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Martha Windisch
Martha Windisch, Certified Pet Dog Trainer
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 113
Experience:  17+ years experience as a pet dog trainer. AKC titles in obedience, tracking, field and agility.
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My dog is afraid of her food bowl and refuses to eat.

Customer Question

My dog has just developed a fear of her food bowl and refuses to eat or drink. She acts afraid and has lost a lot of weight I have been to the vet and spent $850 to find out there is nothing wrong with her. My dog is 20lbs underweight
Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Martha Windisch replied 10 years ago.

What breed or mix breed of dog is she? Has she been spayed?

How long have you owned her?

When was the first time you noticed that she was acting scared of the bowls?

Where are the bowls kept?

Where is she fed? In what room? At what time(s) of the day?

What type of flooring does the room have where she eats?

What are the bowls made of? (metal, plastic, ceramic?)

Do you have any idea why she had not been scared before but not is scared? - have any changes been made concerning the time and place since is eating?

Have any changes been made to her diet?

Is she a generally confident dog or a generally scared, anxious, or shy dog?

List anything else she is scared of?

What happens when you try to feed her by hand (with the bowls taken out of the picture)? What happens if you put the food straight on the floor? What happens if you put the food on a plate?

Describe exactly what she does when she is acting afraid of the bowl.

Thanks for answering these questions. Your answers will help me to better answer your question.

Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Martha Windisch's Post: 1. Sophie is a mixed breed. We adopted her from SPIN and they classified her as being part Great Pyrenees. we definitely believe that she has Golden Retriever in her too and maybe chow.

2. She was spayed just before her adoption
3. She has been a aprt of our family for just over a year now.
4. She has always be cautious around her food, and never a big eater however in the last 6 weeks she has been very scared and will go 2-3 days without eating.
5. Her metal bowls are kept in the kitchen on tile flooring near the back door where we have always fed her. I fill her bowl in the morning if does not eat that night I will mix her food with "healthy" table scraps such as rice, vegetables and some chicken. Most of the time she will eat but lately she will not.
6. Sophie has generally been a scared dog but we have been working with her and she is doing a 1000% better since we adopted her.
7. She was at times scared of people, loud noises, anything round.
8. The first time that Sophie started not eating I took her to the vet and they ran blood work on her and they could find nothing. She came home and was normal with her eating we switched her back to puppy food for more calories and wet food to encourage her eating. She did great for about 3-4 weeks and now we are back to square one with her not wanting to eat. I did feed her manually one day but the next day she would not eat her food. It sat in her bowl so I then mixed her food with rice and vegetables along with some steak juice and stirred it up...She cautiously went to her bowl sniff took a bite and then ran away and never ate again. I took her to the vet and they ran all kinds of tests (normal) and they said that she most likely needs prozac. They prescribed some meds to make her hungry and now we are on science diet food TD. The doctors watched her and said that her behavoir is odd and politely ask if she was beaten. I don't know if she was prior to our adoption...We have never hit our dog. We believe we adopted her when was about 4 months old.
She is a great dog and is very docile. She loves to play and run around she does have strange behavoir as in being scared of silly stuff like a lizard on my neighbors house she was afraid to go outside or a ladder up against the fence scared her too. SHe loves to play with other dogs and will let other dogs sniff her...she is not agressive. THe food situation is strange, she will go up to her bowl and cautiously take a bite and run away. It is like she is afraid that something will jump out at her? The vet believes that it is a pyschological which seems odd since we never had a problem before but now we do...again she was never a big eater but the refusal to eat at all confuses me.

PS we have witnessed her eating her own poop?!
I know they consider that to me food too. UGH!

Thank you!
Expert:  Martha Windisch replied 10 years ago.

I think that somehow when she was a puppy something bad happened around feeding time. For example, maybe she (and her littermates) were fed with one big bowl along with many other dogs of all ages (meaning that the feeding time was basically done like "slopping the pigs" and everyone was on their own to compete for the food. As you know, she is not much of a competitor, so possibly the other dogs acted aggressively with her (and among themselves) around feeding time). She may have been fine for a while, since when she was adopted by you the feeding scenario was different (and calmer and safer). It's a possibility that something relatively benign happened while she was eating to trigger the old anxiety again - sort of like having flashbacks. That benign something that could have triggered the psychological issue could have been some loud noise that happened just as she started to eat, a dog barking outside just as she started to eat, or the food bowl sliding on the floor and making a noise. You will never know what could have triggered it (and you will never know the story about how she became scared in the first place - it could have been something as simple as a large metal puppy bowl accidentally being knocked off of the counter while her breeder was preparing the food for the puppys - so it may have not even been a negligent (or abusive) scenario like the first one, it may have merely been an accident).

