Is Your Dog A Fussy Eater?

Is Your Dog A Fussy Eater?

For most people, their dogs seem like they’re always ready to eat – anything, anytime. If it’s food, the dog wants it.

But for others, they are constantly trying to convince their dog to eat like a parent with a toddler refusing to eat their broccoli.

For some people it has been a constant source of stress from day one with the new puppy. She didn’t eat on day one and the owners got worried and tried to make the food more appealing again and again until the point the dog won’t eat unless she’s in a highchair at the table being hand fed fresh roast chicken and gravy that must be precisely 48 degrees celsius and served on a ceramic plate.

So why are some dogs so fussy? And why should we care?

Why should you care if your dog is fussy?

It’s only natural that some dogs are more food motivated than others, so why should you care if you have a fussy dog? From a behaviour perspective, there’s two main reasons that I wouldn’t want a dog to be overly fussy. These are:

1. As the owner I get to choose what I’m feeding my dog. I will choose the healthiest option I can and then I want the dog to eat it. End of story. I don’t want my job to become a constant challenge of searching for food my dog will eat today.

2. Training with food is useful and I want to be able to use it. For this to work, the dog needs to be motivated for the food ie hungry for it.

WHY?

Dogs That Are Taught To Be Fussy

(aka dogs that are teaching their owners to feed them tastier food)

Fussy eating is most often a learned behaviour. This is a common problem I see and this is how it usually happens:

The day the owner brings home their new puppy or recently adopted dog, the dog isn’t keen to eat what is presented to them. They turn their nose up at what is offered. The owner leaves the food out for them just in case they get hungry later.

Later, the dog still hasn’t eaten and the owner begins to worry. The dog must eat! Some owners are so concerned that the dog must be sick or that the dog is starving itself. As their concern takes over, they try to offer the dog something more appealing. Wet the food, put gravy on it, try chicken. Each time the dog refuses food, they try something tastier until the dog finally eats!

The dog has just learned a lasting lesson: if you refuse food, better food will come. I’ll hold out until I get something better. The dog has trained the owner!

Why did the puppy or dog not eat the first time then? Usually when a dog is settling into a new home they’ve gone through quite the change, they’re a bit stressed, or just too overwhelmed or distracted to worry about eating so much. Within a few days, they’ll settle into their normal eating patterns.

Are Some Dogs Born With Less Motivation For Food?

Some dogs just aren’t as food driven as other dogs – for example, a sighthound may be less food crazy than a labrador. This doesn’t mean that they need special diets or effort to get them to eat though. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t increase their motivation for food or train them using treats.

While you may never expect your dog to be as food crazy as the neighbour’s Lab, you can improve the food drive of just about any dog if you so desire.

How to Increase A Dog’s Food Drive

When it comes down to it, all animals need to eat.

If you don’t eat, you don’t poop, and if you don’t poop, you die.

Increasing food drive may start with making the dog hungrier, aka feeding them less. The biggest struggle here is people feeling bad or worrying that feeding their dog less is going to instantly starve their dog to death.

I have yet to meet a dog that couldn’t be taught to have a stronger motivation for food if the owner complies. The ONLY time I have not been able to increase a dog’s food drive is when the owner just can’t bring themselves to stop giving the dog free treats and leaving food out for them just in case they get peckish.

But Won’t He Be Hungry??

Yes. That’s the point.

This is how you cure fussiness and stop having to bend over backwards trying to get your dog to eat.

Plus, being able to use food as a reward makes training easier. If all we have to do is make sure the dog isn’t being overfed or spoiled to achieve this, why wouldn’t we?

Most pet dogs are overfed and overweight too. It’s healthier for a dog to be lean and to work for their food. Your dog will actually live longer and be happier if they’re using their brains to work for food through training or enrichment activities.

How It Looks In Reality

If you need to make your dog hungrier (and therefore less fussy), how is that going to look? It depends how much food they’re currently eating, what kind of diet it is and whether your dog also needs to lose weight or not.

