Is your dog not eating well? Caroline, our natural canine behaviourist, outlines 8 simple methods to help. Correctly interpreting your dog’s relationship towards you, the environment and their food is key to getting your dog to eat consistently.
If you would like to join Caroline’s weekly ‘dog not eating’ webinar, where she explains her methods and answers any questions you may have click here to sign up
Dog not eating guide quick links
How to get your fussy dog to eat again
There are many reasons your dog may stop eating, become ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’. Further down this guide, you will find various reasons for fussy dog behaviour. These will help you determine the route cause of your dog not eating their food consistently.
The advice and methods I suggest in this dog not eating guide will help you to move towards a natural feeding routine with your dog.
Your ultimate goal should be to feed your dog naturally (Method 1). Every other method should be used temporarily and phased out until your dog follows the natural feeding method every mealtime.
There are 9 different techniques for encouraging your dog to eat, including the natural feeding method. Each plays a different role. Some will work better than others depending on your dog’s personality.
Give raw complete meals a go and see the difference in your dog’s enthusiasm at mealtime!
7 key points before you begin
Before you begin with any of the following methods, please read these tips.
When encouraging your fussy dog to eat on a regular basis, you must ensure that YOU and the environment around them is calm, relaxed and free from distractions. Here are my top tips to set you and your dog up for eating success:
- Stick to 1 method in a week, consistency is everything
- Allow ample time for meals
- Try to think of it as an event for your dog, not a monotonous task for you.
- Be peaceful and positive
- How you feel and what you think has a huge bearing on your dog’s performance with anything you do together.
- Create a calm, relaxed feeding environment.
- Be in the feeding room for 10 mins plus ( or however long it takes you to relax so your dog does likewise) before preparing their meal.
- Ignore your dog at mealtimes
- Avoid eye contact or communication through the entire process. You eye contact can convey stress.
- A healthy dog will not starve itself
- When your dog walks away from their food, pick it up immediately. Wait until the next mealtime.
- Don’t worry too much if your dog misses a meal, fasting can be good for your dog, click to learn more
- Leave it at least 8 hours between each meal
- No food, treats, bones or chews until your dog eats their meals consistently.
You need to know that how you feel and think affects your dog’s behaviour and that includes eating.
It’s so important for you to be relaxed with zero expectations or worries around meal times.
Our dog behaviourist explains
Dog not eating? The 8 methods
Each of the following dog not eating methods will work better depending on your individual dog. The ultimate goal is to feed your dog naturally (method 1). Every other method should be used temporarily and phased out until your dog follows the natural feeding method every time.
1. The 'Natural Feeding' method
The natural feeding method should be your starting point and ultimate goal for every meal time.
This method is simple. It works for all healthy dogs, young and old. It takes into account your dog’s natural canine language and allows them to eat as nature intended.
How it works
- Close all doors in the feeding room
- You don’t want any distractions
- Take a moment to breathe, get into a calm mental state
- Take your dog’s food from the fridge
- Prepare the food on a flat board
- Dogs need clear vision to be able to relax and enjoy their food in safety with 360 vision.
- Place down
- No need to ask your dog to sit first, this can stress them out
- If your dog moves their food to another location, consider popping their food there next time, they are telling you they feel safer eating there
- Step away and sit down with your back towards your dog, read a book.
- Remove the food when your dog appears in front of you.
You may find that your dog, especially an anxious dog, eats better in the evening. You are calm, the day is done, everyone is home and more relaxed. Feeding your dog once a day is perfectly fine.
Why this method works
When it comes to meal times your dog is wired to quietly survey the area. They want to make sure that they are safe whilst devouring their prized meal.
If another dog makes eye contact, they are sending out a challenge for that resource. Watching a dog whilst eating could result in them gulping their food as fast as possible, becoming aggressive/possessive or it could make them back off and not eat.
To ensure your dog is happy and relaxed whilst eating we give personal space and turn our backs. By doing this we are showing behaviour that neither challenges or intimidates whilst eating a meal or chewing on a treat.
When a dog finishes a meal he shows others that it is okay to move in for the leftovers by walking away and not looking back. When we also behave like this, by popping the food down and turning away, our dog is reassured that the food is theirs.
