I made a mention in a previous post about Abe’s low food drive. From Day 1, he hasn’t shown much interest in food. If I put his food in a bowl and put it in front of him, no matter what it was, he would take a few bites and move on. I tried everything: wet food, dry food, ratios between the two, different brands, etc. It didn’t matter. He would eat a few bites, and that was it. And just dry food? Forget it! I hate to admit this, but I attempted to make him start to eat dry food on its own (after I knew he liked the food) by giving him no other option for four days. Four days! And he never took more than a bite or two over the four full days, even if I let him have access to the food constantly. So after four days, I gave up and moved on to find something he would actually eat.
Then I tried putting his food on a plate rather than in a bowl, thinking that he might not like sticking his head down in a bowl.
As you can see, he has no problem sharing with Shay! Using a plate helped, but he still wouldn’t finish his food before losing interest. So I did some research and decided to make him work for his food to build some food drive.
At first, I used only canned food and asked for very easy stuff from him. I wanted to establish the routine and help him understand that he gets fed only if he works for it. So I spoon-fed him canned food for sitting, laying down, etc, on cue. He caught on immediately, and that’s when I started doing some harder stuff. By making him work for it, the food became more valuable. If he didn’t eat the food when I offered it or didn’t want to do what I asked of him, he didn’t eat for that session. I never asked anything of him that was too complicated, and my sessions were short and frequent.
This became how I worked on his feet. I used to use treats for that, and in the beginning, that was fine. He needed to learn that I was not intending to hurt him, and that meant using higher-value treats than what he gets for dinner. Once he learned that, it became an expectation that he would allow me to handle his feet to earn his dinner. When that became boring, I raised the bar and expected him to allow more and more for him to earn his dinner. As he progressed, too, I gradually changed his meal to a more realistic ratio of dry food (soaked in water so the consistency is that of canned food) and the canned food we started out with. Currently, we’re using half a can of wet food and 1.5 cups of soaked dry food. Eventually, I’d love to use just soaked dry food, but we’ll see.
This process has increased his food drive pretty drastically. Because he earns his food, it has more meaning to him now. He’s still not very food driven in all situations, but that’s fine. He recognizes when we’re in “dinner mode” and willingly works for his food (and gets quite excited for it, too). In most other situations, like when we’re outside on a walk, I don’t use food – I use verbal and physical praise.
These days, he doesn’t even have a food bowl. I still use the plate I used at first, but I only use it to keep the little spoonfuls of food that I dole out off of the carpet. In the future, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever just put his food down in a bowl and let him have at it. Even if I’m only asking small tasks of him for large rewards, I think I’ll always have him work for his dinner. It helps us keep a routine, and honestly, it keeps us close.
Questions? Let me know!