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Food and Fitness


In This Chapter

On a day-to-day basis, you can do so much — from feeding your puppy an appropriate diet to making sure she’s getting the right exercise — to influence your puppy’s health. A healthy puppy is a happy puppy, which, for you, means less chewing, more cooperation, consistent potty habits, and a calmer attitude overall.

In this chapter, I examine dog food labels, how much exercise is good for your specific pup, and various organized activities you and your pup can join together!

Puppy Nutrition 101: Making Sure Your Pup Is Well-Fed


Feeding your puppy the wrong diet affects her health and her behavior. The wrong diet can increase your puppy’s susceptibility to disease, infection, and possibly nervous/aggressive disorders.

You have a myriad of choices when it comes to what to feed your pup: store bought or homemade, premium brand or run-of-the-mill, wet or dry. When nearly every brand on the market claims to be the best, how do you decide? Don’t worry. I’ve done some investigative reporting to get the scoop on just what makes one puppy food different from the rest.


As your puppy ages, she’ll need a different balance of nutrition to keep her healthy. Like humans, older dogs need less protein and fewer calories.

The origins of commercial dog food

Before World War II, dogs ate human leftovers — a tradition that had endured since the moment the first dog was domesticated from the wolf. With the war came economic strain and a weakened work force, which resulted in the development of commercialized dog food. Animal parts unfit for human consumption, which would otherwise be discarded as waste, were processed as dog food. Yum. The first commercial bags of dog food were sold in the grocery stores. Many of those same first brands can still be found today. In the early ’70s, specialty pet stores were introduced, and with these stores came the study and preparation of higher-quality foods.

Essential ingredients — and how they differ from brand to brand

Broken down, aren’t all dog foods basically the same? I’m afraid not. The only true similarity is in the percentage of organic components required to meet a dog’s daily allowance, which is determined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Foods must contain six essential elements: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. These elements make up the minimum daily requirement. But that’s where the similarities end.


Even though the requirement is set by law, each company can choose whatever ingredients it wants to fill that requirement. For example, some foods include soy to meet the daily protein requirement, while other foods include meat or animal protein. Think of it this way: It’s like the difference between eating ten soy burgers to get my daily requirement of protein versus eating a good, wholesome piece of chicken. Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating, but you catch my drift. For dogs, animal protein beats soy hands down.

You can find many brands of puppy food on the market, but they all basically fall into three groupings:

Pick-me-up-anywhere brands: You can find these brand names just about anywhere. A segment on 60 Minutes described how these widely commercialized food companies get their meats: They select from the Grade 4-D categories — meaning those animals that are dead, dying, diseased, or decaying. How’s that for appetizing? In addition, much of the fat in these brands is indigestible, requiring greater amounts to meet daily nutritional requirements.

Premium labels: Found in specialty pet stores and animal hospitals, premium foods originated to improve the quality control and ingredients offered to pets. A higher grade of meat is used, and the food contains a higher quantity of usable fats.

Holistic feed: These foods can also be found in specialty pet stores. The word holistic translates into “human-grade everything.” This means the food has human-grade meats, digestible fats, and a grain carbohydrate mix of the highest standard. Many are even hormone- and steroid-free. Even though holistic dog food often costs more and can be challenging to find, it’s calorie-rich, requiring less bulk to meet the daily nutritional requirement. And theoretically, if you got really hungry. . . .


When searching for the right dog food, pay close attention to your dog’s digestion. Foods with low-quality ingredients aren’t absorbed as well and can give your dog loose stools. A good food should help your puppy produce two to four compact, inoffensive-smelling stools a day.

The following sections discuss each of the essential components in dog food and compare how the various grades of food meet these requirements.

Proteins (recommended 21 to 26 percent of the food)


Protein is the source that determines the quality of the dog food. When you read the label, you see one or more protein sources: meat, animal, and grain protein. Here’s the translation:

Meat protein: Meat protein consists of organ meat or muscle meat. This type of protein is the closest to human quality and is superior to other protein sources.

