Dogs have a reputation for eating anything and everything, but some can actually be quite fussy. When your dog shuffles up to the bowl, sniffs and looks up at you in disinterest, or even disgust, but is keen to eat your leftovers, what do you do? The first thing is to consult your vet, as going off his or her food can be the first signs of illness. However, if illness has been excluded, don't start to teach bad habits. Even if you find it hard to resist those big, begging eyes, fussy eating is a problem that needs to be addressed - for the good of you both.
Every dog is different
Dogs do have different appetites. What is normal for one dog may not be for another. Once illness has been ruled out as a cause for a fussy appetite, and if your dog is in ideal body condition, you may need to consider a behavioural cause for the reluctance to eat. Usually dogs without a medical problem, who are being fussy, will refuse dog food but be happy to eat human food or tasty treats. If your dog is refusing all food then it is more likely they are unwell,
Don't teach bad habits
For the most part, fussy eaters are made, not born. Dogs are smart characters, and often they will baulk at their food because they've learned that they can get lots of extra attention, and hand-fed tasty food, by refusing what is in their bowl. The really clever ones will also know that, if they hold out just long enough, they might get offered some delicious human food instead of their usual brand of dog food. To change fussy behaviour, the first step is to identify the ways you might have encouraged it, whether by accident or on purpose.
Alternatively, your dog may be sneaking extra meals somewhere - or from someone else! A quick check with your neighbours, other family members, and the rubbish bins, may explain why dinner is left untouched. If all members of a large family are providing treats, this may be filling your dog up, and is unlikely to be providing a balanced diet!
What to do?
Once you have had a check-up at your vet’s and a chat with them about why your dog is behaving this way you can try any number of approaches to give dogs back their appetite for appropriate food. If you are petting or hand-feeding, try stopping for a while. Increase the palatability of dry food by adding a good-quality wet food, or by soaking it in warm water. And try gently warming wet food in the microwave to release its delicious aromas.
Feeding dogs during the family meal will make them feel socially included, but ideally this should be in a separate area, and always ignore them if they beg at the table, shutting them out of the room if necessary. Praise them when they eat from their own bowl, but if they refuse only leave food on offer for 15 minutes - if it's not consumed, remove it and offer a fresh bowl of food a few hours later. Consult your vet if they continue to refuse food.
Less is more
You could also try switching to a dry complete food designed for 'active' dogs. These formulations tend to be very concentrated, so your dog won't need to eat as much to receive an equivalent level of energy. Active foods also contain higher levels of oil, which can make them more attractive to your dog. Specially formulated 'sensitive' recipes, meanwhile, have a high level of digestibility, which can also sometimes encourage a fussy eater.
Fussy eating can be a challenging behaviour to cure, so avoid it developing by not feeding your dog from the table and limiting treats to training tools only. Encourage them to eat their own food away from the table and keep them fit and healthy with lots of exercise.