Updated: Mar 6, 2019
Author – Sue Belfield (Kassieger GSD’s in the UK)
He/She is your Pet, an integral part of your family and you love him dearly. He lives in your house greets you when you get up in a morning & whenever you return home. He protects you and your property from unwelcome intruders rests at your feet or on your sofa, he may sleep in your bedroom or even your bed. You play ball together, go on walks together, you swear he knows when you are happy or sad and cleverly adjusts his mood to suit yours. You praise & hug him when he's good, scold & chastise if naughty, in fact for all intensive purposes your dog is a lot like having a child which never quite grows up, for he is always partially if not wholly dependent on you for almost every need. All this is wonderful; I truly believe if done correctly this bonding between Pet & Owner enriches the lives of both beyond anything one can describe in words.
However the most IMPORTANT thing to remember is that no matter how much the Dog is part of your family and appears to understand your every word, sign and mood, he is STILL A DOG!! He may have many traits which to you resemble those of humans, you may even prefer his company to that of many humans, but no matter how Human he appears to be, he will NEVER be human he is and always will be, A Dog!! He will therefore always instinctively think, act, react & respond to canine behavior and stimuli.
A Dog’s thought patterns, behavior & responses are completely different to those of humans. A dog has no real understanding of what humans refer to as ‘grey areas’, thoughts such as maybe, if's, buts or also's, do not exist in the canine mind. To a dog thoughts are only in black & white, such as Yes or No, Right or Wrong, Good or Bad. Only humans have reasoning powers for the grey areas of life, a dog does not have the capacity or understanding of reason, he may appear sometimes to have developed reason, but that’s probably due to an already learned behavior pattern on a specific thing. So, as long as you remember this, learn to accept it, relate and react to it, you should have very few problems understand your dog.
The saying, "There are No bad Dogs, just bad Owners" more often means 'Bad dog = Confused Dog, who resides with Ignorant Owner'. An owners inability to THINK DOG often causes a beloved Pet to have serious psychological problems, especially if you fail to acknowledge your dog will never be capable of THINK HUMAN. In certain situations I sometimes wonder who really is the most intelligent, the Dog or the Owner?
Detailed below is one of the most common problems an owner can cause for their dog. I have attempted to show what is happening & why. If after you have read & understood it you may then be able to apply the same theory to solve any number of problems that exist between you & your dog.
Your Dog doesn’t eat. I am not talking about a Dog that is ill, he needs a trip to the Vet. I am talking about the perfectly healthy, otherwise happy Dog except when it comes to mealtimes.
He picks at his food, looks at his dish gives it a little sniff then walks away. You call him to the dish, he declines, so you pick it up to take it too him, he turns his head away, may even give a gulp as if he is about to throw up! You start to make yummy noises, stick your head in the dish & pretend to eat it yourself, foolishly thinking that if he thinks you are prepared to eat it then he will. He watches you with doleful eyes; if he shows any slight interest in it at all you immediately stick it under his nose again. He may give it a momentary lick, you praise him exuberantly, which, if you stop to think about it, is a little ridiculous as no living creature should need to be praised for eating!
The harder you try to entice him to eat the more determined he becomes not to. You stick your hand in the dish and attempt to pamper him more by hand feeding him. He may oblige by crunching a few of the tasty morsels from your hand, ultimately though he turns his nose up once more. You start to get anxious; maybe he doesn’t like this food? So out you go to buy a different brand, with the same reoccurring scenario. What else do you have in your cupboard? Aha, a tin of steak & kidney, you mix it up with his biscuits and rush it over to him, he takes a bit of interest, eats a few more morsels and leaves the rest.
