Finicky eater

Finicky pup/dog

Question: I have a 4-month-old toy poodle. He seems to be almost totally uninterested in food. He eats only a few bites a day of his dry food, and I spend most of my waking hours trying to dream up things he might be interested in eating, most to no avail. He is not ill. He is incredibly playful and seems to be full of energy and vigor, but I don't know what the eating deal is. -- C.Y., via e-mail

Answer: You are teaching your dog to be a finicky eater. Look at it from his point of view. He's a normal, active puppy, easily distracted and wanting to play, play, play. Food? Just not that exciting.

You put down dry food. He'd rather play. You add something yummy, it catches his interest, and he eats. But the next day, he'd rather play. So you try something else ... and something else ... and something else.

What have you taught your pup? You've shown him that if he waits, something better (or at least different) will come along. Stop, or you'll soon be opening cans of caviar for him.

Puppies should be fed three times a day until the age of 6 months or so, when they can go to the twice-a-day schedule that adult dogs should be on. Don't keep food available at all times. It makes house-training more difficult and removes the power of food as a training tool. (Fresh water, on the other hand, should always be accessible.)

Give your little guy a quiet place to eat with no distractions. A crate is ideal, but a small room with a baby gate across it will also do. Put the food down and leave your pup alone for 15 to 20 minutes. Then pick up the food, eaten or not, and give your pet no food until the next scheduled feeding. Repeat at noon and at night.

Don't worry if he misses a meal. He won't starve. Resist the temptation to give him treats in between, because it doesn't take much to fill up a small dog.

If you want to add something to increase palatability, warm and add a little low-sodium, nonfat chicken broth. But that's it. Don't fall back into the habit of constantly finding something "better." Give your pet a high-quality food and teach him to eat what's offered. You'll both be better off.

By Gina Spadafori, Pet Columnist.