Monday, 1 September 2008

Food, glorious (dog) food: wolfing and other fussy food behaviours

Pardon the punnery, but my daily job involves spending a lot of time with the members of our 40,000+ member strong community, DoggySnaps. Questions about food - which, what, how often - are very common, particularly issues to do with dogs eating too fast... or not at all.

Why is bolting food so bad? Well, just like in humans it can cause all sorts of bloating and digestive issues, from mildly unpleasant flatulence to serious levels of discomfort. Dogs cannot be told to chew carefully, so they need to have their feeding routines and methods adapted to slow them down.

Firstly, it can make sense to divide the day's allocation of food into smaller portions. So if you have worked out how much wet / dry food your adult dog should eat in a day, try serving half at breakfast and half in the afternoon, after any strenuous exercise. An adult dog can be fed just once a day, but knowing that there's more food coming later can reduce the bolting behaviour and really, it just breaks doggy monotony - how would you feel if you just got one big meal a day?

One method that can tackle two issues at once by also providing mental stimulation, is feeding using a hollow toy. Stuffing a hollow Kong with some of the day's portion of food means that your dog will only be able to fish out a few small bites at a time, and it'll mean some concerted effort and concentration. This is particularly useful if they have to remain in a crate for some time, although the maximum they should be in the crate is four hours for an adult dog that has been gradually trained to accept and enjoy the process.

Pet food and toy manufacturers are also getting wise to the problem, and are developing other mealtime solutions. Food bowls that are divided into quarters or studded at the base with long rubber prongs which food gets stuck in take longer to thoroughly empty as each nook and cranny must be investigated.

At the other end of the scale, you have dogs that are just plain fussy. Assuming you've ruled out medical reasons why they might be refusing food, you can work on the behavioural ones. One way to entice them to eat is to not allow the food to sit in front of them all day. When they realise it will be taken away if they don't eat it, the chow will suddenly seem a lot more appealing. So, do the following:

  • Put the food down in the usual place.
  • Wait 15-20 minutes.
  • If uneaten, pick the food up and try again later.

Do you have a particularly fussy eater, or a dog who makes whole meals disappear in the blink of an eye? Have any good, positive training methods worked for you? Add your tips and tricks in the comments.
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