Dogs are not born fussy, they eat to survive and thrive. Many find the change to a raw diet solves the problem immediately…
2. The 'Scavenger 1-2-3' method
If you have tried the natural feeding method above and your dog is still not eating, try this method next for a week then move back to natural feeding.
Dog’s are natural scavengers and opportunists with kitchen scraps. Your attitude has to be that of a messy cook, rather than thinking about feeding your dog. The idea is you will not realise you’ve dropped it and your dog will hoover it up.
90% of fussy dogs who try this see success.
How it works for fussy dogs
- Flash fry mini patties of Bella and Duke in olive oil
- **no more than 3 seconds each side to avoid cooking the bone**
- Leave them to cool slightly
- Flick one patty onto the floor to your right
- Turn your face away, leaving your dog to eat it
- Flick another to your left
- Face away
- Continue until all the patties have been eaten or your dog walks away
Phase this out over a few days when your dog devours the food every time. Then rather than flicking all the patties onto the floor, leave some on the plate, pop it down and face away.
Eventually, you will get to a point where your dog will eat all of the patties from the cooling plate. All you need to do from there is phase-out the flash fry and follow method 1, the natural feeding method.
3. The 'recall' method for fussy dogs
Useful for dogs during or after illness or surgery to motivate them to eat their food regularly again. If your dog manages eating treats on walks or in the garden, this is the approach for them too.
How it works
- Start again by Flash-frying mini patties in a dry non stick pan (see video above)
- Call your dog to you
- Reward with one of the flash-fried morsels
- Repeat a few times
- Pop the last few on a plate for the big reward
- You may find this works better in a different location (try a different room or garden)
- Phase in feeding as demonstrated in the natural feeding section above
4. The 'grab & go' method
For a new rescue dog or anxious dogs who struggle eat their food and look worried and those who feel safest in their beds and under tables
A dog who hides in his bed and refuses to eat is one who just needs to take their world in at a slower pace right now.
These are dogs who may have just come to a new home and are in a state of shut down, welded into a corner, their crate or bed.
How it works
Be sure to sit a couple of feet away with your back to them during this method.
- Flash fry mini burger shapes in a dry non stick pan (See video above)
- Sit on the floor at arm’s length with your back to your dog, concentrating on something else, like a book
- Without looking, pop a flash-fried morsel next to your dog
- Ensure they don’t need to move too much and it is place less than neck stretch distance
- Over the coming days, you will be able to pop a morsel a little further away from them, so they have to stretch their neck to reach it
- Remember not to peek during this process
- Try this method in an area where your dog is most relaxed, meaning they have a safe space
- Your dog may grab and retreat back to where they feel safest. You’re making progress and your dog will begin to trust you
- Be patient and they will, slowly but surely start blossoming
Why is this good for anxious dogs?
Placing a plate or bowl of food down is too much for some dogs initially. They need to stay in their safe space, as they feel vulnerable when exposing themselves to the unknown.
The ‘grab & go’ method helps your dog gain confidence in you. You aren’t putting any pressure on them and you aren’t asking them to perform or even making them come to you.
It allows them to take their time and eat in their own way.
5. The nosework method
Many dogs like to work harder for their food. Dogs see the world through their noses and its fabulous nose and brain work.
How it works
- Take your flash-fried patties of food into the garden or out with you on a walk
- Drop a nugget and walk on a few paces
- Call your dog to you
- Walk back and encourage your dog to find
- You’ll be cracking two behaviours in one go; your dog being fussy and recall!
- Very relaxed fun eating experience. Do this on many walks and play times out and about and in your garden. Increase the amount you drop until they’ve a whole meal to devour.
Shortly, you’ll be able to migrate on to the ‘flash and flick’ method at home (see above), then move on natural raw feeding when confident (see below).
6. The 'enrichment feeding' method
Another method for dogs who love to work for their food. Ensure your dog finds this enriching as opposed to frustrating. Avoid making it too difficult.
How it works
Hide a toy stuffed with their food and encourage your dog to hunt for it. Once they have found the toy, leave them to eat.
