How owner behaviour affects how dogs eat their food

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Owner behaviour definitely affects how dogs eat their food, as we decide everything about our pup’s dinner schedule. Humans choose what their dog will eat, when, and even where they get to have their dinner.

A fussy dog that won’t eat their food might seem like a canine choice, but the owner’s behaviour plays an important in the situation.

Why owner behaviour affects a fussy dog

When you have a fussy dog that won’t eat their food, it can be easy to fall into worrying about their apparent lack of appetite. An owner usually responds to this in two ways, by changing the food to a new kind, or trying to entice the dog to eat with a homecooked meal. Both of which could cause issues.

How to swap a dog's food without worsening their behaviour

To try and entice the dog to eat, an owner will often swap the food to a new kind. When a dog shows no interest in the new food, this can further worry their owners. However, when making any dietary changes, a sudden switch can confuse a dog, and they won’t recognise the new food as being their dinner.

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This is one reason why it is important to wean a dog onto any new food. Not only does it prevent gastrointestinal stress caused by a sudden dietary change, but it also helps the dog to recognise the new food as their dinner.

If you ever need to change your dog’s food, it is crucial to do so gradually. Start by mixing in a small amount into their dinner alongside their usual food. Then over the course of a few days, gradually increase the volume of the new food that makes up their dinner.

Why a homecooked dinner will worsen the behaviour

When a dog is being a fussy eater and refusing to eat their dinner, it can seem like the only way to make them eat is by giving them some of your food. However, this owner behaviour can affect how your dog eats their food in the long term.

While a homemade dinner might win your dog over, they will soon realise that if they refuse to eat their regular food, you will give them a homemade dinner instead. If this pattern continues, it will condition the dog to deliberately refuse to eat until given the same food as what you’re eating. This is a problem for a few reasons.

A dog could develop further bad behaviour

Firstly, you will have a very fussy dog that refuses to eat their own food at the times they should be having dinner. It entrenches the bad behaviour, and once it has been learned, it can be difficult to correct.

This can lead to further behavioural problems, even outside of dinner time. A hungry dog doesn’t respond well to training, while an overfed dog will not respond to food. (Meaning food loses its value in training.) Furthermore, the dog can develop other food-related bad behaviour, such as food-related aggression like guarding.

Homecooked meals are difficult to make nutritionally adequate

It’s incredibly challenging to ensure a dog is getting adequate nutrition from a homemade meal and an inconvenience to cook a whole meal for your dog as well as for yourself. The ingredients you use, the volume of food, and even how it is prepared all have a significant impact on the nutritional value of the food.

Cooked food can lose it’s nutritional value due to chemical reactions like the Maillard Reaction, rendering some of the essential nutrients useless.

If you were feeding raw food there is also the added issue of raw meat carrying a risk of harmful pathogens like salmonella and E. coli.

How to deal with a fussy dog

Firstly, it is important not to baby a dog when they are fussy. This provides a lot of attention which can encourage them to keep refusing food in order to attract more attention.

Not to mention, by worrying the dog and giving them different food, it actually restricts their choice and makes them more likely to be fussy. (As they don’t recognise the new food or the sudden change has caused some an upset stomach.)

Similarly, they will also refuse food because they have learned you will give them something far tastier if they fast for long enough.

This makes it important to take a calm and measured approach dealing with a fussy dog.

Additionally, ditching boring brown biscuits for Pure offers your pup a healthy and nutritious diet that is as tasty as a homecooked meal. It’s sure to win over even the pickiest of pooches.

What to do when your pooch is being picky

Place your dog’s food somewhere quiet and where they recognise they are safe. This prevents them from becoming stressed or feeling too vulnerable to eat as they need to maintain their focus on what’s going on around them.

If your dog refuses to eat, don’t leave it out. Set a 30-minute time frame where they have a choice whether they want to eat it or not. If they don’t, just take their bowl away and put the food in the fridge to keep fresh. Then wait until their next mealtime to feed them again.

Dogs do not need to “graze” throughout the day, and this usually leads to overfeeding. Giving a dog constant access to food teaches them they can eat whenever they want, which can lead to unresponsiveness to food, and begging whenever someone in the house has food they think they are entitled to.