It happened instantly. On Thursday May 25, 2006, Kaylee realized she was a golden retriever. I was thinking it might take another couple of months to program her feeding schedule and mealtimes into something manageable and predictable. But it happened all on it's own.
Maybe Kaylee's food obsession is just set in her genes and at the proper moment, it manifests itself. With Kaylee's sister, Chloe, the time was set much earlier. Kaylee ate more food on the 25th than she's eaten all month long. I placed her bowl of kibble and cottage cheese on the floor and for the first time (aside from when her sister is present) she ate the entire meal without stopping and licked the bowl clean. She repeated this at lunch and again at dinner. I forgot about the extra cup of dry food I leave out for her to graze on. I found that bowl empty. In addition, I always rewarded her with veggies after she'd eaten what I consider a respectable amount of food. So she consumed probably a quarter of a head of cabbage!
Could it be that "chowing down" is just an instinct that kicks in on it's own time. As an example, generally you don't need to train retrievers to retrieve. They are bred and born to do that. It's in their DNA. But often retriever puppies don't start retrieving immediately. Ricci didn't start naturally retrieving until she was perhaps about 4 months old. Kaylee on the other hand has been retrieving beautifully and reliably since I brought her home.
Later I noticed her digging in her toy box and pulling out all the edible bones. She's always enjoyed chewing on them, but she never ravenously chewed with the intent to consume. It would take her a week to go thru half a Greenie. Chloe on the other hand would consume an entire Greenie in 10 minutes, unless she felt the need to hide it somewhere. But now Kaylee was eating her bones and greenies like she was starving half to death. Now that's a golden retriever!! Yes, my girl is normal after all.
So now, instead of worrying about her not eating and whether she was going to be a finicky eater all her life and whether I could use treats as a motivator for training, and a dozen other related thoughts, I had a whole new set of worries. It's a mother's job to worry, you know. We never stop worrying; we just change what we worry about.
So I was up all night monitoring her. I worried that she ate too much. I worried she was going to get sick. Maybe she'd have to go to her potty in the middle of the night. Maybe she would have diarrhea from all the food. Worry, worry, worry. But all was well and continues so. She slept all night. She had a normal stool in the morning. She chowed down her breakfast and then proceeded to wreck havoc as she always does.
I put her up on the bed as I always do in the morning after she's emptied out so she can have some special time there. I walked away just momentarily and I rushed back when I heard a loud commotion. She had jumped from the bed to the nightstand and was sprawled out, hanging on just enough to keep from falling off. It was hilarious to see. I wanted so bad to take a picture, but I also knew she didn't have much time before losing her grip and tumbling down. So I had to rescue her before I could get the camera.
I was happy that she had the fat little belly that puppies should have instead of the sunken-in at the ribs look. Then I had to be more conservative with her food and not leave dry food out all day any more. And I had to remove free access to all those edible bones.
Now that I wasn't obsessed with Kaylee's "eating disorder," I could continue with her training around food. If you have ever had the frightening experience of a dog who becomes aggressive around his food, toys, chewies or bones, you'll know the importance of preventing this problem. It's not uncommon and it's perfectly normal behavior in the canine world to guard one's possessions. But in the domestic setting we certainly don't want to get nailed because our dog thinks we're trying to steal something of his. Many dogs are completely relaxed, unconcerned and will let anyone take anything anytime. Kaylee has that personality trait naturally. But it's always a good idea not to assume this is so and do the food bowl training exercises anyway. My intention is not to make this book a training manual, so if you need details on how to perform these exercise, please read the Help! My Dog Has an Attitude book. But basically, we practice taking away the puppy's food and toys, the entire time praising and rewarding if they are compliant and relaxed. The exercise reinforces that fact that it's a good thing for humans to humans to mess around with the puppy's stuff.