For some dogs the only thing that needs to be changed is to stop leaving food down for free feeding and only feed at set times. For other dogs, a reduction in quantity of meals is required, or switching from 2 meals per day to one.

If you’re training with food, you can train with the dog’s morning meal instead of giving it to the dog in a bowl and then give nothing else until the next meal. The quantity may be the same, but is fed through the dog working for it and learning at the same time.

As always, take into account the entire daily intake of food. Many people make the mistake of feeding meals in bowls and then adding in chews, treats and bones and thinking it doesn’t count towards the entire daily intake. Everything your dog ingests counts! This includes dental chews and pigs ears, in fact these common extras like pig ears are usually high in fat content and filling!

What To Do At Feeding Times

If you put down your dog’s meal and they turn their nose up at it or sniff it and walk away, immediately pick the food back up and put it away. Offer it again ten minutes later and do the same thing but this time, it’s put away until the next meal with no extras in between!

I once had someone tell me her dog was extremely fussy and I suggested this strategy. She said she’d tried it for days and it didn’t work, the dog didn’t eat for days! Well it turns out the dog did eat – it was being fed shortbread biscuits by another family member the entire time, but no one really thought that would count. They still got worried that the dog didn’t eat it’s dog food and gave in once again to offering more enticing foods.

As the dog’s owner, you can decide what the dog is fed and how much. If you need to make a switch from your dog being so fussy that you change to a more appealing food, to giving the dog whatever you decide, you need to be more persistent than the dog. You need to be firm with your decision! A dog can go three days without eating and then they will give in if you’re consistent.

If you need reassurance that your dog won’t die, think about this: dogs are descendant from wolves. All dog species can live in the wild and survive by scavenging and hunting (working for their food). They are adapted to only getting a meal here and there – no set times and sometimes days between food. Your dog is still living a lavish life in comparison and no healthy dog will let themselves starve.

Remember, making the change is healthier for your dog in the long run. A few days of being hungrier will be worth it long term and over time, your dog will learn to appreciate their food.

Disclaimer: Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but if your dog suddenly goes off their food and it is unusual, take them to the vet.

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Work Your Dog’s Brain! Fun Mind Games For Your Dog

Work Your Dog’s Brain! Fun Mind Games For Your Dog

The Importance Of Mental Stimulation For Pets

These days, everyone is busy. This means that many dogs spend a lot of time at home in the house or yard with not a lot to do. Yet at the same time, our dogs have often been bred to work and use their amazing brains to do jobs for us. Like people, exercising the brain can help a dog to feel tired, even more than physical exercise. It’s important to leave your dog with things to do when you’re gone but also very important for a dog’s health and wellbeing to spend time exercising their brain when you’re home. This doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time – in fact dogs learn best with several short training sessions rather than one long one.

Brain Boosting Games For Your Dog

Find it!

Wouldn’t it be great if your dog could find your keys or your mobile phone? This trick provides great mental stimulation and is useful for you around the house as well. When a dogs search for an item, they use their amazing power of scent. Having a dog use their sense of smell is a great way to exercise their brains and keep them tired and happy.

You don’t need to teach your dog to use their nose, they already know that. You just need to teach them the object you want them to find and show them that it’s worthwhile to find it.

Here are the steps:

▪ Show them the object you want them to find – you might want to give it a unique name for later when you expand to more items. Let’s say you’re teaching your dog to find the keys. Show them the keys and when they look at them, sniff them or touch them, say, “yes,” and give a treat (or any reward that motivates your dog)

▪ Place the keys on the ground and mark with, “yes,” and reward for the dog sniffing them on the floor

▪ Keep moving the keys around different places of the room and continue to reward for your desired outcome – this could be just sniffing them or picking them up. Reward for small steps towards your end goal

▪ At this point, put a command to the task like, “find keys!”

