Tag Archives: finicky dogs

Is your pup a picky eater?

In the decades we’ve been dog owners, we’ve never had a picky eater. We thought we did, once, but we were wrong. When Fran got Booker, her 7-year-old Boston Terrier, he wouldn’t eat the first couple of days. Turned out he didn’t like the food the breeder used. As soon as he got home and got a whiff of the stuff our other dogs ate, his no-eating days were over.

We have a couple of friends whose dogs are finicky. Interestingly – all of their dogs, as long as we’ve known them, have been picky eaters. We found that fascinating.

Rewards have many forms

One of the prime directives of dealing with dogs is that they always do what’s most rewarding. Dogs are pretty simple souls – they don’t have long-term agendas. If they get attention and better-tasting food by turning up their noses at their food bowls, they learn very quickly to turn up their noses. If the attention and tasty treats are rewards for joining the “clean plate club,” chances are that’s what they’ll do.

So we thought about our friends and their picky-eater dogs. And came to the conclusion that, on some level, they were encouraging their dogs’ behavior. Either by hovering over them for each bite, constantly offering alternatives, even yelling at them when they don’t eat.

You may wonder why a dog would like getting yelled at. Dogs don’t really understand the difference between “good” attention and “bad” attention. They just know the person they adore is paying attention. They have their person’s undivided attention for as long as they’re being a pain in the butt. 

Picky eater routine

If you have a finicky dog, try to think of the routine that surrounds daily feeding. Do you obsess over every bite your dog takes? Are you catering to your dog by offering choices? Have you ever lost patience with his behavior?

picky eater dogs leave their food untouched in the bowl

Change, if you want it, takes some determination, patience, and an ability to resist those puppy-dog eyes. If you know you can’t, it’s probably smarter to admit things aren’t going to change and adjust your thinking instead. 

The first step is to decide when, what, and where your dog will eat. You get to choose, not your dog. Pick a schedule and stick to it. The dog gets a limited time to eat. 10 minutes is plenty. After that, the bowl comes up, goes in the fridge, and is presented at the next meal. And every meal until eaten or goes bad. 

This is a test of your will, but not your dog’s. No dog will voluntarily starve. If food is presented, and he’s hungry, he’ll eat. Unless he thinks “something better” is coming. 

Figuring it out

After about three days, he may figure out that nothing else is on offer. It may be the hardest three days of your life, but it could be worth it. Won’t it be great when you don’t have the stress of worrying about whether or not your dog will eat? When you have a way of knowing when your dog doesn’t feel well because he doesn’t eat? Rather than a “mood” he’s in?

If you do want to convert your dog into an eager eater, use a brand and flavor of food that he liked for a period of time. We know some people choose to mix a couple of different brands so that if one company changes formulas, there will be some consistency in their dog’s diet.

Think it through

Of course you do need to take into account any medical condition your dog has and any regular medication he takes. If there is a medical reason your dog is “off his food,” that’s a different story entirely. 

Our dogs do have preferences – Torque doesn’t care for fish. Booker can’t eat anything with pork. So we’ve found a food that has no fish or pork. Ours get special “treats” in their bowls on occasion. If we’re making scrambled eggs, we’ll put an extra one in for the dogs. Sprinkled on top of their regular food, at the regular time. If we’re making tuna salad, they get an extra celery stalk. Diced onto their regular food, at the regular time. 

We know it’s weird that our dogs love celery. But they do, so we treat them to it. When we choose. 

Our friends with the pick-eater dogs know all this stuff. They’ve chosen not to “fix” it, because, on some level, the current situation works for them. And that’s perfectly okay. As long as we don’t have to listen to them complain.

Your dog’s eating habits – change isn’t good

Have your dog’s eating habits changed? Is she fussier than she used to be? Is he turning up his nose at used-to-be favorites?

Cause for concern

It’s an old joke that “habit is the most powerful force in the universe.” But there’s also a lot of truth to it. And dogs are even more entrenched in habits and rules than people! Dogs love schedules. They love rules. And habits make them happy.

Changes in eating habits are significant. The reason may not be serious – but it’s always worth checking out.

Seasons & reasons

The cause for the change could be anything:

  • Normal appetite suppression in hot weather
  • A bitch coming into heat
  • Food recipe has changed and isn’t as palatable
  • Toothache
  • Tummy ache
  • Feeling ill
  • Stress
  • Parasites
  • Age
  • Disease
  • Schedule change
  • Travel

How do you know?

One of the reasons we’re not fans of “free feeding” (leaving food out all the time) is because it’s hard to judge exactly how much the dog is eating and whether there’s a change. If the household has more than one person feeding the dog, it may be impossible to judge. Same situation if there’s more than one dog – how do you know which one’s eating what? Other than seeing one get fat?

If a free-feeding situation is the one that works for your family, try to put some controls in place so you know if there are changes. Have only one person in charge of feeding the dog. Use a measuring cup to judge exactly how much is offered each day. And take notes on a calendar to chart any changes.

Up or down matters

We’re lucky that most of our dogs have been good eaters. There have been a couple of exceptions, and they both fall into the category of “when you know better, you do better.”

dog eating

As young people, we had a Boston Terrier named Daemon. He needed to be coaxed to eat, and we got pretty creative (and desperate) to make it happen. Because we were convinced that he “had to” eat kibble, we actually wound up resorting to adding people-food toppings. His favorites were Chunky Steak and Potato Soup and Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Neither is something we’d recommend for dogs now, but we didn’t know anything about dog nutrition at the time. It turned out that Daemon had liver cancer. We tempted his appetite enough to keep him strong as long as he was comfortable. It may not have been an ideal solution, but it worked for the time and circumstances.

Picky puppy

The other dog who didn’t want to eat was Fran’s Booker. When she picked him up as a puppy from his breeder’s home in Virginia, he didn’t eat much of anything for the first two days. As a new mom – it drove Fran crazy. Booker’s eating issues were resolved when we switched to a different food. He just didn’t like the first one. At home or on the road, he’s been a champion eater ever since.

Do not pass “Go!”

For the rest of our dogs – we have a house rule. If the dog doesn’t eat, go directly to the veterinarian. Do not pass “Go!” Do not collect $200. And step on it.

If your dog’s eating habits change – pay attention. It may be nothing. One of our dogs had a bad case of gas. Another had a tooth ache. That started us on brushing our dogs’ teeth and it hasn’t been an issue since.

But if it is “something” – your diligence may help save your dog!