Your dog looks uncertainly at its bowl and refuses to eat. Finally, you sit next to it and it starts eating. What’s going on? While this may seem cute short-term, this can become a far more significant problem long-term. Here’s what you need to know about why your dog might insist on eating near you.
Why does my dog eat near me?
There are a few reasons why a dog might wait to eat until it’s near you.
Your Dog is Lonely
Just like some people hate eating alone in a restaurant, dogs can hate eating alone, too. Many people underestimate just how social dogs are. Dogs feel more comfortable eating with others. They are trained to eat with their pack.
So, your dog might just want to eat with friends. Unless this is really disruptive, it may not be that big of a problem. If your dog just prefers to eat near you, and it doesn’t cause disruption to it eating regularly, this could be fine.
But it can become a problem if your dog actually refuses to eat unless it’s near you, or if your dog insists on carrying its bowl or its food to you.
Your Dog Wants a Lookout
If your dog is uncomfortable or anxious, it may want a lookout.
When dogs are eating, they are vulnerable. They can be attacked. It only takes one attack for a dog to get very nervous and this can happen if you’ve rescued a stray dog.
So, they’re really just asking you to look out for them while they eat. It can take a while to train this habit out, but again, it’s largely harmless. It’s just something that a dog might do and if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
Your Dog Gets Its Food Stolen
Apart from just wanting a lookout, it’s also possible that your dog is actively getting its food stolen. If you have multiple dogs, it’s possible that other dogs are stealing its food before it’s done. If that’s the case, it may be coming to you for active protection.
You should watch your dogs as they eat to see if there are any major issues. It could even be something as ridiculous as your cat coming up and swatting at your dog when they eat.
Usually, dogs do develop behaviors such as this in reaction to events that have occurred. When there are behavioral difficulties, the best option is usually to watch them carefully to see why the patterns are emerging.
Your Dog Isn’t That Hungry
Some dogs actually don’t eat that much.
Your dog might be eating near you because it is eating to make you happy rather than eating for its own sake.
Some dogs will eat when free-fed; they don’t overeat even if you leave a bowl out. Other dogs are perfectly happy eating once a day. Most dogs eat twice a day or more, but there are always exceptions.
If you’re trying to get your dog to eat more than it really wants or needs to, it could only be eating when near you because it wants to make you happy.
The best way to address this is to talk to your vet. They will be able to tell you if your dog is gaining or losing weight and if your dog actually needs to eat more or if it could stand to have fewer meal times.
Your Dog Is Worried You Aren’t Eating
Dogs also take care of their pack members.
If you aren’t eating, your dog might actually want to take care of you. So, your dog might hesitate to eat before you eat. It’s very common to see a dog start eating once you tuck into dinner. It’s because eating is a communal activity.
Again, this may not really matter if it doesn’t bother you. It could be that it’s a good bonding activity between you and your dog to eat at the same time. But if it becomes disruptive and your dog stops eating when it should, it becomes something that should be actively addressed.
As you can see, a lot of the reasons why a dog might not eat unless it’s near you are very well-meaning. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t become an issue.
What to do about my dog having to eat near me?
Your dog needing to eat near you can be a difficult problem, especially if you frequently travel, or you just don’t want to babysit your dog. There are a few things you can do to help your dog eat on its own.
Feed Your Dog in a Safe Space
Your dog may need to feel comfortable when eating.
Sometimes closing your dog in a spare room while your dog eats will be enough. It won’t be on guard and thus it won’t feel like it needs to be protected or watched over. You can open the room up and gradually let your dog eat in larger spaces, to show it that it is able to eat whenever it wants without someone else taking its food.
You can also feed your dog in a crate. This can be a bonus because it will also make it feel more comfortable in its crate, if you are trying to create them a den, or if you need to crate them during the day for their protection. Either way, it’s important to feed your dog in an area that it perceives as safe and without distraction.
Wean Your Dog Off Your Presence Slowly
You can start by being in the same room as it and then slowly moving away. You can start by staying with it when it starts eating and then leaving after it has started. Start doing activities around the house rather than sticking by its side and it may slowly learn to start to eat without you.
The more you fuss over them or try to get them to eat, the more they will lap up the attention. If you’re nervous or anxious around them, they may also feel like they need to be nervous or anxious themselves, which will cause a compounding problem. Just relax and start acting as though nothing is wrong, and they will be far more likely to stop concentrating on where you are and start concentrating on their dinner.
Leaving all at once could just distress your dog and cause meal times to be more of an event than they really have to be.
Entice Your Dog With Some Extra Toppings
It may be that the food isn’t that interesting, so your dog keeps delaying its meals.
Add some dog-approved toppers or gravy and see if your dog’s curiosity, interest, and hunger overwhelms its instinct to wait until you’re there. By making their meals a little more interesting, you can encourage them to eat, especially if they need to gain weight. These extra toppings can also be ultra-healthy, such as salmon oil (good for coats) or freeze-dried raw food (great sources of protein).
Your dog could be not eating just because of a lack of interest and your presence could be the only thing that’s really interesting it. But that can be defeated by making the food a little more
Feed Your Dog On a Specific Schedule
As an example, feed your dog at 8 AM and then take the meal away by 8:30 AM. Your dog might not eat the first few times, but eventually your dog will learn that there is a certain window for eating. The important thing is to be consistent with this. While dogs may not have watches, they are surprisingly accurate when telling time and when adhering to a routine.
Over time, your dog will learn that they are guaranteed food at a certain time but that they need to eat it when presented. Don’t cave; if you just leave the food out all day, they will be more tempted to maintain their behavior and only eat when you’re around. Feeding your dog on a specific schedule can also help your dog maintain a healthy weight.
Look Into Hiring a Behaviorist
If your dog keeps refusing to eat unless you are in the room, you might want to talk to a professional behaviorist. Behaviorists can use positive reinforcement to shape new behaviors, ensuring that your dog is able to grow without stressing them out or frustrating you. Behaviorists are highly skilled individuals who have insights into dog behavior; they may be able to tell you exactly why your dog is behaving in such a way.
At the same time, if your dog won’t eat when you aren’t in the room and that’s the only problem you have, it might not be a big deal. This is especially true if anyone can be in the room, as this just means that a dog sitter may need to sit with your dog when it eats.
The truth is, this problem is fairly common and many dogs experience it, especially if they were once on the streets and dealt with food insecurity. Other dogs who haven’t dealt with food insecurity may still feel a little awkward “dining alone.” If it isn’t a big deal, it isn’t a big deal. If it is a big deal, a behaviorist can potentially help.