Updated: May 18
I’ve had many dogs of my own over the years, and only two were briefly finicky about their meals. It wasn’t something I worried about because I knew they were healthy and they’d eat when they became hungry. If only *I* could adopt that same strategy of eating only when hungry!!
It’s not uncommon to hear about finicky eaters from my clients though. And this fact does necessitate a bit of extra planning if we’ve got some challenging training or behavior modification ahead of us, where the regular use of food is an integral part of the work we do initially. I write about tempting food options in another post, here.
In most cases, people are accidentally helping to create their finicky eaters. If a meal or two isn’t finished, the tasty additives, or an entirely new brand of food, are trotted out to try to cajole the dog into eating more. Dogs can quickly learn to hold out when the ordinary stuff is offered, knowing their patience will yield better stuff. Clever dogs! I’ve even had clients tell me their dog will only eat if they hand feed them! Please remember, we're talking about healthy dogs.
But who am I to say how you should feed your dog? If what you offer is nutritionally appropriate, and you don’t mind fussing over the meals, or hand feeding, or even pre-chewing the food, more power to you. But here are a few details to keep in mind:
Care needs to be taken that the dog’s diet remains balanced. Speak to your vet if you have questions.
A lifelong routine is being established, so you’ll likely need to commit to all this extra fussing for the long haul.
Other caretakers filling in for you during times when you’re away may not have the same patience and skill to coddle your dog into eating.
As I type, a darling little guest dog is resting at my feet. His loving owners have switched up his foods several times in his short life, and enhancements are added each day. His feeding instructions indicate a quantity of food that is appropriate for a dog three times his size. Thankfully, he doesn’t eat it all! (When I feel along his sides, there’s a slight pad between my fingertips and his ribs. He’s at a perfect weight!)
So each day while he's here, I offer a meal at a set time and give him 5-10 minutes to eat. If he doesn’t eat, I pick it up, and food is offered again later in the day. As expected, he eats when he’s hungry.
My vulture-like dogs would eventually swoop in to eat another dog’s leftovers if I left the room, so that’s why I pick it up. But if you're the owner of a Fussy Fido, you can choose to keep food available at all times, allowing your dog to graze at will, as long as:
The dog is already completely house-trained. (On-schedule feeding yields more predictable output when in the throes of house-training.)
Other household pets won't become overweight by stealing the finicky dog’s food
Bottom line, a healthy dog will not starve itself. Select high-quality food to offer at meals each day, then allow your dog to choose to eat, when hungry. And give yourself permission not to fret about each morsel he does or doesn’t consume!
If you like this article, please share with other dog lovers. :-)
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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