The other day I realized a weird situation where about Nancy’s ratio between”dinner” and “treats” has really shifted. I estimate now she’s probably eating 60% treats at this point. How’d that happen?
You see, for the past 13 years I’ve tried to keep Nancy healthy. At first it was because of her condition when I adopted her. Who knows what kind of food she had her previous 4 years before I met her. Not much, at least the last while.
I felt I needed to get her the most healthy food I can find if she had any chance of getting fit. I became a bit of a food snob on her behalf. No preservatives, highest quality ingredients, all meat, no filler, blah blah blah. Even her treats weren’t exactly junk food. (And as some of you dog owners know, that isn’t exactly cheap, either.)
Then she became quite healthy looking, quite the athlete, actually. Was it the healthy food? Her previous conditioning? Maybe I could have eased up a bit, saving a few bucks, letting her have more of the naughty stuff that all the other dogs get. I did have to change foods at one point. Too much protein, the vet said.
And as for sharing my food, well, I was a bit of a hard-ass there too. I wanted her to be polite, but always know she would get what she needed. Never from the table. Always had to wait until I was done first, so there’d never be any begging or bugging or expectations – and definitely not every time. I could hear my mother’s voice say “Dessert is special; you don’t get it at every meal”. And yet eventually, there somehow was always some kind of “dessert” for Nancy. That was one of the first disciplines I eased. Not sure how or why.
Then there was the “cheezer”. When I was having a special meal, I’d wrap a piece of cheese around a chew and give her that just as I was about to eat. You know, a kind of “share the abundance” kind of thing. I’m not sure how long until that went from special to routine. But what happened one day, maybe a couple years ago, caused me to rethink this whole treat ratio.
It was the day I worked late past dinner time, and Nancy wanted … something. We just walked, her food and water bowls were brimmingly untouched, and she just wasn’t into getting scratched. She wouldn’t let up. She sat, staring at me, pushing her bum down again to remind me she was sitting. I didn’t know what she wanted until I glanced at the clock.
Could she be telling me that it’s cheezer time?
“If you’re hungry, eat your food,” I told her. She would just respond with expelling air from her snout and pushing her bum down again in a way I assume is the dog version of when teenagers do the same, stomping a foot.
So from that point I started really observing. (Or at least starting moments later, after I got her cheezer prepared.)
There was also this new behaviour where she expected a treat every time we came back into the house. This started as some training to get her to poop more often. Without getting into that too much, she was holding it in for some reason. It was obviously uncomfortable. I’d shower her with treats when she did go, so she’d poop more (… that is to say, “more often”). Again, somehow we got to this weird point of expectations for treats every time we got back home. (Not to mention the weird looks I’d get screaming “oh, good pooper! Good pooper!”, but that’s for another post.)
And the leftovers. That became routine too. I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten more than 3/4 of a piece of meat. Nancy has always been a pretty cool, “too proud to beg” kind of girl. She’d just keep an eye on me from across the room, knowing what’s coming. Then one day I found myself giving extra treats when I was done dinner, either my leftover food, or something else I’d scrounge up if I wasn’t eating something Nancy appropriate, ever aware of that subtle but sure look from across the room. (I know!)
While I was trying to figure this all out, I kept staring at her completely untouched food bowl. Did she not like her food anymore? Should I change it up? Nope. That didn’t work. I just had a bunch of half filled bags and different food filling the bowls.
I should mention that she would eventually eat. But only when she was absolutely certain she wasn’t getting any more treats.
I complained about this with a couple of friends who were very entertained by the demanding girl. “She likes what she likes,” one of them laughed, “Good for her.” I rolled my eyes, wondering if I was explaining the extent of this treats issue. But before I could continue I was gently interrupted with what turned me completely around on the idea.
“She’s 17. That’s amazing. And she’s so healthy. You’ve done a great job. At this point, withholding treats to get her to eat more healthy is not going to make her live another 10 years.”
That shut me right up. (And put a little lump in my throat, to be honest.)
So I haven’t given up. We don’t just get a big pile of treats for dinner. But I’ve stopped worrying about ruining her appetite and stuffing her all up with all the necessary nutrients. She’s getting older. She’s sleeping more. Probably dreaming of those treats she’ll get after the walk when she gets up. I’m okay with that.
But what’s really not lost on me, and the real point here, is that over the last 13+ years of me trying to train her to be polite and eat healthy, she was in turn training me to give all that up – along with a big chunk of that steak I was eating.
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