Zen and the Art of Feeding My Dog

February 18, 2021

(Archived blog post from October 2016)

I’m adding a certification to my name: Tracy Krulik, E.M.M.A.

It’s two-and-a-half years since Hubz and I adopted Emma the Beagle, and we’ve finally gotten a handle on what to feed her, when to feed her, and how to feed her.

I could talk about the myriad food allergy tests, the vet and nutritionist consults, and the pounds and pounds and pounds of kibble, canned food, home-cooked food, raw food and freeze-dried food that we’ve tried, but instead I’m going to focus on what happened this weekend.

Hubz, Ems, and I stepped back into time on Saturday by visiting a local harvest festival near our home in northern Virginia. After sniffing through some antiques booths, we purchased tickets for the rubber-duck river race and then crossed a rickety bridge to the food-truck area. (Hubz carried Emma over; she’s not fond of rickety-bridges yet… Yet!)

When we got to the other side, and Hubz put Emma down to re-commense sniffies, her happy tail suddenly turned upside down.  Five Confederate soldiers had fired their muskets all at once. A few seconds later they did it again, and Emma jumped in terror into Hubz’s arms.

Luckily for us, the next Civil War gun demonstration would not take place for another two hours, so we decided to continue on through the fair. Emma was not so certain that this was a good idea though, and with a furrowed brow took very tentative steps forward.

“Kettle Corn?” a vendor asked me and offered me a handful to sample. “Absolutely,” I replied once I ensured that it was not made with butter. And then I saw Emma standing near me with a downward-facing tail.

“Hey, Ems! Have some kettle corn!” I said while offering her a piece.

Her response? “What is this delicacy you have been keeping from me all this time?” (Translated, of course, from the Doggish: happy-waggy tail and kettle-corn-eating grin.) This girl was in heaven. The rest of the afternoon became a kettle-corn scavenger hunt. People had dropped it everywhere we walked, and Emma’s beagle nose made sure she didn’t miss a crumb.

As a colleague reminded me, novel foods are an incredibly powerful training tool. While I have spent the last two-plus years rehabbing one fearful dog, Joanna fosters a number of “fraidy” pups to give them the confidence to be adopted and live long happy lives. Every day I look forward to the photos and videos of her fosters learning that it’s okay to be near other dogs or people or even to just take one step outside of their crates into the scary big world of Everything Else. How does Joanna do it? Cream cheese, roast beef, and turkey, to name a few tools found in her fridge.

Helping Emma overcome her fears is made trickier by the fact that she has severe allergies to tons of foods (dairy, chicken, turkey, salmon, rabbit, sweet potato, carrots, green peas…), but every once in a while I stumble onto some potent morsel of deliciousness that she is not allergic to, like kettle corn.

I’m keeping a stash of that magic concoction in my pantry, and I’m going to remember the mantra that Novel is Powerful. I don’t have to feed Emma so much food that she gets fat; I just need to feed her little doses of new-to-her deliciousness that give her wonderful associations with things that might otherwise be scary.

Food. It does my Emma’s mind good.

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