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Canine Behavior/Strange New Eating Behavior

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For the last 3 days, my 2 year old Belgian Malinois/Am Staff mix has been picking up mouthfuls of kibble, slowly (head down, tail relaxed) walking over to me in the next room, then gently spitting his food out all over my lap. He's been on a prescription diet for several months, but prior to these new spitting incidents, he always ate it readily and immediately, straight from the bowl. Also, the first two times he "gave" me kibble, he immediately tried to slink onto the couch where I was sitting. We have never allowed him on the couch, and I told him "no" and he immediately got down. I know this is anthropomorphizing, but it was almost as if he was bribing me with kibble to let him go on the couch. I eventually got him to eat his kibble after pretending I took it out of the cat's kibble bag. The cat has recently reclaimed more territory in the home (including the couch at night when the dog is crated, but can see the couch), so I'm wondering if that has something to do with this. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Answer
That's an interesting new behavior. I've known many dogs who eat "take out" and will take a mouthful of kibble, drop it elsewhere and eat them one kibble at a time. Sometimes, simply dropping it on the ground, sometimes taking it to another room. Dogs are social animals and will sometimes bring the food to where the social activity is happening in the house so they can be part of it.

That this is a sudden onset new behavior, suggests there may be something else going on. When was his last vet check? If this were happening with one of my dogs, I'd be first looking for digestive or dental issues. Does his tummy hurt? How are his poops? How is his overall energy - interest in playing his usual games, greeting, cuddling, etc. How is his mouth? Does it seem to be sensitive? Is he hesitant to eat hard treats the way he's hesitant to eat his kibble? Is he playing tug less intensely or only using one side of his mouth or refusing to play that game? There may be a medical issue that needs addressing, and fixing that is likely to fix the new behavior.

If he gets a clean bill of health from teeth to gut, then it may be an attention seeking behavior. Try sitting in a different location (not on the couch) and see if he still brings the food to you, and if he tries to cuddle or if he goes across the room to get on the couch - that will let you know if it's about you or the furniture. He may be bored and looking for activity. He may be lonely or scared about something (have you been having inclement weather recently?) and looking for more reassurance. Perhaps making meal time into a game or training session so that he's working for that kibble and getting some quality one-on-one time with you will get him excited about eating.

You can try putting a sprinkle of some special treat that he's allowed to have with his prescription diet - perhaps a sprinkle of shredded cheese or a tablespoon or two of a canned dog food (the prescription of they have it), or a few bites of chicken breast (all should be vet approved first since he's on a prescription diet) and mix that into the kibble. This may whet his appetite and encourage him to eat with gusto again. If that works, then I'd do it for a couple of days, then I'd halve the amount for a couple days, then halve it again for a couple days then stop.

But all of these suggestions are only to be considered after the vet has confirmed that he's not ill or injured and has no dental problems.

The cat's recent reclamation of territory in the home could be part of it. I don't have enough information about where the cat had previously been allowed to be, and where it is now to really be able to comment on that. Do they get along with each other? Why is the cat allowed on the couch and he's not? He could be testing the waters to see if he is now also allowed to be comfortable on the coveted furniture. I wouldn't think of it so much as a bribe, though, as perhaps an effort to distract you - maybe you won't notice he got up on the couch if you're busy with food.

I would look at the behavior of the cat in relation to the dog, and their relationship with each other as one possibility for the behavior change, but only after the vet has signed off on health and dental.

I hope this offers some useful possibilities. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
http://GoodDog-DogTraining.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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