When Every Meal is Dish of Treats

German Shepherd lying by doorIt may be a little late in the day, but they want to prepare the stunning German Shepherd as best they can for a smooth transition into his new life. It is not uncommon for me to go to someone who is ‘caretaking’ a dog for someone until they can take him or her back.

Max has been loved and wonderfully looked after for the past eight months by a lady and gentleman who have never lived with a dog before.

In a month’s time the four-year-old will be going to a new life that will include a young child and a baby on the way.

My caring clients want to hand him over as well-equipped as possible.

I found out immediately that Max was simply not interested in food – even the special tasty little treats I brought. Without food it’s much more difficult to reward a dog meaningfully or to desensitise to things he’s uneasy about.  ‘Good dog’ is seldom sufficient, talking can convey the owner’s underlying anxiety even if the words themselves are positive and a favourite game like tuggy is often inconvenient and just too long-winded.

The reason became apparent when we discussed his eating habits. He has four meals a day – you could almost say ‘banquets’. Breakfast is tuna or tripe, lunch is chopped ham, tea is boiled rice with chicken, liver or heart and dinner is kibble. In addition he may get biscuits when he asks for them. When his regular food contains all the best things and in such quantity, what is there left of sufficient value for earned treats?

When I arrived I had been prepared for a barking dog, so he was on lead. Helping him with his reactivity to people coming to the house is one of their priorities. However, when they let me in following my instructions, Max was chilled! He sniffed me. We sat down – and he delicately and calmly helped himself to the Stagbar that I carry in my bag!

Work will be a lot easier if they are able to use food in order to deal appropriately with his barking at passing people and dogs, and his frenzy when someone comes to the door. They need food to help him to feel comfortable with visitors. They need food so that he pays them attention when necessary. They need to be able to reward him for sitting or lying down when asked so that he is under control when necessary. If in his new life he shows too much interest in the baby or they are at all worried that he may be uneasy around the child, they need to know that he will come to them when asked.

At the moment all the best goodies are showered upon him for free and he has to work for nothing. Now he needs to work for the best food. They will gradually reduce the variety offered in meals till his diet is more basic and he ends up with two ‘normal’ meals a day. If they are worried he’s not eating, he can still be earning and working for tasty stuff but outside his mealtimes.

Max needs to put a bit of effort in order to get what he wants. I’m sure that just like us, dogs value more the stuff they have had to put a bit of effort into acquiring – and perhaps take more note of those people whose attention they have to try a bit harder for?

Some things they simply won’t have time to address in the short time they still have him, like his manic barking in the car at everything that passes. This could make things difficult in the future with children in the car too. Their simplest option is to get a crate for the car and prevent him from seeing out – fortunately he was crate-trained.

One other thing they can help him with in the next four weeks is his very close attachment to the lady. He became visibly anxious when she left the room although the gentleman was still with us. He panted and paced. It will be hard for her as she loves him dearly, but she may need to help him to become a bit more independent of her.

I really hope that I will be called upon to continue to help this dog in his new life, and to put the caring couple’s mind at rest that all their efforts to invest in Max’ future are being built upon.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

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