Rob Phillips: When it comes to feeding time, dogs follow their gut feelings

Posted by Whiskers101 on

Most dogs, no matter what their breed, are chow hounds. It’s built into their DNA. Over thousands of years they have learned to eat when they can because they never knew where their next meal might come from.

Of course most dogs now live with loving families who make sure their pets are fed on a regular basis. That doesn’t matter to the majority of the dogs I’ve owned. You could feed them their evening meal, and they would eat it all again in an hour.

Heck, some of my dogs would eat again in five minutes.

Of all the dogs I have owned, which include six different Labrador retrievers and one German longhair pointer, five have been true chow hounds and the other two have not.

The pointer was a picky eater, eating only when she was hungry. One of my current Labs, Bailey, has taken picky eating to a whole new level however.

My other Labs were not shy about eating. They would dive into their bowl of kibble as if they hadn’t had a bite to eat in a week. Some would actually gulp their food without hardly chewing. Which can’t be great for the digestive system, but short of putting rocks in with their food, which is what one of my buddy’s dad used to do with some overzealous hounds, what are you going to do?

Our son Kyle’s Lab Cali really loves to eat. The second you grab her bowl to get her dinner ready she is drooling. Kyle had to get a bowl with three built-in posts in the middle to slow her down from just gulping the food. Now she has to work around the posts to get to the kernels which has helped in getting her to slow down a bit.

When you give her a dog treat though, it gets gulped down without so much as a chew. Same with a piece of meat. It is swallowed so fast she doesn’t even taste it.

Which brings me back to Bailey. I have literally placed pieces of steak and hamburger and chicken in her bowl and she will approach it like it’s a rattlesnake and barely stick her nose close enough to smell it and turn and walk away. Steak! She will turn her nose up at steak.

I have never seen a dog do that, ever.

Yes, after a while — it might be 20 minutes or 2 hours later — she will go and eat the steak, but only when she is good and ready.

We feed our dogs at 5 each evening and if you haven’t started the dog feeding ritual by then, both the Labs will start getting all nervous like they are worried we might totally forget about feeding them. Bailey, more out of routine than desire to eat, will come sit in front of me and just stare at me. Tessa, our older Lab, is WAY more obvious. She starts doing her “time to eat dance”, tippy-tapping around back and forth. Then, if you ignore her for even a couple minutes she will start barking.

You can set your watch by it. At 5 o’clock straight up, Bailey is sitting and staring and Tessa is dancing. How do they know? It’s amazing how their internal clock works.

Even with Bailey’s reminder that it is time to eat, I will feed her and she will then do one of two things. She will actually lay down next to her bowl of food and eat—which is a funny quirk in itself, as she is the only dog I have ever had that lays down to eat. Or she will sniff her food, and walk away until she is ready to eat later.

Sometimes Bailey will eat a few bites and call it good. Other times she will eat all of her food, but almost always she will leave some for later. Again, later might be later that night, or sometime the next day.

When she is finally ready to eat the rest of her food, she will go over and sit by the back door and stare up at the counter, where her dish normally sits.

Because she is such a skinny thing, we have worried about Bailey’s eating habits. Especially during hunting season when I want her to be fueled up for a hard day of running in the field. So we now put something in with her dry dog food to try to get her interested in eating. It might be a few pieces of cooked chicken or hamburger, or sprinkles of shredded cheese.

That works sometimes, but often times she will give her dinner a sniff and go lay down. Funny dog she is.

Dinner or no, both dogs are almost always interested in what I am eating. They have learned if I am eating some kind of a snack it is probably going to be tasty. Even Bailey, who looks at hamburger in her bowl like it is poison, will come over and see if she can get a little bite of whatever I am eating.

My wife Terri says if I had never given them some of my snack, they would never have learned to beg. I kindly disagree. Dogs have noses and when they smell something good, they want it. With those big brown eyes staring at you it is hard to not give them a bite.

So I do. And even Bailey will eat a bite of a chocolate chip cookie. Maybe that’s what I should put with her food.