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The Dog Who Doesn't Like Food
Galen
tiger_spot
I do not understand this dog. He is about the least food-motivated dog I've ever met. He'll work for kibble, sure. Sometimes. But if you put it down in a bowl he won't eat it. He'll turn away from kibble in a bowl literally seconds before or after (both, tonight) happily accepting kibble as a training treat. Sometimes he'll knock around a Kong; sometimes he'll let it lie there, for days if necessary, until a human comes and takes the nasty thing away. We actually swapped out his food for a different kind that (a) he likes better and (b) is more nutritionally dense, so not only is he a little more willing to eat it, he also doesn't have to eat as much of it to get a reasonable number of calories. He does like it better, but he still won't eat it out of a bowl. (Sometimes he will eat kibble out of a bowl if it's mixed with something tastier, like yogurt or carrots. Sometimes not.)

He is usually more interested in legitimate treats, but if he's really focused on something and you stick hot dog in his face to get his attention, he will irritably duck his head around that annoying chunk of MEAT obstructing his terribly important view of construction workers or crows or a bush he's walked past twice a day for the last week. (Construction workers, very interesting. And their fascinating vehicles. He's like a toddler.)

He is interested in toys at unpredictable intervals, for about 30 seconds at a time. (The bees usually last longer. He likes the bees a lot.) He's reliably interested in toys if something really exciting he's not supposed to mess with is happening (e.g. people coming to the door), which is nice because it means you can toss a toy away from the exciting but disallowed thing to distract him. Sometimes he'll even go grab his toy as a displacement activity all by himself.

It's hard to figure out how to reward him for things, since what he wants varies so much. We suspect that what he really likes is novelty, which is... difficult to supply at need.


He appears to have caught on that we do not want him messing with the chickens, and has not attempted to put his giant feet up on the card table their cage is sitting on in a few days. I brought a beanbag chair out of the closet to sit and watch them, and Galen has decided that the beanbag chair is the BEST THING EVER. It is better than being with people, even -- last night he stayed curled up on the beanbag well after chinders and I had gone to bed, which is very unusual behavior. Today he's been in and out, dividing his time between hanging with the people as usual and hanging with the chickens on the beanbag. This may not last, but I'm glad we've got something he enjoys for now. (I suspect the chickens may be part of why he likes it in there -- their peeping is very soothing, and the heat lamp in the brooder means that it's warmer in that room. Now that they're not a NEW THING WHAT IS IT ARGH TOO HIGH I CAN'T SEE, he doesn't seem bothered by them at all; he doesn't even react when they change the tone of their peeping to indicate alarm.)
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Nope. We keep putting "lab mix" on his paperwork, but he's got some odd features. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sighthound in there -- he's got a keel like a ship.

This is very like Ista's personality. Neophilic dogs are sometimes difficult but much better fun, I feel, than the simpler kind.

Difficult:

I wanted to do a bit of training this evening; he had about half a cup of dinner left after his walk, so we went into the bedroom and started with that. Well, no -- to get to the bedroom chinders had to get up and walk with us, because he wasn't going to stand up if she wasn't going anywhere. Then she shut the door and left, so he couldn't follow her back to the office. And he didn't want any nasty kibble, oh no. Didn't really want the Zuke's treats either, which he is generally fond of. Salmon, eh. It's okay, he guesses, here and there.

I wanted to work on Down, because he is generally reluctant to lie down on cue (he knows what it means, but he doesn't like doing it unless he knows he's getting something good), which is why we were in the bedroom (carpet is more comfortable to practice on). Today he was perfectly willing to lie down on a merest suggestion -- but he wasn't getting up again for love or money (or treats). Until I went for the door -- then he was all "Oh, hey! You can open the door! Allow me to demonstrate my willingness to do anything you want!" So he did, and I let him out, and he went and found chinders and all was right with his world.

Then we thought for a bit, and noted that although he's been on the recommended quantity of new food for his weight, that last half-cup each day is tricky to get down him, and he wasn't eating anything like so many calories of the old food. So we decided to cut his standard ration by a half-cup, and we'll see if that helps keep interest in kibble up. He's certainly been gaining weight on the new stuff, and now that he's safely away from emaciated he doesn't need to keep doing that, so the weight-based recommendation may be a little high for him anyway.