▪ When your dog is consistently giving you the reaction you want, start to hide the keys where they can’t be seen. This will encourage your dog to use it’s nose.
▪ Gradually increase the difficulty of the location as long as your dog is winning. If they are struggling, take a step back to where they were last successful and practice some more

Object Discrimination

If your dog knows how to fetch, you can start giving each individual object it’s own name. This is an impressive trick when you work your way up to several objects and is a great brain challenging game for your dog. You can combine this game with the Find It game to have your dog fetch different objects by name using their nose. But you should have each one going well separately first before tying it together.

Here’s the steps to name your objects for the dog to fetch:

▪ Choose the first object you want to name. Let’s say it’s a stuffed bear.

▪ Place the bear on the ground and say, “bear,” followed by your dog’s usual fetch command.

▪ Reward your dog for fetching the bear. Practice this several times and then try dropping the fetch command so you are just saying, “bear”

▪ Once your dog is fetching the bear on command, place the bear on the ground again as usual but this time, place a second object on the ground as well. Let’s say it’s a toy sheep.

▪ Test the bear command and only reward your dog if he sticks with the bear. If he gets it wrong, he won’t get his usual reward. If he gets it right, throw a party! Your dog can now fetch the “bear” item by name. Add more items around it to proof the “bear” command.

▪ Repeat this process with the sheep on it’s own and any other objects you want to name.

▪ The real test is when you have trained multiple items and you put them all down together. See if your dog can remember which one is which and only fetch that toy on command.

▪ Remember like all training, if your dog is stuck, take a step back to where he last succeeded.

Hide and Seek

Another task to encourage your dog to use her nose is hide and seek, where your dog has to find you! Make sure you have their favourite reward for them ready for when they do.

This trick uses the dog’s sense of smell, exercises their brain and gives them exercise as well. It can be easier with two people but you can do it alone if your dog can hold a reliable stay.

▪ Have your dog stay or have a friend hold your dog with them in another room

▪ Go and hide. Make the first few easy

▪ If you have a friend helping, they can say, “seek,” and let the dog go.

▪ The first few times, you may need to also call your dog once or twice to show them that they need to find you and give them a bit of help

▪ When they find you, give them a big reward!

▪ Make it slightly harder each time but always keep it fun. Ways to make it harder is to hide inside cupboards, behind doors or go outside and try it in a safe outdoor area.

Tidy Up Your Toys

Wouldn’t it be great if your dog tidied up all their toys when they were done playing? Combine this trick with the object discrimination trick for a super advanced version and blow your friend’s away with how smart your dog is. Your dog needs to know how to fetch for this trick. Be prepared for your dog to be nice and tired after a session of training this helpful trick.

Steps:

▪ Start with just one of your dog’s toys on the ground and a basket to put the toys in

▪ Stand with the basket in front of you and give your dog the fetch command for that object

▪ Hold your open hand above the basket

▪ As your dog brings the object to your hand or goes to drop the object at your feet, hold a treat above the basket. As your dog goes to take the treat, the toy will fall into the basket. Mark (“yes”) and reward your dog when this happens and give lots of praise.

▪ Repeat multiple times until your dog is reliably dropping the item into the basket

▪ As your dog is successful, stand behind the basket and point to the basket as the dog approaches. Reward after the dog has dropped the toy inside.

▪ Now you can introduce a new cue to this task. To do this, say the new cue right before the old cue and then phase out the old cue. So say, “tidy up, fetch” and then reward as usual. After a few repetitions, try saying, “tidy up,” by itself and see if your dog understands.

▪ Gradually move further away and reward less often by asking for more toys to be tidied up before you give a treat.

Is it important to keep providing mental stimulation for dogs at any age?

It’s absolutely important to provide mental stimulation for a dog of any age, even an older dog. An older dog may tire faster but they will still enjoy it and appreciate you for it.

In fact, mental and environmental enrichment is important for all animals!

Consider: Do you have another pet that may be bored?

Young puppies need mental stimulation too and the younger you start, the faster your dog will learn things you want to teach them later on. Ins saying that, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! Like elderly dogs, pups may tire quicker so keep sessions short and fun.

