Tackling Picky Eating: Tips for the Discriminating Dog

Some dog owners probably know that their dog is picky or a "small eater", which can easily be a bit frustrating. One could quickly become concerned about whether the dog is now eating enough and meeting its nutritional needs. It can be a bit of a jungle to find the food the dog likes.

If you serve proper dog food of good quality, the dog should be able to eat it. Pickiness is therefore not natural for the dog, but unfortunately often something that is caused by the owner. The owner's behavior may be subconscious or with good intentions, but it is misguided love.

Most dog owners find that their picky dog ​​starts eating as soon as they switch to food with a high percentage of meat combined with the fact that the percentage of meat comes from the best quality of meat. This is usually dry food without bone meal, GMO, color, preservation and other bad additives, which unfortunately are still found in a lot of dog food in the market. 

How does the dog become picky?

When you get your new puppy/dog home and at some point it has to change from puppy food to a young dog/adult food, the appetite may drop quite a bit. Everything new can be a little scary, but this is where we dog owners have to be strong. Many may recognize that when the dog shows no interest in the food, we leave the bowl with the dry food and think "it will eat enough when it is hungry". The bowl is still untouched several hours later - perhaps even until the same evening. Some might think that the puppy must have some food in it and try to hand feed it, which might arouse the dog's interest for a short moment because the food comes from our hand.

If the puppy still does not eat the whole portion, some may try human food. You might mix the infamous liver paste into the dry food and think "now it has to eat", which it probably will. The problem is, however, that it can happen that the dog avoids the human food within a short time, so that it either licks off the liver paste or sorts out pieces of chicken or whatever else we have mixed in the food and only eats this. So it leaves the dry food in the bowl. Remember that their noses are fantastic, so they are world champions in food sorting. Dogs can easily smell a fattier meal.

When you get to the point where the dry food is completely out of the picture and the dog sorts through it, you, unfortunately, have a bit of a problem as the dog will probably never eat its dry food as long as human food is an option.

So what to do?

If you reach the point where the dog has become dependent on human food, there is still hope ahead, even if it is going to take some time and discipline. There are various tricks in the dog book, but one must not expect an overnight miracle. In the following tips, only the dog's dry food applies, and not dry food with human food mixed in. 

  • Instead of leaving the food bowl out all day, remove the bowl after 15 minutes. The dry food loses its value if it is left out for too long and by only giving the dog the option of food for a quarter of an hour, it quickly finds out that it has to stick to it. Remember to also store the dry food in a closed container so that freshness, taste and aroma are preserved.
  • Leave the dog completely alone when he gets his 15 minutes to eat. Give him peace and quiet so that he does not feel monitored or pressured to eat. Alternatively, put the food bowl in another room and close the door, so that the dog can take care of itself completely alone in that room with the food. However, you should not close the door if the dog has separation anxiety or something else that makes it not like being alone - simply walk away from it. 
  • Dogs are made to work and are nimble animals with good noses who love to be activated through play and training. Therefore, kill two birds with one stone and combine food with activation and nose work. This is done by taking the dog's entire portion of dry food and throwing it out on a lawn in large quantities, putting it in an activity ball, and practicing training such as summoning, sitting, tricks, etc. In this way, the food will increase in value as the dog has to work for it and receives it as a reward.
  • During this time when the dog has to get used to its dry food, avoid serving any other food. Cut out all treats, chews and other snacks so the dog learns that it is dry food or nothing. This also requires that everyone in the household agrees that the dog should not have any snacks or human food.

It may seem a bit harsh that you take such a turn from one day to the next, but the dog will probably learn within a short time. Dogs are not harmed by not eating for some time, so you should not be worried if a few days go by. If it still refuses to eat and loses weight after some time - maybe a week or two - see a vet. It is different from dog to dog and therefore an assessment from the owner will prove the need to see a vet. But as I said, dogs are not harmed by not eating for some time and this should work on even the pickiest dogs if you have enough discipline as an owner.

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