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OK folks, I'm a newbie here and I've done a lot of research before posting this. Just a quick backgrounder on me first. I've owned and trained dogs for most of my life (I'm over 50). I have extensive experience in dealing with animal behavior issues and have even helped train other dogs. But, this one has me stumped.

About 2 years ago, I adopted a young Husky/Shepherd from the local shelter. At the time she was estimated to be about 7-8 months old. She was a transfer from a rural shelter and all they knew about her is that she spent most of her young life outdoors on a chain. Got her home and we had lots of issues to work through. As an outdoor dog, indoors was scary for her. Spent a lot of time and love over the past nearly two years helping her adjust to life, get happy and socialized. It's been very successful. I will tell her full story later and how much work it took and how rewarding it has been. We truly rescued each other. Here's what she looks like today -



So, that's the good news. But the not so good news is that there is one behavior she has that I cannot explain nor have I been successful in changing. Her eating habits are very puzzling. I've read a lot about dogs that won't eat unless there are other people around. Well, I've got the opposite in a strange way.

Tana will not eat if I am alone with her or if I'm visible to her. She can be incredibly hungry after jogging with me or playing all day with other dog friends. But, if I prepare her food and put it down on the plate while I am seated at the kitchen table, she puts her tail between her legs and slinks out of the room. However, if there is another person in the room, sitting in the same seat and I am out of view, she will eat.

It get's even stranger. The food cannot be in a bowl. Even the plate is a struggle for her. Usually, putting it on the floor has some success but not routinely. She also will pick up a piece of food and walk away with it. She will eat it and come back 10 minutes later for another piece.

I have tried so many strategies. To be clear, I never ever create stress around eating for her. I never yell because that is counter productive. I largely let her decide if she will eat or not. I try to be routine with her food (once a day between 6 and 7 pm). I've tried putting her food down and leaving the house. I've tried different locations, dozens of different food combinations. I don't give her treats, usually just some biscuits. She's been a very picky eater and I've not had any success changing this behavior.

What am I missing? Has anyone else had this problem? I am truly puzzled. As an experienced dog owner (this is my third husky mix), I've not seen this behavior before and the vet is stumped too. Overall she's healthy and not under weight. We are, however, concerned about her long term health given her poor dietary habits and limited intake.

Am I over-reacting? She is happy, playful and my constant companion. It's just that meal time is a struggle. Advice and questions welcome!! And thanks in advance for any help.
 

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I don't know why she's made a negative association between you and eating. If her previous owner punished her and food was associated with the punishment, she may associate anyone who provides food as unpredictable and scary.

Regardless of the reason for her unwillingness to eat in your presence, what I would try is to completely take yourself out of the picture as far as the feeding routine is concerned. Prepare her food when she is not present and cannot hear you getting the food ready. I'd also change the normal time you've been feeding her as she knows when to anticipate she'll be fed. Dogs will anticipate events that make them fearful long before you're aware of any cues you are inadvertently providing.

I'd also start using a Kong or some other interactive food dispenser to feed her. Do away with anything she's been fed in in the past.

Put the food dispenser in a different room. Say nothing. Don't show her the food. Let her discover the food on her own. If you have a secure outside area, maybe try putting the food there, when she is not watching.

Your emotional stress over this is contributing to her anxiety about eating. A dog won't starve itself. I know it's hard to allow a dog to not eat without become worried but she'll eat when she's hungry and if you can let go of the worry about this, it may help her. I understand that you don't create stress about eating but the fact that you are worried about it is probably apparent to your dog and feeding time becomes a time of anxiety (even if you believe you're hiding it) for both of you.

Hope some of this is helpful. It sounds like she is eating enough to be healthy and she looks very fit. I've known of some dogs who routinely go several days without eating. For whatever reason, that is their normal.
 

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Thank you so much for the advice! I am definitely going to take it and do as you recommend. I agree that she is anticipating the event and considering how bonded we are (we are rarely apart), she is likely picking up on my body language and emotional state.
 

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Oh, wow. She is a gorgeous dog. It sounds like you two have an amazing relationship. :)

First off, I am the opposite of you. I have very little experience. I think @Grabby's advice is excellent.

However, I was also wondering about a different possibility. What about free-feeding? I know not everyone is a fan, and most people have a good reason. However, with how much of an issue "mealtime" is with your lovely dog, maybe she needs to have more control over it? Free-feeding would allow her that option.