Animal protein: Animal protein consists of any part of the animal that contains protein — hair, hoofs, lips, and eyelashes are included in this group.

Vegetable or grain proteins: Reconsider foods whose ingredient list leads off with soy, meat byproducts, or crude protein (which includes everything crude on the body from hair to nails). First of all, you have to feed a lot of this food to your dog to meet her daily requirement, and of course, what goes in must come out. Second, unusable protein stresses the kidney. Anything that spells out “gluten” can be translated to mean a hard-to-digest, low-quality protein that is inexpensive for the manufacturer to produce.

Some puppies are allergic to grains found in dog food. The most common allergies are to corn, wheat, and soy. Certain grains also may contain fertilizer residue, which can cause an allergic reaction. If your pup refuses to eat her food or her digestion seems abnormal in any way, consult your veterinarian and bring along the labels from your puppy’s food to help the vet identify any possible aggravating ingredients.

Technical Stuff

The crude protein measurement for a puppy food totals all protein obtained from the animal protein source, as well as the protein found in the grains.

Here are some interesting tidbits about protein:

– The need for protein changes throughout your puppy’s life. Whenever she experiences a temperature change or any kind of emotional stress, her system will demand a certain amount of protein. When stress occurs, your puppy uses more protein (and therefore relies on you to feed her more protein). If your puppy leads a more sedentary existence or you’ve restricted exercise due to a recommendation or injury, speak to your veterinarian about reducing the ratio of protein in your puppy’s diet.

– Ever wonder what the difference is between active, low-active, lite, puppy, and performance foods? You guessed it: the percentage of protein.


– More protein isn’t always better. High-protein diets are used for show or working dogs. If you have a sworn couch potato or a dog who must spend hours alone, feeding her a high-protein diet (which, broken down, equals energy) makes her jittery and hyper.

Carbohydrates (recommended 42 percent of the food)

Some dog food manufacturers meet the minimum daily requirements for protein by primarily using vegetable matter, which contains high levels of carbohydrates. The problem here is that dogs don’t digest carbohydrates the way people do. Human digestive systems are much more complicated. We start digestion in our mouths, where we chew and savor our food. Dogs, on the other hand, chew and gulp, causing their digestion to instead start later, when the food reaches their belly.
Understanding their digestive system is important because carbohydrate digestion is a slow process that’s not cut out for gulping. Foods high in carbs can cause digestive problems in dogs, such as bloating, upset stomach, constipation, and too much stool. Make sure you provide your pup with a diet that contains more animal protein than vegetable protein by picking a food that has two or more animal sources of protein listed in the first five ingredients.


If your pup inhales her food, slow her down. Take a large pan, place heavy rocks in the bottom, and add her food to create an eatable obstacle course. Just be sure the rocks are too large to eat.

Fats and preservatives (15 to 20 percent of the food)

Fats are the costliest ingredient in dog food, primarily because they’re harder to extract and preserve. The fat in the diet gives your puppy stable, eventempered energy. In addition, fat keeps your puppy’s skin and coat healthy, mobilizes digestion, and stabilizes temperature — keeping her warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm.


Sources of usable fats include chicken fats, sunflower or canola oil, fish oil, and lactose-free dairy products. I recommend lactose-free dairy products because after a puppy loses her baby teeth, she loses the enzyme needed to process the milk chemical lactose. Even though a dog doesn’t know the difference between lactose and lactose-free, her stomach sure does — lactose in dogs produces gas and loose stool.

Here are some tidbits to keep in mind when researching fats and preservatives in your puppy’s diet:

– Many food companies have begun adding tallow fat to meet the minimum daily requirement. Used in the production of candles, this fat is inexpensive and indigestible. When a brand claims a “new formula,” make sure the change doesn’t include this unusable ingredient.

