Bad food, New food.
or How to Train Your Dog to Hate Food
A few weeks ago, Boogie injured himself jumping down from the couch (piercing yelp, disc problem) and had to be fed Tramadol every meal for about 7 days. Tramadol is a painkiller pill that tastes AWFUL so I decided to hide it in something delicious: a Freshpet soft meaty kibble. This had worked before for pill-giving, so I didn’t think it would fail. I had previously tried peanut butter, cream cheese, you name it… they worked the first time, and then never again. Boogie stopped liking peanut butter or cream cheese.
I dropped a handful of Freshpet meaty bits into his dinner and mixed it well. One of these meaty pieces concealed the bitter pill.
On and off for the next few days, Boogie refused to eat his dinner if there was any Freshpet in it. He would sniff his bowl, stare at me, then walk away. I had to coax him to eat his food by adding in extra stuff, like ham pieces, tuna etc. or hand feeding it to him. He would eat Freshpet as hand-fed treats but not at mealtimes.
Even when I stopped giving him Freshpet or Tramadol, Boogie was still suspicious of his food. And then one day he refused to eat any dinner at all; and same deal the next morning, as if all his meals had been contaminated.
By the way, his dinner was the same Darwin’s cooked beef that he had been enjoying for the past 3+ years. I didn’t know what to do. Should I change his food? What if he dislikes his new food too? I had already turned him off peanut butter, cream cheese, Freshpet, Darwin’s…
After I transferred his uneaten Darwin’s dinner out of his red bowl and into a new bowl, he ate up his dinner immediately! The exact same dinner.
Usual bowl = food is potentially bad.
New bowl = food is uncontaminated.
Same thing happened the next morning. Boogie ate his food after I transferred it to a different bowl.
This is what I believe happened: I had (unconsciously) classically-conditioned a negative association with the bowl because I put something very bad in it ONCE or TWICE.
I should have known better that this is how classical conditioning works. With good stuff, good feelings transfer and spread. With bad stuff, bad associations are created and these spread too. Perhaps Boogie also no longer trusted me. 😔
A Facebook friend told me that when she was a kid a particular food made her throw up. And because this food was usually served with X, she also could also no longer eat X without feeling nauseous.
Likewise with aversive training methods eg, prong collars, leash jerks, intimidation etc… Even though our intention is to stop an unwanted behavior from happening again, we are also creating bad feelings that could attach themselves to stuff we don’t want them attached to. In a documentary I watched some time ago, (Tough Love?) – a dog owner offered her puppy a new toy. He grabbed it too roughly and bit her hand. Without knowing any better at the time, she smacked her puppy on the nose or shouted at him, or did something else punishing. Later on another occasion she offered her puppy a toy to play with. Puppy saw the toy, whimpered and ran away.
The big lesson I learned from this recent experience is that the order in which things are done is extremely important. If Classical Conditioning is to be used correctly for good (not evil), the essential rule is that the bad thing (trigger) needs to be seen first, followed by the good thing (delicious food), and we have to be careful not to accidentally show the food first before the bad thing comes along so that we don’t unintentionally condition the dog to hate the food, or to condition the food to predict bad stuff.
I was way more successful giving Boogie his Tramadol when I offered him the pill first – full transparency here, he could see the butter-coated pill before I put in in his mouth – and then the liverwurst (new food with no previous bad associations) straight after. I was also careful to use a different bowl for pill-giving purposes. He still didn’t like the pill because the awful taste is still there, but he tolerated me shoving it in his mouth because LIVERWURST. He didn’t run away the next time I approached him with the pill. He focused on the liverwurst.
Other food-related news, we are trying out OLLIE dog food (first box is discounted). Boogie seems to be enjoying this very much! I love that the packets can live in the fridge for up to 2 weeks because I have no space left in my freezer. And there is no thawing or cooking required! I love that they included a scoop and probiotics. One difference is that Boogie is producing more poop now that I am no longer feeding ‘raw’.
I must share this dog-treat baking hack, courtesy of Elaine Anderson.
I didn’t have any canned chicken so I used canned salmon, and 1 egg instead of 2. The treats drop right out so CLEAN and PERFECT! 500 treats!