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Some dogs are picky eaters. Some dogs get stressed about mealtimes because of social pressure.
In our latest Ask A Behavior Consultant, we’re facing a question that’s surprisingly common: “My puppy will only eat if I quickly fry his wet food and spoon-feed him. What do I do? I’m worried he’ll be undernourished if I stop.”
The really tricky thing about this problem is that we obviously don’t want to starve a dog – especially a fast-growing puppy (the questioner here said her pup is just 7 months old). But the reality is, very few dogs will actually starve themselves if we stop upping the ante around meals!
Of course, it’s always good to get an opinion from the vet first. Pickiness, especially when it suddenly appears, is often related to a medical concern. Medication side effects, pain, nausea and GI issues, various infections or parasites, or even poisoning can all lead to your dog not wanting to eat.
So if you notice a drop-off in your dog’s appetite or she’s consistently disinterested in food, call your vet first.
But in many cases, your dog is being so darn picky because you’re encouraging this behavior!
Mistake 1: Beg and Plead
Think about it. Your dog turns her nose up at kibble, so you cajole her – coax and plead and beg until she eats.
In some cases, this actually backfires because you’re so annoying that mealtime becomes a dreaded event!
In other cases, the pleading works – but now you’ve taught your dog to wait until you beg and give her attention so she can eat.
What To Do Instead
Try letting your dog eat alone, in peace. Perhaps feed her while you’re reading a book nearby. If she doesn’t eat after 10-15 minutes, put the food away without fuss. Try again in an hour or so but use the same food – don’t make it tastier. If she still doesn’t eat, try again the next mealtime.
Mistake 2: Sweeten the Pot (too much)
The other tactic people often try is to make the meals a bit tastier. Sure, this makes sense – if your dog hates the boring, crunchy kibble, it makes sense to make their food better. I support this! But only to a point.
However, be careful not to change flavor-enhancements every few days. If your dog stops eating after you’ve added some bacon dust or chicken broth, don’t just add more tastiness!
Constantly improving your dog’s food teaches your pup that waiting and refusing food will make better food appear.
What to Do Instead
But be sure to pick a meal improvement (I like the Stella and Chewy’s Dinner Dust) that’s sustainable for you. Make it easy and quick so you can keep it up long-term.
And again, if your pup stops eating or turns her nose up at the food, simply put it away after 10-15 minuets and try again once more in an hour.
Keep an eye on your dog’s health and weight; if she’s truly losing weight and starving herself, talk to your vet right away!
Other Things to Try Instead of Spoon-Feeding Your Dog
- Feed your dog out of a puzzle toy. It’s counterintuitive, but many dogs actually will eat better when they have to work a bit for their food. Try something simple at first, like a Snuffle Mat or Slow Feeder.
- Pay attention to what your dog likes and doesn’t like. Perhaps chicken makes your dog’s stomach turn, or hard kibble hurts her teeth. If your dog seems to have a healthy appetite for some things, take note. Perhaps you can use that information to create a meal that works better for your dog.
- Notice when your dog does eat. Does your dog scarf down food in training or when you drop it, but turn her nose up at kibble? Perhaps a puzzle toy will add excitement that will help. Try to find a pattern and use it to your advantage.
- Consider switching to a fresh food diet. Most picky dogs will eat much more voraciously when they’re not fed cruddy kibble. When my dad’s old lab was dying of cancer, NomNomNow’s meal delivery really helped keep her appetite up!
Again, make sure this is a sustainable strategy for you and your dog before making the switch. Constantly swapping food and trying new things will only teach your dog to wait for something better.
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
Thank you for sharing your article My dog only eats after I spoon-feed her. Wonderful tips, great information and suggestions. I learned something. I will bookmark this site.
My six month old mixed chihuahua is like this too . He’s very picky and only wants me to spoon feed him . He likes his dog food mixed with chicken broth and will not eat dog food regularly without any chicken broth in it . When he was two months old he was eating find until he reach six months old he is starting to become very picky and only wants to eat when I spoon feed him I don’t know what went wrong he was eating find until now . Maybe because I did change his dry dog food with another brand or doesn’t like his dry food at all I have change a lot with his food to see what kind of dog food he likes and don’t like I think he likes more a brand call dog chow he has been eating that for awhile but I one day change his food with another brand and was not to happy about it and there he became a picky eater. I don’t know what to do anymore I’m tried of spoon feeding him I want him to eat on his own on his bowl any suggestions here ?
My six month old mixed chihuahua is like this as well he was eating fine from his food bowl when he was two months old . He only only likes his dry food in chicken broth and only wants to be spoon feed . I think it’s because I change his dry food .
My 2.5 year old Chihuahua broke his leg on Dec. 16, 2021 and had to have surgery in Jan. to get it repaired…he refuses both wet and dry food..and wants us to either hand feed him now or spoon feed him…then he will eat…other then that he will not eat at all…is it he is just being picky or I spoil him to much, or does he have me trained? I am not really sure…He is healthy been seeing the vet every week but I don’t know what kind of dog food to give him he won’t eat any of it wet or dry, broth, gravy bacon, you name it he won’t eat it…He wants what I eat only.. I do google to make sure its safe for him but wish he ate dog food like he is supposed to! HELP PLEASE!
Hi Nita, I am not a nutritionist and cannot answer what is best for your dog to eat. I can help you troubleshoot behavior, but not nutrition. Would you like to schedule a call for 1:1 help?