Every second that you spend with your dog, you are teaching something. Often something you don’t want. On top of that, your dog is pairing environmental cause-and-effect in his own instinctive, superstitious way.
It’s a terrible, wonderful burden.
Behaviors you didn’t really teach are tricky to change. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the cue is that’s setting off the behavior. Sometimes you know the cue, but it’s not in your control. Sometimes the entire situation is completely in the dog’s head, and you’re just guessing.
That last situation is where we’ve been lately with Silas’s breakfast. I know some of you (ahem, Jodi and Jessica) have dogs whose begging for breakfast is a problem behavior, but we are the opposite. Silas has never been a great eater, and his medication suppresses his appetite. Plus, after years of food allergies, he’s naturally suspicious of food. Medically, there’s nothing wrong with him. (This is always the first thing you should check when a dog loses his appetite.)
Silas had entirely stopped eating breakfast. I couldn’t even get him into the kitchen anymore. Without his stomach problems, it wouldn’t be a big deal if he naturally preferred to eat one meal a day, but his acid reflux gets really bad if he doesn’t eat.
I finally realized that Silas had developed pervasive bad associations with eating. I think the last straw was me putting his medication in his breakfast, where it dissolved too quickly and made his food bitter. It could be lots of things, though. He eats in the kitchen, where I also trim his nails. He has stainless dishes, which some dogs don’t like. Because of his allergies, Silas has a long history of food making him sick. (Have you ever eaten something that made you throw up? Did you ever eat it again?) It really could be everything in combination–like I said, dogs are superstitious.
If I wanted him to eat, I needed to change all of the situation around him eating.
I started feeding him in the crate in the living room.
I bought him a new dish, in ceramic instead of stainless.
I switched his breakfast meal with his dinner meal, to give him the food he prefers when he’s less inclined to eat.
Sneakily, I started all these changes to correspond with our rotation to Silas’s favorite food.
So far, he’s eaten breakfast every day.