Does your dog turn his nose up and walk away from his usual food? If they’re still happy to eat treats and human food, your dog may be a picky eater.
As dogs are generally eager gobblers, you should first eliminate any potential health problems. If they’ve suddenly gone off their food and show other signs of illness, it could be more than fussy eating. You should take your dog to a vet to determine the source of the problem.
But a picky eating habit usually develops because you’ve been feeding treats or table scraps, and now they’re holding out for something better.
Or, your dog may just be bored of their normal food and need some added interest.
Whatever the reason, it can be extremely worrying when your dog refuses to eat. Be sure to rule out any health problems first. But if they’re a picture of perfect health, perhaps all your dog needs is a dose of tough love.
Follow these top tips on how to get your dog to eat their meals like clockwork again.
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Stop feeding treats
If you feed your dog table scraps, not only is this damaging to your dog’s waistline, it also encourages picky eating and bad meal time manners. Your dog may pace and beg for food whenever you sit down for a family meal. You could even find them snatching food right from the table!
Feeding from the plate is a big no-no in our house. If you start off never feeding table scraps, your dog simply won’t see it as an option. But the unfortunate truth is, feeding human food is a huge contributor to pet obesity.
According to The Kennel Club, between 30% and 60% of all dogs are overweight. This can lead to a whole host of health problems including joint disease, diabetes and tumours.
We’re literally killing our dogs with love.
If you relent and end up feeding human food regularly because they’re refusing to eat their own food, you’re playing into an unhealthy cycle. It’s unlikely your dog will get the nutrients they need and it’s much easier to overfeed this way.
If you’re using treats for daily training purposes, cut back on the training for 2-3 days while you get their eating habits on track.
To correct picky eating behaviour, the only food you should offer is their regular dry or wet dog food at scheduled meal times.
Even if they refuse to eat all day, you mustn’t give in to those big doughy eyes. Rest assure your dog won’t starve themselves. They’ll eventually realise they have to eat what they’re given.
Follow a 15 minute rule
The 15 minute rule supresses picky eating further by limiting the time they’re allowed to eat. If your dog eats twice a day, they’ll have 15 minutes each time to eat their food.
If they don’t eat it within that time, the food is taken away until their next scheduled meal time.
You’re teaching your dog they’re only given food on your terms. If they know it’s not readily available throughout the day, they’ll take the opportunity to fill their stomach when it’s in front of them.
This may seem harsh, especially if your dog whines and barks at you because they’re hungry. But you must stick with the process and trust that it does work. This method worked wonders for our picky eater.
Again, your dog will not starve itself, they will simply learn to adjust to the eating schedule you give them.
Make it a challenge
Generally speaking, dogs prefer to work for their food. If you present their food in a standard bowl, this doesn’t satisfy your dog’s need to problem solve. By making meal times more mentally stimulating, you make the food more rewarding and interesting to your dog.
You could use a puzzle challenge like this slow feed bowl, or serve their meals in brain games like the suggestions below.
Even something as simple as throwing their dry food across the floor makes a great game for your dog. Just add a little excitement to your voice to encourage pup to chase the food.
Cognitive exercise is equally important as their physical workouts. Giving your dog a job to access their food enriches their life and gives them a sense of purpose.
So if your dog refuses to eat, it may simply be because the act of eating is boring. Liven up meal times with games, puzzles and interaction.
Add more flavour and aromas
On the other hand, your dog may have stopped eating because they’re bored of their food. They’ve been eating the same food day in and day out and now they’re sick of it. Can you blame them!
One option would be to change their food entirely to something with a new flavour or texture. If you want to change their food, be sure to mix old and new together and switch over slowly to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach.
Or, you could spice up their existing food to pique their interest.
One quick trick is to add a little hot water to their dry food. This releases the aromas and changes the texture from hard to soft. And if you have a teething puppy, that could be the reason they’re off their food. The softer texture will be kinder on their painful teeth.
You could also drizzle on a little chicken stock, add some cottage cheese or chicken on top. Stir in just a small amount to alter the smells coming from their food bowl.
If your house is a busy family environment, your dog may not feel comfortable at their current eating station. If you have children running around and they’re surrounded by loud noises, these distractions stop your dog from focussing on the food in front of them.
During your dog’s meal times, keep the kids entertained in the living room while your dog eats in the kitchen. Remove all toys in the area so they can fix their attention on their food.
Stay close by and offer calm encouragement as they show interest in their food. Even the smallest distraction can make a picky eating dog move away from their food bowl. So be sure to remove all distractions before they start eating. Pull up a chair and stay put until they’ve finished.
When they’ve finished eating, offer praise and calming strokes for a job well done.
Is your dog a picky eater? What have you done to encourage them to eat their food? Let me know in the comments below.
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