Why Do Dogs Push Away Their Food



As a responsible owner, you took great care in selecting just the right food for your beloved dog. No doubt, hours of research went into your decision, and you feel good about the choice you made for Fido. You load up his bowl in anticipation of his excitement at his delicious meal, and...he starts to take pieces out of his bowl and nose them around on the floor. It's not the reaction you were expecting. You're confused and disappointed. Did you make the wrong choice? Does Fido not like the free-range duck, fresh pears, and french cut green beans that go into the food you lovingly sourced for him? Is he more of a steak and potatoes kind of dog? While dogs nosing their food around is a common phenomenon, it can be very perplexing to owners. After all, we put a lot of consideration into our dogs' diets, and we're just not sure what to do when it seems they would rather play with it than eat it. Through a careful study of dog behavior, we can reach some conclusions about the things our dogs do that leave us scratching our heads.

The Root of the Behavior

When you come home from work after a long day at the office, you're ready for supper, and you don't waste any time about it. In fact, you heartily scarf down what is put in front of you and start looking for more! Fido's designer dog food costs almost as much as groceries for your family for a week. The ingredient list sounds so appealing you'd eat it yourself if it didn't come in pellet form! So, why is Fido doing everything with it BUT eating it? Though this activity makes little sense to us, there are many reasons why dogs might choose to nose through their food. In our attempts to try to understand dog behavior, we can learn a great deal from examining the roots behind the modern dog. While our dogs are far removed from their ancient ancestors, they are still hard-wired with age old instincts that have been bred into them for centuries or longer, and they are still very much alive in them today. The wild dog had things a lot rougher than today's pampered pooches. If he did not source his own food, he would starve, and as such, hunting was a necessity. Food was not always as plentiful or as accessible as he would like, thus meaning he knew his fair share of true hunger. 

When a dog in the wild made a "kill" or a discovery of a left behind meal, he would eat his fill. But often there was more food than he could eat in one sitting. Out of logical necessity, the dog would often bury the remaining food in a secret location, so he could return and finish it at a later date. Though our modern dogs have no need to fear hunger or to bury their food, this instinct remains powerfully strong within them. It may be that at the time you place Fido's food in front of him, he's just not hungry. But he smells all of that delicious goodness that you lovingly selected just for him, and he definitely wants to enjoy it at a later date. Nosing the food around is your dog's attempt to "hide" or store the food away for consumption at a later time. This seems confusing to us because often Fido's attempts at hiding his food are pathetically poor from our perspective!

Encouraging the Behavior

But sometimes the nosing around of food is little more than a game. After all, mealtimes should be fun, shouldn't they? Fido likes to play too! When dogs play with their food, they sense that it makes us curious as to the motivation behind their behavior. Since our dogs live for our attention, this provides a great pay off for them. They get to do something fun, AND they get the undivided focus of their favorite person in the entire world! It is important to bear in mind that your attention will reinforce the behavior for your dog and make the habit far more difficult to break. If this is becoming a pattern for your dog, you might want to give Fido an allotted time in which to eat his food, and if he fails to do so, remove the dish until the next meal. Over time, Fido will learn that he has a limited period in which to eat; otherwise, his food will be removed, which may mean going to bed hungry. Because dogs possess a powerful survival instinct, he will not starve! He will quickly pick up that he must eat when food is put in front of him or not at all. 

Of course, a hungry dog always eats when presented with food. It is possible if your dog is consistently playing with his food at meal times that he is receiving too many treats throughout the day or is overfed in general. Consult the feeding guidelines listed on your bag of dog food to ensure you are feeding Fido the correct amount for his age, weight, and activity level. When your dog is seemingly disinterested at meal times on a consistent basis, it is also wise to consider if there have been any recent changes to his health. Loss of appetite is a symptom of many more serious illnesses, and it could be time for a trip to your veterinarian for a thorough examination to rule out any medical issues. Some experts suggest that vision may play a role in food play. As dogs age and their sight begins to deteriorate, they have a harder time being able to see their food. Rooting around in their dish allows them to locate it and rearrange it, so that is more easily accessible to them. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Monotony affects our dogs as well. It could be that Fido is just plain bored. Though dogs generally do not tire of foods and are big fans of routine, every now and again even Fido craves a change. Moving his food to a different location provides more interest to an otherwise humdrum, "same old-same old" meal. Is this something you should be concerned about? So long as Fido is eating sufficient food to keep his body healthy and strong, it is not necessary to curb the habit. But should you feel that he is not meeting his nutritional requirements for the day, it will be necessary to adopt a more structured routine. 

Limiting Fido's access to food to a restricted amount of time before removing it for another time will help him to realize that he has a job to do, and his job is to eat when his food is put in front of him. Free feeding may also be a contributing factor to this problem. A structured, consistent mealtime schedule will be very helpful in establishing what is expected at meal times. For most families, food play is simply a funny little quirk that helps make Fido who he is! Our dogs do have personalities all their own. It's one of the great joys of dog ownership!


Is Fido a food pusher? Many dogs are! By careful examination of your dog's eating habits, you can determine the motives behind his food play. While play can just be a way to shake up a routine that has become old hat, it is important to ensure that Fido is indeed consuming all of his daily caloric requirements to maintain a healthy canine body and optimal health.