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The Dog That Wouldn't Eat

Abby has been only dog (child) in home of Jennifer and Richard. They got her at 10 weeks old from a puppy store. They moved into current house on a golf course about 1 year ago. Jennifer is pregnant (with twins) and is due July. She’s been on doctor’s ordered bed rest since January. Richard works from home. They also have two cats, that both get along with Abby.

Abby had been a happy well socialized dog who had enjoyed trips to the pet store and vet office, played with Richard and Jennifer and their cats and had done well at puppy school.

Starting approximately last November Abby has been fearful of things that never bothered her before. She would bark uncontrollable at people (neighbors in their own yard, golfers), birds, squirrels, animals on TV and any noises.

She would run and hide when Richard would replace the plastic bag in the kitchen trash can. She also started to react adversely to thunderstorms. She had also stopped playing with Richard and Jennifer or the cats. She would constantly “patrol” the house going from door to door and the back of the sofa which allowed a view out the back of the house. She also cowered if anyone moved in their kitchen chair. If the chair moved Abby would run from the room.

She also stopped eating out of her bowl. Abby would actually bark at the bowl. The clients believed she had become “afraid of her bowl” for some reason. She also began to refuse to go on walks, which she previously enjoyed. She would lie down and refuse to move. She began shaking when taken to the vet office, which she also previously enjoyed visiting. Same with the pet store, Abby would shake and refuse to walk.

Abby also refused to come to them. She has a crate, which they would use when they went out, but Abby would run and hide from them if she knew it was time to go in her crate.

These changes in Abby’s behavior coincided with the approximate time Jennifer learned she was pregnant. Also around the same time there had been a gas leak in the kitchen and workmen had to jackhammer the floor to replace the gas line.

Jennifer and Richard had always coddled and given in to Abby. As her behavior deteriorated they coddled her more and more. They would pick her up and carry her if she refused to walk, they would try to comfort her when she got scared or started to shake. As Abby refused to eat from her bowl they tried different bowls, and foods switching wet and dry and trying different brands. The more things they tried the pickier Abby became. She completely stopped eating for three days, which is when started to fed her table scraps from a spoon.

The advice they received from their veterinarian did not seem to improve the situation. They had tried herbal remedies as well with no noticeable improvements, but were hesitant to try drugs. Their vet suggested that Richard and Jennifer call us.

We discussed all the above with them during a lengthy interview. Abby had been manipulating them and as Jennifer pregnancy progressed, Abby’s behavior has worsened.

During the interview, Abby was constantly seeking their attention and getting it, when she didn’t get what she wanted, she would bark at them until they responded.

At our first session with them we worked on passive influence, and also how to interact with Abby more from a leadership position. They have been reaching down and picking her up and petting her on top of her head. We introduced them to “inviting” Abby into their laps and coming in low with their hands. We also started working on guiding Abby to her crate instead of forcing her in it.

We worked on correcting Abby’s barking and patrolling and we worked on walking inside the house.

At our first revisit a week later, Abby’s behavior was greatly improved. Abby was no longer barking at everything, she was much more relaxed and responsive to them. She also had started playing again. Richard reported that he and Abby had had the best walk they ever had and they had actually made it all the way around the block, which is about ½ mile. She also readily goes into her crate and is not nearly as skittish at noises or things moving. In almost every area Jennifer and Richard reported great improvements.

She was however still hesitant to eat from her bowl. The only way she’d eat was if Richard got on the floor next to the bowl and called Abby over. Abby would go and pick at the food a little but if Richard got up Abby would stop eating. If the food is on the floor, not in a bowl, Abby would eat, but if it’s in any bowl or on a plate she refused to eat without a lot of production.

I videoed Abby with some very stinky liver treats in order to analyze her behavior. In the video, we had been tossing treats to Abby and she was eating them. I then put them on a plate and she wouldn’t go near. As soon as I put a couple on the floor, she took them but left the one on the plate and wouldn’t go near it. I saw no fear in her body language, however I did see her look at both Richard and Jennifer and then back at the treats as if to say “Come on and entice me to eat.”

Since Abby’s behavior had improved in every other area, we felt that this was her last stand at remaining in control, even though it was obvious she did not want to be in charge. She had given up immediately and we saw no push back as Richard and Jennifer took over the leadership.

I also made the observation that Abby was not underweight and while I don’t have any proof, I would not be surprised if she had been “stealing” the cats’ food which was near her food.

The clients still thought Abby was scared of the bowl for some reason but after reviewing everything again I sent the clients the following email.

Hi Jennifer and Richard,

Hope things are continuing to improve with Abby. Just to give you an update, I reviewed the videos and my thoughts are the same. Abby is not showing any fear of the bowl or plate but she did look at everyone to see who was going to give in to her. In this instance it was me. This is not to say that initially there might have been some fear involved, but that’s not what is going on now.

She knows that if she plays “hard to get” or in this case “hard to get to eat” J she gets attention. This behavior has become ingrained over the past few months so she just lays down and refuses, knowing that you will give in. Interestingly, she is not underweight. I would not be surprised at all if she “sneaking” cat food when no one is watching. She’s a smart dog. and dogs typically love cat food as it’s typically higher in both in fat and protein content than dog food. It would interesting to set up a remote camera and see if that’s the case.

Thinking about a strategy to overcome her food bowl behavior, I would not feed her for a day, then put just her normal dry (kibble) in her bowl, put it down and leave the area. You do not have to tether her. If she hasn’t eaten in an hour, take it up and try again at the next meal time. I would also “take up” or move the cat food as well so she doesn’t have access to it. Again if she’s sneaking their food she’s not going to care as much about her food. If you continue to give in, even slightly, she will continue to demand that you do give in.

Let us know if you try the above and how it goes. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Jeff

I was not sure they would take my advice as they seemed very hesitant, when we were there, to address the food issue head on even though that was one of the main reasons they contacted us to begin with.

I recently checked with them to see how things were going and received this email.

Jeff,

Abby is doing great! We are very pleased with the training results so far. Abby seems to be a much more relaxed dog and is even eating her food from her bowl every day.

We will contact you in the future if any other issues arise.

Thank you again for all you help!

Kind regards,

Richard

This email recently arrived.

Hi Jeff & Cathy,

I just wanted to touch base and let you know that things are going well with Abby.

I delivered my twins two weeks ago and both babies (Alexander and Sophia) are healthy and doing great. Abby went for her first walk around the block while we pushed them in the stroller last night and she did surprisingly well.

Thanks for all of your help. We'll give you a call if we need another training session. Jennifer and Richard

The Richard and Jennifer, were committed to helping Abby return to being the relaxed and happy dog she had previously been. They did a great job working with Abby and have seen the results pay off. GREAT JOB!

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