We are a typical Indian family living in Singapore and have as our loving pet a 4 yrs 9 mth old male GSD named Jackie, who's been with us since one month of age and who came with us to Singapore from India two years ago. Jackie is too close to my wife, to the extent that he immediately starts having separation anxiety when she goes out the door. The anxiety is at its worst when she goes out of station for a few weeks (which is why she rarely does that).
Following his very initial few months in India we put him onto commercial dry food which he used to eat on his own till about 6 months of age when one night he suddenty developed digestion related problems, vomiting, loose motions and his gut had even come out. We got scared and rushed him to the hospital where they carried out tests to find nothing so in two days' time he was operated upon. The vet said he could not find anything inside except his pancreas "looked" not normal enough. He did a massage and then stitched him up. Various reasons were cited - infected dog food, vaccine not genuine etc. The boy survived. That was Dec 2003.
Immediately following the operatio he completely rejected all dog foods so we switched him to home-cooked food. Based on his vet's recommendation we slowly tried to change over to a mix of meat, vegetables and roti (Indian bread) but without salt, oil or spices - mostly in a boiled and stewed form. He did not like eating it so first we thought perhaps his liver was not very good yet. Later it turned out it was the taste that he disliked - too bland for him. He hates it till date and refuses to eat it on his own, so has to be force-fed / hand-fed. That continued till date and today he would not eat on his own even if hungry - it has become a habit. And he would not eat off anyone else's hand except my wife's! If I try he would growl and / or chew me down! A couple of times we have tried leaving the food in front of him but he would growl and sit tight, but would not budge. We give up and then start hand feeding him again. After all he is our boy - cant let him go hungry while we eat!
The only time or stuff he eats on his own is when he is offered the following: ice-creams, roasted or fried or spicy varieties of meat (kebabs, sausages etc.), fish, chicken.
It so happens that my wife is now having to go on a six-week tour of India, Europe and the UK with our son (I stay behind and the home maid stays to look after the dog) and this where our dual problem starts. One is the imminent separation anxiety that would anyway bear heavily on him (he sits at the door all those weeks waiting for her to come back). To top it is the feeding problem. We have about a month now before she leaves and hence we are desperately looking for help.
His daily exercise habits are in place, for your information.
Tried last night putting the bowl down in front of him where he was sitting, he got up and walked off to sit at another spot. We again moved the bowl in front of him and he kept doing the same thing. Finally he settled down in one place and we put the bowl in front of him. He just kept staring so we asked him to eat - he snarled at me showing he is mad at me for asking his mom not to feed him. Finally my wife looked as if she would start to cry if the poor fellow went hungry - so I asked her to feed him.
Tell me, if he does not eat what should we do? Remove the bowl after some time? And shall we put back fresh food again but only at the next eating time? Or should we offer food interim if he skips one meal?
How long do you think he would continue starving?
Our vet in India says GSDs can be stubborn. So could that mean he would starve himself to death?
He can go several days without eating without any harm. Make sure he has plenty of water. He is clearly running the house, and has trained you and your wife to cater to all his wishes. You will have to be stronger and more stubborn than he is! He won't willingly starve himself to death. He is too smart for that.
Put down his food, and leave. Don't move it, don't follow him around, don't beg him to eat. Don't feel bad for him. He is controlling your don't allow him to continue with this game.
If he doesn't eat after an hour, take up his bowl and put it away.
Try again the next day. Don't break down and start hand-feeding him again! You may have to do this (putting down his bowl, then taking it up again if he doesn't eat) for a few days, and when he is hungry enough, trust me, he will eat!
This is called "Tough Love", were you have to tough it out for his sake. You have to tough it out, because you love him. Because you love him, you have to teach him new, good habits. Show your love by being tough and by seeing this through. You both know it is for his own good.
It sounds like you have more issues than just refusing food if you are concerned he will get irritable? There are some good links on here to help with all sorts of issues. Is he agressive towards people? dogs? is there pulling and lunging while on lead? If you are concerned he will become agressive then you can learn how to correct behavior as well.
Castlemaid has said it all. Some dogs are finicky eaters or just don't choose to go to the bottom of the bowl as soon as it's put down. But a dog will not starve itself to death to spite you.
Barring any physical problems (and I guess exploratory surgery should fairly well eliminate those) I would guess that within 3 days your dog will eat what is put in front of him, whatever it is, home cooked, kibble etc. That is unless you persist in hand feeding it and giving snacks in between meals, just because he must be hungry. This is just a battle of wills.
Yes, GSD's can be stubborn but they won't cut off their nose to spite their face.
Everyone has the right to what they deem is acceptable behaviour in their own dog, but to suggest that a dog that snarls at it's owner has no behavioural problems is pushing the boundaries, IMO.
On the other hand, they will do exactly what they are allowed to do.
It doesn't sound like you have many options considering the trip that is coming up. Either your dog goes without food for a night or two because he is stubborn now, or a month from now he will be in serious trouble when all of this is thrown at him at once. My advice would be to focus on the pain you'll be saving him a month from now by dealing with it now. There's just no easy way around it. I know of a number of people in the GSD sport world who keep food from their dogs for 1-2 days before tracking events so that the dog is very food motivated. The dogs are just fine and nothing bad happens to them. And as others have said, I would not move the food bowl around, especially not towards your dog. Dogs tend to want things more that are harder to get or that they can't have. Shoving it in his face will only show him that it's something he must have, not something he should want to have.
Not eating for a few days won't make your dog sick. Wolves in the wild will gorge after a kill and then not eat for several days before going hunting again. Their system is well adapted for this kind of sporadic feeding schedule, and a fast will actually do your GSD good, especially if he has had digestive problems in the past.
Some dogs will occasionally throw up a little bit of yellow frothy bile when their stomach is empty. This is normal and nothing to worry about. My own dog will sometimes do this early in the morning and has always been completely healthy.
If your dog is normally friendly and has a good temperament, he won't suddenly change and start being aggressive. He may be a bit grumpy, but he'll get over it. Continue with his normal routine, walks, etc. Don't coddle him, don't baby him. You want to project an aura of calm control. If you and your wife worry and fret too much, he will be able to read your emotions and think that something is wrong. You want him to know that what your are doing (expecting him to feed himself), is normal and no big deal.
If he does get sick from something completely unrelated take him to your vet and follow his or her recomendations. As he is otherwise a healthy dog, this is unlikely to happen.
I do wish you luck but I think, if you decide to do for your family and for your dog's sake everything will work out.
I also think you would benefit from looking into the NILIF method with your dog. You own him, he does not own you and he will be much happier knowing all of you are in control of him not the other way around. If it is available, I would recommend you read Jan Fennell's book "The Dog Listener". All the best.
I'd also recommend that until your wife leaves for her trip, that you be the only one to feed the dog. In fact, I'd be the only one in the room with the dog for feeding, so that he knows it's coming from you without a doubt. With strong dogs like that, it does make a difference who is feeding them, and it will help your bond with him during feeding time.