Here are 3 suggestions:
- Stuff a hollow buffalo horn with some of their meal (For a longer mealtime special in hotter weather, freeze the stuffed horn for a few hours)
- Make a snuffle mat and sprinkle our RawDry into the mat.
- You may also like to roll food nuggets into a towel or place in a maze of boxes. Your dog will love working out how to unravel it with a delicious reward at the end
Do stay in the same area. Sit down in your garden or kitchen with a nice cup of tea and read the paper while they do this, taking your attention away from the dog and their activity.
7. The 'give, give, give' method
This is super for some anxious dogs who lack trust and those who can be aggressive and possessive around food.
Rule of thumb is always give never remove. Or there is a huge possibility you will make your dog possessive with food.
How it works
- As always ensure you and your dog is relaxed and you’ve plenty of time
- Shut the door, pop on some music then make yourself a cuppa.
- Split your dog’s meal into 3 portions
- Pop each portion on its own plate
- Pop one plate down and step away and face away.
- When your dog appears infront of you,pop another down in another area of the room and pick up the previous one
- Continue until all plates of food are eaten
- Remove the last plate when the dog has left the room
8. Phase in method
New food can be a stress for some dogs. Dogs learn what to eat by watching their parents and peers. So move over to raw over a 5 day period. Add in raw and reduce original food accordingly over the days.
Golden rule as always is not to watch, but simply turn your back and let them eat with no audience that does for many cause stress and result in not eating.
Mix ⅛ daily ration of raw into usual food on dy on meals
¼ meal to raw on day 2
½ of meal to raw on day 3
¾ of meal to raw on day 4
Complete raw day 5
Use Number 1 the natural feeding method to ensure they feel confident to eat relaxed and happy.
9. The 'RawDry' method
Is your dog not eating because they have always been fed dry, ultra-processed food (UPF)? And are familiar with a crunch in their meal.
So even the texture of delicious smelling flash-fried raw food may be too much of a jump initially.
Take transition to the natural raw diet slowly as above (learn more about how to switch to raw dog food). Begin by starting them on RawDry, which has a similar texture to processed dry or tinned food, and begin mixing it with the raw gradually. Reduce as you wish, in the time frame that is suitable for your dog.
Dog not eating - The reasons
There is always a reason behind your dog not eating their food. Here are 11 possible reasons why your dog is fussy at mealtimes. If your dog is not eating but is acting normal, this list should help you work out the solution.
Fussy dog reasons explained
- Self-regulation – Mythbuster: dogs need to eat two meals per day
- Us watching and fussing
- A rushed and busy environment
- Feeling vulnerable
- Age (reaching adolescence)
- Holding out for treats
- Unfamiliar food source
- Female in season. This will also have an effect on local males.
- Changes in weather, especially when it gets hot
1. Dogs health
If your dog has always eaten well and suddenly stops eating, you should seek medical advice. It may be as simple as something stuck in their teeth or gums, but you should get it checked as it also may be an indication of a more complicated illness.
2. Age (growing up / finding their feet )
For puppies between 4 months to 18 months old, adolescence, raging hormones and personality have a lot to do with not eating. If your younger dog begins to walk away from their food without touching it, remove the food and present it at the next designated mealtime. You are the one that chooses the food.
Teenagers test and teenagers try to train you. It’s nature. They need a reliable guide in their lives and they test you in all areas of their lives in order to survive and thrive. Teams test each other periodically and there are some dogs that will test throughout their lives. Be the calm consistent parent.
3. Holding out for a treat
Like children, your dog will try to manipulate you for foods they want but are not necessarily great for them. Sugar, carbs and salt have a lot to answer for! If they refuse their main meal and you offer them a delicious alternative, they will remember that and use it to their advantage.
Stay strong, you know what’s best for them. Your dog needs to reap the consequences of their actions. They will be hungry if they refuse their meals. Good eating habits result in great health and behaviour.
4. When circumstances change
A new home, new partner, new baby, even a new carpet or decorated room etc. One telltale sign of anxiety is that they go off their food. Help your dog through this by remaining consistent and avoid pandering to their anxiety, instead be their strong stable parent.
