Bring any new dog into your home, and he will not eat for a day or two. As a fearful dog, however, skinny Charlie went for more than a few days without eating. I could get him to eat a small portion by putting a few pieces at a time on the couch while sitting nearby, but he wasn’t getting his full allotment. He was losing weight, and I knew I had to find a solution to get him on schedule.
What the experts say
At this point, I decided to put my previous notions about feeding aside and turn to the Web for answers. When specifically discussing puppies, WebMD mildly advocates hand feeding as a bonding mechanism that also discourages future food possessiveness. Un-socialized Charlie was basically a blank slate (much like a puppy), so I don’t think my version of hand feeding was damaging. In fact, I did manage to get him to eat from the bowl, as long as I stuck my fingers in it periodically during feeding time. But who wants to feed a dog on the couch? I had to get him where I want to feed him. WebMD does not recommend over-coddling a dog.
I’m a big believer in schedules, especially since that’s how I run my own life. For this I turned to Petfinder . Their website provides a detailed twice-a-day schedule. Basically, you put the bowl down at feeding time, leave it for five minutes (WebMD allows 20 minutes), and then pick it up, whether the dog has eaten or not. After giving Charlie a good sniff, I dutifully put the bowl down in its proper place. I even carried him to the bowl to show him its location. He ran away. But instead of picking it up, I left the bowl down and went upstairs to my computer to do more research (which all amounted to the same advice).
Charlie decided to set his own schedule
Charlie joined me in my office in about ten minutes. When I went down later, I discovered his bowl was empty. Apparently, he was hungry, but he wanted no witnesses while he ate!
When I adopted Charlie, the rescue center told me to feed him in his crate because he liked quiet while he ate. But Charlie had no interest in a crate, food-filled or otherwise. Plus, it doesn’t get much quieter than my house, so noise should not be an issue.
It turns out that their analysis was a bit off-track. Coming from what we suspect was a hoarding environment, Charlie was probably afraid that, if anyone saw him eating, they would steal the food. So for now, I feed and leave him alone. He is now eating on schedule, and I sleep better, knowing that he won’t starve.
Feeding drives other schedules
Even though I took Charlie on four half-mile walks per day, the exercise did not encourage proper elimination. He held on to the food he ate while still at the rescue center, only releasing it on the third day. The vet assured me that I have a healthy dog. But now that he eats on schedule, our regular walking schedule is producing two poops a day after meals. Finally, my dog’s input matches his output!
Just as important, after two weeks together, Charlie has started showing more signs of trust. I can now throw treats in front of me, close enough to begin teaching the “come” command. We still have many issues, but we are moving slowly forward – and I think we’re going to have a great relationship … eventually.