Training these kind of challenging tricks not only helps your dog to get tired and satisfied, it also continues to make them smarter as they develop their skills and learn how to learn. And best of all, giving your dog mental stimulation through training increases the bond between you. So it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Resource Guarding In Dogs

Resource Guarding In Dogs

Resource guarding in dogs – When your dog shows aggression over food or other possessions…

Resource guarding in dogs is a very common behaviour. Why does it happen?

Resource guarding is a natural trait for survival in the wild – if you don’t protect your food, someone else will take it! It hasn’t been fully bred out of our domestic dogs, so it can certainly be innate. The genetic potential to resource guard varies from dog to dog. It can however, also be a learned behaviour if the dog has learned through experience that it can lose it’s precious resources if it doesn’t protect them. This can often result from well meaning dog owners taking food from their dogs regularly in an effort to prevent guarding in the first place.

The resource being guarding may not just be food. Resource guarding can occur with food, toys, beds, spaces and commonly, owners. 

What are the signs?

The first subtle sign of resource guarding behaviour is stiffening of the body. The dog will freeze and may lick it’s lips while looking towards the threat but staying closely over the resource. Next, the lips will raise to show the teeth and a the dog will start to give a low growl. Some dogs may raise the hair on their back (pilo-erection). If eating, the dog will often speed up or try to carry the object away if it’s a bone, toy or other prized possession that can be carried. If the threat to their resource doesn’t stop, the next stage is a lunge and bite.

Is it a breed thing? 

No. While heredity is a factor, behaviour is specific to individuals rather than being breed specific. While food guarding may occur in specific lines of breeds, it does not mean one breed is more likely to exhibit this over another and we always need to take the learning and environmental history of the dog into account.

Is there anything environmental that may increase the likelihood of resource guarding? 

Dogs that regularly have to compete for resources such as food can become serious resource guarders. This can happen if there isn’t enough food to go around when they’re pups. They can also learn to guard if other dogs or pups are constantly stealing their food or other resources and they learn to defend it with aggression. Once an aggressive display works for them once, it’s a powerful lesson. This kind of scenario can happen where the pups are bred, or later in life at a group dog area or shelter.

Where should you start if your dog resource guards?

Always remember that a dog is resource guarding because it feels a fear of losing the item. With this in mind, never try to stop or prevent resource guarding by forcibly taking food from your dog or removing it often. You don’t want your dog to view you as the person that always wants to take what they have.

From early on in life, teach your dog that you are the bringer of good things and that you’re not there to take from them every time, but most often, you are going to provide them with something great. Here’s three exercises you can try that will prevent resource guarding, and help to stop it.

Remember to put safety first – if your dog is already trying to growl or bite, hire a professional trainer:

1. Teach your dog that when you approach their bowl, it’s to give them something even better. For example, your dog has dry dog food in the bowl, you come over and toss in some steak and leave. You want your dog to learn that your approach is a good thing and results in more or even better food
2. Play the swap game. There will be times you need to take things from your dog. Instead of all take, teach your dog to swap for something else of equal or higher value. When starting the swap game, present the higher value item and allow your dog to take it first, before then removing the item they just had. Pair a command with this so your dog knows what to expect.
3. Hand feed often. This again instills the lesson that hands = good things. Especially as you raise a new pup, feed often from your hands to associate your hands as something that is pleasant to have near their mouth. Training with treats is a great way to do this with the bonus of training other commands while you hand feed.

Seek professional help

If your dog is resource guarding, it’s a serious issue that can be very dangerous. Like any behaviour problem, the earlier you get help, the easier and faster it will be to get results so I suggest getting help as soon as you recognise the guarding behaviour.

Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again

Shaping The Down With Emus Using Natural Bathing Behaviours

Shaping The Down With Emus Using Natural Bathing Behaviours

We want to teach the emus to lay down on cue. With dogs we usually lure them down to the ground with food. But it’s a lot trickier to get the emus into position this way.

Being in a vulnerable position, the emus would jump up and move away if people approached them while laying down. Through their increased handling through training they have been improving with their confidence and have been better with this, but we would love to get the down position on cue.

We tried luring and a little physical guidance and we would also capture it when they did it naturally but this was slow going. Then I was told that they love to have a bath and get on the ground. So that was our best shot to get them laying down near us voluntarily.

Trainers have also used this tactic to get horses to lie down and capture it with a reward as well.

It’s a great example of using creativity and natural behaviours during training.

You can see in these clips that I’m trying a variety of techniques such as some luring, but mainly capturing the behaviour by marking it when it occurs, and creating the behaviour by hosing them, knowing that they naturally love to lay down in the puddles.

Emus do this to cool down and their legs regulate their temperature so they like to lay in the cool water as well as enjoy the mist from the hose.

The main challenge we now face is to try and separate them for training so that we can communicate more clearly to each individual, as Apple needs more training but Jimmy hogs the rewards if he is nearby. Training multiples of any species can present this challenge so training individually to start is preferred.

This was the first time we have done this with Jimmy and Apple, and we are happy with this start because the fact that they lay down and allow us near and take rewards is a great improvement.

Plus some of their antics were quite comical. Enjoy the video below.

5  Things You Could Be Doing That Actually Make Your Dog Behave Worse!

5  Things You Could Be Doing That Actually Make Your Dog Behave Worse!

1. Having a party when you get home.

Do you leap on your dog like a 5 year old arriving to Disneyland each time you arrive home? This can actually create anxiety in your dog including separation anxiety. Not only that but it highly encourages jumping up and mouthing.

2. Sending mixed messages

Is your dog allowed on the couch sometimes and told off other times? Dogs need clear communication, otherwise you’ll confuse them every time you say they can and every time you say they can’t. Instead, have a command for each and stick with it. You don’t want your dog to think you’re a crazy person.

3. Accidental rewards

It happens ALL the time and we often don’t know we’re doing it. But do you touch your dog with they do something you don’t like? Talk to them? Make eye contact? All of these are rewards so if your dog is doing something you don’t like at the time, don’t do any of these!

4. Talking too much

This is another one that comes down to clarity. You can talk to your dog as much as you like, but make sure each sound has a clear meaning that you’ve taught. Feedback is important, but only if it makes sense to your dog.

5. Shouting every command

Dogs have better hearing than you. If your dog truly knows a command, you can say it in a nice normal tone, just as I’m sure you do when you ask your husband 😉

Kidding aside, if they don’t know a command in a normal tone and you need to shout it, they don’t truly know it and they’re guessing at best, often getting quite anxious over why you’re yelling again!

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Improving Your Dog’s Recall

Improving Your Dog’s Recall

How to improve your dog’s recall?

There’s a few rules to always keep in mind when you’re doing your recall.

First, is that the recall is always highly rewarding. So use your dog’s best reward. That could be something really valuable like a meaty treat, a toy, a ball, a Frisbee, or something like that. Something the dog really, really loves. Another thing you can do is release the dog back to having fun as a reward. Don’t accidentally punish your dog by only calling them when you’re ready to put the lead on and go home if they’re having a ball running around somewhere.

The next rule with the recall is to set yourself up for success. To do this we always want to work using a long line until the dog is 100% reliable in that environment, and then we can start doing off lead recalls. So let’s have a look at how we would use the long line to improve our recall. We want to not worry about our excess line, just let it drag on the ground, whatever you’re not using. Let the dog go free, exploring, and practice calling them when they’re actually distracted. Don’t always get them to stay and then call them; Because when we need to call our dogs the most, it’s usually when they’re distracted and doing other things. Let the line sort of flow between your hands.

Wait ’til the dog’s not looking at you.

If your dog’s coming in really quick, you might not get the line all the way in, but try and reel it in as a habit, because the whole reason that we have this on is because it’s like your training wheels, it’s your step between on lead and off lead work. It’s there as a backup to make sure that you can make sure that the dog comes to you when they’re the called, the first time every time.

Don’t repeat your command over and over. One command and then make it happen.