Owing to our ‘family-oriented’ culture and strong parental instincts, we can sometimes get overly caring for the children of the household. Seeing that pet dogs in many homes are treated much like children, we can only make the correlation that most pet owners feel the same way about their dogs. Very often, we are inclined to be borderline obsessive about anything the dog is doing mostly because dogs cannot talk our language and express themselves like human beings.
One of the prominent issues is when a dog stops eating a certain type of food or shows no interest in one or a few of the meals.
“My dog only eats when I hand feed him”
“My dog does not eat anything besides milk and bread”
“My dog eats just one meal through the day”
If you are well involved with dogs or know enough people who own a dog, you would definitely have heard the above rants at least once. Canines at home being fussy eaters in India is not an uncommon incident. Let us rewind our observation of canines a little to see the eating habits of wild and domesticated dogs.
History of dogs and other canids
Dogs of all kinds, wild, feral and domestic are well known to be carnivores and omnivores in a few cases. Their primitive instinct calls them to hunt for their food and only then do they get to eat it. Wolves, foxes, hyenas and other canids always survive by living in packs and hunting their prey to be able to have a decent meal. Strays in India and around the world are also scavengers who have to work all day sifting through garbage and other leftover edibles along the road.
Relation to pet dogs
Now what does this have to do with pet dogs, you may ask; when all their generations have received their meals without any effort. On the contrary, this ‘free-feeding’ culture is quite prevalent in India more than in other countries. We have objectified our dogs to be anything but dogs. Often neglecting the fact, that every breed was developed for a purpose; and would ideally only get fed after they have worked enough in their specialisation.
When dogs of all types used to work for their food, their hunger would be evident and well justified. When they do not work for food, let alone serve their daily exercise needs; food comes as a luxury to them instead of a natural need.
The real problem
‘Dog not eating food’ is not the dog’s fault or anything environmental; as long as you have gotten the dog cleared medically. If it is a behaviour issue in the dog, we must understand what we are doing incorrectly that a dog may act fussy about eating its meals.
Here are a few things you as a dog owner should NOT be doing for the dog to respect you and the food provided to them:
Hand-feeding your dog
Chasing the dog with food and pleading them to eat it
Acting helpless or defeated around the dog when they do not eat
Adding further garnishings after the dog has already refused to eat.
Leaving the uneaten food throughout the day
What seems like a complicated problem has a very primitive and simple approach to it. If you want your dog to eat well and eat on time, let them work enough that they feel hungry. Don’t you feel more hungry on workdays after having exercised your mind and body for extensive durations? On Sundays, we can pass off with brunch because we usually do not work the same amount.
If every day for your dog is a Sunday, with minimal to no exercise of the body and mind; where do you think they will burn off the energy from the previous meal?
Secondly, having a fixed structure like place and time for the meal is the mark of a leader. Chasing the dog with food in your hand begging and pleading her to eat is the mark of a follower, almost like servant/slave to the dog. Although many will take pride in this, do remember the dog has no respect for you. They like to manipulate humans just like little kids do.
Now that we have established that most of the ‘fussy eating’ pets acquire this behaviour due to ‘helpless’ pet owners acting as if missing one meal is the end of the world; let us try and explore the ideal strategy to ensure that we do not see such challenging instances every day.
Start off with the basics, making your dog hungry. Make them work for their food by giving enough physical and mental exercise before every meal. They feel deserving of the food once they have done enough and are much more likely to eat.
Make sure you abide by a fixed meal pattern and add a little discipline to it like ‘wait’ for their food. More importantly, if the dog does not eat that meal, remove it within 15-20 minutes of ignoring their food.
It is very important to control one's emotions and NOT chase after the dog trying to force-feed them. Dogs can very well be comfortable for up to 48 hours without eating, skipping one meal is not the end of the world. Ideally, fasting your dog once in a year for a meal or whole day has its own benefits altogether.
Also remember, once you have put a certain set of ingredients for that particular meal, do not try and add garnishings like chicken, cheese or egg once the dog has refused to eat it. This will make things worse by convincing the dog that we are eternally enslaved by them.
As a fellow obsessive pet owner, I would love to shed light on one aspect that should sum this all up.
If we respect our dogs, we must treat them like dogs and not as humans. Psychologically, it can really confuse them about their identity and affect their mental stability.
One must put in enough research on how a dog thinks and behaves to be able to understand and communicate with them effectively. Do not hesitate to consult a dog behaviour expert near you for help with their psychology.