TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
I have two German Shepherds, one is a 5-year-old male named Jackson and the other is 1-year-old female named Sydney. We got Jackson when he was about 1 1/2 years old and he has always had fear aggression issues with other dogs. Sydney came to us as a puppy and we’ve done puppy socialization and basic manners classes. She is a really sensitive dog. Jackson really loves his sister and they play well together. The problem is Jackson resource guards his food and Sydney is so terrified that she hardly eats. We feed them at opposite ends of the kitchen, but she just walks away from the bowl. She is so skinny that I’m really concerned.
A Shepherd Lover
Dear Shepherd Lover,
You need to start feeding Sydney in a place where she is totally relaxed. Since you’ve already tried distance in the same room, you’ll need to move her to another room for meals. Choose a quiet place where you can close the door. For her to stop eating, the anxiety she is experiencing is severe.
Once you have determined the best place to re-establish an eating routine, start by sitting in a chair with her next to you. Begin by hand-feeding her the kibble a little at a time. Do this for a few meals until she seems very comfortable eating from your hand. Next, bring her bowl in the room and set it on the floor next to the chair. Sit down and place handfuls of kibble into the bowl. When she finishes a handful, add another. You are re-introducing her to the bowl in a relaxed environment with no threat from Jackson.
Continue this process until she seems very comfortable eating from the bowl. Gradually phase out the hand-feeding until you can put the food in the bowl and set it on the ground. You may still need to sit near her while she eats, but eventually try to phase that out too.
If she seems reluctant to eat even when in the quiet room, add something higher value to her kibble. Parmesan cheese or small pieces of chicken or hotdogs might be enough to entice her to eat.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.