My 6-month old lab puppy, who is very nervous and shy, has recently refused to eat out of her metal food bowl. The only way she’ll eat is if I sit on the floor in the kitchen and feed her by hand. This has me totally stressed out – how can I get her to go back to eating on her own?
Rule #1 -In dog training, whenever there’s a problem that occurs suddenly, a trip to the vet is necessary to out the possibility of an illness. Trying to solve a behavioral problem that has its roots in a medical issue is futile, at best. Just ask my student who tried to (unsuccessfully) housebreak her puppy while it had an (undiagnosed) bladder infection!
Rule #2 – Sudden behavioral changes require you to do a bit of detective work. Had there been some sort of trauma that happened near your dog’s food bowl (a chair falling over, a smoke alarm going off – even a teakettle whistling can undo some nervous dogs) that caused her to associate the trauma with eating from her bowl? If you even remotely suspect that there was, then relocate the bowl to another area of the room immediately and see what happens. Sometimes a dog’s fear is so strong that they require a drastic change of scenery, in which case changing her feeding area to a different room will solve the problem. In addition, consider purchasing a new, ceramic food dish, which will give her mealtime a complete makeover. By adding random, extra special treats (think small pieces of grilled chicken) to her new bowl during the day, she’ll find her new china irresistible.
Another idea to consider: At six months of age, dogs normally receive their rabies shots and, consequently, are registered with their town. This rite of passage earns your dog two metal tags for her collar which can clank against the metal bowl while she eats. While annoying to any dog (their hearing is way better than ours!), it’s extremely intolerable for an ultra-sensitive dog. And FYI, I don’t care if having the tags jingle together is the only way you know where she is in the house. She is a dog, not a cow. Taping her tags together will silence the noise while she eats out of her bowl and, in the process, get you off the floor. What a deal!