Manipulative little pooches make big fuss at mealtime

PETS AT HOME

November 06, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Big dogs don't dare try what tiny dogs get away with every day.

Tiny dogs whine to be held, spending much of their lives on furniture or in laps. They pull on leashes and travel in handbags.

Tiny dogs are utterly spoiled and completely adored. But sometimes their talent for making things go their way gets them into trouble. Like when they decide that even the finest dog food isn't good enough for their discriminating palates.

This must be the week for it, because my mail had no less than three letters from worried readers with finicky little dogs.

"What can I do?" begged one woman. "My little dog won't eat."

A few lines later, she admitted that the dog was actually quite fond of waffles with syrup, popcorn with butter, and slivers of grilled lamb.

"I have to try everything," she wrote. "She's so tiny."

The woman is right to be concerned. After all, if an 80-pound retriever loses a pound or two, it's not that big a deal. The same loss on a 6-pound poodle is a different story.

Lack of appetite can indicate serious medical problems, especially when a healthy eater suddenly loses interest in food. If you've got a pet with an eating problem, the first step in dealing with it is to have your vet thoroughly examine the animal.

If there are no medical reasons for the problem, though, it could be that the cause is you. Many people let their little dogs manipulate them at feeding time. For years I have called this the Frankie Syndrome, after a little dog I knew long ago.

Frankie was a picky eater. It probably started when he was young and decided to lay off the chow for a day. "He's so tiny!" said his family. "If he doesn't eat, he'll waste away."

They figured that since the kibble-and-canned mixture in little Frankie's dish didn't look appealing to them, it couldn't be very appealing to Frankie. So they fried a strip of bacon, broke it into crunchy little bits, mixed it in with some fresh canned food -- none of that boring kibble -- and offered it to Frankie, who decided he was hungry after all.

By the time Frankie was grown, his feeding instructions could have filled a book. If Frankie won't eat combination A, pick up his dish and add a yummy thing that sometimes works. If that doesn't cut it, try something else that works when the first additive doesn't. After that, saute a chicken breast in butter, cut it up and give that to him on a clean plate. If all else fails, give Frankie warm slivers of chicken by hand while snuggling him in your lap.

Before long, Frankie was spending all his mealtimes in someone's lap, eating fine food from human hands.

What Frankie's family had done was teach the tiny dog to be finicky. He figured out that if he didn't like what was offered, all he had to do was wait for something better. Why eat kibble, his faultless line of reasoning went, when if he ignored it, his masters would cook a steak?

If you recognize this pattern, it's time to work your delicate little angel onto a diet that's healthier for him and easier for you.

Assuming your pet checks out OK, ask your vet to recommend a good kibble. There are a lot of good foods on the market now, dry foods simple in appearance but packed with high-quality nutrition. A daily ration of premium dry food -- supplemented at first by a touch of canned, perhaps -- is all your pet needs to thrive.

Once you've got the food, set the schedule. Plan to feed in the same place at as close to the same time every day. Pick a quiet place away from traffic and distractions.

Feed the bulk of the meal in the morning -- two-thirds of the daily ration -- and the remainder at night. Give your pet the food and leave it for a half-hour, then pick up the remainder. No more food until the next regular feeding time, and no people food or between-meal snacks. Be firm in your resolve and stick to your plan.

There's a lot of brain in a little dog: Soon, the tiny terror will figure out he'd better eat what's offered because there's no better options.

And when that happens, you'll still have a spoiled little dog -- who'd want it any other way? -- but at least he'll be well-fed.

Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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