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What to do when your dog is a picky eater

It is natural for most dogs to love food and to scarf meals down in a matter of minutes.

If your dog won’t eat her food, I generally do not recommend you switch her food or add extra goodies to her meals. Instead, these simple ideas typically work. But first, make sure your dog is not sick.

If a dog who normally has a good appetite suddenly won’t eat, there’s a good chance she is not feeling well. Watch for less noticeable signs such as more sleeping than normal, less interest in toys or a refusal to drink water.

If you don’t think your dog is sick, here are some tips to help a picky eater eat her meals. For raw feeders, see our post: What to do when your dog won’t eat raw meat.

What to do if your dog is a picky eater

1. Feed your dog on a regular schedule.

Dogs like a routine. I feed mine twice a day. I put their bowls of food out in the morning and in the evening, and they almost always finish their food.

Some trainers recommend feeding your dog after a walk, treating the meal as a reward or for allowing the dog to “earn” her meal. If your dog is especially picky, I recommend you give this a try because most dogs actually like to work for their food. They love to work!

2. If she doesn’t eat within five minutes, throw the food away.

If Ace doesn’t finish his food within a certain amount of time, I put the bowl away.

If he doesn’t eat his breakfast, I put the bowl in the fridge and offer it to him later for dinner. If he doesn’t eat it then either, I throw it in the trash.

3. Make your dog sit for a few minutes before she eats.

I always ask my dogs to do something before they get fed, even if it’s just a simple sit. That way, the food is a reward. This is a perfect time to practice obedience. Sometimes I have Ace sit for five minutes while I prepare my own breakfast. Then I release him, and he can eat his food while I eat mine. For a real challenge, I ask Ace sit and stay while I eat my entire meal.

4. Know how much food your dog is getting and decrease it.

If your dog is not eating her food or not finishing it, then she is likely getting more than enough to eat. So, for the next meal, decrease the amount a little. My dogs eats when they’re hungry, so if they don’t finish their food, I know they’re getting plenty. You can always increase the amount again later.

5. Give your dog more exercise.

Just like with people, a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise doesn’t need a lot of food. If your dog won’t eat, try increasing her exercise. Take her for a longer walk the next day, or throw the ball around the yard on top of a walk.

6. Make sure she is not distracted while she eats.

When Ace was younger, he would rather play with his toys than eat. And he would rather go for a walk than eat. So if I was anywhere near the front door after I fed him, he’d follow me around instead of eating. If his tennis ball was out, I had to put it away or he wouldn’t eat.

7. Cut back on treats throughout the day.

Except during training, my dogs don’t get extra treats during the day. They might get a bully stick here and there, but that’s about it.

8. Don’t add canned food, treats or people food.

I never add extra goodies to my dog’s food. He gets his dry dog food and that’s it. Dogs are not like humans. If you are feeding your dog a quality food, then she should be getting all she needs in that diet. A little something extra is fine every now and then. But don’t use treats to bribe your dog to eat unless you want to do this for every meal for the rest of your dog’s life. You are just teaching her to be a picky eater if you do this.

9. Don’t switch foods.

Don’t switch your dog’s food unless you plan to use the new food permanently. If you switch foods, go with a healthy dog food like a raw dog food diet or a grain-free food. I recently began switching my dog’s food because I want to feed him a different brand. I am still making the switch slowly, by mixing the two kinds together for a few weeks. If you switch your dog’s food cold turkey, you are almost guaranteed to have a dog with an upset stomach. The worst thing you can do is change your dog’s food over and over. Just stick to one kind of food.

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