My overactive puppy is voracious and undiscerning!
May 29, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

My 13-week-old puppy eats everything, and a lot of it. How can I teach him some taste discrimination? How can I figure out how much to feed him?

My puppy has never, ever turned down any kind of food, and he rarely leaves anything on the plate. Okay, but he also licks everything off the floor and puts in his mouth / swallows everything that he can. This includes bugs, wood, dirt, plastic, peeling paint, soil, paper and today: some really really questionable stuff on the road that made him throw up. :(

And still he's always hungry.

He's extremely quick and active, so in addition to the impracticality of monitoring him 24/7, he's also hard to keep up with. We just started taking him out on walks beyond our garden (which he has outgrown) to a nearby park, and there's all kinds of icky, old and just plain toxic stuff on the roads. Not taking him is not an option, because he really needs the exercise. We try extra hard to monitor him when we're out, but he's tiny and we're tall and sometimes we miss stuff - like today. Even though we caught him and made him spit that disgusting goo out right away, he ended up vomiting twice later. He's fine now after some medicine and yogurt, but I'd really like to teach him what is food and what isn't. How can I do that? What else can I do?

Also, we don't feed him dog food. It's imported and prohibitively expensive, so we give him things we make at home as per our vet's recommendation - lots of protein, calcium, and not much variety - plus vitamin and other supplements. About half of it is vegetarian food (we're vegetarian but buy meat and eggs for him). We're still feeding him four times a day, plus some treats while training. His poop is excellent (firm and regular), but there's a lot of it, considering his size. Also we have to turn him down for food several times a day. Our vet says we're doing fine and he's growing fine - but his constant hunger does make us worry that we're underfeeding or not feeding him the right foods. Any experience, recommendations or resources on home-cooked, partly vegetarian food for growing dogs would be greatly appreciated.

Some background stuff that might possibly be relevant:
He was born on the streets, in a very urban city with thousands of street dogs and millions of vehicles, and came under a car when he was barely a month old. He's fine now (and his mom has been spayed) and despite having the use of only three legs, he's very active, curious and friendly (also a little nutty!). He spends some time with other dogs in the park, but they're playing, not eating - so he doesn't learn anything from them in that regard. The fact that he was born on the streets in a large litter also probably means that he never got enough food in his first month, which might be playing into this. He has been dewormed and other vaccinations are also on schedule, and he's been quite receptive to positive training.

I realize this is not an ideal situation by any means, but please help us do the best we can in the circumstances. Thank you in advance!
posted by mondaygreens to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
the behavior is not unusual, I couldn't take my husky for a walk at that age without her picking up EVERYTHING she came, worms, goose poop, dead frogs, you name it, she ate it. Most things will pass through, try and retrieve from her mouth anything that won't digest and could cause a bowel blockage (or, anything toxic, of course).

The first thing to do is start training, and one of the first commands you'll teach her is "leave it".... It takes a while, but with persistence you'll get there. Training a puppy is nearly a full time job, but putting the energy into it while she's young will pay off big time in terms of the peacefulness of the relationship between you and the pup.

My Husky, now two years old, can be told to "leave it" while sitting a foot from her food bowl into which I've just put roast beef... and even stay in position as she watches the cat eat her food.....
posted by HuronBob at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2010

In the home, you can use a product called Bitter Apple to try to deter him from various things. IIRC, it's pepper-based, so it's irritating but not harmful. The website seems to just show it as keeping dogs from eating themselves, but I know we used to smear it on our baseboards and furniture to keep the puppy from chewing.
posted by radioamy at 7:54 AM on May 29, 2010

The dog eating program:

10 find food
20 eat all food available
30 goto 10

My partner's mantra is "the dog has a simple gut". Dogs try to eat all kinds of things and that's why they vomit - they try to eat things that aren't really food but the only test they have is to eat it and see what happens.

I used to make "zuppa per i cani" that is a lot like bubble & squeak. Mashed potatoes in chicken stock with some vegetables. As long as the vegetables aren't alliums they're fine.
posted by jet_silver at 7:56 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not a vet, only a dog owner.

If your vet says you are feeding him an appropriate amount and he appears to be growing fine, I wouldn't worry about it.

When are you feeding your pup? You should always feed him after you eat. Even when you feed him when you aren't eating a big meal, you should eat something small as a symbol that you always eat first. This will help your pup understand that you control when/what he eats.

You'll have to constantly reinforce the behavior you want. Keep a close eye on him when you are walking him. Train him to "drop it" for those situations where he gets something in his mouth you don't want him to eat. Never feed him off your own plate. Feed him last. There are also bowls to help pups eat slower. That may help him control his appetite a bit, too.
posted by Lizsterr at 8:01 AM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: I would strongly recommend looking into feeding your dog a high quality kibble (or raw, if you're up to it). Dogs weren't made to eat half vegetarian, they evolved scavenging animal corpses and scraps. Sure that includes veggies, but it also includes a hell of a lot of meat/bones/offal.

As for eating everything, welp, he's a dog, that's what they do! Bitter Apple didn't even phase our dog, so we've had to work on training him to understand 'leave it'. He still lunges for things on walks, but if we yell 'leave it!' he'll sort of wistfully drop whatever it is to the ground. This works on paper towels and chipmunks(!) alike.
posted by wrok at 8:04 AM on May 29, 2010

Response by poster: HuronBob, how can I train him to leave it? So far I've trained him to come and sit on command and to not 'go' in the house, but that was all treat-based and with a lot of praise, which doesn't work for teaching him not to do something. I also taught him not to bark excessively with the help of a water pistol (found the suggestion in Metafilter archives and it was the only thing that worked) but again, that doesn't seem suited to "leave it".

