How To Get Your Fussy Dog To Eat Their Dinner

Written by: The Wholesome Dog

There are two types of dogs in this world – those who live to eat (did someone say Labrador?) and those that eat to live. While most dogs have evolved to generally love eating the food they’re fed, it appears that an increasing number of dogs are being more picky and choosy about what they eat, how long they take to eat and sometimes, don’t finish their meals at all. While having a picky eater on your hands can be stressful, in most cases this can be resolved through training and behaviour modification. We go through some common reasons of picky eating and provide some handy tips of how to get your dog to eat their dinner, every time!

Some common causes of picky eating

As a pet parent it can be very worrisome when your dog isn’t eating their food. Before we can adopt methods to get them to eat their food, it can be useful to identify the root cause of the picky eating if possible. Some common problems include:

  • Your dog is fed too many treats or table scraps – While it comes from a place of love, pet parents can often be guilty of giving their dog too many calories in the form of treats or table scraps. Treats should not make up more than 10% of their daily caloric requirements so be sure to adjust their intake accordingly
  • The portion sizes you’re feeding are too large – Always be sure to check the recommended serving size for the exact brand and type of dog food you’re feeding to ensure it is the right amount. Adjust any recommendations on the back of the bag for the amount of exercise your dog is actually getting – if your dog doesn’t get a lot of exercise you may need to pare back the recommended amount to adjust accordingly
  • A particular dog food doesn’t sit well with your dog – Commercial dog foods can include fillers and preservatives that doesn’t necessarily sit well with all dogs. To rule out poor quality food, always choose a high quality healthy dog food option that is high in protein and preferably grain and preservative free. Some dogs also have a preference for type of food (for example dry, wet, raw or lightly cooked) so its useful to figure out which option (or combination of options) works best for you and your dog

If your dog has always been a picky eater however remains healthy (energetic with a healthy body & coat) then there is no reason to be alarmed and you can slowly work with your dog to modify their behaviour. However if your dog suddenly stops eating their food, this is a greater cause for concern and it is recommended that you take them to the vet if they don’t resume their normal eating patterns within 24 hours. 

Tips & tricks to help your dog eat

For dogs that are constant picky eaters (take a long time to finish their meal or often don’t finish at all) we recommend some options to try at home to encourage them to modify their behaviour!

1. Encourage healthy habits from day one

As is often said, it’s better to prevent a problem before it occurs than have to treat it once it arises. Dogs can learn to become either great or fussy eaters from the day that you bring them home. By developing a consistent feeding routine, you can help your dog develop great eating habits from day one. When you first bring your dog home (either as a puppy or an adult) try to feed them at the same time every day. Avoid providing additional food such as table scraps or feeding single, high-value foods such as meat (e.g. a piece of steak) and always offer them only one option of food in their designated feeding bowl. Dogs don’t necessarily need to eat everyday and if they know something better may be offered up to them if they don’t finish their designated ‘dog food’ – they quickly adapt their behaviour to try and get their paws on the tastier option!

2. Establish a clear feeding routine

Establish a clear pattern and routine with your dog when it comes to mealtime. Always feed your dog in the same designated bowl and serve it in the same spot. If possible, teach your dog a command to sit and wait for the food before releasing them to eat it. Give your dog a set amount of time to finish their food – for example 15 minutes. After this point, take their bowl away until the next mealtime.

3. Don’t let your dog graze on their food

Take your dog’s bowl away when they appear to have finished eating. Even if they haven’t finished their meal or only eaten a small amount, allowing a dog to graze can encourage them to wait and see what other options may be available throughout the day before finally resorting to eating their own food. While it can be an emotionally challenging for some pet parents to implement this in practice, many fussy dog owners swear by the success of this method as it teaches dogs that if they don’t eat their food within the set time frame, they may miss out until the next day.

4. Find the right food for them and determine correct portion sizes

We can’t necessarily blame dogs for not wanting to eat the same dry food day in and day out – as humans, we would get sick of it too! Over the last decade, there has been an increasing shift towards feeding dogs a fresh food diet – whether it be raw or lightly cooked. These fresh food diets have been particularly great for fussy eaters who love the taste of real meat and veggies. If your dog has a palate for ‘human foods’ try switching them over to a fresh food diet – if you don’t have time to prepare this food at home yourself, there are now plenty of companies that offer fresh dog food delivery services which make it easy for you to feed a healthy fresh diet at home. Once you’ve established a dog food option that works for both you and your dog, make sure to feed the right portion of food that suits their age, breed, weight and lifestyle. If your dog gets much less exercise than average, pare back their portion sizes accordingly. 

5. Enhance your dog’s meals with water or heat

If your dog is on a dry dog food diet, try adding a little water to their food. If your dog is eating a wet or lightly cooked diet, try heating up the meals lightly before feeding. Both of these will enhance the smells of the food and can go a long way towards helping your dog finish their food.

While it can be a frustrating and challenging road for pet parents who have fussy eaters on their hand, just remember that it’s never too late to teach your dog new habits. By identifying the root cause of their behaviour and slowly implementing our suggested tips & tricks to encourage good mealtime behaviour, you’ll have a hungry pup who enthusiastically digs into their food in no time!