Feeding Fussy Fido. How to fix your dog’s selective or picky eating habits! (Part 2)
Last week, we set the context to selective eating in dogs and studied the several causes and myths attached with it. Now let’s learn how to fix fussy eaters.
How NOT to fix fussy eaters?
Do NOT succumb to their alpha game – I know how it feels when your pooch looks down at his bowl and snubs at you with those dismayed eyes. But don’t fall for it, that’s his alpha game. He wants you to feel sorry for him, and guilty for feeding him that dog-forsaken thing for food. He wants you to feed him his favorite treat instead. But hey, those puppy eyes are a trap!
Do NOT bribe them with treats – Do not incentivize your dog to eat his food by topping it up with treats or hooman-food. The food itself should be an incentive for his good behavior. You, I and even the dog knows that he’s only going to meticulously eat the treats off and leave the food behind. If that really worked, Popeye wouldn’t have to go through the troubles to make the kids eat Spinach. He’d just sprinkle some Chana Masala gravy over it and wham!
Bribing him with treats is perceived by the dog as a reward for not eating his food. (After all, that’s what bribes really are, aren’t they?! How thankful we must be that our dogs don’t understand the concept of corruption yet!). Also, these treats are often loaded with MSG and other artificial taste enhancers which only make it worse for your fussy eating dog. Once he’s gotten addicted to their taste, it gets extremely difficult for the dog to switch to anything else.
ALSO READ: MSG: The Hidden Addiction
Do NOT hand-feed them – You don’t want your kids to be dependent on you forever, do you? Ideally, the dog should be made to earn every meal. Food should come as a reward for being a good dog. That’s how the wild works, you either work to get your food, or you starve and become food for others. In our homes, it’s enough that he’s getting the meal without having to scavenge for it. Feeding it by your hands will not only make the dog heavily dependent on you, but may also give birth to a hundred other behavioral issues. I’m all for pampering your furry baby, but only once he’s finished his meals on his own. Let your attention be a reward for his good behavior, not a reinforcement to his disobedience.
How to fix a fussy eater?
The first and the most important thing you need in order to fix your picky eater furiend is Commitment. When you start, there is a chance that your dog may not eat on first few attempts. Sometimes for an entire day or even two. There are a ton of things you can try, but they’ll all fall apart if you cave in at the end of the day and feed him his favorite high value food or top it up with treats to convince him to eat.
You’ll have to understand that the dog will never let himself starve. A typical dog can live up to 24-48 hours without food (smaller dogs, up to 72 hours on moderate daily exercise) which is how long it could take for your dog to start eating. While this may sound daunting, we’ll ensure that your dog has ample opportunities to eat and never has to starve. Let me also assure you, the only and yet the most difficult part of this exercise will be to convince yourself that this is for their greater good. You will have to be a strict parent and stay firm against his stubbornness. If you stay strong, I promise that eventually and gradually your kid will eat. I know this works, because my mom tried this on me every time I refused to eat Aloo Palak and Lauki + Chana Dal as a child. (I still don’t eat torayi because mom didn’t put enough effort there!)
Once you’ve ruled out all medical causes listed in Part 1 of this blog, you can work on addressing the behavioral and physiological causes. Start by breaking out your dog’s daily diet in 4-5 smaller meals, one every 3 hours. Offer each meal in his bowl and leave him alone with the food for exactly 20 minutes. Giving your dog personal space while he’s eating is very important. Sometimes dogs feel threatened, distracted or just shy to eat in front of other people. I’m sure even you don’t like the paparazzi beaming into your dinner plate at weddings, do you?
When you return after 20 minutes, remove the bowl whether or not your dog has finished his food. If he’s eaten only partially, remove whatever is left over. Make sure he doesn’t get any food until the next meal (after 3 hours, or the next morning if this was the last meal of the day) and nothing else apart from his food – no treats, no fruits, nothing else edible. He needs to register that this is the only food he’ll get and it will not remain forever if he doesn’t eat it in time. He won’t take long to understand that he has just 20 minutes to finish his meals. Feeding every 3 hours will ensure that he doesn’t starve for too long. He’ll have the option to eat his meals every 3 hours, provided he eats without fuss.
Every time he finishes his meal in full, pet him, call him a good boy – do whatever you do to appreciate him. If he doesn’t eat, or doesn’t finish in full, don’t react. Don’t rebuke him, don’t scream at him and definitely don’t pamper him or convince him (read: beg) to eat. Just don’t give him any attention if he doesn’t eat in time (Yes, your dog can read your facial expressions and emotions.) He will soon realize that the best and only way to get your attention is to finish his meal in full. Love > Obstinacy, after all.
Consequently, you should also increase his daily exercise. Take him out for longer walks at least twice a day, engage in physical games and make your puppy spend his energy. Something as simple as climbing a flight of stairs up and down a few times a day is a great exercise for smaller dogs. For medium to larger sized dogs, take them out to the terrace or the park across your street. The more your dog exerts himself, the hungrier he feels, the sooner he’ll start eating.
Sometimes, putting your dog in the company of another similar sized dog who is not a fussy eater also works. Dogs will eat their food immediately (even low value food) if they see it under a threat from another dog. However, try this only when you understand the other dog and the chemistry between the two dogs, lest you might find yourself in the middle of a paw-fight.
What’s the right food to feed a fussy eater?
It’s a common misconception that dogs do not have the sense of taste. It’s true that dogs have only 1/6th the number of taste buds as that of a human, but most of what we taste is actually taste and smell combined. And since dogs have one the best sense of smell, our estimate is that dogs can taste stuff very well. There are 6 main tastes that a dog identifies: Sweet, savory, sour, bitter, the taste of meat (favorite!) and one other (a taste that’s still unknown to man).
However, it’s recommended that you pick a food that’s closest to their ancestral diet and is predominantly meat based. Dogs need a diet that’s rich in animal proteins and fats. The fat makes the food more palatable and acceptable for dogs, and helps their skin and coat too.
Since you’re conditioning them to eat only one kind of food over time, it’s important that the food delivers all important nutrients including vitamins and minerals necessary for correct growth at his life stage. When he begins to eat without fuss, he’s trusting you with his food. Make sure you choose his food carefully. Steer clear of packaged pet foods that are mostly loaded with synthetic ingredients and toxic preservatives. Like all responsible parents, go natural. Feed real.
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