– Supplementing fat in your puppy’s diet is often unnecessary. However, if your vet encourages you to increase fat content, use pressed safflower oil drizzled over their meal — approximately 1 teaspoon for small dogs and 1 tablespoon for large dogs. This oil has a high concentration of linoleic acid and is least likely to cause an allergic reaction.

– In commercial puppy foods, check the label to see what preservatives are used. If you’re unsure, speak to your veterinarian or other professional. For example, the preservative ethoxyquin is a recognized carcinogen.

Vitamins (1 percent of the food)

Vitamins do two things: They unlock nutrients from food, and they help the body use energy. That’s it in a nutshell. There are two types of vitamins:

Fat soluble: These vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, are stored in fatty tissue and in the liver.

Water soluble: These vitamins, which include vitamins B and C, are flushed through the body daily — either used up or excreted.

Technical Stuff

Should you supplement your pup’s diet with vitamin C? Not everyone agrees on the answer to that question. Do an Internet search on “supplementing your dog’s diet” and read the controversy. The arguments for supplementing with vitamin C are these: What’s unused is washed from the dog’s body, and in the best-case scenario, vitamin C can strengthen the elastic tissues, making them more resilient to stress. Although no formal studies prove this, negative effects don’t seem to occur with supplements. However, opponents argue that dogs’ bodies can produce all the vitamin C they need.


Did you know that your dog can live three weeks without food but will die within days without water? Water is necessary for all digestive processes, as well as temperature regulation and nutrient absorption. Water acts as a transportation medium, shipping things between organs and out the body.
How much water your pup needs depends on the intensity of her physical activities and the type of food she eats. Panting is your dog’s means of sweating. If your dog is panting, you know she needs a drink. Dry food also encourages thirst. Because dry food contains only 10 percent moisture, your dog needs about a quart of water for every pound of dry food she eats. Canned dog food or home-cooked diets, on the other hand, contain more water (keep in mind, though, that the higher water content doesn’t necessarily make them a superior food source).
If you’re using water from the faucet, have it tested (or test it yourself) to ensure it’s free of harmful contaminants. Faucet water has been known to contain bacteria, viruses, lead, gasoline, radioactive gases, and carcinogenic industrial components that can cause chronic health problems. Department stores, such as Wal-Mart, carry inexpensive water testing kits that test hardness and measure chlorine, pH, nitrate, and iron levels.


The need for vitamins varies, depending on your puppy and her lifestyle. If you’re considering supplementation, speak with your veterinarian first. Vitamins are a rather unstable lot, easily destroyed by light and heat, so investing in a good vitamin supplement may be a smart decision. Ask your veterinarian for suggestions. If you’re feeding your dog a high-quality diet, supplementation may be unnecessary and maybe even harmful.

Some foods have a long list of vitamins. Keep in mind that only 1 percent of the food should be sourced from vitamins. Though the list may look impressive, less is more.

Minerals (1 percent of the food)

Minerals are a lot like their vitamin cohorts. They help the body in its normal daily functions like circulation, energy production, and cell regeneration. A high-quality dog food should have an adequate balance. Oversupplementation can be harmful to your puppy’s development and health. Speak to your veterinarian if you have more specific questions.


Though mineral deficiencies are more common than vitamin deficiencies, don’t supplement your dog’s diet unless your veterinarian directs you to do so. Adding minerals to your puppy’s diet can cause an imbalance that’s harmful to her health. (To discover more about how specific minerals affect your dog’s health, refer to The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, D.V.M. [Macmillan Publishing].)

The absorption of iron, a mineral necessary for good circulation, is decreased by a diet high in soy protein — yet another good reason to avoid dog foods that are high in soy protein.

Interpreting food labels to get more bang for your buck

When considering diets for your puppy, remember that each is monitored by the AAFCO and must meet specific nutritional standards. How each food arrives at those standards is what you need to evaluate.


