Yep, we’ve all heard that saying before. But what does that mean when we speak about our furry children? Well, my intrepid pet parent, it means that Fido has learned more about who we are than most of our dear friends!
You see, our dogs (notice I’m purposefully leaving out cats in this conversation; they’re a whole other hairball of wax!) have masterfully observed our routines, idiosyncrasies, and yes even weaknesses, over the months and years of sharing a roof with us. Who will drop their last bite of dinner first onto the floor for me? Young Billy the toddler, or mom, or dad? Who’ll allow the longest leash distance so I can spend the most time smelling the good odors in the grass or sidewalks? We love our dogs, and want to give them as much of the good life as we have, so where’s the harm?
Many conversations in the exam room begin and end with behaviors that we as pet parents thought are benign, innocent, and unintentional at home; then find out that they are the source of unwanted (notice I didn’t say ‘bad’!) consequences, behaviors, and sometimes weight gain. Do you have an overweight dog who gets “just a lick of the plate once I’m done!” or “my kids sneak treats or crackers or leftovers when I’m not aware”? Not only is Fido what I like to call “an easy keeper” meaning they easily pack on the ounces (or pounds), but he has figured out who is the source for all the great calories, and where to keep returning to beg for more! And, moreover, this behavior often leads to a decrease in appetite for their routine dog food, and leads to questions in the exam room about whether to change foods in the near future due to the perceived pallet preferences. Well, if you or I were offered a rare delicious snack that paled in comparison to our daily meals, I’d hold out for that snack more often too! And, keep in mind that our rich modern diets are often way more calorie-dense when feeding the equivalent to Fido!
And, that is where the con-man vs. the opportunist dilemma comes into light. If Fido sits, stays, and stares with his beautiful saucer-like eyes long enough, will he get his sought-after treat? He has learned who to play with and how to play the Game of Snacks (where it’s a rotating challenge of who will give in first, and to the victor go the spoils of delicious treats and leftovers!)
Do you see yourself or a family member(s) as the unknowing peasant (er, I mean pet parent) in the Game? Well, have no fear or embarrassment! We love the Fido’s in our families; and with that love, we want to offer them the best of everything, including allowing freedoms to the fullest extent and food of the greatest spoils. But with that love, we must also balance trust, respect, and expectations within the family rules to make Fido the best family member he can be!
Stay tuned for the next chapter where we’ll conquer how to encourage Fido to be less of the con-man and be more of the family champion!
Dr. Jessica Boudreaux-Milligan is Web-DVM contributor and attending veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL.