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Canine Behavior/Dog refusing to eat


I have a 5-6 year old male Border Collie. I adopted him from a friend that is a trainer. He was the dog's second owner. The only history I was given was that he had not "fit" into either trainer's program. He's a sweet dog, insanely obsessed with horses and gets car sick. But none of these things are my problem. Since I've had him, he's had issues with food. Not aggression, not over eating. He regularly refuses to eat. I've tried almost every possible brand of dog food, wet and dry. I've tried adding wet food to the dry food. I've tried adding chicken or beef stock to the dry food, also yogurt and honey. Every trick I've tried has only worked for a few days - a week tops. I've changed the location of his bowl, the type of bowl, the height of the bowl. I've tried setting the food out and picking it up after an hour, then offering it again at night. I've tried yelling, begging, praising, ignoring, making it into a game, making it a reward. Nothing works. And I really mean nothing. He has gone a full week without eating before I finally give in, soften his food in stock and force feed him. Then he'll eat again for a few days. As of right now, less than two months into the new year, we're now on hunger strike number 5. He's been checked out by my vet and is physically healthy. I know he gets hungry because he'll steal cat food if I'm not watching. He'll even stand by his bowl of food drooling, refusing to eat. I'm at my wits end. He is in a huge dog pen with toys while I'm at work. My retired father lets him out when he comes out to take care of the horses. He visits all the neighbors, plays with their dogs. He comes with both of us when we ride. He walks with me. When the weather is bad, he walks in the house on the treadmill. I take him hiking in the warm weather and keep him near me as much as it is possible. I've tried everything to give him a happy home. It seems like my dog isn't happy in my home and this comes out at feeding time. I adore him, but the food issue is at the point where it is making me frustrated and angry all the time, which I know makes things worse. I'm seriously considering finding him a new home so that he can have a happier life away from me.

Any help or advice that you could give me would be a blessing. I don't want to give up my dog, but I don't want him to starve himself and continue to seem so unhappy at meal times.

This dog has been through hell.  I don't know what sort of "trainer" takes a breed like this, known to be a difficult companion, and then dumps it because it didn't "fit into the training program."  A stuffed animal could train a Border Collie.  They are obsessive learners to the point of absurdity at times.  He has nowhere to go.  YOU are IT.

When a dog is fed, in the dog culture, the food is HIS.  This means: the human does not interfere.  The human does not pick up the bowl, add to it; finger the food; stand over the dog cajoling him; become frustrated and anxious around the food bowl or around feeding time.  This dog is not self starving, he is reacting.  When it's mine, it's mine; when it's yours, it's yours: this is the dog culture.

Stop obsessing.  The veterinarian should have offered you Nutrical

This is a palatable nutritional supplement that can be squirted into the dog's mouth.  It keeps a sick dog from dropping weight and it insures that a dog with eating related disorders does not lack in appropriate nutrition.  The vet should also have questioned you regarding this behavior and known enough about behavior to understand, even minimally, that the dog is literally "afraid" to eat.  There is a psychological factor involved here.  He is acquiring a strong response: the food is actually yours.  His temperament is not "strong" enough to override the powerful inherited avoidance of food that is seen to be the "property" of someone higher in the social hierarchy.

Get the best quality dry food you can buy: do research.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on it; put it down in plain sight of the dog.  Leave the room: close the door, if possible, because at first this dog will avoid the food.  Do this three times daily, at first, until he begins to eat.  It may take a while for him to lose the anxiety around what he has learned occurs during his mealtime.  The Nutrical should help to keep him from dropping weight and becoming ill due to lack of nutrition.  This can be given to him according to vet's instructions with an upbeat manner, laughing and praising, then getting up and leaving the dog.  He must come to see this "medication" as rewarding.

Learn about the Border Collie.  Many online sites will give you information about them.  Positive reinforcement training is the only way to go.  You can study it at Dr. Ian Dunbar's site,  The dog needs a job: what sort of job depends on his temperament, his biddability, and his trust in you.  But you will discover at least one.  There are many "tricks" that a dog this willing to work can be taught.  Kyra Sundance has a book entitled "Teach Tricks", just one of a few good books that boost cognition in the dog and enhance the dog/owner bond.

What's most important is that you STOP interfering with this dog's meal time; STOP obsessing about how much he is eating; STOP being angry or frustrated or showing anxiety, this immediately communicates to the dog who will then fear eating in your presence, or perhaps even if you're in sight (and possibly, at first, even if you're in the house!)

As for those "trainers", they need a new business.  This is why I NEVER refer ANY serious problem behaviors to trainers.  The first and foremost job of any professional in the dog world is to care for, and respect, the life of the dog.  They are not disposable objects.  And frankly, anyone who can't train a Border Collie really ought to be studying plumbing.  :o/

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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