Whether you feed your dog on a regular schedule or allow your pooch to free-feed, you may have noticed your pet scooting their bowl around with their nose. Maybe your dog even picks the whole bowl up to move it to a new location! Perhaps they paw at the kibble in the bowl to make it bounce or spill some on the floor, then move their bowl over the spilled food like they’re hiding it from you. Some owners find this behavior endearing, while others find it annoying. But what causes your dog to move their food bowl around? Why do they change up where they eat, and why aren’t they happy with where you’ve set their dish? Let’s get into the reasons your faithful friend might cart their food bowl around your home.
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The Root of the Behavior
There are many reasons why your dog might move their food bowl around, and according to Dr. Leslie Larson Cooper, a veterinary behaviorist based in San Francisco, “…most canine behavior surrounding food is easily reinforced and repeated.” So if you noticed your dog playing with their bowl and encouraged it by giving them attention or adding food, then your dog associates bowl playtime with being rewarded, and may, therefore, do it all the time.
Your dog may also be exhibiting some behavior carried over from their ancestors; by moving their bowl to a secluded corner and “hiding,” they may be trying to prevent other animals from stealing their food. Even if they’re the only dog in your home, they may still feel the urge to separate themselves and stow their food somewhere they see as “safe.” In line with the idea of carrying over hunting-type behavior, perhaps your dog is playing with their food in the same way they play with their toys. By moving the bowl around, making the kibble move, and even bouncing it up and down (and spilling it out of the bowl), your dog is making their food seem more alive, which excites them and lets them feel more fulfilled when eating.
Your dog may also simply want to change the placement of their bowl! They may not like the way a metal bowl sounds on a tile floor, for example, or may want to place their food bowl somewhere closer to you so that they don’t feel alone. If your pooch consistently moves their bowl to a specific spot, you may want to consider listening to their instinct and begin feeding them in that space. Of course, they may just like to roam, enjoying a change of scenery every so often when they eat.If your dog is a free-feeder, they may be pushing around an empty bowl because the idea of having no food available – even if they’re not immediately hungry – makes them nervous. They want to know that their supply is always available. Adding a bit more kibble to the dish could prevent the pushing behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
Bowl play is not necessarily an inherently negative behavior, but we can understand that some pet owners may find it stressful or annoying to have to deal with their dog or dogs constantly moving their food dishes around. Some ways to prevent this behavior include getting a heavier bowl that isn’t as easily scooted around or getting a raised feeding dish that lifts the bowl off the floor. These are often sold as paired water and feeding dishes and would likely work best for a single-dog household. If you have multiple dogs in the same home that play with their food or push their food dish around, you could try rotating their feeding times or establishing multiple feeding areas. If you’re free-feeding, it’s possible that your dogs are in a war for their preferred bowl placement, and that’s why they keep scooting the bowl around – putting one dish in each preferred spot could prevent bowl play and keep your pets happy and secure. If your dog has suddenly started moving their food dish around when they weren’t doing it before, you may want to check and see if any new stressors have appeared in their life. For instance, if you’ve gotten a new pet, moved to a new home, or introduced a new person into their life, your dog may be reacting by trying to hide and secure their food in order to feel safe. Reassuring your dog and giving them plenty of positive attention can help reduce this behavior.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While we say that your dog’s bowl playtime isn’t normally a cause for concern, it can be an indication of a more serious health problem. For instance, if your dog is nosing around their food bowl but refusing to eat, they may be sick and have no appetite due to illness. If you notice that your dog carefully tries to line up their food bowl but is bumping their nose or face into the bowl or the kibble, your dog’s eyesight may be fading. In these cases, and if the behavior has sprung up overnight with no discernable cause, it’s best to take your dog to the vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and sudden changes to your dog’s behavior almost always indicate that something’s going on!
Your dog might just be playing with their food, or they might be trying to tell you something. Whatever the reason, bowl play is a relatively normal activity for dogs, and is (generally) not a reason to be worried. It’s a fairly easy behavior to prevent, with just a few modifications to your dog’s eating area and a little attention to their bowl preferences! Whether you let your dog play or nip that bowl-shoving in the bud, remember to give your pet the love and attention they’re seeking.