When they were both small and we were teaching house rules and house breaking, Zozo and MJ ate in their crates. It afforded them a contained place for their splashing (they’re both super-messy eaters, which happens to be a proud family trait), and a required quiet-time after meals for digestion. During the quiet-time, James and I usually inhaled our own meals.
Now that they’re older, the “rules” of mealtime haven’t changed, but the locations have. We separate the dogs when they eat. Zozo dines in the kitchen, the privilege of the first born furbaby. He sits nicely at his place mat, waiting for his bowls to be filled and to be released to eat (“take it”). He then daintily selects one kibble pellet at a time until his bowl is empty and his water is sloshed all over the kitchen floor.
The little girl eats in her room. She has to go to her crate and wait to be released for food, after which we gate her in. She snarfs down her meal like someone will take it away before she’s finished. And then she looks expectantly for more. Hence the separation: if we leave her room open, she’ll try to steal some of Doodle’s food, and a fight ensues.
To be very clear, our dogs never go hungry. If anything, they could stand to shave a pound or two off from snacks and treats and cookies and dog beer. Yes, dog beer is a thing. We tried it once in a BarkBox, and they liked it and… well that’s a post for another day.
But because MJ eats in such a rush, she’s plagued with burps and hiccups and stinky-poots. So we’ve spent some time investigating ways to slow her down.
We’ve put tennis balls in her food dish, forcing her to work around them. She snout-bumps the ball out of the dish or picks it up and shows off her “drop it” skills, then returns to devour the meal. Adorabull.
Real Simple magazine offered a discount code to try the Dog Games Slo-Bowl Feeder, from which we expected magical things. It’s colorful and light weight and fairly sturdy and dishwasher safe (score). The kibble bits spread in grooved channels, making the pups work to snag a bite.
When we first put this bowl down in front of her, MJ grumbled, “You gotta be kiddin’ me” and huffed in frustration. It took her 10 minutes to eat her meal. The second time we used it, she cleaned her plate in 8 minutes. Then 6, then 5….She figured out that if she hoovers the food, she doesn’t have to work to eat. That’s right, MJ discovered a life-hack and outsmarted this very cool food bowl. We’re back to blink-and-you’ve-missed-it-meals.
Unfortunately, the way we have the room set up means mealtime requires supervision because the Wobbler can get stuck in corners. That’s entirely our fault, but our pit-nacious girl doesn’t let that slow her down as she plays with her food. Or fights for it. I suppose that’s up to opinion.
MJ’s brain gets much-needed problem-solving exercise, she eats slower, and she’s less stinky. That is the trifecta of success!
“James, when did you drop food in Doodle’s bowl?” I’m in the kitchen unpacking groceries, while James and Zozo watch something science-y on television. Zo picks up his head while thwacking his tail at the mention of his name. Two more thwacks, and then he drops his chin back on to James’ feet. (“oh hey, mom. boy time.”) Chopped liver, I get it.
“I dunno, 5ish… normal time. Why?”
“He hasn’t touched it. The water’s gone, but the food bowl is full.”
“Maybe he’s not hungry. Are you hungry? [collar jingles] He’s not hungry.”
In the just-over two years since we rescued Zo, never once has he skipped a meal. He’s the definition of food motivated. There’s an alarm in his belly that sounds “I could eat” whenever someone breathes in the direction of the kitchen. The warning bells go off in my head, but I take a breath, shoo Athena off the counter, and finish the chore. I don’t want to be the mom who overreacts.
Next morning, yesterday’s food is still in his bowl, except for the bits scattered about the kitchen during Athena’s midnight shenanigans. We toss the old food, give the bowl a rinse, and replace it with new food. I even sneak a little bacon grease into the bowl to entice Zo. He sniffs at it, wet-vacs his water, and slunks back to his new favorite spot between the couch and the coffee table. He huffs and drops into “down.” His eyes moon in my direction. Something’s up.
“Maybe he got into something outside? Did he get anything off your plate?”
“He’ll eat when he’s hungry, Kari.” I got called by my first name. James is serious.
I chat with my mom during the day, and when she asked after the furbabies I nonchalantly mention that Zo didn’t eat two meals and maybe he’s depressed or something. She laughs (in the way only a mom can laugh and make you feel better/a little foolish) and reiterates the same sentiment: “Maybe he’s not hungry. He’ll eat when he’s ready.”
I boil up chicken for dinner, and he takes two little bites and sulks away. Something is definitely going on.
“Hey buddy, what’s up? You’re still not hungry? Hey baby, I think something’s up with Zo,” James hollers. I’M NOT CRAZY!
After everything with the leash walking and the anxiety and the terror of the world, we thought we might have entered into a period of quiet stability. Silly us.
I do what any rational Type-A woman does: I Google. I scroll through Yahoo! Answers crap, skim some excerpts from dog magazines and land on a veterinarian-moderated forum. Page after page presents possible answers: stomach cancer (holy collie…), the food’s gone bad or is too close to a trash can (weird smell) or it’s stress.
Stress. Of course. We moved. We had a roof leak right after we unpacked. We have neighbors who have dogs who bark. There’s a slightly new routine and more rooms to explore. New sounds and smells. We didn’t think about it, since he’d made the move from the urban-village apartment to the rental house with such finesse.
According to the vet from the post, the best option is to switch up our usual dog food with something a little higher-end. (In retrospect, I think the vet may have been in someone’s pocket.) We head over to the store with a plan to buy a small bag of the most expensive dog food on the shelf. We bring it home, scoop out a serving and wait.
Pupper makes his way over to his bowl and sniffs. He looks at me, at James and back to the bowl. He inhales. It’s like we never put food in the bowl. Two more days of the good stuff, and we start to wean him back to his normal food by mixing in the fancy kibble with his usual food. And wouldn’t you know: he eats around the old food. Oh no sir. No. We add more old than fancy food for the next meal, but he does the same.
It’s done and we can’t convince ourselves to fight him. He burps his delight.
Zo’s got expensive taste. Can’t blame him for that. Although our monthly food budget for the family has just increased significantly… I somehow feel outsmarted by my dog.
Now that Zo’s eating, it feels like things are getting back to normal.
And then Athena divas-out.