Why Do Dogs Play With Their Food Before Eating

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Every dog has a broad repertoire of idiosyncratic behavior which you will discover eventually, the more time you spend together. One thing which most pet owners realize is that their pet dogs have a lot of weird behaviors during mealtime and one of them is playing with their food. Even dogs that are already domesticated still retain a lot of their wild relatives’ traits and one of them is playing with their food. They enjoy batting their food around and mimicking the feeding behavior of their ancestors. A lot of owners are baffled by this and are looking for ways on how to curb it. 

The Root of the Behavior

In the wild, dogs depend on their hunting and stalking skills in order to feed themselves and survive. Feeding time is seen as a pack ritual and each member of the pack has specific roles and responsibilities to play to ensure that the hunt is a roaring success. Killing prey requires intense mental concentration and also involves a lot of running. Today’s domestic dogs no longer have instincts quite as sharp as their wild counterparts did because there is no need for them to hunt. They are fed meals on schedule and they do not have to do so much to have a full stomach. However, these dogs still do appreciate the stimulation which sadly is no longer provided in their households.

A lot of dogs turn to undesirable behavior such as playing with their food out of boredom or lack of exercise. For your dog, they may simply see playing with their food as a form of entertainment and it is something that gets the attention of their owners. In order to prevent this from happening again, you should consider giving your dog ample time to exercise and burn off excess energy. Check your dog’s daily routine. Is he being walked every day? Does he have enough time to jump around and just use his energy? Most dog breeds need at least an hour of physical activity every day. Try to give him 30 more minutes to just play, round around, roll around, and just enjoy himself. By doing this, he will have less energy for playing when mealtime comes. When he has already expended his energy, he will concentrate on eating his food. Aside from playing with their food, dogs also have some weird mealtime ways such as rolling in their food before eating. Dogs do this because they are protective of their own resources and want to leave their scent on their food so others would not take it.

Encouraging the Behavior

Mealtime is different from play time. You probably do not want your pooch spilling his food or batting it around. You spent good money on dog food and you want every bit of it to be used wisely. Playing with food is something you want to discourage and not encourage. A feeding structure would also be helpful, as well as a stimulation quite akin to what wolves experience by having them exercise first before feeding them. It is the natural order for canines to work for their food because in the wild no one would be there to just hand them a bowl of food. Go for a walk or for a run together with your dog before mealtime. You can try a few exercises such as a game of fetch or catch. There are certain high-energy or intelligent dogs which may need additional brain stimulation. By using the right tools, mealtime can become a mental workout for your pooch. There are various feeding toys and games available at pet stores today and one of the most popular is the food cube. It dispenses food when a dog rolls in a certain way. Making your pup work for his food will make them more inclined to eat their food, rather than play with it.

Other Solutions and Considerations

If you happen to have more than one dog, you might want to consider feeding them in separate rooms that are inaccessible to each other. You should not stand over them guarding their food, making sure they eat and not play, and keeping the peace. Keeping them separate can help ensure that they concentrate on their food and not play with their food with one another. There are some dogs that start prancing around in excited anticipation as soon as they see their humans putting their food bowl. If you have a dog that gets emotionally aroused at mealtime, you might want to usher him out of sound, sight, and smell before preparing his food to tone down the stress levels. 


Dogs playing with their food may look cute initially, but you should keep in mind that mealtime is different from play time and both of these activities should not overlap. In order for your dog to eat his food and not play with it, one of the things you can do is to schedule exercise just before so he no longer has excess energy. However, consult with your veterinarian because some breeds are more susceptible to gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat), which can be fatal and is sometimes triggered by eating too soon after strenuous exercise.