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Dog Training/Eating habit

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Question
Hello Adrienne,

We have a Japanese Shih Tzu. He's 1 year,3 months now. He is very healthy, playful and strong.
Right from when he was a pup, he hated dry pedigree. So, we tried giving it to him soaked. He refused to eat. So, we left him for two days thinking that if he was hungry he would definitely try it. But he never went near his bowl.We didn't want to try home made food because we were not sure if we could give him all the nutrients required. So, we started feeding him pedigree(soaked for 10 minutes in water)two times daily.
Now he has developed a habit. If we give him an egg , he eats it out of his bowl. Twice or thrice a week, he drinks milk. He also loves cheese, vegetables, etc. When we keep pedigree in his bowl he refuses to even go near it.

We realize its our mistake feeding him all the time. But I would like to know if something can be done to make him eat pedigree on him own. How do we change his eating habit?

Looking forward to your reply.

Have a nice day!

Ben.

Answer
Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts!
What happened to you has happened to many other dog owners as well. It all starts like this: you bring a new dog home, he doesn't seem too interested in his food and then you start worrying a bit and decide to give him a taste of your leftovers. He readily gulps them down. At the next feeding time, your dog is faithfully sitting right next to you looking for other left overs and doesn't seem too interested in his food bowl. You give in after a while, and soon you have an established behavior and are stuck with a dog that is always looking for goodies, but that can care less about the kibble in his bowl.

The same dynamics often happen when a dog is perhaps not feeling too well and some table scraps are offered to entice him to eat, afterward the dog refuses to return to his previous food. Why is that? Well for starters, table food is perceived as extra yummy from a dog's perspective. Often, your kitchen is saturated with heavenly smells that act as an appetite stimulant, then the food is often warm which makes it extra palatable, add on top of that that it's fresh and likely more tasty than dry food that comes in a bag. And let's not forget that it's often variable, since you likely don't eat the same things every day and this contributes to the element of surprise that many dogs look forward to.

After all, if we think about, us humans would behave the same way. If you were asked to choose between a juicy steak offered from a restaurant or one of the microwaveable ready meals you can purchase at the supermarket, which food would you choose? The restaurant meal of course! In the same way, your dog prefers your food rather than his kibble. This doesn't mean that all kibble is not appreciated by dogs, it just means that several dogs prefer the taste of fresh, warm, juicy foods that are variable and served straight from your dish. So how do you get back to loving his kibble and eating from the food bowl? The solution is really not that easy, but  persistence pays off and there are some little short cuts that may help.

Check for Medical Issues

First and foremost, you want to rule out any medical issues. Some dogs who aren't feeling too well may lose their appetite, but may still be willing to eat something that is more enticing. When dogs were sick in the veterinary hospital I used to work for, and they refused food, we often offered them a special diet from Hill's known as A/D. This food was especially appetizing and helped them recover. While many of these dogs refused their normal kibble, they instead readily ate this food, especially because it was canned. Owners who continued feeding this food at home often reported to us that their dogs once healed, started refusing their normal kibble and wanted to continue eating the canned food. If a dog is suddenly refusing his normal kibble, but only wants to eat other foods it's always a good practice to have a vet do a check up just in case.

Wean Back to Kibble

So your dog is healthy as he can be but he still refuses his kibble but readily gobbles down table scraps. In such a case, yes, your dog may be enamored with your cooking skills. In such a case, many say you should just let your dog "starve" by just leaving out the kibble until he decides to eat or by offering the kibble for 15 minutes and then removing it and repeating this for every meal time until he eventually eats. While it's true that these method often work, many owners don't like the idea of letting their dogs "starve". A better approach may be to add some tasty additions mixed with the kibble so that the kibble seems interesting again. Here are some ideas for some healthy additions:

-Veterinarian Louise Murray suggests lessening the people food and increasing the kibble bit by bit every day until the dog is off human food entirely. So stop giving table scraps at the table and start adding some to the dog's kibble gradually decreasing the amount over time. Please keep in mind though that not all table scraps are healthy for dogs . Here is a list of dangerous table scraps you want to avoid feeding your dog from the ASPCA.
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.aspx

-Skip unhealthy table scraps and add only the healthy ones. Veterinarian Michael W. Fox recommends not mixing more than 10 percent table scraps (no cooked bones or high- fat scraps) with the dog's regular food.

-Another option is to mix canned food to the kibble. Most dogs won't turn up their nose to canned food. Also, if mixed well, the dog will find it hard to separate the canned food from the kibble and will end up eating both. Canned food for dogs is a better option than unhealthy table scraps. Only problem is that you may end up with a dog who refuses kibble if it's lacking the canned food, so think about this option carefully.

-Adding some warm water or some broth with no onion or garlic in it, may help release the smell of the kibble and the warmth may be appealing enough to some dogs that they'll eat to kibble with little problems.

-Some people use special gravies sold in pet stores. These gravies can be added to the kibble to make the kibble more appealing. Again, buyer beware...problems may arise the day you run out of this gravy! Iams Savory Sauce may be an option.

-Always feed the goodies in your dog's food bowl. If you feed scraps from the table, your dog learns that good food comes from the table and the the bowl is boring. You need your dog to learn that the bowl is only ans always what holds the goodies.

Check the Food

If your dog turns up his nose at your kibble and is looking for food scraps, check if the bag of kibble is OK. You never know, perhaps the food may taste rancid, the bag may be expired or you may have gotten a bad batch. Not bad to also check if there were any recent recalls on that particular food. Also, it's a good idea to see if the food is a good quality food. Grocery store brought foods or dog foods filled with fillers with no nutritional value may cause dogs to always feel hungry. It may be worth a try to start gradually feeding a higher-quality dog food.

Switch to Home-Made

Last but not least, if your dog is so enamored with home-made food and you are worried about all the preservatives, byproducts and chemicals added to some kibble, you can study a bit how you can switch your dog to a completely home-made diet. This is not an easy task, as you need to make your home-made diet nutritionally complete, but there are plenty of books on the topic. Here are some resources from the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine: Home-made Diets
http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/home-made-diets

I hope this helps! Please take a moment to leave feedback. Best wishes!

Disclaimer; this answer is not to be used as a substitute for professional nutritional or veterinary advice. If your dog is not eating or there are changes in his appetite, please see your vet.

References:
http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/when-your-dog-is-a-picky-eater?page=2
http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/guest-blogger-veterinarian-michael-w-fox-on-fee

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can provide advice on training and behavioral problems ranging from minor issues such as potty training to serious issues such as aggression. I cannot give out veterinary advice as this is obviously out of my spectrum, but I may recommend veterinarian visits for behavioral problems that may stem from a possible health problem.

Experience

I am a published dog expert writer since 2006 and a certified dog trainer specializing in positive reinforcement training. My favorite specializations are clicker training and the sport of canine freestyle. I also attended various seminars on solving behavioral problems and am the current dog training and dog psychology channel manager for Helium.com. My bookshelves are full of books on dog training, dog breeds, dog care and dog behavior.

Organizations
CCPDT Certfication Council of Professional Dog Trainers MDSA Musical Dog Sports Association

Publications
Suite101 National Examiner USA Today

Education/Credentials
Certified Dog Trainer APICC Italian Association Professional Dog Trainers and Canine Consultants Certified Dog trainer CPDT-KA Certfication Council of Professional Dog Trainers Dog expert writer since 2006 Previous AAHA animal hospital employee

Past/Present Clients
Over 1100 fans and hundreds of questions answered on my dog blog.

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