I’d read on the German Shepherd Dog Rescue website that newly re-homed shepherds often go off their food. Being used to labradors this seemed difficult to believe. Labradors see you proffering a dog biscuit and consider the whole treat-fingers-hand combination to be a special one-time only offer which is to be immediately snapped up. In short, if you’re not gifted with the digital dexterity of a concert pianist then you’re in real danger of a trip down to Accident & Emergency. A labrador turning down food is cause for concern: my parents’ late dog Sally once did and we were somewhat alarmed to note that she had enormous distension of her abdomen (like one of those snakes who’s swallowed a rat whole) only to discover that she’d located the sack of dog food in the garage and settled down to her very own all-you-can-eat buffet earlier that day.
Back in 2011, having picked up our new furry friend earlier in the day from his foster carer in Newcastle, we settled Jack down in his dining room, poured him some Malvern Water and offered the extensive menu.
“I’ll take a bowl of the Wheelwright’s Complete please,” he indicated.
“Good choice sir,” I replied. The initial signs were good, the ever vigilent ears stood to attention and there were genuine signs of excitement as the biscuits fell into the stainless steel bowl. I placed the food on the conservatory floor. Jack sniffed the contents, looked up at me, looked down at the food and lay down on the floor apparently entirely disinterested. “Go on boy, get it!” I coaxed. Nothing. He simply didn’t want to eat. We consulted the website:
German Shepherds often go off their food for the first few days when they’re in a new home. Offer the food to your dog, then take it away again. Your dog will not starve himself. Simply put it down again an hour or so later and he will eat.
He didn’t. So we spent a good half hour feeding the whole meal by hand: biscuit by biscuit. This pattern was repeated on a twice daily basis for the next week, the promising initial interest, followed by the disheartening rejection. Where were we going wrong? I rang our contact at GSD Rescue for some advice. “Try varying it a bit, maybe add some gravy or pilchards – dogs love fish.” Leafing through my copies of Larousse Gastronomique and Heston Blumenthal at Home we set to work in the kitchen. Wheelwright’s Veronique was dismissed, along with Wheelwright’s Dauphinoise and Wheelwright’s shiitake and spring onion sushi all ending up at best 40% in the dog and 60% in the bin.
Experienced doggy friends suggested trying different foods – perhaps he’d been used to a raw food diet? Ten days into our new dog ownership Jack had visibly lost weight to the extent that he’d twice been approached by modelling agencies suggesting that he might like to sport their new size zero canine clothing range (which would have been fine but for the fact that he objected to being on a catwalk – I know, but I couldn’t resist). I scoured the internet for advice working my way through Baker’s Complete, the entire menu from our local Chinese take-away, Chudley’s and Pedigree Chum before eventually stumbling upon Royal Canin German Shepherd food.
For those who haven’t come across Royal Canin, it’s easy to find online or in your local pet store (where it’s kept in the same sort of locked display cabinet jewellers use for their diamond rings). Purchasing Royal Canin is not unlike trying to buy a house – first you put in an offer and then the vendor lets you know their response through an agent. If you’re in luck then your solicitor organises the conveyancing before you send your money (telegraphic transfer) and the food is delivered by Securicor about six weeks down the line. I’m not saying it’s expensive, but for the same price I could probably send him to a mid-range finishing school with views of Lake Geneva.
I carefully snipped open the hand-sewn sack (using the supplied silver-gilt scissors) and poured the biscuits into his bowl. Jack watched intently as the shining morsels (each one individually fashioned to exacting standards on the lap of a specially-trained Vestal Virgin) gently fell onto the stainless steel before… he wolfed it down like one of Pavlov’s dogs watching the opening titles to News at Ten. We had won and finally found a food our animal would eat.
The relief of was immense and can only be described as being akin to that engendered at the end of the item featuring Bruce Forsyth on The Royal Variety Performance. A content and well-fed dog has, somewhat to my surprise, made for a happier home. Our initial idea of simply employing a furry security guard has given way to the pleasure of his companionship around the house – though to be honest, those winter morning walks at 5.20 am still have all the appeal for me that a bowl of Wheelwright’s Complete holds for Jack.