5. New unfamiliar food can create anxiety
The raw food is different, so it has a new texture and smell. Your dog will be more used to the smell smell human cooking or pungent ultra-processed food with its high sugar content. What’s new may not be safe. We have enjoyed a huge success rate using the both the Scavenger method and Natural Feeding methods above.
6. A controlled sit at meals
Meal times need to be relaxed. Some characters and personalities will become anxious when controlled and others push against it. Refrain from asking your dog to sit before food. Just a relaxed dog pottering about or standing at your feet is the ideal start to great eating habits. Again its natural to learn and give respect of personal space as opposed to enforcing some unnatural act.
7. Separation anxiety
If your dog also is an avid follower of you about the home or suffers with obvious separation anxiety, stay with them whilst they eat. Being with you is their priority. Find out how to solve separation anxiety here
8. Coming into season or about to whelp
It is usual for females to stop eating 12 to 24 hours before giving birth. Those in season will be feeling off colour. Try not to fuss, it’s not a problem. Just lift the food away as they will eat when they want to. Males dogs will also go off their food at this time with the distracting scent that reaches their nostrils from miles away.
9. Sensitive dogs who only eat in the evening
Fussy eating is only one symptom of a dog’s inability to understand our world or feel relaxed and stress-free within it. Remember, if your dogs are stressed they will not be in the right frame of mind to eat. Many prefer to eat in the evening as all threats to safety or worries about separation have come and gone, meaning they are more relaxed to eat.
10. Our stress, wellness & mood
Our dogs know us well. The more sensitive ones will be more inclined to mirror you. If you feel poorly, they will know. Help them out, being strong and positive, and they will be less likely to go off their food.
11. Warm weather
Like us, our dogs may lose their appetite in the warmer weather. Conversely, their appetite might improve when it gets colder. Adjust your dog’s meals accordingly. They may need less or more. They will tell you by not eating, or you will notice a difference in their weight.
12. Certain medications can also reduce or increase your dog’s appetite
13. The chemical residue after washing
Rinse your dogs plate thoroughly under hot water to remove all washing chemicals from the surface. Dogs are very sensitive to smell and our chemicals are extremely strong, they will pick up the smallest molecule. Instinct tells them its poisonous., Unfamiliar is a possible poison.
Extra considerations for mealtimes
As well as the above, do consider the following when you are setting up your dog’s mealtime.
The time of day
It is easier for some dogs to just eat a meal in the evening. The day is done. The family has reassembled and your minds are calmer and in the moment. All is as it should be in your dog’s world. The buzz of the day is over and everyone is settled.
Feed in a quiet room, for instance the kitchen. All door shuts so this means there are few distractions.
Place the plate under a table or by their bed. Dogs like dens, their spaces uninterrupted.
What you feed your dog from
Flat bamboo boards are my favourite and suit all dogs. They create zero noise on the floor, no metallic surfaces for clanking ID disks.
Hygienic surface that is antibacterial.
Dogs love 360 vision and the ability to eat naturally. No scooping around the sides of a bowl. Quick and easy eating.
Never watch your dog eating but do stay in the room
How we influence our dog's eating habits
Whether you feed in the morning or evening or both, use a relaxed approach. Meals need to be a relaxed affair. Avoid feed time as being just a thing you do. Take your time, be with your dog.
- Give yourself ample time to calm your dog down before feeding If you’re stressed, your dog will wonder what’s up.
- Concentrate on beginning in the moment as opposed to thinking about the tasks ahead Approaching feeding time without any bother or stress
- Zero expectations for your dog to eat. Expectation creates a stressed environment.
- Pop the radio on and sit down, relax and have a cuppa
- Say nothing and avert eye contact to allow your dog to reflect and settle down.
- Direct your face away. Dogs like us feel intimidated or fussed over when watched
- No fuss, relaxed approach makes the impossible possible.
Understanding how dogs communicate when eating
Dogs read us very well. They talk to us using their canine language all the time, it helps when we understand what they are telling us. The most important thing you need to know if that your dog needs to feel safe when eating.
Question: How does a dog tell another dog it’s finished eating and that they will not interfere if another approaches the food source?
Answer: They walk away without looking back.
