Beware the Flabrador, my friends.

When Martha was a puppy, I took her to the vet for regular check-ups and weigh-ins.  I first met her when she was only four weeks old, and brought her home at eight weeks.  I was so excited to watch her grow up and gain weight.  She was such a beautiful, healthy puppy.

So you can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when the vet gently informed me that Martha’s remarkable weight gain had gone a bit too far.  She  was getting fat.  It was then I learned that certain breeds are especially predisposed to weight gain.  Martha was becoming a Flabrador.  What do to?

Changes in diet and exercise help both dogs and humans to lose weight.  The techniques are not mysterious or difficult.  This article about dog weight loss covers the basics.   Martha learned to love a wide variety of vegetables, including bell peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, and leftover salad (with dressing, no onions or croutons, thank you.)  I learned (in consultation with the vet) that she could be perfectly happy and well nourished while eating about half or less of the recommended portion size on the dog food bag.  The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to resist those soft brown eyes and that sweet face looking up at me whenever food was anywhere around.  Drooling was even worse.  With practice, however, you, too can learn how to resist such a beggar.  No matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise,  your dog is really not in danger of starvation.  Just say no.  And stop looking!

Keeping Martha slim has been a work in progress.  She’s at her ideal weight now, at nine years old, and I know that makes it easier for her to get around and stay active.  One of the greatest risks for older dogs is excess weight gain placing a burden on the dog’s circulation, breathing, and mobility.  Any tendency to arthritis, dysplasia, or muscle weakness is made much worse by excess weight.  The challenge of keeping your dog fit and trim is well worth the health benefits.  If we could only manage to take such good care of ourselves.

Listen to the rhythm of the sleeping dog.

Martha sleeps for many, many hours each day.  She comes into my office, curls up in her crate, and I don’t hear from her until around noon.  That’s when she wakes up, stretches, and sits beside me with her thousand mile stare, telling me that it’s time to go out to walk and pick up lunch.  Sometimes, if she’s lucky, she gets a little leftover lunch – salad is a favorite – and she likes to sit with her head on my knee while I eat, looking up with great hope and occasionally drooling.

After lunch, she sleeps again.  Sharing my office with a sleeping dog is mostly wonderful.  But when she starts to snore softly, usually around 3:30 in the afternoon, it’s all I can do to keep from cuddling up next to her.   I try to listen to the rhythm of her breathing, and allow that to bring a calm focus to my work for the rest of the day.

The magic of the trail

There is some kind of magic that happens when a group of humans and dogs walk together. We all start as strangers. The dogs are variously excited, curious, nervous, shy, or even afraid, finding themselves among others of diverse sizes, shapes and temperaments. The humans are friendly but cautious, watching their dogs reacting to the adventure about to begin. We introduce ourselves. Most of us will more easily remember the names of the dogs rather than the names of their humans. We take a final attendance check, and head out on the trail.

Three to five minutes into the walk, the leashes start to come off. Some dogs surge ahead, but others hang behind, close to their humans. Some of the dogs will stay on leashes for the entire walk, and that’s just fine. We watch our dogs chase up and down the trail, chasing each other, circling back to check on us, sniffing for a treat here and there. Big dogs, little dogs, running and playing and clowning but always moving forward, moving together, two legged and four legged, along the path to the destination of the day.

Sometimes we walk a loop trail. Often we walk to a certain point or place and then retrace our steps. As the walk progresses, we shift positions, walking and talking with different people in the group, different paces, many conversations. The dogs shift position, too, finding some pack order or rank as they move along, becoming more comfortable with each other, working together to progress along the path.

We stop, at least once, for a short rest. We stop sometimes because of the rules. They are few and simple. First, you must always be able to see the person behind you on the trail (unless you know you are last.) If you can’t see that person, you must stop to let them catch up and come into view before proceeding. Second, if you come to a turn or intersection in the path, you must stop until everyone catches up and knows which way to turn. That’s about it.

The rest is short because the dogs will tend to pick on each other if they stop moving forward for too long. Sometimes I think that’s true of humans, too. We turn back, or move through the loop, now relaxed and happy in our company, on to the end of the walk. We water our dogs, load into the cars with many fond goodbyes and wishes to see each other again soon. We have created a peaceful, happy community of humans and dogs for a little while. Our souls are the better for it.

She thinks she’s still a puppy.

It’s Monday morning and another week begins.  Martha ran around like a puppy on Saturday during our  group walk on the Migratory Way, and we stopped for a cooling off swim in the river before heading home to the air conditioning.

And yesterday the effects were evident.  She was very quiet, didn’t come out of bed for her breakfast until I prompted her, and slipped while jumping up on the couch.  She’s had lameness for about a year now, helped by acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and some pain meds.  It’s caused by arthritis in her spine, according to the vet, and there’s really nothing to be done but treat the symptoms when they occur.

I have always known she would grow old sooner than me.  It breaks my heart to see her in pain.  But I’ll let her run like a puppy whenever she wants to, for as long as she can, because that’s who she is and always will be.