I have two important questions about my eating habits. First, my beloved owner tries to feed me in the morning, but for some reason I don't want to eat. Sometimes he will try to make me hungry by not feeding me, just to see if I'll eat on my own, but I just sneak some of the cat's food. Second, my owner sometimes gives me a chewy treat that I really cherish. When he tries to touch me or get the treat from me I growl at him and sometimes bite him. What can I do? Why am I this way? Please help!
First, have your owner make sure you get a healthy checkup at the vet to determine if there are any underlying health reasons for your refusal to eat. Now, let us analyze your behavior a little further.
Are you just finicky, or are you focused on receiving an extra treat to compensate for not eating your breakfast? If that is the case, your owner can help change your refusal to eat by ignoring you. Probably not the result you are looking for.
Another possibility is that you are engaging in "the hunt." As a direct descendent of wolves living in the wild, you are calling up the need to forage for food. From the sound of it, you are refusing to eat food put in front of you for the greater adventure of stealing the cat's food. Working to get that treat is much more satisfying to you than simply munching on dog food lovingly put in your food bowl.
The hunt becomes successful when your owner offers up the treat. You play out your role as foraging wild critter by growling and biting anyone who comes near your conquest. Very clever and self entertaining! But, as a domesticated canine, you really are more interested in making your owner happy.
To make your owner happy, let him train you. (By all means, makes sure he thinks it is his idea.) A few simple strategies from the SPCA:
• Positive attention. Give praise when you eat breakfast out of your bowl, or when you quit munching on the cat food.
• Interrupt and redirect. Give a shout ("Hey!") and possibly a loud hand clap when you growl at him for touching you while you're eating your chewy treat.
• Ignore. If your owner ignores you, you just lost the motivation for your behavior.
• Negative attention. Your owner must try not to give negative attention — because it is still, after all, attention.
Just remember that if your next happy car ride with your beloved owner stops in front of the vet clinic, it was you who made it happen!
— Fisher lives in Tampa Bay with her humans and loves to give advice. Send questions and a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ask-fisher.com.