Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Dog Gone Problems,
We have a 9-month-old puppy and a 2-year-old adult dog. When we got the puppy, she was fearless. She ate all the time, and would even eat her food and my older dog's food. She never turned a treat or snack down.
Just recently she won’t eat. She’ll hide food outside and eat it later. I can’t help but notice that she seems intimidated by my older, male dog. I put food down at the same time but apart from each other and she won’t touch it. She will go to another room and won't eat no matter how much I will coach her. I have hand fed her a few times and she’s still very reluctant but will eat a portion of it and then walk away.
Today I fed him inside and her outside. Still she didn’t eat. What can I do differently to get her to be confident enough to eat? She turned down a cheeseburger yesterday! So unlike her normally. This has been going on for about three to four weeks now. Please help!
Eating is one of the most important activities to dogs. In the wild, dogs spend up to 90% of their time looking for food. When they do find some food, they eat in order of rank. The highest ranked dogs eat first, then the next group and so on.
My guess is the puppy got too close to the adult when eating and was corrected, or the adult dog is sending signals trying to intimidate the puppy in order to get her food. It's also possible there is a medical issue going on. Be sure to have a vet check the puppy to rule that out.
But since you mentioned thinking the puppy was intimidated by the adult, I'm going to offer a dog behavioral suggestion. I'd recommend you move to a structured feeding regimen. It's possible your older dog is sending some signals to dissuade the puppy from eating so he can have her food. This is not something to punish the older dog for; it's a very natural response.
Have your older dog eat first while you monitor the situation with your puppy, who should be a minimum of eight feet away. Pet and speak calmly to your puppy while your adult dog eats. If he left any food in his bowl after finishing, empty it and replace the bowl on the floor.
Have your adult dog leave the room. If he refuses or wants to linger, entice him with a treat and lure him out of the room. If necessary, put the dog behind a closed door far enough away so the puppy can't see or hear him.
Next, go and get a small handful of food for yourself (enough for you to take five or more bites). Eat the food with the pup watching. When you finish, give the pup her food. If you need to encourage a bit, that’s OK. You may need to hand feed the puppy at first. You can also try making a game of it and toss pieces of kibble for her to catch. This is also a great way to develop eye and mouth coordination.
I like to assign a command word to anything my dogs do on a regular basis, and eating is no exception. My dogs all have unique command words — grub, lasagna and feast. Dogs can read human facial expressions, so using words that make people laugh and smile is a great way to help motivate a dog.
Each time your pup takes the first bite of food, say the command word (let's go with "meatball" as an example). After a month or so, your dog should have made the association that “meatball” is the command word to eat. I'd assign a different word for your adult dog the same way.
Make sure to supervise meal times for the next month to make sure your puppy doesn’t get too close or disturb the adult dog at meal time. Make sure to also dump empty food out of both bowls when they finish so there is nothing to fight, guard or compete over.
I'd also look into getting your puppy into a puppy socialization class that includes puppy play and socialization. These classes are a great way to develop social skills and confidence, which will help your puppy with this problem and many others over her lifetime.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest:
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest
These are the very good dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest. All are up for adoption as of Aug. 3. For more information on the adoption process and to see all dogs available for adoption, visit nehumanesociety.org/adopt.
All adoptions are being done via appointment only. The application can be found inside each animal's bio on the Humane Society's website.
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