To pick the right food for your dog, you need to figure out how to read ingredient labels. You also have to consider your puppy. Formulas that agree with one puppy don’t necessarily agree with another. As you pay more attention to your puppy’s diet, you’ll discover that the most costly, aggressively marketed, or cleverly labeled food isn’t necessarily the best. Speak with your veterinarian or another professional.

Figure 19-1 illustrates how the ingredient labels differ between low-quality and high-quality food.
Take a minute to read the ingredients listed in Figure 19-1. Compare the protein sources: The lower-quality food lists “soy” as the primary source. Soy is an inexpensive, though often poorly digested, protein source. I’ll take the lamb meal, please, as listed on the high-quality food. Carbohydrate source is another apt comparison. Corn is an inexpensive source, as is wheat flour. Brown rice is just better for your puppy hands down. Fat source is another biggy: “Animal fat” is a generic term for a class of inexpensive fats. Sunflower oil is a better alternative. Again, if you’re unsure, ask your vet for advice.


Even though some would argue that the high-quality foods cost more, that’s arguable. Consider how much more you must feed your puppy to get her minimum daily requirements — almost double! And if that doesn’t win you over, just remember the idiom “What goes in, must come out!” A healthy diet truly does affect your puppy’s health, saving you loads in the long run as you get to enjoy your life together.
Figure 19-1: Label-bylabel comparison— commercial versus holistic brand.

Feeding your pup a homemade diet

Yes, you can still feed your dog a human-food diet, but you have to make sure it’s balanced. Followed responsibly, the home diet can be modified for your puppy’s age, breed distinctions, and individual needs. Some dogs, regardless of breed, suffer when they eat commercialized dog foods. The natural homemade diet can solve problems related to this condition. The drawback to feeding your dog naturally is that you must commit yourself to prepare balanced meals and to shop for products regularly to ensure freshness.
If you want to try a homemade diet, refer to The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, D.V.M. (Macmillan Publishing).

Understanding food allergies and special needs

Dieting allergies are being diagnosed with increased frequency. Symptoms include itchy face and paws and vomiting and diarrhea.

Allergies to your food and theirs


Your puppy’s system is simply not set up to handle the variation that’s present in our diet. Processed foods are especially problematic because they have chemicals that are neither recognized nor absorbed by her body. If you’re determined to share your plate with your pooch, keep the additions unprocessed. For example, fruits, veggies, or meats are best for your pup.


Avoid giving your puppy dairy products. She’s unable to break down the enzymes, which leads to indigestion, diarrhea, and gas — and I mean loads of gas.

To detect what’s causing an allergy, your vet may begin your puppy on a hypoallergenic diet. Hypoallergenic diets use novel protein and carbohydrate sources that your puppy hasn’t been exposed to. The protein chosen is usually one that isn’t in other types of dog food (such as lamb, venison, rabbit, or fish); rice is often the carbohydrate of choice. (Your veterinarian can provide you with a specialized diet or ingredients to blend.) In addition to all flavored treats, chews and medicines are eliminated. You then reintroduce familiar food groups one at a time to determine your puppy’s allergies.

Special nutritional situations

All puppies are different. One formula just can’t suit everyone. Find out as much as you can about the nutritional needs of your puppy — by talking to your veterinarian, breeder, or educated pet-store professional — to determine the diet that best suits your pup’s needs.


If you have a large-breed puppy who’s prone to growing quickly, don’t be surprised if your breeder or veterinarian suggests feeding her an adult food.

Some puppies have specific ailments, such as sensitive stomach or allergy issues, that require a prescription diet. Your veterinarian can guide you in your selections and provide appropriate foods to keep your dog well.

Keeping Your Puppy Fit

In addition to a healthy diet, your puppy needs exercise to keep her system in balance. One common misconception about dogs is that leaving a dog outside all day is good for her. “She needs fresh air” is a statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you leave your puppy out all day, you end up with a neurotic creature who digs in the yard and barks until the neighbors complain. Proper exercise outside does lead to a calmer dog inside, but “proper exercise” is the key phrase. Proper exercise involves planning ageand size-appropriate activities and setting aside time to join in the fun.

