I’ve seen the question asked several times recently, “What do I do about my dog’s picky eating? He refuses to eat anything for more than a couple of times or unless I add things to it he really likes!”

That bring’s me to my current topic. I guess it might be more like a rant actually. Sorry for that but, there seems to be this culture now that wants/needs us to treat our dogs like children or babies. This is such an enormous detriment to the dog!

Your dog is NOT your child!

Today’s culture of treating your dog like it is your child is SO very misguided and as breeders, trainers and animal behaviorists we are all seeing more and more preventable problems appearing in today’s pet dogs. Among those are aggression, anxiety, obesity and disease.

People all over are treating their dogs like children. How many times have you seen on social media, “My dog is my baby!” often captioned under a photo of their dog doing something he REALLY should not be doing. I see videos of dogs behaving badly while the owner just laughs and laughs. Some of these are harmless, but so many of these videos are of smaller dogs snarling and growling, chasing and biting.  Their owners think its cute because they are small?? 

Here’s the thing though, no matter how much you say it, or what you believe, dogs are NOT children. I would wager those same owners with the biting dog videos would not allow their children to act that way.   Dogs are DOGS…descendants of wolves… apex predators with forty two teeth and a bite pressure that can break bones. They deserve to be treated as such ( even the tiny ones), with some respect and also with a good dose of discipline. 

Somehow, treating your dog like a dog has become this sort of taboo subject. This is because of the misguided people out there who feel that teaching a dog discipline, rules and expectations is some form of cruelty. We no longer say “no” to our dogs when they are out of line. We don’t give them jobs to do, even when we have purchased a working breed. We don’t let them dig or get muddy or play in the grass for fear of parasites or ticks or…gasp… fleas.. we can’t feed them raw meat, or grain, or treats with poor ingredients and we certainly can’t have a dog that is lean and in good shape.. the poor thing would be starved. We can’t demand that our dog’s eat a healthy diet if they “don’t like the food” because surely they will hunger strike and starve themselves if we don’t give in and cover their kibble with treats, bits of meat and canned food. 

And THEN we wonder why our dogs are anxiety riddled ( we’ve not given them a clear definition of what’s expected or who is in charge), hyper ( we haven’t given them a job or any mental of physical exercise to drain that working dog battery) or obese ( we constantly feed them whatever they like in a bid to get them to eat because they are “picky”)

We seem to think it is cruel to give them a job, limit how much they eat and make sure that what we feed is healthy. But what about leaving them crated in the house while we are gone to work all day, offering very little opportunity for physical or mental exercise because we are tired when we get home. All while we simultaneously feed them excess and allow them to become obese, diabetic and dysplastic? Is that not cruel? 

Below is my two cents on the subject. This comes from 25+ years of working with dogs. Your dog is an amazing, emotionally complex, intelligent animal. However, until we can treat our dogs like dogs, understanding them on their level, we will continue to see behavioral issues and preventable disease in our furry companions. Dogs are euthanized EVERY DAY simply because no one taught them the rules of our society, preferring instead to treat them like spoiled children. Your dog could be the best friend you’ll ever have. The questions is, will you also be his best friend? Showing him how to navigate the rules of human society? Giving him the love and attention he craves? Making your expectations of him clear? Feeding him appropriately and not in excess? Making sure what he eats is of the best quality and is nutritionally sound? Having his best interests in mind even when it isn’t easy? I truly hope so and so does your furry friend.

1. Your Dog WANTS to know the rules and what's expected.

He wants to make you happy and he will be so much happier if he knows exactly how to do that. You OWE it to him to teach him the rules. Teach him how to behave in public, with guests, with other dogs. Teach him the rules of the house.. no dogs on the couch? Sit before you go  to the door? etc. and BE CONSISTENT!!! CONSISTENCY IS KEY to a well behaved and calm dog.

2. Your dog NEEDS good nutrition.

 He does NOT need a different protein every week, a half bag of treats dumped on his dinner, scraps off the table or canned food mixed in so he will like it better. Dogs are nothing if not smart and perceptive. If your dog has worked out that all he has to do is turn his nose up at what you’ve given him and he will get something tastier.. you are damn right he is going to turn his nose up. Dogs are opportunists of the highest order.  If his stools are soft on his dog food and its a good quality food, odds are you are overfeeding. Look at the feeding guidelines on the bag then cut back a 1/4 cup and see if that helps or add some pumpkin to it for a few days. The odds are really really strong that it isn’t the food, its likely the excess treats, the canned mix ins, the table scraps or something weird he is eating in the yard.

3. Give your dog a JOB.

The most popular breeds these days were bred to WORK. Labs, Golden retrievers, labradoodles, border collies, German shepherds, poodles.. the list goes on.. these dogs were ALL bred to do a job. They have nearly boundless energy and they LOVE to work. Without a job these breeds can become anxious, destructive and unruly. That job does not have to be the job they were bred for. If you’ve got a lab and you don’t like to hunt, that’s ok. Teach him a sport like dock diving, flyball, frisbee, or teach him something useful, like gathering his toys and putting them away. DOGS LOVE TO WORK and they love to learn. My dogs adore short training sessions where they learn a new behavior or get to show off what they already know, They also love puzzle toys and games. There are countless ways to give your dog a “job” or some mental exercise.

4. Make sure your dog is getting enough Physical exercise and STOP overfeeding him.

Just like us, dogs love food. Too many snacks, treats, and not enough movement equal an overweight, unhealthy animal.  I’m sorry if you think chubby dogs are “sooo cute” It won’t be cute when your vet tells you he is diabetic, or that his hips are painful because of his weight or that his heart is failing because he is obese.  And for those of you who have “picky” dogs who refuse their food without treats and garbage piled on top, I’ve got a little tough love for you. Your dog is NOT picky, he is SPOILED and he has got you TRAINED. Don’t get me wrong, my own dogs will do literal backflips for a bit of table food, but they also know that dinner is dinner. They get the same kibble daily, no switching up the formula or variety, no canned food because they turn away and refuse to eat.  They WILL eat when they are hungry. Dog’s are not like us in that they are not wired to be self destructive. Your dog will NOT starve himself on a hunger strike over the flavor of his dog food. If you don’t cave and give him the goodies, eventually he WILL eat his food. A couple days of empty stomach for a stubborn dog will NOT hurt him.

5. Your dog is a DOG and deserves to be treated as such.

He is not your child and will not function the way a child would. Whether you realize it or not, his brain isn’t wired the same way as yours, He NEEDS routine.  He NEEDS leadership and consistency so he can trust you to take care of him. He NEEDS solid nutrition, not a bunch of garbage treats and our idea of a varied diet. I promise you he isn’t feeling slighted because you didn’t cook him a 5 course meal and you’ve given him the same thing every night for the past year. Again, He NEEDS routine, consistency and leadership.