Now you are even more anxious but added to that you are starting to get Angry. In sheer desperation as you are starting to get worried about his weight (or lack of it) you decide to abandon that particular bowl of food and cook him a chicken instead. He eats it with gusto. Oh! Thank goodness you have found something he likes at last, so you rush out to the supermarket to buy a few more chickens and on your return you immediately cook him another. He may (if you are lucky) eat that one too but the chances are that after a couple of days he turns his nose up at this 'Poultry' meal as well. Weeks go by you have cooked this & that, the Dog may eat some of the new culinary delight for a day or so before refusing it the same way he has eventually refused everything else.
By now you have now virtually exhausted every possible meal on your doggy menu and you are almost out of your mind with worry. What's worse is that you are also extremely angry with your pet, getting more & more annoyed at him with every dish of food he refuses. As for your dog, he now flies into a panic attack every time he sees you heading towards him with his feeding bowl & as each day passes is looking more & more like a suitable candidate for the RSPCA to lodge a successful cruelty prosecution case against you. DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? Then below I will try to explain what is happening & how to remedy the situation.
What is Happening & Why
1. Providing you have a correct relationship with your dog (i.e. You are the Master), your dog regards you as pack leader & wants nothing more than to please you. This is how he secures his position of remaining an accepted member of the pack. A very important survival instinct is in play here.
2. Always remember a dog’s sense of smell is very acute & the smell of adrenalin to a dog represents a variety of things depending upon the situation & the poignancy of the scent. Any emotion, which produces adrenaline ie, Fear, Aggression, Anger, Anxiety, triggers a warning signal to the dog of possible pending danger.
3. Constantly offering food to your dog makes the situation worse. By now you are expecting him to refuse the food, so your anxiety level is already high before you even offer it to him. The more anxious you become the higher your adrenalin scent, hence the more the dog fears the food & the more determined he is to refuse it. This in turn makes you angry at him, up goes your adrenalin again possibly leaving your dog groveling in a corner or 'high tailing it' out of your way.
What is happening? Well you are giving off mixed signals. On the one hand you desperately want him to eat but your behavior, body language and body scent is sending a very different message to the understanding of your dog, thus causing his paranoid behavior. Throughout his desperate attempts to please you by avoiding food, the fact is your dog is probably painfully hungry.
It is important to understand these first two points because they are the main driving force of a dog’s basic instinct. In the wild his dam would protect him from doing things, which are dangerous or forbidden by showing a degree of aggression. The greater the danger the more anxiety, anger & aggression is shown by the dam, simultaneously these emotions stimulate her body to produce more adrenalin hence a stronger scent, the stronger the scent, the greater the danger. Simply, the more emphasis you put on the food, the higher your stress level, the greater you’re scent and the less likely your dog will eat. at least not within seeing or sniffing distance of you.
What to do to put things right
Remember below applies only to dogs that are otherwise in good health.
1. First of all buy the food you wish him to eat (all the time). Make sure it is a completely suitable diet for your dogs needs. From this day on YOU MUST NOT give your dog any type of tidbit, no little bicky, no scraps from your plate, NOTHING!!!! OK!!!
2. If your dog has not been eating correctly for weeks or longer do not over face him. Start with a small amount of food. Say for example only half the amount you would like him to eat in a day. (Remember you cannot & should not be trying to put all his weight on at once).
3. If you are using dry complete food remember to moisten it with water before feeding, but as a tip do not leave it to soak. Dogs often prefer to have something to crunch in their diet. So put the water over the biscuit just prior to putting it down. Always feed freshly moistened food.
4. Make his meal; do not make a fuss of him prior or during making it. MOST IMPORTANTLY do not show any signs of anxiety. Easier said than done you say? Not if you firmly believe me when I say that by following all of these simple steps your dog WILL EAT, therefore you have nothing to be anxious about have you?
5. Decide on a place in your house or outside where you can feed your dog away from either seeing or smelling you. This way if you cannot avoid your anxiety feelings at least you wont be around for him to smell you.
6. Carry the dish to the designated feeding area without making any eye contact with your dog. Do not show any type of emotion at all, not even excitement. Just act in the same way as you would when putting food on your own table. In other words it’s, 'No big deal!' After all, eating is one of the most natural activities in the world and as much as you might believe differently, anorexia is a human, not canine disorder.
