A non-fussy guide for fussy eaters (part 1 of a series on feeding your dog)

Dogs, evolutionarily speaking, are supposed to be the walking bellies of the animal world, ready to consume anything vaguely edible they encounter in their day. Considering the impressive and disturbing variety of things they’ve managed to eat, their reputation is well-earned.

Our conversations with our dogs often revolve around food, possible food, potential food, “I could eat that,” “can I eat it?” and “I eated it all.”

And yet, we are still reminded every once in a while that dogs can be, well, fussy. Sometimes in really weird ways.

Three days ago, we bought some kibble with probiotics to give them a little crunch in their life and a break from yogurt. Both of them were over the moon when they heard the crinkle of the bag, and Fruit Bat danced in tiny circles with excitement. We poured the food, and Elsa dove in with enthusiasm.

Fruit Bat did not.

While Fruit Bat made her sad “I haven’t had my dinner!” ears in our direction, Elsa crunched away, occasionally looking up with an expression that clearly said to her sister “Sis, dude. It’s NOMS. Why you not eating it?”

We had the same question, because Fruit Bat was clearly a very hungry little dog all the way up to bedtime.

Mama1 made a last ditch effort before bed and offered Fruit Bat a single piece of kibble by hand. She took one sniff and gobbled it down like the tastiest treat. Mystified, Mama1 tried again. Same result. Couldn’t keep the kibble in hand fast enough for the Fruit Bat.

We then put the kibble on a plate. (Weird, but so is Fruit Bat) What do you think happened? If you guessed “she inhaled every last piece,” you get the prize.

Her problem wasn’t the food. It was the BOWL.

A bowl she has happily eaten and drunk out of for years.

But put that kibble in it, and suddenly she just couldn’t, even when she was incredibly hungry.

Our best guess is that some combination of THAT kibble, whether it was size, smell, shape, whatever, in a BOWL registered as a dangerous situation for Fruit Bat. We did rescue her from a parking lot where she’d been abandoned at 3 months old, so every now and again, we notice a weird issue that probably has to do with her first few months of life. It’s not an uncommon thing with rescue dogs.

But seriously, Fruit Bat? Small kibble in a BOWL sets you off?

Weird dog.

So today’s lesson is to read your dog’s signals when they won’t eat. It’s not always about illness, at least not physical illness. Sometimes, it’s about something that doesn’t really even make sense to humans. Before giving up on a food, try a different location, a different plate or bowl, or a different presentation, and watch your dog’s reaction.

By doing this, we’ve learned that Elsa won’t eat until Fruit Bat has her food and is eating. Fruit Bat won’t eat small kibble out of a bowl, only off of a plate. Elsa doesn’t like her food cold, and she doesn’t trust food served outdoors. Fruit Bat doesn’t like food that sticks to her whiskers (whereas Ada couldn’t care less if it sticks to her whiskers – more food for later!)

Why is this important? Won’t a dog eventually get hungry enough to eat anything anywhere?

Well, yeah. But there’s a good chance they’ll also be stressed enough to gulp the food and barf, take up a new stress habit, or wait until everyone else in the house has gone on to something else before they sneak to the food and eat what they can.

With service dogs especially, it’s good to make sure your dog eats when the food goes down at regular and predictable times. Regular meals means relatively predictable bowels. Predictable bowels means you don’t spend an hour walking around with your dog begging them to do their business before you can take them into a place of business.

That’s one of the reasons why we don’t advocate “free feeding” even if a dog is able to maintain their weight on a free feeding regimen.  We’ll talk more about the risks of free feeding in tomorrow’s post.

But in conclusion for today’s post: Dogs are weird, man.

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