What should I do when my dog snubs food? | The Star

Q: Our dog is not food motivated. What should we do if our dog snubs food?

A: Food is essential to survival. Dogs are scavengers. Many will eat trash or scavenge out of the cat’s litter box.

When a dog snubs food, ask, “Why?” Something is motivating the dog to belly up to their bowl. Clearly they are food motivated to some degree.

There are many reasons to consider. Start by working through the most common.

Stress is the classic reason that some dogs snub food. Fear trumps food. Flight or fight takes over. Address the fear to address the food snubbing. Keep the dog under threshold. This means that dogs should face their fear at levels they can handle, and at which they will eat.

Illness and medication can impact a dog’s desire to eat. Address health concerns and talk to your pet’s veterinarian about the side effects of medications. It’s OK to pause training until a dog is well.

Some friendly dogs are simply full. Why work for food if there is an excess available for free? This does not mean that dogs should be starved. Give reasonable portions and train at times when a dog is feeling peckish.

Over-aroused dogs are too excited about what lies around the next corner. They are like a kid who turns down supper in order to play with friends. Add a dose of quiet and boredom to these dog’s lives.

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Trainer’s dogs are often calmer simply because they go to work regularly. At work, they are asked to lie at the sidelines. Not every outing is exciting. Families can mimic this lifestyle simply by taking their dogs to places that are lack lustre. Take dogs to the mailbox or when going to pick up light bulbs at a dog-friendly hardware store. Not every outing should feel like a trip to Disneyland.

Finally, split training into manageable steps. Far too many people start training skills in the home and then expect the dog to obey in the real world. It’s like taking a child out of kindergarten and into university. The increase in difficulty is too great.

Dogs start making far too many errors. When they are wrong too often, they would rather sniff grass than work for food. When working for food becomes frustrating, food-motivated dogs will refuse to work.

Make a list of different locations and re-drill skills in each location. Train in easier locations first. Work up to challenges. If a dog cannot walk past a bouncing ball in the yard, they’re going to struggle passing a darting squirrel in the park. Food motivation tends to surge when dogs are stress-free, healthy and succeeding at tasks.

Q: Our dog hates the bath. We have tried bribing him with special food. He now runs away when he sees us reaching for cheese slices. What do you do when being positive fails?

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A: If you want a dog to like something, then the food has to come last. It’s like a cat learning to like a can opener. The can opener runs and then the food appears.

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If this process is reversed, so that the food appears first, it turns into a trap. Fearful dogs quickly work this out and can learn to fear the food.

Dogs with intense fears may need to be encouraged into an empty tub. Surprise the dog, at this easy level, with high-value food. When the dog is asking to get in, repeat the exercise with one centimetre of water. Gradually increase the amount of water. Always make sure the food comes last.

Yvette Van Veen is Dorchester-based writer and a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: advice@awesomedogs.ca

This content was originally published here.

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