Many pet owners have been there before: you feed your dog their kibble in their nice, shiny bowl with their name on it. But before they can get started on dinner, they scoot it or pushes it around the room, or they knock it over. Once their food is scattered everywhere across your clean floor, they then proceed to eat. Messy eaters can be very frustrating. What is the point of eating food off the floor, rather than in a bowl? Does your dog try to move his or her food bowl around the house? Why do dogs kick their food over? Can you keep them from doing it again?
The Root of the Behavior
Domesticated dogs do not really abide by the instincts and habits of their wild relatives. Pet dogs do not forage or hunt for their meals; they eat food they are given a few times per day, and most are just fine with what they get. Some, however, may have more issues with their provided food in their bowl, either with the type of food or the bowl itself. If you have more than one dog, and you have one (or both) who prefer to move their bowls around or take food out and eat it elsewhere, you may have a dog who feels a sense of competition between them and their companion. Some dogs require more space and privacy during mealtime, especially those who may be more territorial regarding their food bowl. Giving your dogs extra space between them during mealtime may help them feel more secure while they eat. If you only have one dog, they still may be looking for more privacy, especially if you feed your dog in a high-traffic area of the house, or they are unable to get any peace and quiet during mealtime.
It might also be a problem with the bowl itself. If your dog knocks their bowl over all the time, they may not be comfortable with it in some regard; either the bowl has a lingering scent, like a fragrance from soap, or even another dog’s scent if the bowl is shared or has been used by other dogs. Additionally, some dogs just do not like their whiskers brushing the sides of the bowl when they eat. You can try using a wider or flatter dish to eat from, and see if that helps reduce their need to knock the bowl over. Sometimes, the sound the bowl makes can also be a deterrent to eating from it. Metal bowls specifically tend to be loud if your dog’s tags bounce against it during eating. If you changed your dog’s bowl to a metal one and you suddenly have a messy eater, consider switching back to a less noisy bowl.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs can be messy eaters, but you should not have to get stuck cleaning up after every meal. There are a lot of things you can try to deter your dog’s messy habit. Consider where your dog eats, and see if it is privacy that they are missing. You can try moving your dog’s bowl to a quieter spot, or one further away from other pets’ bowls. If privacy is not an issue, you can also try non-skid dog bowls, which come with a silicone base that resists sliding. There are also spill-proof options you can try that use suction to prevent spills. Some pet owners find success with raised dog bowls, which some large dogs prefer. You can also try rubber mats under their bowls, which help minimize clean-up efforts and help reduce the likelihood of bowls being scooted around.
If you have a pre-owned or a shared dog bowl, consider getting a new or separate food bowl. Most dogs do not like sharing their space or their food, and shared dog bowls use both. Wash used bowls thoroughly with unscented soaps, or better yet, replace them with new ones. Old dog bowls—and plastic bowls especially—may become permanently scented with old food smells, which is never appetizing.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Remember not to yell at your dog if they tip their bowl over. They do not understand that you hate messes, or what they did to warrant the scolding. Instead, consider why your dog is knocking their bowl over, and try other solutions. If it is a noisy bowl, you can try removing your dog’s collar while they eat. If your dog knocks their bowl over and does not eat their food at all, consider that there may be other health issues going on. Your dog’s food could also be rancid or simply unappetizing. Try switching to another high-quality dog food. You should also consult a vet to make sure your dog is a healthy pup.
No one particularly enjoys cleaning up messes and your dog does not understand that. Nor do they understand how to tell you when something is wrong. You should always try observing and “troubleshooting” when your dog is acting abnormally. Odds are, they are trying to tell you, it is just in their own doggy way. It is your job as a pet parent to try to listen and help.