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Canine Behavior/Dog has to be told to eat


QUESTION: I have a male husky, GSD, Doberman mix who I just cant seem to understand despite having him for three years.
He's been to the vet constantly because he wont eat or is underweight. My vet says there is nothing psychically wrong with him, we have done so many tests it's unreal and I'm starting to wonder if he has a eating disorder.

He is fed on a wet diet because he will not eat hard food. Brand doesn't matter. We've tried everything out there from the top brands like Blue to the junk like kibbles and bits.
When I feed him I have to sit there and watch him and MAKE him eat I have to tell him to take a bite each time otherwise he'll go laydown and ignore the food. We've left the food down for him all day and he doesn't touch it. I figured it might have been a attention thing so We just put food down for him everyday and didn't say anything to him. He went a week without eating and at that point I was very concerned so made him eat again.
He will not eat for anyone in the house but me. He turns down bacon and other human foods the same as dog food unless I make him eat.
This is just driving me insane I've never heard of a dog acting like this. Could you give me any insight at all?
I feel like there is just nothing else I can do.

He was not trained to do this. I got him as a young puppy from a animal hoarder situation and he's been with me ever since.

ANSWER: A very young dog (neonate or puppy under age 14 weeks) from a multiple dog containment (puppy mill, hoarder, very bad breeder where dam is unable to provide for pups, etc.) can react to the very high resource of FOOD (required to stay alive) in various ways.  One way: dog will gobble everything in sight; another, dog will obtain resource guarding behavior (growl in the presence of food if any even slight and unintended interruption is apparent to him); another way, avoid consumption of any high resource because of experience as low ranking litter experience, the presence of larger and older dogs who inhibit the neonate's eating of food, any self perceived punishment or threat that involves him eating.  It appears to me that your dog may have experienced this latter stated reality.  As a neonate, he was deprived, perhaps both by his dam's inability to sustain her entire litter (while he was among those who could not readily gain access to the teat) and by the intrusion of older, higher "ranking" dogs who prevented him from eating.  He has therefore acquired an avoidance of food, even though this is in direct contradiction to the drive of every living thing for survival, unless explicit "permission" is given by his perceived "more dominant" member in social hierarchy.

I can't fix this in a text box, but it can be fixed.  It requires the observation and evaluation of a certified applied animal behaviorist (NOT a dog trainer!)  Such a professional is fully aware of the various and multiple permutations attributed to abnormal behavior in the domestic dog.  Being able to observe your family members and the dog together, and apart, and make an evaluation of the dog as an individual, will give such a professional the opportunity to diagnose cause and suggest remedy.

To find a CAAB, visit the following sites and/or call the veterinary college in your geographical area:

It is HIGHLY unusual for a dog to deliberately starve itself to the point of emaciation (as you report).  This is, indeed, a complex "eating disorder" with deeply rooted psychological and social aspects.  Interfering IN ANY WAY with the dog's meals is contraindicated.  If you need to sit by him while he eats, and verbally encourage him, for the sake of his health at the present time, continue doing that.  But this is NOT advisable throughout the dog's life because, along with this hesitancy to eat, this dog is suffering from other aspects of his self perceived low social hierarchy that you may not be aware of.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: This really does make sense, he was full of worms also and the lady who he was taken from had a single wide trailer with over ten adult dogs and 20 or so puppies. So it was a very crowded situation and I doubt she fed them enough.
He had a very bad hair coat and was just in awful shape when I brought him home.
He's also been a very easily frightened dog. Shy and skittish/unsure of himself despite being treated well.

At one point when he was just close to a year old when we noticed he wasn't eating like he should he was a walking skeleton his hip bones, spine, and ribs were showing. We've always just been used to our dogs grazing throughout the day he was eating a bit at that point but clearly not enough. That's when I started verbally telling him to eat and he's put back on weight but he's still underweight.

There is only one person who works in my state in the links you provided and they are still very far from me. I cant drive due to medical issues and my parents would not be willing to drive us hours away from home multiple times to have him treated. I'll talk to my vet and see if he can recommend anyone close by that might not be on the internet or something.
I would ask you about my specific area and if there is anyone closer you could recommend but when I sent in my question it said something about not identifying myself?

Sorry you had trouble with the site but I have no control over that LOL.  If I did, we'd all be living in a mansion on Oahu LOL.

Ok: the dog has temperament issues.  He is very low (self perceived) in social status.  I suggest you concentrate now on finding a CERTIFIED CLICKER TRAINER.  This can't be just some person out there who thinks s/he understands the clicker because that won't work.  While clicker training is a very "forgiving" method, it must be scientifically UNDERSTOOD by the trainer or you can inadvertently reward the WRONG motive, thought, drive, etc. in the dog.

Here's an idea:  Go to Karen Pryor's site  She introduced operant conditioning to the dog world and is, in my opinion, the foremost authority.  The clicker CAN be used to communicate to your dog that EATING is GOOD but it must be introduced first and used for other purposes (such as rewarding a secure, happy behavior).  This dog must be PROMOTED in your social hierarchy and everyone in the household must be onboard.  For nutritional supplement to add weight, ask your veterinarian about Nutrical.

This is highly palatable, dogs enjoy it, it is a "treat" in some ways to most dogs, and it maintains body weight and nutritional demands.

One does not go TO a CAAB, the CAAB comes to YOU.  Obviously, great distance increases the cost of consultation.  And it's not cheap.  Perhaps on Karen's web site, or even by contacting her or her representative directly through the web site, you can find someone in your area who can help you to use the clicker to increase your dog's sense of security so that he will eat on his own.

Meanwhile:  Because this dog DID come from an extremely abusive and stressful environment, any meddling with his food further convinces him that IT IS NOT REALLY HIS FOOD, BUT YOURS.  Keep that in mind.

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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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