When feeding, replicate this after you pop your dog’s plate down. If you step a few paces away and face away, your dog will be able to eat in peace and enjoy the experience even more. Some dogs may prefer if you remain in the room, as your dog may be more comfortable eating with company close by.
We have gone through methods to get your dog eating and some reasons behind your dog not eating.
Dogs speak to us using their behaviour and actions. Listen carefully and be proactive with confidence. Your dog needs you to be confident when they feel less so. Be a parent your dog’s guide, their safe place and the one they can ultimately trust.
We can promote great eating habits in our puppies and older dogs. The first step is often a change of food to a raw dog food, species-specific diet because it is closer to what our dogs have evolved to eat.
How our food helps your fussy dog
Our natural and nutritious dog food is quite simply pure nutrition. Presented just the way your dog loves it. Full of flavour and delicious scents.
Our food is easy for your dog to eat and digest, it provides all the energy, minerals, proteins and essential oils your best friend needs.
The wide variety of meals save your dog from the monotony of eating exactly the same meal every day. The bonus being that is is much healthier for your dog to eat a wide variety of different proteins.
By removing all the bad bits like grains and unnecessary sugars, we have also removed all the little toxins that can feed the bad bacteria in your dog’s gut, which leads to leaky gut, food sensitivities and behavioural issues.
It is goodbye to all those sugars, carbohydrates & gluten that your dog’s system simply cannot deal with.
With a calm and happy dog, your dog can start enjoying mealtimes again.
Caroline, our behaviourist, explains why our food helps fussy dogs
Fussy dog success stories
"My Rosie is not a food driven canine type and can be quite fussy to the point to skip meals if not of her taste. This raw food has proven an immediate success with her and so I had to rate it 5 stars.
After struggling with finding a food that Nellie would eat, I came across Bella & Duke after researching raw food, and she absolutely loves it! She is now 9 months old and the perfect weight, glossy coat and happy and healthy! Delivery is always on time and when I have given them a call from time to time they could not have been more helpful. I would definitely recommend Bella & Duke.
"Ivy has been on Bella and duke for over a week now, I use to feed her on kibble and tried a variety of different brands but she was never very good at eating! Last winter ivy got very poor at eating and due to her being so tiny and getting cold very easily she had low blood sugar level, had seizure and got very poorly:( Since ivy has been on Bella and duke she hasn't skipped a meal and alway very excited when she sees me coming with her food!! I have also noticed a sudden change in her weight already she was before 1.6 kg and is now already 2kg, her coat is looking so lovely and thick! So I would like to say a huge thank you to the B&D team!
Bella & Duke are such a friendly and helpful company that care about each of their customers. My dog Hattie loves the food. I've had such trouble in the past with food affecting her tummy and her going off food. She loves both the raw and dry food and has a perfect tummy. Thank you Bell & Duke for caring about dogs so much."
Since putting my lab on raw food, his behaviour has changed, he had really bad IBS, which has completely gone! Less smelly, gleaming coat. And a happy dog! So thank you B&D
Hollydog is so loving Bella & Duke, she enjoys all the varieties on offer, and she's so much healthier and happy. Hollydog is prone to allergies, but this dog food has helped enormously. Your friendly helpful staff including the courier company are second to none Thank you
Good quality food my little girl who is 7 is an ex breeder who was rescued from a puppy farm had been there all her life hardly any fur and sore skin I was recommended to use your food and I would recommend it to any one else my little girl is different now sores gone and new fur growing I have had her 6 weeks and she is amazing x
My dogs love this food! Service, website, delivery excellent. Right portions, easy feeding. Love the new products. I recommend this food to everyone I know. My friends dogs follow me home, and wait for a bowl of this food. My dog's skin is fab and shiny coats. My dog's allergies have cleared up. Great that containers are recyclable
Sign up for this week's 'dog not eating' webinar
If you would like help encouraging your dog to eat, our Natural Canine Behaviourist, Caroline Spencer, hosts a free online webinar at 6pm every Wednesday.
In this webinar, Caroline will explain her natural feeding approach, reasons behind ‘fussy’ dogs and will answer any questions you have about feeding your dog.
Once you have signed up, we will email you a Zoom link on the day of your webinar.