DEAR OLD TRAINER: My Sheltie, Rita, is 12. She always gobbled her food down, and wanted more and always ate faster than our two young dogs, but lately she eats less and less. We tried hamburger and every other treat we could think of, but she just doesn’t eat like she once did. What should we do?
Janice, Boulder, Colo.
A: An old dog doesn’t change eating habits without a reason. Young dogs like to play games with food, but once a dog establishes habits, they rarely change.
The first thing to do is have the vet take a look at Rita and see if physical ailments are causing the problem.
If the vet gives her a clean bill of health, then she may be doing it because she is upset for some reason. Old dogs get touchy and pout over perceived slights and Shelties are more sensitive than most. She may feel she is not getting enough attention or one of the young dogs is getting too much. Maybe she is just sad she isn’t the fastest in the pack like she was in her youth.
Rita has spent her entire life observing you. You are the most important thing in her life. If she feels she is not getting the attention she deserves from you it can affect her appetite.
We don’t realize how often our dogs force us to pay attention by lying next to us or raising a paw or interrupting us in one way or another. An aging dog doesn’t have the energy, and old dogs, as John Prine wrote of old people, “just grow lonely” waiting for someone to notice them.
Try spending time with her without the other dogs. Feed her earlier than the other dogs and apart from them. Make it a point to stop and pet her every time you walk by. If you see her watching you, say something to her and give her some attention.
There is no simple answer. Sometimes old dogs start to fade in spite of everything you do, but don’t give up. You are the most important thing in her life, so if anything can bring her around it is love and attention from you.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: My two toy poodles, Speedy and Rosie, are 5 and 4. We walk on the river path every day. As soon as the grass turned green in the fields along the path they both started eating it. They love it and eat it every day. Is that normal or should I stop them?
A: No one knows why dogs love grass. I used to wonder if maybe my border collies’ ancestors watched sheep enjoy eating grass for so many generations they decided to give it a try.
Dogs eat anything that interests them and throw up what doesn’t work. Some dogs use grass to help them throw up when they want to. A very efficient adaptation for an animal that is both predator and scavenger.
As long as Speedy and Rosie don’t eat grass treated with toxic chemicals or herbicides it is not dangerous, so unless you see negative effects keep enjoying your walks and don’t worry. They are just being dogs.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.