He doesn't really understand "no" very well, and generally he's somewhat naughty and thinks everything is a game.

Thank you for the responses so far - I think I might be able to find Bitter Apple in a store here somewhere, but like wrok it might still not be enough to deter him. (When he was injured, the doctor used some stuff like that to keep him from licking himself, but it made no difference.)
posted by mondaygreens at 8:06 AM on May 29, 2010

Response by poster: Wrok - thank you for the kibble suggestion. It seems to be just what I need!
posted by mondaygreens at 8:12 AM on May 29, 2010

Sounds like you pup needs some dominance training. A lot of highly intelligent dogs are tougher (I have a male husky... he is stubborn!), but will recognize you as the alpha if you work hard at it.

It's not just for aggressive dogs. Believe it or not, The Dog Whisperer's technique worked WONDERS for my pup. Definitely check out his book. It will solve ALL of your problems. Your dog will learn to accept 'no' from you.

Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems
posted by Lizsterr at 8:12 AM on May 29, 2010

Sometimes just offering a treat to a dog I often sit for is enough to get her to drop things she's got in her mouth, e.g. Kleenex, which for some reason she can't resist. Also, when I'm walking her, I have to be very vigilant, and steer her away from any little white things on the sidewalk. She's tiny, too, and it's tough to make sure she doesn't get something, but that's just part of the gig, I think—just like you'd pull them back from a muddy bit of lawn, you also need to pull them back from potentially dangerous things to eat. As soon as the dog I sit for starts to go for something she shouldn't have, I pull her away with a sharp "No!" Being consistent with that might help, as might offering a treat instead.
posted by limeonaire at 8:21 AM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Leave it!
posted by HuronBob at 8:43 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Bless you for adopting a less than perfect animal. The behavior you observe is normal especially for a puppy. I have seen very fat healthy puppies do the same. I think a lot of the behavior comes from competing with siblings for mother's nipple. That is part of being a puppy and learning - taste everything - if it tastes good repeat. That behavior will pass when it gets older, but I have noticed some breeds tend to eat odd things more than others (terriers).

As I type this I look out the window and my Jack Russel Terrier is enjoying every morsel of fresh wild turkey poop out on the lawn. One time she ate a slimy slug and nearly choked on the slime. Her favorite is decaying salamanders run over in the driveway. She is a wonderful dog!

I think you should only be concerned if your dogs weight is far from ideal and then only adjust diet as needed. Have it checked for parasites and vaccinated as veterinarian recommends.

P.S. I have a sneaky suspicion this behavior is why dogs often die of kidney failure. They taste too many toxins over a lifetime.
posted by nogero at 10:36 AM on May 29, 2010

Yeah, Huron Bob has it. "Leave it!" is the command you want. While you're using the command to teach your dog to drop things, if the dog is smart it becomes much more useful.

But in general, dogs eat stuff. I really, really wouldn't worry about it; generally they vomit up stuff they shouldn't have eaten. This is a good thing. In fact, they will often eat grass to make themselves vomit, and you should let them do that. There is no need to give your dog any kind of medication if he eats something and vomits; you want him to vomit whatever it is, and stopping that mechanism is potentially harmful.

In other words, vomiting in dogs as the only symptom is not cause for alarm and does not mean the dog is ill.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:21 AM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Can't help with the teaching appropriate food part.

Dogs definitely can do fine with a vegetarian or even completely vegan diet though. My dogs have been vegan for about 8 years and are in excellent health at 10. (Fed mainly Evolution kibble. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive.) I would say that ruling out the vegetarian part, as some people in this thread have posted, isn't necessary as long as you make sure your dog is getting a nutritionally complete diet.

You might want to look into Vegedog. I haven't tried it myself, but it's a yeast + nutrient based powder that you add to home cooked stuff to make dog food. From that page, in the literature section there is a link to the instructions which contain some recipes for dog food. Those might be useful even without the Vegedog.

I order my stuff from Vegancats. Unfortunately, I can't deep link into that site to the actual item, but I'm sure you'll be able to find it. Send me mail if you want any extra info on veggy dogs and I'll help if I can. :)
posted by Vulpyne at 3:41 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: "Leave it" is incredibly useful. My dog Lyle was also a street dog and will never ever ever be satisfied with the amount of food he is given. He eats each meal in seconds and would gladly eat anything that even resembles food if he comes across it - this means I have to be vigilant on walks for things like chicken bones (surprisingly common on the streets of San Francisco, who knew?) and reward him with extra-delicious treats for leaving the found objects.

Unfortunately, this is a hard behavior to train out, and you may never get him to self-inhibit, which is really what you'd need to trust him off-leash, etc. When a dog has been starved at such a young age, it can be hard for him to let go of that compulsion. As such, Lyle has had two stomach surgeries in his short life to remove things he should not have swallowed. After the second, I tried keeping him on a muzzle every time we left the house, but that ultimately was not feasible either, so I just do my best with him, and make sure that dog walkers and anyone who cares for him is aware that he will want to eat garbage and such, and to keep him away from it. In our case, sometimes slight overfeeding (esp with dense fiber, like carrots) works to keep him more satiated and less likely to seek food, and this works for us because he's a crazy active Jack Russell, but in general, you probably don't want to overfeed your dog. Good luck!
posted by judith at 8:20 PM on May 29, 2010

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