Food Refusal

Hello once again, and as always, welcome back. I have mentioned food refusal in passing in previous posts. But this week I thought I would cover it in more detail.

I have heard many people refer to Labradors as “eating machines”.  In fact I have a vivid memory from many years ago, when our first Beagle made her first trip to the Vet.  The vet warned us that Beagles too like their food.  Her analogy for this was that a Labrador would eat everything in a bin, and a Beagle would eat the bin as well.

So, with this in mind it is absolutely vital that a guide dog understands that human food, or any other food is a definite NO when out and about, unless it comes from their Guide Dog owner. 

The term for this behaviour, as indicated by the title of this post, is food refusal.  During their training guide dogs are taught that it is not ok for them to pick up or sniff out food.  To do so would create an extremely dangerous situation for both guide dog and owner, were a guide dog to take it upon themselves to decide to start tracking down or scavenge for food when they are working.  With this in mind food refusal is yet another area covered by our wonderful guide dog puppy walkers.  I recall a tale from Commando’s puppy walker about a day when she was taking Commando around a supermarket, and there was an onion lying on the floor.  Thinking this a wonderful opportunity to work on Commandos food refusal, his puppy walker made many journeys past that onion, all the time making sure that Commando didn’t try to go near it.  I am told though that the lesson came to an abrupt end when a helpful individual decided to get rid of that onion, probably thinking that it might distract the guide dog puppy in training…

However it would appear that all of those trips past the onion helped Commando to develop some excellent food refusal skills.  Regular readers will already know about our food refusal training in Edinburgh, where Commando did quite well, after wavering slightly at the first attempt. 

Since then though he has been in a number of situations where food has been nearby.  Now, dear readers, as much as I would like to say he has been absolutely perfect, there have been one or two little slips.  However this has been the result of Commando and Lester spotting something simultaneously, and Commando just hasn’t been able to resist going after the item, solely, I think to get to it before Lester.  But such events have been extremely few and far between.  In fact I can only think of two occasions when this has happened, and I’m told that Commando at least had the good grace to look guilty and sorry for his actions.

However when he has been working, and food has been around he has behaved extremely well.  He has just strolled past crisps, sweets, and even some kind of pasta pot on one occasion, concentrating instead, quite rightly, on his guiding duties.

But the main events which prompted me to write this post have taken place recently.  One day we had been at my parent’s house and at one point Commando was found in the kitchen engaged in an epic staring contest with a single pea that was on the floor.  Since Lester had made no attempt to go after it though, Commando was simply watching it closely, but showing no signs of being all that tempted to eat it.  The second occasion was here at home.  I had brought a sandwich home with me and had put it at the bottom of the stairs when Commando and I had come in.  I had taken all of Commandos equipment off, and, it turns out, forgotten all about the sandwich.  I had been working in another room, and noticed that Commando did spend a minute or two by the stairs, but I assumed he was either being nosy or considering doing some sun bathing.  I finally found the sandwich a few hours later, perfectly untouched!  Now keep in mind folks, this sandwich was easily at nose level, and Commando could probably have gobbled it up before I could say “there goes my lunch”.  But instead, my boy, my Lab/retriever, demonstrated outstanding stoicism and proved once again that he has outstanding food refusal, even if it’s quite literally there on a plate.

But, although guide dogs are quite good at food refusal, this is yet another area in which we guide dog owners need the public’s help.  Everyone must be aware that under no circumstances should they attempt to feed a guide dog.  Not only could it cause an extremely dangerous situation, but guide dogs have very strict diets and are not used to human food.  So to feed them something which their systems are not used to could have very unfortunate and messy consequences.

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