plan didn’t correlate with a weight gain plan for her dogs, we had to slightly cut back the dog’s rations of canned and kibble foods to adjust for the high value treats we’d introduced. Fat was removed from cuts of meat. Jacqueline began ordering heavy sauces on the side. Jacqueline, a fan of onions, did not give her dogs meats which had been cooked with or in onions, which are not healthy for dogs and can be toxic.
We also increased the amount of exercise Jacqueline and her dogs got together. I explained to her that many behavior problems are actually symptoms of boredom and under stimulation. We set a minimum goal of 25 minutes per day for the first week, increasing that time each week by five minutes until we’d worked up to an hour of exercise a day (in numerous short sessions). Types of exercise were varied, Jacqueline would walk the dogs, play fetch, tug, “chase me” recall games, etc.
This plan worked out really well! We accomplished a number of goals, not the least of which is that Janet has lost 20 pounds in ten weeks! She also now has a variety of reinforcers available to her at all times, increased physical fitness for herself and her dogs, and better, more reliable, more enthusiastic behavior responses from her dog. Her dogs are more stimulated, physically and mentally. It’s a win/win/win/win/win/win situation (one “win” for Jacque, one for each of her five dogs).
The only downside I can possibly see is the expense she had to pay for those dress alterations!
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