Making the activity age-appropriate


A puppy’s tissues are soft and her bones are growing. She’s as awkward as an infant trying to take her first step. Not to mention that the stairs frighten her. Even though taking your brand-new companion with you on your 5-mile jog would be nice, it wouldn’t be safe. Too much exercise stresses your puppy’s growing body. Your puppy would get distracted and quit or she might demand to be carried. Sure, you want to keep your puppy in shape — an obese puppy is an unhealthy puppy — but puppies aren’t born ready to run endless miles. You have to let her develop first.

Until a puppy is 4 months old, you should play with her (preferably on a long line; see Chapter Home Sweet Home) instead of walking her. Walking directly away from your home confuses her perception of your territory, and extended walks can stress her growing muscles. Note: Short walks in town or at a park in order to socialize her are encouraged!


Play on grass or dirt surfaces. Keep pups off the pavement, except for when they’re going out to potty. Hard pavement is too stressful on their bones and tissues. Tile and linoleum floors are also a real nightmare for puppies because they’re so slippery. Lay carpet strips down on these types of surfaces until your pup gets older.

Don’t just watch — be an exercise companion

Puppies don’t like to exercise alone. They need a companion to frolic and play with. Unless you have a couple of dogs, you need to exercise your puppy two to four times a day for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on her age and breed. I know this sounds like a lot of exercise, but after you get into a groove, it’ll feel like recess in the third grade.
When you bring a young puppy home, she has five needs: food, water, elimination, sleep, and exercise. Yes, exercise is a need. When it’s time to play, you have no choice: You must get involved. Because a walk down the street can be frightening to a new puppy (because of cars, big dogs, and so on), games (see Chapter Ten Fun Games) are the best way to tire her out.


Avoid games like tug of war, wrestling, chasing, or teasing. These games frustrate pups, communicate confrontation, encourage nipping (especially on clothing), and make you look more like a playmate than a leader.

Factoring in size, breed, and energy level

Size and breed are other factors in determining how much and what kind of exercise your pup needs. A German Shorthaired Pointer — a large puppy bred to run around in fields looking for birds — needs more exercise than a teacupsized Poodle. Yes, common sense would tell most people that, but I’m surprised how many people buy a breed for its looks without realizing the amount of exercise their new puppy needs. See Table 19-1 to find out the energy level of your breed (for more information on breed groupings, flip to Chapter Pre-Puppy Considerations).
Table 19-1
Breeds and Their Energy Levels
Bred To
Energy Level
Course fields all day, point, and retrieve
Very high
Stay by master’s side and retrieve on command
Flush and retrieve birds
Run in the fields, point, flush, and retrieve fowl
Pursue fast-moving game
High in spurts and then low
Scent hounds
Follow and trail game
Large game hunters
Challenge large game
Sled/draft dogs
Pull sleds long distances and pull carts to market
Medium to high
Guard territory
Personal protection
Protect home and master
Rescue/water dogs
Rescue humans
Low (in general)
Portuguese Water Dog
Retrieve nets from water
Sheep herders
Herd sheep
Medium to high
Livestock driving
Move sheep and cattle from field to field
Hunt barn pests
Medium to high
Fighting breeds
Originally bred to fight each other or other species
All vary historically
Currently bred for companionship
Very high
Toy Group
Your breed’s energy level determines the amount of interaction needed and how often. See the following table:
Energy Level                       Amount of Interaction Needed                  How Often
Very high                             20 minutes                                                  2 to 4 times daily
High                                     15 to 20 minutes                                         2 to 3 times daily
Medium                               10 to 15 minutes                                         2 times daily
Low                                      5 minutes                                                    1 to 2 times daily


If your puppy doesn’t work off her energy outside, she’ll work it off inside. Along the same lines, if you don’t run her, she may demolish your couch. No, it’s not spite. It’s just energy coupled with boredom.

