How to Train Your Dog to Eat His Food

Easy
5-110 Days
General

Introduction

You might think every dog should automatically know how to eat his food and be more than ready to do so as soon as you put his bowl down.  But, not all dogs will do so; some are fussy and will spend time sniffing the food, licking it, and looking at it, yet he still will not eat it. What's going on? Isn't he hungry or maybe he just doesn't like his food? If you are under the impression that the reason he won't eat is that he wants variety in his foods, it's possible that nothing could be further from the truth. The simple fact is, your dog will keep eating the exact same food day in, day out for the rest of his life.

It is your job to make sure you offer him a tasty nutritious meal. In fact, chances are good that the biggest reason he won’t eat his food is that you have probably been feeding him table scraps. When he gets used to these tasty morsels, he isn't going to want the dry or canned food you have been putting in his dish. Or perhaps you started him out by offering him several different types of food to see which one he liked the best, now he is simply holding out for a better food. No matter what the cause, now you have to teach him to eat the food you put out for him. 

Defining Tasks

In this particular case, there really isn’t a specific command to teach, such as "Eat" or "Chow Down". It is important that your dog learns to eat, but at the same time, if he takes a day off from eating, it is usually nothing to worry about. Not all dogs eat every day and some need to eat more than once a day. In most cases, training your dog to eat what you put in his bowl is nothing more than a matter of time and patience. You can teach a dog of any age to eat what you put out for him; in most cases, it could be no more than waiting until he is hungry enough to eat.

Remember, your dog will not starve himself to death, he will only go without eating until he can no longer stand being hungry. Be patient and in time he is sure to put his nose down in the bowl and start scarfing down his food. 

Getting Started

If your dog is being fussy about his food or seems to be refusing to eat what you put down, patience is the only real tool you need. Be sure to keep his food bowl in the same location at all times and pick it up when he is done eating.  Try to pick a quieter spot in your house such as the kitchen floor and choose a time when no one is likely to be in there to disturb him while he eats. Again, there aren't any real commands you need to use to make him eat, you just have to be patient. 

The Single Food Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Choose the food
Choose one food that you know your dog normally likes to eat
Step
2
Put his food down
Put a bowl of it down at the normal feeding time (try to find a different time than family dinner time).
Step
3
No more than 30 minutes
Leave the bowl in place for no more than 30 minutes.
Step
4
If he won't eat
If he doesn’t eat, take the bowl away.
Step
5
He will eat
It might take him a couple of days before he is hungry enough to eat. But you can bet when he finally gets hungry enough, your pup will eat. It might take a few sessions like this, but he will eventually get tired of going hungry.
Recommend training method?

The Schedule Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Start at three times a day
When your dog is a puppy, feed him two or three times a day.
Step
2
Cut back
Over time, you can whittle this down to once or twice each day.
Step
3
Same time every day
Be sure you always put his food down at the same time every day without fail. In time, he will associate the time of day with when his food comes.
Step
4
Same food, same everything
Use the same food and the same amount every time you feed your pup.
Step
5
Consistency is key
Consistency is the key to getting a fussy eater to eat what he is given when he is given it. Keep in mind that no matter what type of training method you decide to use to convince your dog to eat, there are going to be days when he simply won't eat because he may not feel well or he simply isn't hungry. If for any reason your pup won't eat for several days, you should take him in to see his vet for an examination to make sure his lack of appetite isn’t due to a medical condition.
Recommend training method?

The Time Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Half rations
Start by putting half of his usual amount of food in his bowl and putting it on the floor in his usual spot.
Step
2
Count to five
Count to five and see if he is eating, if not, remove the bowl and put it away without saying a word.
Step
3
Wait to try again
Wait for a full 12 hours and try again.
Step
4
Full rations
If he eats, then wait another 12 hours and put out his regular amount.
Step
5
Try again
If after he starts eating he stops eating his full amount, remove the dish and start the process all over again. Remember it is your job to make sure he has plenty of food to eat, but it is his job to choose whether he eats it or not. All you can do is teach him to take advantage of the food you provide.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Baste
Jack Russell Terrier
3 Months
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Question
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Baste
Jack Russell Terrier
3 Months

My dog suddenly don't want to eat anything..he always drinking water.. then vomit it..

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rowan, It sounds like something is medically wrong. I highly recommend taking pup to the vet today. I wouldn't wait. I am not a vet and am not qualified to give medical advice. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Betty Moore
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Years
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Question
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Betty Moore
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Years

He has gotten to where he refuses to eat his regular food, and he looks at me and wants some human food and yes I have fed him some, and now he has pretty much stopped eating any of the other food and I need to know how to withhold the other food from him and get him back to eating his food. For a good while he has been eating some of those but all of a sudden he’s decided he does not want his food

