It's not too uncommon to have a dog that wolfs down their food the second it is placed in front of them. It almost becomes a sort of game - how fast can they eat their food? You put the food down, and it is gone before you can blink.
That's why, when you get a dog that doesn't do this, it can be quite confusing. You leave the room, and when you get back, there is still as much food in there as before. It hasn't even been touched.
You might think that your pooch should be hungry all of the time. After a trip to the vet, it might turn out that they are (sort of) a picky eater, and some of your habits might need to change.
Is My Dog a Picky Eater?
Just because your dog doesn't eat right away doesn't necessarily mean that your pooch is a picky eater. Them not eating the meal you put in front of them may have something to do with your own behavior, not their likes and dislikes.
However, some dogs are actually picky. According to Margaret Hoppe, a vet at Abingdon Square Clinic in Grenich Village, some dogs do just like the finer things in life and have a particular appetite. “If you’re having trouble getting your pet to eat on a regular basis, and he won’t consume his food at least once a day, your dog is a picky eater," she says. If your doggo has done this since the day you've had them, it turns out that your dog may just be a picky eater.
What you need to look out for, however, is whether or not your picky eater is staying healthy. Make sure your fur-kiddo is alert, happy, and playful between meals (or at least when they should be eating!), and that they maintain a healthy weight. You can talk with your vet about what that weight is. Shiny, soft coats are a sign of health, so if your dog is looking their best but still not chowing down, they may just be picky.
If your dog has suddenly become uninterested in food, that's when you need to look out. Dogs that rapidly lose weight, are listless or depressed, and seem lethargic are probably ill, and picky eating is just a symptom. When your doggo, who is usually a voracious eater, suddenly stops eating, it's good to go get checked out by a vet if the symptoms don't change within a day or two.
In either scenario, what's important is making sure your dog stays healthy, no matter how voracious their appetite is. Look out for the characteristics of being healthy below.
The Science Behind Picky (And Not So Picky) Eating in Dogs
As it turns out, some dogs just are picky eaters. Some breeds, like Yorkies and Malteses, are just fussy eaters. On the other hand, there are actually many dog AND human behaviors that can cause your doggo to just not want that plate of food you put in front of them.
For one thing, your dog may be stressed. This can happen when you bring your pupper home for the first time. Dogs that are in a new environment or surrounded by strangers often may be stressed out, afraid of their new surroundings, or just too darn curious to care about food. For some, it can be all three - they may miss their siblings, haven't had a lot of food before, or may have previously been stuck in a kennel. When introduced to a happy home, it can be over-stimulation central. There are way too many things for them to check out, smell, and explore, and way too many people for them to love.
Bottom line, when it comes to your dog's behavior, before freaking out about your dog being a picky eater and rushing to the vet, try to reduce the stress in your dog's life. Put them someplace familiar, or leave them alone with their food for a little bit. Guaranteed you'll have the little guy eating in no time!
As to our own behavior as owners, we have to re-check what we are doing. Do you sneek your pup snacks from the table? One look at that little face and how can you resist giving them at least a taste of dinner.
However, science has shown that dogs that are fed from the table often won't eat their food that's given to them during mealtime. This is for obvious reasons - they're already full from your delicious meal, or at this point, they know that if they don't eat their dinner, they'll get yours (which tastes way better!). This pertains to treats, too. If your doggo knows that they'll get treats instead of dinner, they'll stick their nose up and wait for you to oblige!
Getting Your Dog to Eat Regularly
There's a lot you can do to get your floof to eat more regularly and to actually at least pretend to like what's in front of them when you put it there. For one thing, STOP FEEDING YOUR DOG FROM THE TABLE!
Yes, your guy is perfect, and yes, he deserves the best, but feeding your dog half of your steak will start to get expensive!
Once you stop sneaking snacks, your dog will necessarily become less picky, since their dog food will be the only thing available to them. This means cutting out treats too. Treats for doggos taste better than their food, so by eliminating them (at least until your dog becomes used to eating dog food), there really is no other option to satisfy a rumbly tummy. You can also consider choosing from a list of dog foods best for picky eaters.
Another thing you can do as an owner is to feed your dog around the same time every day and avoid leaving food out. This is not only for sanitary purposes (hello mice!), but also because it further creates a need that your dog MUST eat during specific times, and can only munch for a limited amount of time.
Vets and trainers usually suggest leaving food out for 15-30 minutes. If your doggo hasn't eaten all his food during that time, take it away and try again next meal time. Eventually, they'll learn that that's all they're going to get and that's the only time they're going to get it. It'll be hard at first, but stay patient! They'll get it, and be happier and healthier for it.
Written by Katherine McCormick
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/26/2018, edited: 03/28/2023