Food and Friends


My friend Leonora owns my dog Woody’s best friend, tiny Samson. Woody and Samson are the exact same age, and both are “foster fails” – Leonora and I were raising foster litters for our local shelter at exactly the same time, and we both kept one pup from the litters we were raising. As it happened, I kept the largest of the nine Lab/Pit-mix pups I was fostering, and Leonora kept the smallest of the six Chihuahua-mix pups she fostered. Our two dogs grew up playing together and we even took them to puppy kindergarten and “first grade” classes together. Five and a half years later, they are still best buds, even with the 65-pound difference between them.

But there is one little wrinkle in their friendship: their very different relationships with food.

Woody at 8 weeks, when I decided I had to keep him.

Pardon me for saying it so bluntly, Woody, but my dog is a bottomless pit. He will eat anything at any time anywhere. He’s never too anxious to eat and never too full to turn down food. I usually soak his food or feed him in a snuffle mat or slow-feeding bowl, because otherwise he eats way too fast. My husband and I often amuse ourselves by offering him strange things to eat – asparagus, cherries, plums, lettuce, ice cubes, you name it – and I don’t think that we’ve ever found anything that Woody will turn down.

In contrast, Samson is a fussy little grazer. Leonora gives him food in the morning, and if she’s home (whether on a weekend or during the work-from-home COVID period), he will pick up a kibble every once in a while, but he doesn’t really eat more than a couple at a time. And when she works at her usual work site, he doesn’t eat all day! When she gets home from work, he will greet her at the door, and then run to his food dish, and eat a couple of kibbles. Over the next few hours of the evening, he will eat a few more. Even when she leaves him with a tiny Kong toy filled with peanut butter and treats, he doesn’t touch it until she gets home. Then he will rush to enjoy it.

I interpret this as low-level anxiety with her absence, given that many dogs who display symptoms of separation anxiety often don’t eat when they are left alone.

Leonora often gives Samson carrots to nibble and chew, and the first thing he does is stash them under his blankets in one of his several beds around Leonora’s house. Same if she gives him a Milk Bone-type cookie. He eats them when he’s ready, often when Leonora is relaxing in the evening while reading or watching TV.

Samson at about 8 weeks, when Leonora decided she had to keep him!

Leonora also often dog-sits Woody for me; when I travel anywhere, that’s where Woody stays. He’s as comfortable at her house as he is at mine – but he’s learned all of his little buddy’s food-caching tricks. So much so that now, when we go over to Leonora’s house, Woody will first excitedly greet Leonora, and then rush around raiding all of little Samson’s stashes. Then, he’ll empty Samson’s tiny food dish (Samson’s total daily diet is but an appetizer for Woody).

But don’t feel sorry for Samson! He will usually choose one cache to guard – the best thing he’s hiding – and go after the much-larger dog with the ferocity of a weasel if Woody tries to get it. Though Leonora and I both are ready to intervene if needed, so far, Woody hasn’t ever seemed to mind being attacked by his little friend. It’s almost as if he doesn’t even notice! His tail keeps wagging and he just lifts his big head out of Samson’s reach; he knows that Samson will get distracted and he’ll go for the food when Samson isn’t paying attention.

Woody and Samson snuggling when they were about year old.

Samson doesn’t seem to hold it against Woody; they are still friends and enjoy each other. When it’s cold, Samson curls up into Woody’s tummy, or climbs on top of Woody’s big sleeping body to try to stay warm. Woody “self-handicaps” when playing with his little friend, by laying down and keeping his movements gentle. When they play bitey-face, Samson is usually the one who gets too rough, going “full weasel” and biting Woody all over his face while snarling hysterically. To defend himself, Woody often just opens his huge jaws and lifts his head out of the way – when Samson gets carried away, he somehow often ends up with his whole head in Woody’s mouth! Yet the only way that Woody has ever accidentally hurt his buddy is by squashing him with a big paw, which he uses only in a last-ditch effort to control Samson’s occasional bout of outsized ferocity.

Do your dogs have different attitudes about food? Do you have an indiscriminate chow hound, a selective foodie, or a dog who always has something cached for a rainy day?


  1. We’ve had both through the years! The two we have now are both fussy little eaters and will often eat only once per day (even though offered breakfast, they will usually not eat it, but will eat dinner). As an owner, I guess I prefer the bottomless pits. You never have to worry that they’re eating enough (but you do have the opposite worry) and if they don’t eat, you know immediately a trip to the vet is in order.

  2. I have one chow hound and one picky eater. Shasta, Miniature Schnauzer, will eat anything, anytime, anywhere. Now that she is an adult, at least she only eats actual food, no more bird poop, etc thank goodness. The only thing she has turned down is celery. Desi, Havanese, prefers to eat in typical small-dog style: take a few kibble, walk away, spit them out, then eat them. He gets canned salmon mixed in with his kibble at dinner, but still some days doesn’t eat at all. Shasta eats in an ex-pen from a snuffle mat or rolling treat dispenser so Desi can eat in peace. I have to remove the thorns from the cactus I give the desert tortoise, Tank, in case Shasta gets to any leftovers.