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Betty, I would switch things up on pup. I would keep a ziploc bag of pup's kibble in your pocket. When pup begs, offer only the kibble from the bag. At the same time, when you feed pup their kibble, I would make their meals more enticing by doing something like a little goats milk, or by crushing a freeze dried meat meal topper, like stella and chewy or nature's variety, into powder in a baggie with the food pup will be eating the next day. Feed pup out of that bag that's sat with the powder, to make their meals taste and smell like the kibble topper. Start with a larger portion of the kibble topper. As pup improves, gradually decrease the amount of kibble topper and increase kibble. You can either phase out the kibble topper completely, switch to a food that contains a kibble topper already, add the kibble topper pellets to whatever pup is normally eating - without having to crush up, or switch to something freeze dried based like ziwi peak or honest kitchen. Any of those options can be pup's new normal once you have made that transition. Be very consistent about only rewarding pup with their own kibble if they beg for human food, or not giving anything at all when they beg. I recommend trying something like a kibble topper crushed up first, before something like goats milk, because it will be easier to transition away from again. If a kibble topper and goats milk don't work, then combine pup's kibble with a little liver pasts and gradually decrease the paste overtime. I would try the kibble topper or milk for a solid 5 days each before moving onto something like liver though - that will be even harder to phase out during training, but most dogs REALLY love it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Luca
German Shepherd
5 Months
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Question
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Luca
German Shepherd
5 Months

Hi there, Luca has been on and off with his food for the last couple of months. He used to guaranteed eat his evening meal and then we started mixing in chicken with both meals so he would eat. After 3 days or so he would stop eating again. I have tried mixing in wet food, eggs, fruits and veggies but with all, after three days he turns his nose up at it. We are using Royal Canin puppy food at the moment. For the last 4 days we have been giving him 20 mins to eat his meals. He eats some of them but sometimes will go 24 hours and not eat. I’m worried as he seems a bit under weight and he also doesn’t want to interact when he hasn’t eaten. Any advice would really help us!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello James, It sounds like pup is probably eating out of excitement with the new food, but finds eating in general unpleasant, so when the newness and excitement of the food wears off, pup reverts back to not eating again. I would look into food allergies and GI issues that could make eating feel unpleasant for pup. These could be something diagnosable like parasites, but it might also be something that's not as obvious like an allergy to a common ingredient, like the meat source in pup's food or the primary carb source, like chicken, wheat, corn, or soy...A probiotic that helps with digestion is also something I would ask your vet about. I am not a vet, so consult your vet for anything medically related, but this does sound like pup is uncomfortable eating and associates the food with unpleasant experiences so is hesitant to eat unless the food is so exciting or new pup eats despite the future discomfort of digesting it. Again, I am not a vet. I am only speaking as fellow pet owner who has dealt with gi issues with their own dogs, including ingredient allergies, a dog who got sick when they went too long between eating, a family member's dog who needed a higher quality dog food, a family member's dog who needed to be fed three times instead of two to control bile, ect... If pup hasn't been checked out by your vet to rule out things like parasites lately, I would start there. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Navy
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
15 Months
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Question
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Navy
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
15 Months

She won't eat her food. She gets commercial gently-cooked food twice a day, and she refuses to eat it. The vet says she is fine but she will randomly refuse to eat for several days, and I am worried she is losing weight.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Keirey, I would speak with your vet about a dog probiotic or potential dog food ingredient allergy. I am not a vet though. You can also try having pup work for the food, which can make some dogs want the food more. You can ask pup to obey commands and treats and use the food pieces as a reward. For dry pieces, you can use things like kong wobbles. I would try switching to a different food that changes out some of the common ingredients, like a different meat source (read labels to make sure if your trying a food without chicken, the beef doesn't also have chicken fillers, or that won't help you see whether the chicken bothers pup for example). I am not a vet, I am only speaking as a pet owner who has dealt with food allergies in a dog, the grain sources and meat sources (or how they are processed perhaps) are what I would try switching out to see if it helps. Most training methods involve making the food more enticing (which doesn't seem to be needed here); addressing any fears that effect pup eating if pup has them - like a fear of the food bowl or eating being painful for pup due to gi issues; insisting pup eat out of a bowl - which applies to dogs who don't eat because they want human table scraps and are being given those, but not dogs who don't eat at all; and making eating more enticing - which is usually done by adding food to toys and having pup earn the food so pup sees the food as something more exciting. When none of those things seem to be the issue, I would look into supporting digestion, considering that even if pup doesn't have a diagnosable condition, digestion could be unpleasant still. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Stella
Rottweiler
5 Months
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Question
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Stella
Rottweiler
5 Months

Stella will not eat puppy dry food and will not eat ground wet food. I can only get her to eat Adult Wet Food in the form of chunks in gravy. I want her on puppy dry food, but cannot get her to eat it. Stella will refuse the dry food for days. Some brands like Purina Smartblend, she will pick out the meat chunks and leave the hard kibble. I’ve tried adding kibble to her wet food, she eats around it. I’ve also added olive oil, water, and chicken broth to her kibble and she just licks it. Please help! I’ve been to the vet multiple times and she is perfectly healthy. Thank you!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haley, I would try switching to a freeze dried kibble, such as ziwi peak or honest kitchen. I would also make eating more fun. Have pup work for part of her food, asking her to do a trick and giving the freeze dried kibble as a treat, putting the food into a kong wobble, or other dog pup has to work for. Sometimes a dog will find food more interesting if they feel like you are withholding and they have to earn it - this is a common trick for getting a dog to take pills like heartworm medication. I would also ask your vet if something like a dog probiotic could benefit her. I am not a vet though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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