It's not always about being a princess
Many of us have experienced the worry of owning a dog that is finicky. They turn their noses up at their daily ration, they eat sparingly or after a couple of weeks (or worse yet, meals) they decide they just don’t want what’s on offer. What’s a dog owner to do?
Ruling out a health concern is important. Especially if this is an elderly dog or a young puppy, consult your veterinarian to make certain there is not an underlying medical cause. This is doubly so if this is a sudden problem that you have not experienced before. Likewise, take the dog’s mental status into account. One of the most obvious signs of stress in dogs is the refusal to eat. A newly rescued or rehomed dog or one whose life has undergone a significant (in the dog’s mind, remember!) change may be reluctant to eat. For those dogs a different approach is needed. However, if your dog will accept food rewards, is in good health, happy and spunky otherwise, there are a few easy things you can do to improve their eating habits.
A healthy, happy dog will eat if she is hungry. If your dog doesn’t eat what you’re offering within 15 minutes, pick it up. Don’t offer it to her again until her next scheduled meal. Once she is hungry, she will figure out that if she doesn’t eat what is placed in front of her right away, it will disappear. And what if she’s not hungry? That’s okay too!
Just like with most people, dogs often respond more readily to things that are harder to come by than to things which are simply handed to them. You can give your dog the opportunity to “earn her keep” in a couple of ways.
Use her kibble as training rewards! Mix a small amount of cheese, chicken, and hot dog in with it to keep her guessing (and it’ll add a little pizzazz to the kibble). While kibble may not be the best training reward in a high distraction environment, it’s just fine at home. And heck, why not try it? If your dog will work for it in high distraction too, all the better!
Work to eat puzzles like the Kong are a great, easy way of allow your dog to earn her kibble. They are especially handy if you are confining your dog, or need a way to keep your dog entertained while you are otherwise occupied. Mix up the puzzles so it’s not always the same one. Other “WTEs” include the Atomic Treat Ball, Linkables and for the canine genius, Nina Ottosson’s Dog Brick. Of course, you can make your own using empty juice or water bottles, shoe boxes, paper towel rolls or anything your mind can come up with.
You can play games with your dog using her meals. A great example of this is one of our Daycare dogs. If you offer Alex a piece of kibble, he will often turn up his nose. But toss it across the room in a fun game of Go Get It? He’s all over it and can’t wait for another turn! You can play a doggie version of Three Card Monte. Put a piece of kibble under a cup (leave the other two empty). When your dog correctly identifies under which cup the kibble resides, click and let her have it!
And last, but certainly not least, you can allow your dog to scavenge. Take a handful of her kibble and just give it a toss into the backyard. Let her run around searching for it. It’s like a canine egg hunt! You may find that the local crows learn your schedule and start to make dives for errant treats. Great! Now your dog has a little competition and can chase the crows between finding her meal a piece at a time. Yeehaw!
Meal times don’t have to last just 30 seconds. Use your dog’s food to teach her and keep her mentally stimulated. And chances are she’ll become a better eater over time. It does take a little patience, but hang in there!