Then chinders and I did a little more training in the den (since he indicated that he did not want to go back into the bedroom at all, not even if chinders did have salmon bits in there) and tried swapping toys in for some of the treats, which sort of worked, about three times. And he continued with the "Sure, I'll lie down! No, I'm not going to get up. Not even if you use a treat lure. Or a toy lure. Or jogging away. Oh, are we practicing Stay now? I can do that. Hey, you're jogging away! Where are you going?"

Aggravating dog.

But he was very well-behaved around the power tools on Sunday while we were constructing the foundation for the chicken coop, and he hasn't eaten any small household vertebrates at all, so really I can't complain. He's very well-behaved when he can see the utility of it, so most of the time he's lovely.

Is he treating chinders as alpha, or is it that the pack is Supposed To Be Together?

chinders is clearly his favorite. He is pretty willing to take cues from other people if she's not home, or if she's in the room doing something else, but he does not like it when she's around but not present (e.g., she's doing something in the garden and he's inside).

He doesn't totally shadow her -- if she's doing something boring and he knows that, he might go check on people who are doing more interesting things like cooking or looking at the chickens, and he will occasionally go lie down in other rooms entirely (especially in the evenings if she's playing video games). But he definitely pays a lot more attention to where she is than to where anybody else is.

He does seem happy when we're all in the same place, especially if we're somewhere a little unusual (e.g., the backyard, going to obedience class), but he doesn't take steps to try to get us in the same place (for instance, running back and forth between the separated people or trying to lead anybody anywhere). Togetherness seems to be more of an occasional bonus -- fun things are happening and everyone's here! that's extra fun! -- than either good by itself (he's more "the humans are all sitting in the living room; are they going to do anything interesting? no? I guess then I will lie on the hard rug, sigh, and practice my put-upon look") or necessary for fun to happen.

Yah, it definitely sounds like he's decided she's the alpha, then. Glad he's willing to take cues from other people. Ista's first idea of pack hierarchy at our house was that I was alpha and she was second in command and the boymonkeys after. Her first notion of fetch was that I would throw a toy and she would fetch it, and she would throw a toy and they would fetch it. She was very encouraging in trying to train them to this, and it took a bit to convince her that, no, they also got to throw toys and have her fetch them. She now likes it that way, too, but at first there was a certain level of, "But...wait...this makes no sense," in the poodle demeanor.

I would throw a toy and she would fetch it, and she would throw a toy and they would fetch it

Hee!

I would like to teach Galen how to play fetch, but generally by the time he has put the toy down he does not want to chase it again.

This is one of the places where the size of dog may make a difference: do you play tug with him with his toys, or is he to understand that if a human wants something, they are to have it? Ista's best friend Morgan does not understand tug as a game. If a monkey tugs on something, they get it, game over, end of story. This has advantages and disadvantages. Ista understands the difference between "we are playing a game of tug" and "give me that," so that's useful--and knowing that "we are playing a game of tug" is one of the rewards for bringing a toy back makes fetch more appealing when she really wants to bite and chomp on the toy.

We play tug with one particular toy, and have a cue for it. (I'm not sure that he actually recognizes that cue as meaningful, but he pays attention to body language anyway, and is fairly good about giving when it is giving time.)

One of the odd things about him is that if he picks up a toy in the house, he will always bring it to the rug by the front door. That is The Playing With Toys Spot now, regardless of whether a person gave him a plush toy in the den or let him win a game of tug in the bedroom or tossed a bee down the hall -- once he's got control of the object, it's right back to the rug for the squeaking/chomping/pouncing on. He does not have an obvious preferred spot in the yard. Hm. I suppose this presents an obvious way to increase the possibility of rewardable accidental successes, doesn't it? And here I'd been thinking starting outside made more sense....

Does your obedience trainer have any suggestions about what to use instead of food as a motivator?
Sounds like you've set up a doggie bedroom, complete with white noise machine!

Actually, food seems to be reasonably effective for teaching him things. The problem is when distractions come in -- ideally, we'd teach him to ignore squirrels by providing him with something better than staring at a squirrel. But he gets very focused on the squirrels, even though he's on leash and they're in trees and he will never actually catch them.

I wonder if bringing his tug toy on walks might work? If he's thinking of squirrels as fun things to chase, rather than tasty things to eat, maybe a game would be more in line with what he wants when he's looking at a squirrel.

Let me know if that works. It never has for Ista, and if it does work I may quiz you on specifics.

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