Q: My dog is such a picky eater and all she will eat anymore is hot dogs or cat food. I’ll need to board her soon and I’m concerned that she won’t eat when she’s away from me, so what should I do?
A: Well, the truth is, dogs are not instinctually picky eaters. Remember this: We (humans) create (canine) picky eaters by giving in and catering to their demands. Owners experiencing this problem are always concerned that “their dog will starve to death” if they don’t feed her after a day of two. Sympathetic natured owner. Smart dog. You do the math.
Very conscientious and loving owners unwittingly allow their dogs to order them around, and in talking to owners about this particular behavioral concern, we often uncover other behavioral problems.
Puppies learn pretty quickly how to manipulate the humans in their pack. They roll their eyes and look at you just so. They sigh. They stare longingly at whatever it is you are eating, and involuntarily lick their lips. It’s very hard to say no.
But… You must. Allowing them to beg once encourages them to do it again. If you respond favorable twice to begging behavior, you have just created a pattern of bad behavior. Bad Human!
Changing the habits of a picky eater is problematic, but advisable for several reasons. First, from a behavioral aspect, this particular dog learned through repeated behavior that all she had to do was wait long enough and “Mommy” would feed her what tasted better. From a medical aspect, a diet of hot dogs, bologna or cat food, simply does not meet a dog’s basic nutritional needs, and in some cases may cause specific health problems. Dogs are omnivorous and require a wellrounded diet that includes meats, vegetables and grains.
And as with us humans, a poor diet frequently results in obesity and medical problems. Before beginning a behavior modification program to change your dog’s picky eating habits, have her thoroughly examined by your veterinarian.
You will want to ensure there is no underlying medical condition creating this behavior. If your vet’s diagnosis is that your dog has you trained, then it is time to implement some tough love.
The best advice still, of course, never start. But talk to your veterinarian or qualified animal behaviorist if you already have a picky eater.