Jill Kessler Miller, CPDT
Eat or Don’t Eat
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Do you have a dog that “won’t eat,” or that you’re free-feeding, and would now like to get on a meal-time schedule? Too often, we end up teaching our dogs not to eat when presented with food. They wait for better food or scraps to be added in, or they know they’ll get treats later if they don’t eat. In other words, they’ve trained you well!
Because dogs eat by scent and not taste, dry kibble by itself often does not have enough aroma to tell them its edible. I recommend a small amount of canned food with plenty of warm water stirred into the kibble, so it looks like a stew or porridge.
I start with a quarter or half ration of kibble with warm water and canned food. Put down the bowl of food. If the dog eats, great. Side note—please don’t bother your dog when he’s eating! Leave him in peace! When the dog is finished and/or walks away without eating, pick up the bowl immediately.
If you have multiple dogs, have the dogs ON LEASH in the same room, several feet apart (this procedure needs two or three people). One person per dog, holding the leash. Put down the food. Allow the dogs to eat. Any dog who does not immediately begin to eat is to be walked away from the dish and have the other or third person pick up the bowl. If one or both eats, great. When they're done, or begin to move away from their bowl, walk them away from the area and pick up the bowls. DO NOT FEED AGAIN UNTIL THE NEXT NORMAL FEEDING TIME.
Try and keep the location of their bowls the same. I feed my dogs at least three to four feet apart. Put down the food. If they walk away, pick up the bowl and do not feed again until the next normal feeding time. No dog is allowed to go to the other dog's bowl.
The choice for the dog is: Eat or Don't Eat. If you don't eat, fine. Bowl is picked up and you will be offered the chance again later. I had one Brittany go four days without eating, and then on the fifth days the light bulb went off and she ate, and never missed a meal again!
I have used this system for thirty years and it works great. Bearing in mind, of course, there are no health issues. If you have any sense that your dog may not be well, it is imperative you go to your veterinarian with your concerns.
(Nothing in this article is to be construed as medical advice. If your normally healthy and normally-loves-to-eat dog has stopped eating, or your dog is suffering from nausea, diarrhea or vomiting, then you must see your veterinarian immediately!)