Plus, you could start slowly. Instead of a standard bowl, maybe try using one of the "vacation feeders." Not because you're going to leave that much food, but because it's different and might not scare her as much as a regular bowl. Don't put food in it at first, just set it in the room where you'd like to set it up, and leave it there, empty for a week or two or however long it takes to seem just like a part of the normal world to her. Then when she's not paying attention to you, drop one or two of her favorite treats in the dish, and just leave them. Don't pay any attention to it, just let her find it on her own. Once she eats them, try putting a bit of her kibble with a few treats, but again, don't worry about how long it takes her to find and eat it, or if you're in the room or not. Eventually, I feel like you would be able to work up to leaving her full daily allotment in the dish, and then she could eat when she felt comfortable eating.

I just really think in this situation she needs to have some control, and free-feeding is going to allow her the space and control she wants.

But again, I have no experience, so I may be totally wrong.

Whatever route you go, good luck!
 

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Great advice so far. I have a rescue rat terrier who is a picky eater too. We believe that he was raised in scraps because he will not touch his dry kibble. He will starve himself all day until bed time and then will eat his kibble. Because he doesn't eat when we put food out, we allowed him to have free feed. In the morning before going to work I refill his bowl. If there is a little over half, I'll leave it. He has access to it all day and as I've stated, he will not touch it until everyone had already eaten.

He is so funny when he eats. He will take a mouthful of kibble and deposited on the floor and eat it.

So, maybe try free feeding as the above statement if the advice doesn't work. If kuma was like chance from homeward bound during feeding time, I'd have kuma on a feeding schedule. But since he doesn't we leave it out.
Unless the dog is sick, they will all eat when hungry.
 

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Thanks for the great advice! I'm getting the impression that I've been doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (the definition of stupid). Some great ideas on free feeding too. I tried it once. Left her kibble near where she sleeps. But I gave up after one night. When I first brought her home, I left a bowl of kibble by her water downstairs in the kitchen. Even though she sleeps upstairs in my room, I would come down in the morning to find it half or completely empty. I stopped doing that after we had a battle with some pesky field mice that got in through the garage and the exterminator said not to leave food down. Mice are gone so maybe I try that again?
 

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Wow, this is the exact opposite of the usual food resource guarding issues! Huskies and shepherds are both wicked smart, have you considered a brain-game toy that gets filled with kibble? It's kind of like the kongs mentioned above but is more interactive and more of a challenge, and you can fit her entire meal into those. Since it's a toy and a game she might not associate it with whatever made her fearful about it.
 

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Wow, this is the exact opposite of the usual food resource guarding issues! Huskies and shepherds are both wicked smart, have you considered a brain-game toy that gets filled with kibble? It's kind of like the kongs mentioned above but is more interactive and more of a challenge, and you can fit her entire meal into those. Since it's a toy and a game she might not associate it with whatever made her fearful about it.
I haven't. But, believe it or not, this dog doesn't play with toys. Ignores them. I worked for almost two months to get her to not run away from a tennis ball. Now, I've got her to the point where she will fetch and return the ball. She really enjoys that now. I can occasionally get her to take some peanut butter from a Kong, but that's not terribly often. Sounds like a good idea. Thanks!
 

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She is gorgeous!

Have you tried hand feeding?

To be honest, if it were me I would not leave the room. Yes, the dog might not eat at first, but when they are hungry enough they will. I've had plenty of times where a dog wouldn't eat, but I just stick to my guns and basically say "i'm more stubborn than you are" and they eventually get over whatever it causing it and get into the routine here.

When you're in the same room, are you facing her? Try sitting at the other end of the room, turned sideways to her and do your thing quietly with no eye contact (read a book, check emails, etc) as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
 

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She is gorgeous!

Have you tried hand feeding?

To be honest, if it were me I would not leave the room. Yes, the dog might not eat at first, but when they are hungry enough they will. I've had plenty of times where a dog wouldn't eat, but I just stick to my guns and basically say "i'm more stubborn than you are" and they eventually get over whatever it causing it and get into the routine here.

When you're in the same room, are you facing her? Try sitting at the other end of the room, turned sideways to her and do your thing quietly with no eye contact (read a book, check emails, etc) as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
So here's the weird part. When we are out training (we do 5 mile hikes each morning - walking - running - jumping - playing ball) she is very treat motivated. Every time she returns to me, she takes a small (I mean the tiny ones) treat from my hand. Basic training technique. But, if I do the same thing in the house with even her kibble, she runs away.

I have tried the technique of putting her food down quietly and moving to my computer or just watching TV. Completely ignore her and go to the other side of the room. No difference. Slinks out of the room. Yet if someone else is in the room at the same time as me, she will eat out of the plate and eat usually the entire meal. But we don't get visitors every day.
 

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It could be possible that she is eating her food right away when someone else is in the room because she is afraid they may take her food away?? Like a slight resource guarding? Just a thought.

Don't take her actions personally. You are doing a great thing with your dog. Some dogs just have funny quirks that we just can't understand.

