Does your dog's meal time stress you out?
Maybe your dog refuses to eat, and you're worried your pup will starve.
Or maybe your dog counter surfs and begs ridiculously for food at the dinner table.
Why do you think your dog does this?
If your dog refuses to eat, is it because your dog doesn't like the food, or there's anxiety at play?
If your dog begs you for food, it's because he wants it, of course. Is there a reason your dog can't have something to eat while you do?
Let's tackle these doggie food dilemmas to bring joy back into meal time for you and your dog.
1) Establish a routine.
First, if your dog is perfectly healthy but refusing to eat, you need to build a solid, unwavering routine to teach your pup, "hey, this is how meal time works, and this is what's on the menu today." If you think there is a medical reason for your dog's lack of appetite, contact your vet.
Pick what you want your dog to eat, and stick with it. As tempting as it is to try new brands, sprinkle in cheese and offer food at all times of the day, don't do it!
You need to set a feeding protocol in place, and buckle up, because this is one of the few times you're going to need to put out some tough love.
Once you have the one food you're feeding your dog, set a time for your dog to eat. You need this to be a predictable schedule (8AM, 12PM, 5PM, or whatever you want it to be). Keep in mind that when teaching an unwilling dog to eat, you should feed your dog out of a bowl, not puzzles.
Feed a small portion of the allotted meal, and work up to the whole portion over time. You want your dog to be successful, and eating 1/4 cup of food is much more manageable than eating 1 cup of food.
Feed your dog in the crate with the door closed. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Your dog doesn't get to come out until he eats the all the food, or the 20 minutes is up.
If your dog eats everything before the 20 minutes is up, it's a party!
Let your pup out of the crate and celebrate with you.
If your dog doesn't eat within the 20 minutes, pick up the bowl and put it away.
There is no party, and the food doesn't come back out until the next mealtime.
This is why a set meal schedule is so important. It's to create predictability for your dog to know when food is coming again, but also a reminder for you about the next time you're allowed to give your dog food to eat.
You're going to feel bad, and worry that your dog is going to starve. It will be okay. Your dog will be hungry, and eventually eat, even if not the whole bowl. Hang in there!
Over time, when your pup sees the food bowl, he'll go running into the crate, waiting for the food to come. Food will become exciting!
Reluctant? I get it. I felt the same way when doing this with my dog River. It took about 3 days for her to get over it and start eating everything put out for her regularly. In fact, we went through it twice.
The first time was when I first got her, and she didn't want to eat in general...probably because of her anxiety.
The second time was just for kicks because she's brilliant and wanted to see how much different stuff I'd keep buying for her. (I took her to the vet to rule out medical issues, and laughed at how she just outsmarted me, considering how I got sucked into her plan and forgot all about this protocol)!
So, I understand very well how easy it is to worry about getting your dog to eat.
I immediately went back to this basic food training, and now she is a thriving, happy dog who runs to her crate for her meals again. It really does work!
2) Give variety.
Now that your dog is eating consistently during meal time, switch up the food your dog gets. Rotate proteins, try some canned food, dehydrated raw, frozen raw, home cooked, whatever you like.
Imagine if you had to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for your whole life.
Sounds pretty boring, right?
How happy would you be with that?
Food is supposed to nourish the body and taste good. I have watched first-hand, the healing power of food.
My first dog Piper had severe allergies. By the time she was 2, we had exhausted all of the medicines on the market and the dermatologist said there was nothing else he could do for her. Her fur was always dry, belly oozing with sores, and she was so itchy all the time that she had to wear a cone all day to prevent her from scratching and gnawing til she bled.
Along came a workshop about holistic remedies and cooking for your dog. I thought, what is there to lose?
Turns out, this workshop set Piper up to live some of her best, healthy years before dying from a car crash (if you haven't heard the story, click here to learn about seatbelt safety).
I learned how to cook for Piper and choose the right foods to help her body. Within a few months, the sores subsided. She was less itchy, and fur starting to shine a bit. We transitioned to home cooked raw, and Piper shined, inside and out.
She was happier, more energetic, and she never wore the cone again for the rest of her life.
I am a huge advocate for "human food" for dogs.
If you're interested in trying it out, here are some resources:
Balanced home cooked recipes from Pet Sage (the owner of this store is the one responsible for Piper's thriving health!)
I also love this food chart, which is my go-to when putting together snacks for my pup.
Easy things, like a can of sardines or a scrambled egg with a little sesame oil.
Regardless what you feed your dog, keep it fresh.
Change it up often, and even think about temperatures - cold, warm, room temperature. Variety enriches a dog's life, expands their palate and brings new experiences. Have fun with it!
3) Eat together.
I love food.
I see it and want to eat it. I smell it and want to eat it. I'm in another room and am thinking of the next meal. I'm pretty sure dogs are the same way.
So, my philosophy is that dogs eat at the same time as their humans.
This eliminates begging at the table, because your dog is eating too. If your dog is eating, then he can't be begging. If your dog finishes eating in 2 seconds, you need to plan it out differently.
If your dog eats wet food, feed your dog out of a slow feeder. Freeze the slow feeder so it lasts longer, or divide up the food into 3 different food dispensing toys (a Kong, Topl and Tux) and freeze those. Set up little stations for your dog to go back and forth to lick the food out of his toys.
If your dog eats kibble, set up 5-10 food puzzles (that your dog can solve independently) and create stations for your dog to go back and forth to sniff out the food. Use a little kibble across several different puzzles. The more puzzles you put out, the longer time you have to eat.
If you still need more time, grab a bully stick, marrow bone, or other long lasting chew and give that to your dog for "dessert."
(P.S. If you're cooking something dog-friendly, there are no rules that say a dog can't have a portion of your dinner too..., your dog will sure thank you for that!)
Basically, set the meal time rules, give different foods to eat, and eat at the same time. These 3 basic ideas will get you started in establishing rules and expectations around food with your pup.
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