Ask Ethel: Why Does My Dog Eat Like a Squirrel?
My West Highland white terrier is like a chubby squirrel. She never eats her food at her bowl. She gets a mouthful and carries it into other rooms of the house, drops it, eats it and walks back to her bowl for another mouthful. She hides food in every corner of the house. It just sits there, and when she sees us picking it up, she freaks out. Why does she do that?
–Daisy's Personal Assistant
Oh, the why. Why can't I do that, Mom? Because I said so. Why do I have to get my teeth brushed? Because, well, I said so. The answer to a why question usually sucks. So, DPA, you ask why your dog acts like a squirrel – the answer may or may not satisfy you.
First off, it's natural (which you might see as a variant of "Because I said so."). I asked dog trainer Robert Haussmann, and he says that in nature, dogs guard their resources and prepare for the future, so that much isn't strange about your Daisy, per se.
Does it bother you seeing all those random little trails and piles of kibble around the house? If it doesn't, it might just be her thing, this feeding ritual, and depending on your tolerance level (you are her personal assistant, after all), you might just let her keep on squirreling.
If you'd rather have her eating out of her bowl in the times you've designated for her, then Haussmann says you can work on that by distributing her meals in a confined space and only giving her a small window of time in which she can eat.
"The dog's not going to let itself starve," Haussmann says. "The dog should be eating in a more regimented way, anyway. Have an automated system: Here's the food, and this is when you eat it."
But there's also the issue of the freaking out. Of course, I don't know exactly how that manifests, so here are some questions for you. Take a good look at how Daisy freaks. Is it aggressive? Or does she just wag her tail a lot? Will she lash out at you if you take away her food? If it's a situation where a visiting child could unknowingly disturb Daisy's ration station and could potentially get hurt, then you want to address this with a professional behaviorist. She needs to be desensitized to having people around her food and her hiding spots.
Haussmann thinks that Daisy's behavior is probably symptomatic of other issues – namely, a lack of mental stimulation and exercise, of which terriers need lots. If they lack that, "weird behaviors crop up." And maybe you're into that? But my hunch tells me you're not – so hope this helps.
Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can't figure out? Try Ethel – she'll do her best to help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your pet's age, breed and sex, and try to give as much context to your problem as possible.
Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: The Pet Insurance Lowdown
Ask Ethel: Paula Abdul's Chihuahua Has a Snoring Problem!
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