7. Put the food down then leave the dog alone with it for about one hour.
DO NOT be tempted to keep peeping through a window, or opening the door to check on him. For if he spots you watching at this stage, he will almost certainly still refuse to touch the food.
REMEMBER TO ALWAYS GIVE ACCESS TO FRESH WATER.
8. After an hour has passed go and retrieve the dish, once again without any fuss or bother. It is still imperative that your actions and emotions are kept to a normal level. It would be very unusual if on this first attempt he has eaten any of the food because the ‘Problem’ feeding pattern you have already developed with him will still be very strong. So PLEASE BE PREPARED for failure here and DO NOT be disappointed or disillusioned in any way by it at this early stage. What is important for you to remember is that this is only the first step of his entirely NEW FEEDING regime. So please don’t be downbeat because he will pick up on that (as explained earlier) instead think positive – after all at each stage you are always one step nearer to solving his/her whole feeding problem.
Remember - Not to offer him any more food until the next day. That includes Titbits!!
9. However, if you are one of the really, really lucky ones he may have eaten his food. If this is the case, DO NOT make the mistake of over reacting by making a fuss. Once again remember this is a natural act, no big deal. Just calmly and naturally pick up the bowl, perhaps saying "Ok, Good boy".
10. You are now already on your way towards solving your dogs eating problem. As each day passes increase the food given a little at a time. Do not go overboard and if he ever fails to eat on any particular day, just reduce the food again the following day and so on and so forth.
11. If all swimmingly well with no hitches at all (aren’t you the lucky one). By the fourth or fifth day you should have been able to increase your dog’s food up to the amount he should normally be eating on a daily basis. From this day on Never be tempted to add more food than he needs or is willing to eat. Letting him gain the weight he needs slowly and naturally without over facing him with too much. This will ensure his eating habit along with his weight stays stable.
ONCE YOUR DOG EATS - Follow the instructions given above in 6 through to 11.
IF YOUR DOG DOES NOT EAT - Follow instructions given below.
12. If he has not eaten the food, DO NOT worry. As before pick the dish up as if everything is normal, say "OK, Ta". DO NOT without any show of anxiety or anger. Put the food into the fridge. A few hours later - take your dog for a walk, a play in the garden or any normal activity you do together which gives equal pleasure. This is to enable you & him to forget about your food / feeding relationship.
13. Sometime later in the evening, at least four hours after your last attempt & preferably just a couple of hours before you retire to bed, retrieve the food from the fridge, put in a little hot water, give it a stir and put it down for him again in the same place as before and just as naturally as previously instructed in 6.
14. Once again leave for an hour, without peeping. If he refuses to eat it again, pick back up in the same way as described in 12, EXCEPT this time dispose of the food into the bin as this is the last time he will be offered food today.
15. The next day repeat items 6, 7, & 8. Please believe me when I say that if you keep rigidly to these instructions your dog will eventually eat properly. No dog will starve himself to death on purpose. Once he does not have your anxiety to contend with half of his problem is solved and the other half of the problem will be solved as soon as he realises you only offer him one chance to eat. He then has two choices he either eats or he doesn't, it is up to him. Of course now you don't care less if he eats or not, do you!!! Remember the less you appear to care (i.e. show or smell of anxiety) the more quickly he will start to eat naturally.
By following the above method your dog has a set time & place to eat his food before you remove his chance. More relevant is that his competition for food is NOT YOU (his master) but the amount of time he is given to eat it. i.e. Eat it now or loose his chance for the next 24hrs. The mistake many owners make is in them trying to act as the competition for the food in his dish. This is often the start of the problem because his natural instinct makes him refuse to compete for food against you, his pack leader.
Please try to follow these instructions and please do not give in too easily. He will eat properly in the end, I promise. Good Luck.
Sue Belfield (Author)