Puppy Training Diary

Kaylee the Finicky Eater

What can be said about feeding a dog? Especially when it comes to a golden retriever. You put food in a bowl, you put the bowl on the floor and they eat. End of story. They eat anything, anytime, anywhere. Period. That's always been my experience with retrievers.

Most goldens I see on a day-to-day basis are fat. They love food and they love to eat. It's hard to resist when they look so forlorn as if they are starving. Dogs can be very emotionally manipulative when it comes to food. I remember when a substitute veterinarian in San Francisco scolded me because she thought Ricci was underweight and I wasn't feeding her enough. When I asked Ricci's regular vet about it, he assured me her weight was fine and that almost all the goldens he saw in his practice were obese. So perhaps this other vet had never seen a golden of normal weight.

I've already talked about Kaylee's favorite treat being crickets and grasshoppers. So what more is there to say? Grasshoppers quickly went out of season now and the cricket population was dwindling.

I'm embarrassed and chagrined to admit that Kaylee had an eating disorder. Well, that may be exaggerating, but as you read on, you'll see she certainly was not like any puppy I've raised before. If I didn't make my dogs sit-stay for their meals, the food would be gone before the bowl hit the floor. You know what kind of appetite I'm talking about and what I'm accustomed to. I know Kaylee's problem wouldn't last long as we worked on it daily. It wasn't too long before she would be acting like a normal food obsessed golden.

When I observed feeding time at Ken and Trudy's, she had a voracious appetite. She chowed down her food as fast as she could and as all 13 puppies did. When I brought her home, this behavior continued for all of 2 days. Then I think she realized there was no competition for her food, so she simply stopped eating. This is unusual for a golden puppy so I was concerned. In an attempt to get her to eat, I spruced up her food by adding hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, olive oil, chicken broth and freeze dried liver. Nothing worked. She wasn't interested in eating. Sometimes she ate it, sometimes she didn't.

So being the behavior analyst that I am, I decided she needed to work for her food as she did when she was with her mother. She grew up having to work for food by competing and struggling with 12 other pups. This eating solo out of a bowl was just too easy. So I put her food in a buster cube and havaball and she ate just fine. whew! That was a lucky guess. When she was an adult, I always fed Ricci one of her meals via a Buster Cube, so I thought Kaylee was just starting early. But alas, that too lasted only a couple of days. She didn't want to bother with the Buster Cube or havaball either.

Then her sister came over for a play date and when it was dinnertime, she devoured her food just as she did when she was 8 weeks old. At first we separated them thinking they might fight over the food, but Kaylee preferred to eat out of the same bowl as Chloe. And since there was no fighting and Chloe didn't mind, we just allowed them to eat out of the same bowl. By the way, Chloe retained a normal ravenous appetite. She loves food and she loves to eat. That never changed.

But as soon as Kaylee was on her own again, her disinterest in food returned. I was worried. Then I remembered that Trudy is a night person so the puppies were raised on a later schedule than I was giving Kaylee. So I changed her feeding time until later in the morning and she responded well but again, only for about 2 days.

So we were back at square one. I knew she couldn't be starving because she was gaining weight and she had perfectly normal stools. I was chagrined that I broke my cardinal rule and began "free" feeding her. That means leaving food out all day long for her to eat at her whim. I watched her Iike a hawk to see what times she preferred to eat. She just grazed all day. I didn't want to do the strict feeding regimen that works for overweight, finicky eaters. After all, she was just a puppy. I was worried that she was too young and needed her nutrition at this critical stage of her physical development. So I'd try that method once that was no longer a concern for me. No healthy normal dog will starve itself to death. Dogs more likely eat themselves to death. So what was I complaining about? She seemed to be self-regulating when it comes to food.

I left dry food in her bowl all day. I prepared two meals a day for her that was spiked with something yummy such as cottage cheese, diluted chicken broth or hard boiled eggs. When she's really hungry and impatiently waiting for me to mix her food, she'd start eating her dry food. I put the bowl down and she usually finished the entire bowl but often left a handful of kibble. If she ate everything in her bowl, I'd offer a little more and sometimes she ate more and sometimes she refused it. When she wasn't ravenously hungry, she'd pick at her food. I'd leave it out about 10 minutes then throw it away. We did this twice a day. Sometimes she ate, sometimes she didn't. Her appetite varied from day to day and I figure it had something to do with her growth spurts and rest cycles and she responded according to her body's needs. And I suppose if we continued like that forever, it wasn't so bad. It would be easier to keep her from being overweight.

And as part of this new routine, I'm regulated her treats as well. She only got them if she ate all her food. And of course when we did our training sessions she got little tiny morsels of dog treats such as BahBahQues and Freeze dried chicken. Her favorite treat was and still is cabbage, followed by cucumber, apples and bananas. She loves all fruit except citrus and most all veggies. Don't forget that onions in any form are toxic for dogs. I also read in a veterinary journal that a dog almost killed itself from eating too many raisins. So now it's been determined that raisins and grapes are not good for dogs.

While I'm writing about finicky eaters there is a story I must tell as it is probably one of the most extreme cases of this type. One of my clients complained that their obese and spoiled Lhasa Apso would not eat unless they cooked bacon and mixed it in with his food. They were simply tired of constantly frying bacon for him. He was 4 years old. Other that being flat out obese, he was in good health. I told them to give him his regular food at the regularly scheduled time without the bacon everyday and offer him nothing else except water. No treats either. I explained he was healthy, happy and fat. He wouldn't starve himself to death. Further instructions were to make sure he drank plenty of water and to occasionally (once a day) offer a small treat to make sure he still had an appetite. It felt like teasing him, but it was a way to assure the owners that the dog was fine and wasn't eating because he didn't want to eat what was offered. After all, why eat a healthy meal when hotdogs and candy abound?

I was pleasantly surprised when they called me about 6 to 8 months later and said the problem was solved, he ate his dinner every day without any bacon in it and their vet was elated that his weight was back to normal. I asked them how long it took for him to start eating his food without the bacon and they said 9 days. I couldn't believe they stuck it out that long. Most owners would succumb to fear and guilt within 24 to 48 hours. Myself included, but only because Kaylee was a puppy, still growing and needing to eat - a very different situation from the bacon-addicted Lhasa.

Kaylee the Finicky Eater

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