Hand-feeding dogs is not a bad thing. In fact, many trainers recommend it for dogs who have a guarding problem, are way too dominating or feel very territorial around their food.
If your dog snaps whenever someone puts a hand in their bowl, you must teach them to relax. It will prove quite beneficial, especially if you have kids in the house. But the key here is moderation. We want to teach our dogs to be independent and co-exist at the same time. If you are hand feeding your dog to teach them to co-exist, it great, but if you do it too often you can make them co-dependent – and that’s where the problem begins.
The trick is to be able to get in their food bowl but still being able to leave them alone during meal times so that they can eat on their own.
If your dog has come to a point that they won’t eat anything unless they are hand-fed, you are probably wondering why they can’t eat on their own.
7 Reasons Why Your Dog Wants To Be Hand Fed:
Your dog probably wants to be hand-fed for the following reasons.
1. Your Dog Is Scared
In many households where there is more than one dog, one of them may start dominating the other. In situations like this, the submissive dog may show signs of canine anorexia, where they stop eating unless they are very hungry.
When you start feeding them with your hand, they don’t stop eating altogether, instead, they develop a new habit. Many dogs in this situation stop eating from their bowls because they know their bowl is not a safe place.
They prefer eating from your hands because they know you’ll shoo away the dominant dog if they come near.
Other times when they exhibit the same behaviour is if they are scared of the environment where they eat. Is their food bowl near the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner or anything that makes a loud noise? Chances are they are scared of the machines even if they are turned off, and they avoid the area as much as they can.
Many pet parents give them meals right before they are leaving for work hence they associate food with being alone. Dogs with separation anxiety might be too scared to eat because they know it means you’ll leave.
2. Your Dog Is Busy
Many pet dogs have a guarding tendency towards their home. They want to guard you against everything! That includes other dogs, birds and even butterflies. So, if there is a lot going on outside your house your dog may be too busy guarding you and the house.
Their food remains unattended during this time. Once everything has settled down outside, they will eat from their bowl.
The problem is, many pet parents try to hand feed their pet when they’re busy barking at the butterflies. We bring the food up to their nose so that they can eat it. So, in a way, we re-inforce this behaviour. This creates a bad habit for them.
It’s great to be able to work and eat at the same time. So, the next time someone is outside, they almost expect you to come to them with food.
3. Your Dog Wants To Socialise
It’s not fun being a dog. They spend most of their time waiting for you to come back from school/work, so when you come back home and feed them, they want to eat with you. This behaviour is similar to their ancestors. Wolves usually hunt in packs and the weaker wolves wait for the pack leader to offer them the remaining food.
Usually, timid dogs with low self-esteem will behave like this. When they want to be fed it’s their way of asking to spend more time with you.
The best way to get rid of this habit is to work on ways to boost their confidence so that they don’t feel guilty to eat without you. Increase the time you spend with them in play and training so that they don’t feel like they need your company when they’re eating.
4. Your Dog Is Bored
It is also possible that your dog is a picky eater. Their current formula is making them disinterested in their food. When you come along, and feed them with your hands you make the food interesting. They eat the food, not because they like it, but because you are there to animate things.
5. Your Dog Is Full
Sometimes dogs have way too many snacks in the day. They beg for table scraps and we oblige. All this food and no play makes your dogs lose hunger.
Dogs with full bellies will poke and pick their food and walk away. If you hand feed them they eat only because you are there to encourage them.
6. Your Dog Is Sick
Sickness can be anything from toothaches to swellings. Dental problems are particularly common in senior dogs. As they grow, their tooth start to decay and eating becomes painful. Their food may be appetising but their teeth hurt too much. When you come an feed them, you crush the food in your fingers making it easier for them to eat.
7. You’ve Reinforced The Behaviour
Some dogs are people pleasers so when you feed them with your hands and praise them they associate it as good behaviour. The next thing you know is your dog won’t eat anything unless you feed them. They just really want to hear you call them a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’.
How Make Them Eat On Their Own?
How do we stop this habit and make them independent around their food? Well, for starters you need to stop hand feeding them. Dogs can stay without food for three days and they usually become hungry after the first day.
However, we have seen a fair share of resilient dogs, who won’t eat no matter what. For these special dogs, we have a few tips and tricks that will help your dog wolf their meals down again.
1. Change The Location
This usually works for dogs that are very scared or lack confidence. By changing their location to a safe place, away from loud machines, or the other big dog, they start to feel safe and will begin eating in no time.
If you have more than one dog, you can start feeding them in their respective crates. By adding a dark coloured blanket on top of the crate you create a sense of safety. They are far more likely to munch their food down when they know they are safe.
2. Change The Time
Conversely, if your dog doesn’t eat because it’s the time you are leaving or the cars are honking outside and they are sad or busy, change the time. By feeding them just an hour before their usual mealtime, they will know that when they eat food, you will not leave the house. This gives them a sense of safety.
3. Add Something Delicious
This method works for picky eaters. If you can add a delicious topping on their meal, they will not care if you’re around or not. They will eat it up right away. Though this method is great, we suggest not to overuse toppings. Use it sparingly and do without it on certain days.
You can also use different toppings on different days because we don’t want to create boredom.
4. Establish Meal Times
When dogs don’t have any real sense of mealtime they tend to lose interest in their food. If their pickiness and hand-feeding habits are getting in the way of your life, you need to take this very seriously.
You can begin by not giving them any treats throughout the day. That means nothing, not even dog treats.
Keep their meal times up to 20 minutes long and refuse to feed them by hand. If they pick, poke and leave their bowl, pick the bowl up after 20 minutes and take it away. Then in the next mealtime, give them whatever they didn’t eat (and a little more if you need to) and leave it for 20 minutes.
This will teach them that food will only come to them during meal times. When they stop having treats throughout the day they will start to develop an appetite for their meal. When they’re hungry, they won’t care if you’re feeding them or not.
5. Go Back To The Basics
Sometimes, if all other methods fail you, you will have to go back to the basics. By this, we mean, training them to eat from their bowl again.
The best way to do it is to feed them with your hand over the bowl. Gradually move closer to the bowl and then with your hand inside the bowl. Then start to drop the food in their bowl with your hand still on top of it.
Gradually start to move your hand away until finally you don’t have to be in the same room they eat in.
There are many ways to train your dog to eat in their bowl again. It is important to start training as soon as you can. The sooner you break them from the habit, the easier it is going to be for you and your dog.
6. Talk To The Vet
Though it is unlikely, it may be possible that your dog isn’t eating food because of poor oral hygiene, obstruction in the food pipe, an internal injury, depression etc. If your dog isn’t eating for more than two days, you must take them to the vet.
We hope this article throws some light to why your dog wants to be hand fed. We really hope you are able to make your dog feel more comfortable around mealtimes. All the best!