  3. Only chowhounds ever. They eat most everything, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, brussels sprouts. Only Leo drawsthe line at blueberries, he recognizes them even if they are cleverly disguised by a peanut butter cover and will spit them out….it is kind of funny…

  4. I currently have one of each; a supposedly lab mix who is super finicky (who has ever heard of a Lab that isn’t a chowhound) and a Terrier who doesn’t even taste the food. It is a challenge to ensure that that the bottomless pit doesn’t over indulge and that my picky girl actually eats something all day. I am in agreement with Janet (commenter) I would prefer 2 chowhounds but it is what it is. We have seen some improvement in Miss Picky because of her brother’s eagerness to clean out her bowls, plus I sweeten her bowl with some “junky” wet food that she can’t resist. Meanwhile speed demon eater has figured out how to defeat every kind of slo feeder there is. We like to play “who will eat this” and offer funny foods like black olives or yellow squash, even though the conclusion is foregone; super eater gobbles it up and Miss Picky turns her nose up at it and walks away! Oh well, they keep me on my toes!

  5. I have had Havanese that were very fussy eaters. And now I have a Papillon puppy that is a fussy eater. It was very worrisome for me as she is only a couple of pounds, and I know how some Toy breed puppies are susceptible to hypoglycemia when they are stressed. It took a couple of days before she started taking small little bite fulls from my hand.

    I prefer the chow hounds.

  6. I love the story about the two pup’s friendship:)
    Just one comment:
    Maybe all those picky eaters would be thriving on good fresh home-made meals! I don’t believe that any dog food can even come close to that. All my dogs throughout 40 years had been the most appreciative consumers of my cooking.
    No furry picky eaters in our house ever!

  7. I had a sad experience with a chow hound. As a very young dog, Pepper, a very SMALL Cocker Spaniel, had wandered the streets of a neighboring town for a week or so before being taken in by his previous owner. That family had him for about 3 years before reluctantly needing to rehome him—I’m sure the real reason was they could not afford the medical care they knew he needed for allergies and serious ear infections. Nearly 10 pounds had to slowly be taken off, too! For the next 8 years Pepper ate a controlled diet from a dish with “fingers” in it to keep him from gobbling and promptly throwing up.

    One day supper was late because I had gone to pick my younger Cocker up from the groomer. How Pepper did it, I’ll never know. He was way too short, but somehow managed to pull a bag of DRY BROWN RICE off the kitchen counter and ate an unknown quantity. Then a full supper on top of it. Multiple intestinal blockages occurred and possible perforations. After 24 hours at the vet’s, I could not let him suffer any more and had to say good-bye.

  8. Right now I have a little 16 year old rescue who usually eats only every other day. I feed him twice a day, throw away the uneaten after 10 hours, put fresh down, throw away, etc. etc. He is healthy and even a little chubby (his vet likes the chubbiness at his age), so I don’t worry too much, although I did at first.

  9. I currently have 1 of each. My Rottie is a bottomless pit….My other dog, a Rough Collie, is the only dog I’ve ever had that is a picky eater. Both pups are from rescues, and the Collie was actually picked up as a stray in my hometown (which is odd – I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw anyone with a Collie around here). He was about 15 pounds underweight when I adopted him. From the condition of his coat and his gaunt frame it was clear he’d either run loose for a while or had not been well cared for in his prior home. I didn’t expect him to turn up his nose at anything, but feeding has been a challenge. After much trial and error, it seems that he simply prefers beef since he only half-heartedly picks at his food if it’s made with anything else. I feed twice daily, and he knows the routine – if he doesn’t eat it within 30 minutes, I pick up his bowl, pop it in a zip-type bag and stick it in the refrigerator. He will usually eat it the next meal without any hesitation. He’s at a healthy weight now and is energetic and curious (that long Collie nose gets into all kinds of trouble) so we are doing okay – but it’s still disconcerting when he skips a meal because I jump into ‘mama’ mode and start fretting about whether he’s just not hungry or something is wrong.

  10. I have a very picky eater. I use pumpkin with some wet food with some kibble. Be the end of day, after trying at least twice for him to eat, I take it out of the fridge, again, and it goes to bed with him in his crate (his preference). It is not fun as he’s not a big drinker either so I’ve started adding bone broth to his food too. I’m at my wits end.

  11. Had to put up a gate in the kitchen to let a female Dalmation-pitbull mix who was a slow, nervous eater finish her meals before a younger male Dalmation-pointer Hoovered up her food and his, too. When I got my first Irish setter, a big 80-lb. girl, my little, female 25-lb. terrier-Spitz would eat out of the setter’s dish and block her. This went on until one day the setter got tired of waiting and let out a low growl. The terrier immediately got the message, stepped aside, and never tried it again.

  12. My 5 year-old mini Aussie is a chowhound with a special love of vegetables and fruits. I have yet to find a food she will turn her nose up at. I use slow feed devices but she can still snarf up whatever I give her. Tonight she had spinach, carrots, red pepper, radish and pumpkin along with her kibble. She is very healthy and my vet approves of her vegetable rich diet.

  13. My neighbor-friend’s bottom-less pit-mix just came home from a 3 or 4 day hospital stay due to a blockage caused by eating half-spent charcoal in the park near our home. We are faced with this challenge all summer, in our park beside Lake Michigan’s chicago shore.

    Thanks for another sweet sweet story, Nancy!

  14. We currently have one of each. Our 12yo Boxer mix acts like she’s starving all day long, where our 8yo itty bitty Pitty frequently has to be “persuaded” to eat, sometimes turning away both meals in a day. If she refuses to eat, we have to pick it up, or the other chow hound will happily make it disappear. They’re both at a healthy weight, so we just monitor and manage.

  15. I have one of each. An 8 year old Lab mix that never met any food she didn’t like and a 2 year old GSD who has to be coaxed to eat anything but treats. We can’t leave the GSDs food down because the Lab has food allergies and would scarf it right up! What an odd couple.