How to help a rescue dog with food issues and separation anxiety, by expert trainer Ben Randall

Saving a street dog from a harsh life is a noble thing to do, but often comes with issues. Expert trainer Ben Randall explains what to do.

Adopting a rescue dog with an unknown background is a wonderful thing to do, and while it can throw up some tricky situations most of them can be tackled quite happily with a bit of expert advice.

That’s the situation that this week’s reader is in, with a dog who has settled in well with her — but who won’t engage with her husband, despite their best efforts:

Dear Ben,

We have just adopted a rescue dog who came from ESMA, an Egyptian organisation. He is two years old, and so affectionate and loving, and generally good with people and other dogs — though he’s a little wary of men, and can be nervous of other dogs at first. We know that he had a poor start in life but have no idea what might have happened to him — just that he was a street dog.

The problem isn’t with me, but with my other half. Although my husband loves him and does a lot for him — feeding, grooming etc — he won’t walk with him unless I accompany them. He digs his heels in and refuses to walk.

He can’t be bribed with treats either, he’s not bothered about his food, and just grazes, eating a little every hour or two. His meals are never finished until bedtime.

He also plays up if I leave the house: he goes into panic mode, zooming around, scratching doors, jumping on tables etc, until I return.

How can I get him to want to be with my husband? Any advice would be gratefully received. We are a retired couple and look forward to spending some happy years with Buddy. — MH, via email

First off, well done for adopting a dog who has had such a tough start in life — it’s a wonderful thing to do. And please don’t worry: this sort of issue is something that I’ve seen a lot over the last few years, especially since lockdown, with people who come to me for training sessions or to leave their dogs in our boarding kennels. And as you’ll see below, you’re in a perfect position to sort out what’s happening.

1. Switch your mindset to realise you don’t have to do everything for your dog

It’s wonderful that, as a retired couple, you have the time to really concentrate on caring for your new dog, but that can actually create problems of its own. If we do too much for our pets, and spend too much time with them — something which became very common during the Pandemic — we don’t give them space and time to get used to being reliant on themselves.

While Buddy has clearly bonded really well with you — and that’s no doubt been a huge help to him while first settling in to a strange new environment in a different country — now it’s time to let your husband work on creating a similar bond. It might mean you taking a back seat for a while, but it’ll be worth it.

2. Get him interested in food

You mention Buddy’s feeding habits in your letter – and make it clear that he’s not bothered about food. This is a key thing, though: I’d really like you to change this habit. I want your dog to be hungry, to really want his food, and to enjoy this meal. And that’s going to mean steeling yourself to let him get hungry enough to do so: don’t leave food out for him to graze, don’t feed him between meals and — unless he’s worryingly skinny or unwell — don’t keep trying him with different treats in an attempt to get him to eat.

Instead, we’re going to instil a new habit, with your husband taking the lead. I want him always to be the person to feed the dog until Buddy is super-confident about his food, and looking forward to mealtimes.

Start off at breakfast, get your husband to put his food down, and give him the command to eat – if you don’t have one, simply pointing at the food and saying ‘okay!’ will do fine.

If he eats, great. But if he doesn’t eat pretty much straight away, your husband should take the food away. Try again at lunchtime, and again take the meal away almost immediately should he turn his nose up and walk away. And then do the same again at dinner time.

It may take a day or two, but it will work, and the dog will realise that if he doesn’t eat, the food will be gone. Stay firm, and be strict not to give treats or other tastes of food in between meals. This is something for all owners to avoid, actually: it’s tempting to give your pet scraps of chicken, cheese, or other tasty morsels you might have left over, but the dog will see these as higher value, and it’ll only put them off their nutritionally balanced dog food.

But day two or three, you’ll find that your husband will be happily feeding dog, maintaining good eye contact, and seeing Buddy settle to eat immediately.

3. Use mealtimes to build trust and confidence

Once your pet is eating his meals, you can use these opportunities to really get your husband starting to train him. It’s two or three chances a day to work on the dog’s patience, sitting, recall and more.

Get your husband to get Buddy’s food ready, then ask the dog to sit and put a lead on. Your husband should then reward him with a piece of kibble, take him out for a walk around the garden or up and down the street, walking to heel and giving him calm praise and rewards every so often.

Use every mealtime as a chance to do this and twice a day, every day, your husband and your dog will be building and strengthening their bond, with praise and positive rewards. Their partnership and trust will only build from now on. Good habits – once created – will become the norm over a short period of time, and it’s a key part of my BG Foundations that feed times give you a chance two or three times a day to train dogs until things become second nature.

4. Deal with your dog’s separation anxiety

As your dog and husband build their bond, I’d expect to see a natural reduction in the fear of abandonment that’s driving his misbehaviour when you leave the house. That said, there are things you can do to make it even smoother, and steps to follow right from the start to keep him calm when you’re popping out. Find a high-value chew or toy he really loves — I often use an antler with my dogs, but it could be anything that works for you — which you give to him when you put him in his dog bed or crate when you leave the house. It’ll relax him, give him something to focus on, and give him a chance to see your absence as a chance to chill, relax and enjoy his treat.

Ben Randall’s book, ‘How to Train Your Gundog’, is out now. You can order it here at £40.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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