Is your GSD a picky eater? Does he sniff and move away from the bowl of food you serve him every time with so much love and care? Are you concerned about his food drive? Are you worried about his health? Of course his health comes first. If you find anything amiss with his usual behavior like playing with less than his usual mirth, lacking the zest to jump on you, getting quickly or more tired than normal with his regular exercise regime, please take him to your vet as soon as you can and start a whole foray of X-rays and diagnostic tests on your pet. However, if all tests come out fine and your vet finds nothing wrong with him, most probably saying “NO” to food may be a tantrum your fur baby is throwing on you. To figure out whether the refusal to eat his staple food is an obedience or discipline problem, make sure you’ve taken care of the following issues:
1. Is he getting enough exercise? German Shepherds, especially the working breed, need substantial exercise each day. Exercise is crucial for toning their muscles, utilizing their immense energy and most importantly, generating a strong appetite. Take him out for long walks at least once a day or even better for short sprints (this is not recommended for a puppy less than a year old, though) if you’re a runner yourself. Make sure he doesn’t turn into a couch potato and gets sufficient exercise to ensure good eating and sleeping habits.
2. He’s not snacking from your kitchen, right? Even if you love your GSD to death, make sure he doesn’t catch a bite of any human food. Love him, but don’t share any of your food with him. Also, when you’re eating, don’t remain within his field of view and don’t allow him to guilt trip you. He has to know he is supposed to eat only the food he’s being served and won’t get anything beyond it.
3. Are you serving him too much food? Make sure you’re not serving him a pile of excess food. Animals have a feedback loop within their bodies that tell them when they’ve overeaten so that they won’t be needing any more food for the time being. They are not aware of the principle of storing for future use.
4. Dry vs Wet food? If you’re feeding him pellets, please don’t serve them dry. Don’t rely only on your GSD’s salivary efficiency to moisten his food. Soak the pellets in lukewarm water (make sure the water is not too warm, though) for 5-7 minutes before you serve them. It’ll be just easier for your GSD to gulp down a warm broth instead of munching away at dry pellets.
5. Is too much raw food making him hate his staple diet? GSDs need a regular to semi-regular supply of raw meat for proper growth and nutrition. But lets face it: once he tastes raw food, he’ll never willingly eat dog food again and will push all boundaries to make you give him raw food at each serving. That’s not an option as balanced dog food is critical for his nutrition. What you can do is mix raw meat and dog food pellets half and half over the weekends and send out the message that he’s never allowed to entirely get off dog food.
6. Set a 10 minute rule: This was suggested by our GSD breeder, Randy. She, being a veteran in this field, has never faced this problem with any of the hundreds of GSDs she has raised. Guess what the tip is: just leave the food out in the open for the GSD to eat and strictly allow 10 minutes for that. As soon as the 10 minute mark is over, regardless of whether the GSD has eaten or not, just remove the food from his reach. Now he’s not going to grab a single bite until his next meal time. This way he will learn to appreciate the value of food and the importance of timing. This rule worked like magic for Enzo, our GSD, who was on his way of becoming a picky eater.
7. Set him up for competition: You can do this if you’ve multiple GSDs. Since I’ve two, Enzo, being the picky eater and Oly, being the easy eater, this trick worked wonders for me. I would serve the bowl with dog food first to Enzo, allow him 10 minutes to at least start eating, and if he hasn’t touched his food by then, just remove the food from him and give it to Oly at a place to which Enzo has no access. This reminds dogs of their primal instinct that food doesn’t come easy in Nature and they’re required to compete and fight for food.
As I was browsing my favorite GSD forum, I came across an interesting discussion about GSDs’ picky eating habits. You can check it out for some additional tips.