Certain dogs are basically genetically predisposed to not be as brave and confident as others. So, besides the unknown scenario that could have happened in her past, her genetics could be working against her. I even think that this could be a deeper thing than merely the food bowl - I think it could practically be the whole process of eating that is triggering a bad emotion due to something that occurred in the past during feeding time.

I would suggest doing anything with her that might build her everyday confidence. Training would be good as long as no corrections are involved. To find a positive motivation dog trainer in your area go to and click on the Puppy Manners button and then in the index, click on Find a Trainer and that will take you to links where you can search for a trainer by your zip code. Before hiring a trainer or attending a class make sure that they train using positive motivation instead of correction (it's always best to sit in on a class prior to signing up to make sure you like what you see). Teaching her to do agility obstacles is also good.

Leadership exercises would also be a good thing to do to build her confidence. The NILIF (nothing in life is free) program is recommended. This is a life-long program, it will not work as a quick fix. The following web site explains the NILIF program in great detail!

I also think that upping her exercise is necessary. The kind of exercise is the type that Cesar Milan recommends (not the treadmill part of his show) but the walks that represent a 'pack' migration. This means taking her on meaningful, we are really going somewhere, walks. No meandering, stopping and going, pausing and sniffing. The type of walk where you are taking the attitude that you are actually going somewhere important.

In additional to the confidence-building training, everyday routines, and exercise, veterinary behavior medications may also help her "get over the hump". I would not use these meds to try to get a quick fix. I would use them along with behavioral work to help her along. Then as the behavioral work progresses, the meds can be gradually weaned off.

I would probably choose another food instead of science diet. I would actually recommend doing the research and learning how to cook a balanced diet for her or learning how to prepare a balanced raw diet for her. I'm no nutritional expert, so I will refer you to my web site and the links on my web site (you can actually buy balanced raw diets commercially). You can also buy some high calorie supplements to add to the food. I'm thinking along the line of a product called "STAT" - a high caloric liquid diet that can be used to supplement other foods. It is available at

I would totally change her feeding scenario. For now, feed her in a different location, on a different floor surface (you can buy some cheap carpet remnant and roll it out to protect your real carpet), not in a dish (try using paper plates). Also, get a different bowl for her water - try a square Tupperware-type of container so it is nothing like her old one. Also, change your routine of how you feed her. I.e. prepare it in a different location, do not say the same words you used to say, store the food in a new area, etc. This will not narrow down what was bothering her, since that is not what we are trying to do. Instead of caring what was bothering her, we are trying to build her confidence to eat again.

When you feed her, give her around 15 minutes and then pick the food up for 15 or 20 minutes before offering it again for 15 minutes. Do not keep adding new things to make her like it (that is, do not do this after offering it one way the first time). We do not want to teach her that if she waits you out she will get something else better added to her food.

There are also homeopathic medications, etc that can help with anxiety. You could go to a homeopathic veterinarian and see what they recommend, or you could try some things to see if they work (if she is on any prescription meds, please check with your veterinarian first).

There is a device called the Comfort Zone. The Comfort Zone relieves stress in cats and dogs by simulating naturally occurring pheromones that calm and reassure them in stressful situations. The Comfort Zone is a plug-in unit that releases D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) that mimics a natural reassuring pheromone produced by female dogs when nursing. I've heard some trainers say that they have had some successes with this. You could plug the Comfort Zone in in the room where you have decided to feed her. I recommend using a very quiet, enclosed area to feed her in.

There is also a dog calming device called "The Anxiety Wrap". This aids an animal's ability to focus, remain calm, and feel more secure.

If noise could be part of the issue, here is a site that sells doggy earmuffs to muffle out noise:

Here is another great web site concerning anxiety (probably focuses on thunderstorm anxiety, but may be of help to you also):

Also, there are some homeopathics that can help with stress and fear. For example, BACH Rescue Remedy, Chill Out aromatherapy, Tranquil Anxiety and Stress Control, Nerve Ease, Homeopet Anxiety remedy, etc. Check out KV vet supply for the Comfort Zone, The Anxiety Wrap, and homeopathics (

Also, check out the book "The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears" by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. There are links to doggy book store sites from my web site - click on the doggy marketplace in the upper left corner.

Hope this helps you get your dog to eat. You sound like a great pet owner. She is very lucky to have you.