Dear Lisa: I have a 3 year old Shih Tzu and an 11 year old Yorkie. The problem is with the eating habits of the Shih Tzu, she takes the pieces of her food out of the bowl and distributes them all over the floor even onto the living room carpet area. She does not eat all of the food she takes out of the bowl. Her procedure is to take the pieces out of the bowl then eat off the floor leaving behind what she does not eat.I have tried decreasing amounts but still end up with a mess. I believe she was exposed to this habit by my sister's dog who did that but her dog ate what she put on the floor. I continue to put the bits back into the bowl on a daily basis and the mess seems to be keep getting worse. Any suggestions as to how to avoid the eating habit mess.– Leaving a Trail

Dear Leaving: This particular habit is common among dogs. Some think it goes back to the mammal/wolf instinct of taking food away from the “kill” or to protect their portion from other’s stealing it while they are eating. Other owners report that their dogs bring the food out of the bowl away from a hard floor to a softer surface such as carpet or towels. Dogs also pick-up behavior learned from others, so it’s logical to think that your sister’s dog taught her this trick. I’m curious does the other dog eat the leftovers on the floor? If so, just be aware that the Yorkie doesn’t overeat and gain weight.

Cleaning up the Mess
Whatever the reason what you need now is instant relief. My first thought is to confine your Shih Tzu in a smaller area such as a crate or place a baby gate at the kitchen door into the living room. By cutting off access to the area she drops her food, it will force her to change her behavior. Two other thoughts might be to change her food to something that is not a “moist” such as dry kibble if you are concerned that canned or packaged food is making a gooey mess of your floors and rugs. You might also try changing her bowl. I had a dog once that wouldn’t eat out of his stainless steel bowl because it made a “clangy” noise when his metal collar tag hit it while eating. Depending on what you are using, maybe a switch to a ceramic or rubber bowl and put it on a small piece of carpet or towel and maybe she will just take her bits out of the bowl and deposit them nearby on her new “placemat.” Finally, maybe she is trying to keep her food away from the other dog if she is close by at feeding time. Trying feeding them in different rooms if this seems to be a contributing factor.

Dear Lisa: I just adopted an older Finnish Spitz from a friend who could no longer keep the dog because she was moving overseas. The dog is 10 years old and she’s really sweet. I was wondering if there was anything in particular I should do for the dog as she ages into an elderly canine?– Senior Sensibilities

Dear Senior: How wonderful of you to adopt your friend’s dog. As you know, the Finnish Spitz is a lively breed that originally was bred as hunters of small game and birds in Finland. In fact, the breed used to be known as the Finnish Barking Birddog.

As your dog ages, it is very important to keep up with the daily exercise for such an active vocal breed so that it will not become bored or begin destructive behaviors when left home alone. More importantly it’s crucial to keep the dog’s muscle tone in top condition to support and protect aging joints and bones that might develop arthritis in later years. Keeping the joints moving with regular walking is the best course. As the dog reaches a very old age you may have to cut back the amount of walking. But as an observant owner you will learn to know when the walks or playtime have to be cut back. The dog will slow down or seem a little more tired out sooner on her walks. Many owners, working in consultation with their veterinarians, also begin to supplement their dogs with a joint formula as a preventive against further effects of aging on her skeletal structure.

Feeding and Footing
Another easy senior care tip involves weight. Switching your dog to a reduced calorie and / or protein senior diet can help keep her weight in check. Overweight dogs create even more stress on aging hips and joints. Be mindful of too many treats since they are loaded with hidden calories.

Senior dogs are also prone to injury from falls, either on slippery surfaces or jumping in and out of cars or up on furniture. One quick tip to keep her on her feet in the home, especially if you have tile or hardwood flooring is to trim the excess hair from between the toes and around the pads. This helps the naturally sticky pads do their job of gripping the floor better. And if you notice that she is having trouble getting on the couch or jumping in the car for a ride you might consider a portable set of “doggie” stairs in the home up to the bed or a ramp for the car.

The best way to keep a dog healthy in old age is to be observant of her behavior, looking for signs of pain, and keeping her to her regular exercise routine along with ample playtime and love.


Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Club Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions we cannot offer individual responses. Read previous columns here.

© 2008 The American Kennel Club, Inc.