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Why isn’t your yearling dog eating? You’ve done everything short of lighting elegant tapers and hiring a strolling violinist for ambiance, and he sneers at his dish like it’s full of driveway gravel. You’ve taken him to the vet to make sure he isn’t sick, you’ve tried every brand of food on the market, and it’s a race to see if you go bankrupt or crazy first. What’s wrong?

Chances are, you’ve simply misinterpreted an initial metabolic self-adjustment in the dog’s eating habits as boredom with, or distaste for, his food. When dogs stop growing, they process their food differently, and it’s not unusual for an animal to require about half as much food per meal as he did when he was growing like tropical bamboo. Owners who are able to give their dogs free access to their food might not notice this change, but those who feed on schedule probably will. Some react by feeding the dog half as often (generally not a good plan, since hunger pangs can cause anxiety and attendant behavior problems) or they become alarmed and try to compensate with variety and coaxing. This is a worse idea, because it usually makes the dog yarky, which inspires another change in diet, which makes the dog yarkier, which causes the owner to try yet another kind of food....ad infinitum. Your vet may have mentioned this to you, but it’s easy for her to say. She’s not the one watching her dog wither away before her very eyes!

The first thing to do is calm down. A healthy dog isn’t going to starve himself to death just because he doesn’t like the menu, and he’s less a gourmet than he is a gourmand. If your pup has done all the growing he’s going to do and isn’t eating as much as he used to, don’t change his schedule. Give him about half the usual amount per feeding. When he’s leveled out and neither gains nor loses weight, he’s eating exactly what he needs to maintain himself. If you need to change the content of his food, say from puppy formula to an adult mix, do it gradually over a period of a few days. An abrupt diet change is going to upset his system before the bacteria in his intestines adjust to the new regimen, and it could be kind of hard on your carpeting and social life. Ask your vet to help you determine the best nutritional requirements for your particular dog, and then stick with it. Dogs don’t like change, and neither do their stomachs.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t coax him to chow down unless you mean to make it a lifelong routine! You’re supposed to be training him, not the other way around. He’ll eat if he’s hungry. A twenty-four hour protest fast won’t kill him, and he’ll quickly learn that dinner theater is not necessarily provided by the management.