How long have you let her go without eating when your in the same room?
 

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It could be possible that she is eating her food right away when someone else is in the room because she is afraid they may take her food away?? Like a slight resource guarding? Just a thought.

Don't take her actions personally. You are doing a great thing with your dog. Some dogs just have funny quirks that we just can't understand.

How long have you let her go without eating when your in the same room?
I think you're right about that. When someone else appears, I noticed that she seems to consume it faster. So I think there is a little resource guarding going on. There have been no defensive attempts on her part. She never growls or defends her food it a person touches it.

I will usually give her about an hour before I take the food up. Too long? Too short?

I really try not to take it personal. It's hard sometimes for sure. But after seeing how far she's come compared to how bad she was when I brought her home from the shelter, the transformation is amazing. She has a big personality and is so happy in all other respects, I just am trying to see if I can make things a little better for her.
 

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So, I thought it might be appropriate to share a link. I am a member of a forum about sculpting and modeling. But we also share our stories about important things in our lives. Here is a link to Tana's story with lots of pictures and updates as she has progressed in her life.

A Year After The Worst Day - My New Girl Arrives - Katana - STATUE M A R V E L S

You will see how much time I spend with her and how far she's come.
 

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Oh, my gosh. That was so fun to read and look at! You take stunning pictures, and she's a gorgeous dog.

You two definitely have an amazing life together. I look forward to hearing more about you guys! :)
 
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Thanks for the great advice! I'm getting the impression that I've been doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (the definition of stupid). Some great ideas on free feeding too. I tried it once. Left her kibble near where she sleeps. But I gave up after one night. When I first brought her home, I left a bowl of kibble by her water downstairs in the kitchen. Even though she sleeps upstairs in my room, I would come down in the morning to find it half or completely empty. I stopped doing that after we had a battle with some pesky field mice that got in through the garage and the exterminator said not to leave food down. Mice are gone so maybe I try that again?

Speaking of mice, funny story you will want to hear. I dont' know if I posted it on here or not but it's pretty funny.

The reason they give the name RAT to the terrier is because they chase and kill rats.... Thus the name Rat Terrier... I have a rat terrier, (maybe a mix, but looks really rat terrierish)

Kuma is afraid of them... Not rats or mice but the vole. We had a vole who entered our home and it startled kuma when he was eating and when he went to investigate (It wasn't a confident investigating it was a shy investigating.) His tail was tucked, his neck streatched out as far as it would go, but he would not go near his food and twitched a few times, but never attacked.

I found a pile of dog food in my clean clothes and thought Hubby was playing an evil trick only to find out he wasn't. And he did mention that something did scurry from Kuma's bowl to the refridgerator nad I told him he was seeing things. Then, just as I stepped by the refridgerator, and Kuma was next to me, the vole scurried away toward the door and I freaked and hubby said I told you I saw something.

And Kuma did nothing! What kind of a Rat terrier is he?! Anyways, I bought those mice traps and put peanut butter on the end. (Sorry, poison is just too crewl, but Kuma could get into it.) And the snap kills the creature quickly and painlessly.

Once I put the trap down, after 20 minutes we caught one. Then put another one and again 20 minutes after that, another one.

Anyways, we caught them all that were in the house and we left the mouse trap outside and we did not get any hook. Since summer came, we put the trap up and now we have to put the trap down again because it's getting colder and this is the time when they will be 'looking' for a place to stay and a place where dog food is plentiful, my house is the perfect canditate.


Oh he will chase rabbits (When we were out on the tundra he startled one into running and he was on it like a flash, luckily the rabbit was faster then him.)
 

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I will usually give her about an hour before I take the food up. Too long? Too short?
I think an hour is reasonable. I would keep doing that (with you in the room). Her hunger will eventually get her to eat with you in the room and it will become the norm for her eventually. That is just me though. Sometimes I don't give in to a dogs quirks when it comes to routine, other times I do.

Keep doing the amazing work you're doing with her. Shows how much you love her.
 

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I haven't. But, believe it or not, this dog doesn't play with toys. Ignores them. I worked for almost two months to get her to not run away from a tennis ball. Now, I've got her to the point where she will fetch and return the ball. She really enjoys that now. I can occasionally get her to take some peanut butter from a Kong, but that's not terribly often. Sounds like a good idea. Thanks!
Don't mean to hijack your thread or anything but.....

How'd you get her to like playing ball? Trying to get my guy to do so, he used to like it when he was a bit younger (he's only 7 months now) but has since discovered that other dogs are more fun to play with and doesn't really play with toys all that much anymore, either alone or with me. Trying to find something that will give him some extra exercise/tire him out :) when we're not around other dogs for him to play with.
 
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