Fussy Eater or Master Manipulator?

Over the years I have heard the comment “my dog is a fussy eater” more times than I care to mention.

Indeed, having your dog turn up his nose and refuse to eat or walk away from the bowl can be very stressful for the owner.

Why is it that we automatically assume the refusal to eat means we have a fussy eater?

We are correct in assuming he is controlling the meal times, but could it be for an entirely different reason.

Let’s look at some of the behaviours exhibited by owners with dogs that refuse to eat.

¨      A selection of food is provided for him to choose;

¨      He is fed from the hand or table;

¨      We stand and stare; or

¨      We constantly talk to our dog while they are eating?

Now let’s look at some of the possibilities as to why our dog refuses to eat.

He could possibly be under stress. We all know how difficult it can be to eat when something is bothering us, maybe there is canine confrontation (hierarchy between members of the canine family). He could be waiting to see what you provide if he refuses what’s in front of him, or maybe he is just plain attention seeking.

The good news is - there is no such thing as a fussy eater and the bad news is – we allow the master manipulator to go to work on testing our willpower and guilt levels.

The great news is, it doesn’t matter what the dog is doing, what are you doing to prevent the behaviour.

¨      Do not provide food all day, dogs are not grazers like sheep.

¨      Limit variety - stick to one type of food.

¨      Feed dog separately allowing him space and time to eat at his own pace.

¨      Stay close, but don’t stare or talk.

¨      Relieve stress and tension within the home.

¨      Meal time needs to be ‘no fuss’ time!    


Dogs have an instinct that has remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years.  Whilst it is true that dogs have been bred by man to do certain jobs, the hard wiring is still relatively the same and the fact that dogs are predictable in their behaviour supports this.


If we look at how the canine views his meal – he hunts, he kills and he eats.  Hierarchy is also very important, as the older, wiser and more experienced leaders (Decision Maker) will always eat first, followed by other lower ranking members.


Next meal time try one of the 5 key components of Dog Listening, known as Priority Feeding. Which will be providing him information in the language that he understands.


For the canine, food is a matter of survival. Therefore when feeding our dogs (and cats) we need to mimic the behaviours of the ancestral canine. After a kill is made the Decision Maker eats the best part of the kill, and only when they are satisfied and signal their feed is over by walking away, will the rest of the pack be permitted to eat.

This does NOT translate to you eating your dinner before feeding your dog.


Priority Feeding


¨      Prepare the dog’s food in full view of the dog;

¨      Eat a biscuit or a morsel, without any engagement (eye contact or talking) with the dog;

¨      Place the dog’s food down and walk away leaving him to eat in peace;

¨      If the dog walks away from the bowl remove it straight away, even if the food has not been touched or only partially eaten. Please note, his survival instincts will kick in, he won’t starve, and he will  resume eating.


Priority Feeding is a leadership signal to the dog and informs him that as his leader you eat first!


Continue this process for at least 2-3 weeks for consistent results.


-Jenny Golsby