Fun and games

Do you have a high-energy dog who’s only interested in high-speed fun? The following sports are open to dogs of every persuasion. The only requirement: energy — and plenty of it.


Agility is the Grand Prix sporting event in the dog world. At first sight, an agility course looks like a gigantic playground. The course obstacles include long open and closed tunnels, a tire frame for the dog to jump through, an A-frame for her to navigate across, a see-saw, weave poles, jumps, and much, much more.
Agility fever is very catchy. To find an Agility Club in your area, call or write to the American Kennel Club’s Agility Department (American Kennel Club, Attn: Agility Dept., 5580 Centerview Dr., Raleigh, NC 27606; phone 919-816-3559; e-mail, Web site or the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA, P.O. Box 850955, Richardson, TX 75085; phone 972-487-2200; Web site The USDAA Web site includes a Group Locator directory under General Information.


Flyball is a real heart-pounder. This game is unlike anything else in the dog world. Although the majority of enthusiasts remain in Canada and the north Midwestern United States, I have a strong feeling its popularity will continue to grow.
To play the sport of Flyball, you need a team of four spirited dogs with a slight obsession for tennis balls. The team races together on a relay-type system. The goal of each dog is to run 51 feet to the Flyball box, clearing all four jumps along the way. Once at the Flyball box, the dog picks up a tennis ball and runs back over the jumps to the start-finish line. As one dog returns, another is sent until all four dogs have run.


Swing your partner round and round! This activity choreographs dance routines between dogs and humans. Now you’re really going to feel like you have two left feet. Some groups meet to prepare for competition where both the choreography and the performance are rated. Other groups meet just for fun, bringing training to a new level of fun and aerobic activity.


To play Frisbee with your puppy, she has to know how to catch (the fly) and retrieve (the return), and you have to know how to throw.
To see whether your puppy has any interest, try the following steps:

1. Treat the disk as a dinner plate.

It looks like one anyway, right? For a week, feed your dog on the disk, picking it up after each meal to prevent chewing. Wash and hide the disk until the next feeding.

2. Practicing inside initially, teach your dog playfully with the disk, saying “Get it.”


When she grabs the disk, tug lightly to ensure a secure grip before you get her to release it by offering food or tremendous praise.

3. Now play keepaway.

Show your dog the disk and run a short distance before allowing her to grasp it. To see whether your dog is sufficiently in love with the new object, turn it upside down and slide it a short distance away from you on the floor. When your dog grasps it, praise her tremendously. (Initially, your dog probably won’t want to give the disk back to you. That’s okay, though. Worry about the good retrieving skills after you’ve nailed the grab.)

4. Try the keepaway game with a new disk that hasn’t been used as a dinner plate.

Your dog may react differently. Keep the praise high every time she grasps the disk.

5. Now roll the disk; don’t throw it just yet.

Your puppy will learn to follow and chase and snatch it while in motion. Once she’s addicted to this game, showing her how to catch it on the fly is all that awaits!

Are you sure she loves the disk now? Then you’re ready to teach her to catch and fetch:

1. Place a 10-foot light lead or rope on your dog during Frisbee time; circle your body as you simulate the motion of a flying disk.

2. When your dog shows interest, give a very light toss or simply fly the disk into her mouth and release it as she grabs hold.

Progressively increase the length and distance of your tosses.

3. When she grabs the disk, encourage her to come back.


If she returns with or without the disk, praise her wildly. If she decides not to, tuck quickly on the lead and reel her in. Again, you’re concentrating on the return, with or without the disk.

4. After your dog is cooperating, try the return off-leash.

If you practice outside, stay within an enclosure to ensure your puppy’s safety.

5. Next, practice with five or six disks, encouraging your dog to return to you before you toss the next one.

Sarah Hodgson

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