“I need a new dog food. My dog just won’t eat ANY dog food. He only eats deli meat if I feed it to him by hand or if I cook him a chicken.”
We hear this… well… a lot. We are asked to provide better options for picky dogs at least daily, if not multiple times a day. We do our best to point pet parents in the direction of foods that are more palatable or that sell well. We listen as they recite a long list of things they’ve tried - food toppers, canned food, this brand, that brand, and the other brand.
What we try to explain - in the nicest way possible - is what I’m going to spell out pretty bluntly here.
Most “picky” dogs are created, not born. They’ve learned to game the system by manipulating well-meaning owners into offering them better and better food options. It’s a vicious cycle that usually ends with a pampered pup a frustrated pet parent…and a long list of foods that have been tried and discarded.
In our society, food is often an expression of love. We want our loved ones to LOVE food, to taste our affection in each bite, and sometimes that transfers to our pets as well. It makes us feel good when they enjoy their dinner when they ask for more when they seem to appreciate the gesture of food. So when a dog is lackluster about his bowl of food, there is lots of guilt. “He doesn’t like it…I have to make it taste better!” And thus it begins.
If your dog isn’t picky, congratulations and take heed! It can happen at any time if you fall into the “big brown eyed puppy” trap. For those of you struggling with a picky pooch and are at your wit’s end…this is for you.
Note: If your dog’s finicky behavior has come out of nowhere and his appetite diminishes quickly, please speak to your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues. Often one of the first signs of illness is loss of appetite.
If you’ve ruled out an underlying health problem and your pup is just acting like a turkey, then buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. There is only one way to rehabilitate a picky eater (and an enabling pet parent). It is not easy but trust me, it’s going to be a lot harder on you than your dog.
Are you ready?
Stop catering to your dog.
When your precious pup turns his nose up at his food and looks at you balefully with an expression that asks “What in the world are you thinking, serving this SLOP?”
Take a breath.
Then do the following:
Feed your dog at distinct mealtimes. Don’t leave the food down all day and refill it “as needed”. Don’t jazz it up with special treats when your dog seems disinterested. Don’t sit on the floor and beg him to take just one bite for mommy, or hand-feed him.
Put the food down, leave it down for 15 minutes, and whatever is left is picked up and set aside until the next mealtime. If you want your dog to eat the food, your dog needs to value the food, and by taking away uneaten food you are communicating to your dog that food is a precious resource and sometimes it goes away.
You can do this, I have faith.
Be prepared to wait him out. Reach deep down for willpower, patience, and determination. Don’t give in at the first sign of disinterest from your pup - be prepared to function at a stalemate for up to 3 days without giving in. No treats. No attempts to dress up the food they’ve already said “No” to.
Your dog will not starve himself to death. He will eat when he’s hungry. Wait for him to get hungry. You’re stronger than you believe. You’ve got this!
Offer a varied diet. This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but it helps in the long run. Nobody wants to eat the same exact thing day in and day out. Pet food companies, however,
have convinced the consumer that that’s exactly the best way to feed their pet.
It is possible for your pet to get “bored” with his food, but it’s less likely to happen if you are rotating and varying your pet’s food periodically. The trick is, rather than wait for your dog to refuse to eat, change it up while he’s still interested. Rotate kibble proteins and varieties every few bags. Supplement with canned, freeze-dried, or raw food and change it up frequently. Not only will your dog view every meal as a fun adventure, but you will also be providing a much more complete diet for him.
Look, the truth is, dogs aren’t THAT discerning about what they eat. They will eat bugs. They will eat rotten garbage. They will eat things that have been dead for days. They will eat poop - their own, from other dogs, from cats, rabbits, geese…they are not as picky as you believe.