10 helpful hints for feeding a fussy dog
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What to feed a picky dog?
Fussy dogs can drive us up the wall with their seemingly random and often obnoxious determination to challenge our sanity. Why won't they eat what I give them?
The upside is, the answers are easier than you might think. The downside is, you'll find yourself having to admit you're the problem, not your dog 😅
NOTE: Are you looking for tips on how to feed a new puppy? Feel free to read our puppy feeding guide before you continue.
1. Look for behavioural issues first
Assuming you're already feeding a healthy, balanced diet, the vast majority of fussy eating problems are caused by lack of perceived scarcity. Dogs are hard-wired to expect to work for their food. Being predators and scavengers by nature, dogs are instinctively greedy and protective when it comes to eating. Domestication has thankfully created a bond between us that dogs see as mutually beneficial, so good dogs won't fight us for food. But, now we can't help but spoil them. This is where our problems start.
In short, if you use food as a way to spoil your dog, you're opening the door for a lifetime of manipulation and frustration.
Dogs should see meal times as a happy, but normal part of their routine. Routine being the key word.
2. Follow a strict feeding routine
Feeding your dog at the same time or times every day will create a regimen they understand. If their body clock knows when to expect their food, they'll be much less likely to beg for treats outside of those times. They'll also be more likely to understand that if they don't eat their meal, there won't be anything else until the next scheduled time.
If they normally eat after a morning walk, avoid feeding them before the walk. Always wait until after a specific event, so they know to look forward to their meal time. They will quickly adapt to your routine, instead of you working all day to please them.
You don't need military precision, but structure and consistency will give them comfort.
3. Validate good behaviours
Dogs should want to connect with and please their pack leaders (that's you). You can encourage them to do so with thoughtful positive reinforcement at key moments.
When you're ready to feed them, praise them as you prepare your food to encourage a good vibe surrounding meal times. Set them up to please you.
Give them their meal, then give a signal to eat. If they ignore the food, ignore them. Your dog looks to you for validation. If they hesitate and you engage with them, they'll believe you're already rewarding them. Their reward will come when they eat their food, not while they stall.
If they don't eat, don't say a word. Just quietly put their food back in the fridge for 10 minutes and try again. Don't scold, punish, or get frustrated. Just ignore them quietly and get ready to try again. Ignoring your dog will be hard, but your silence will tell them they haven't quite achieved anything yet.
If they do start eating, give them heaps of praise and compliments. "Now THAT'S a good dog!" They will associate eating with something that pleases you and a loyal dog will gain encouragement from that.
4. Stay firm with variety
Variety in a dog's diet is a good thing, but variety should not be seen by them as a way to guide your behaviour. You should be making meal decisions for the best nutritional balance, not them.
Think about it this way: If you asked your child what they wanted to eat all the time, what would they choose? Let's not kid ourselves. It would be junk food most of the time. Use variety as a way to reward post-meal, rather than allow yourself to be bossed around in the kitchen.
If your dog eats their meal, feel free to give a (small) favourite treat afterwards as a special "thank you" for them being a good dog.
Adding something new as a last resort can work well, but you can't allow your dog to think they can wait you out until you keep offering them something better each time. They will hold out against their best interests sometimes to see if you'll come up with tastier goodies.
5. Use cooking and aromas to your benefit
If the above methods don't work, you can try to lightly cook their raw food to release encouraging aromas. Make sure you wait for the food to cool for a couple of minutes before feeding. A burned tongue might further discourage them from eating!
Avoid cooking it all the way through. You want to release the flavour, not cook it so much that the nutritional value is depleted.
6. Mix treats with their meal
If you know they have treats they love to eat, or a flavour they like, you can hide these in the food. If they're used to "junk food" like tinned food, you might allow them to eat a little mixed in for a while. Reduce the amounts slowly until they don't even realise the treat is missing anymore.
You can try treats like Roo Chunks, Beef Chunks, Sardines or Bone Broth, which are all more flavoursome than their daily meals. Just be careful not to overdo rich foods.
7. Add some healthy fat content
Just like humans, dogs are drawn to fats to promote satiety. Fat is calorie-dense and tasty, so they're hard-wired like us to seek it out. Mix some Omega Oil, Coconut Oil or Sardines to see if it helps interest them a some more.
8. Train your family
Avoid feeding your dogs outside of meal times, unless as a specific reward for doing something great. We all want to spoil those we love, but overly spoiling our pets can have the same results as overly spoiling humans: Obnoxious and selfish behaviours, like refusing to eat!
Strictly DO NOT feed your dog human food, or feed them table scraps. This is something your entire family must be on board with. Human food is often very unhealthy for pets and just further encourages them to seek treats all day, rather than proper meals.
9. Feed a bit less
Especially if you feed twice per day, you may want to reduce the amount of one of those meals, so they're feeling hungrier in time for their next meal. Dogs will not starve themselves for long. Their survival instinct should be reliably stronger than their behavioural foibles.
10. Ask for help
Lastly, we're always here to help!
There's a reason why our customer service gets rave reviews! Don't be shy about reaching out for our help. You can reach out using live chat on this website, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to convert fussy eaters!
We hope this guide was helpful and will give you some confidence to have a healthier relationship with your furry family at meal times. We welcome feedback, so let us know if you find techniques that work for you!
IMPORTANT: If your dog is subdued, quiet or otherwise seems unwell, seek your vet's advice immediately. Don't mistake picky eating for a sick dog. Persistent refusal to eat with lethargic or sheepish behaviour might indicate a more serious medical problem.
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