Feeding your dog from your hand may seem like spoiling them, but it does have benefits. However, it’s easy for your dog to decide they prefer eating from your hand and no longer want to eat from the bowl. The good news is that you can break this habit with the right knowledge. 

Why does my dog only eat from my hand?

There are many reasons why your dog only eats from your hand. It could be that your dog is simply accustomed to eating from your hand, or there could be an underlying problem. 

Fear

If you have other dogs in the home, your dog may be afraid to eat from the bowl. Wild dogs have a pack hierarchy. The alpha will eat first, and other dogs will wait their turn. 

It’s natural for dogs to maintain some of this order even in a domesticated home setting. However, sometimes submission goes too far, and your dog is fearful of eating around other dogs. When you feed them from your hand, they feel safe. They know that you are ultimately the alpha of the group, and may only feel allowed to eat when you provide it with your hand. 

Too Busy to Eat 

Just like people, sometimes dogs get soo busy they “forget” to eat. There may be too many things going on in their environment. Their natural guarding instinct may have them on high alert, watching for anything from intruders to flies. It’s difficult for them to settle and eat in this state. 

When you give them food with your hand, it’s similar to a loved one bringing you a sandwich when you are in the middle of an arduous task. The attention and presence of the food remind you that you must eat, and waiting is no longer a valid option. 

Socialization

Eating is a social ritual for dogs and humans. It’s common for us to regard meal time as important, or even sacred. That’s why we have so many manners and customs around eating. 

Dogs have a similar view. Wild dogs hunt as a pack, and eating is ritualized. Your dog may want to eat out of your hand because it allows them to socialize with you. 

This is especially common if your dog has attachment issues or doesn’t get enough quality time with you. 

Boredom or Pickiness

Another trait humans and dogs share are boredom and pickiness. Do you want to eat the same thing every day? Even your favorite food gets boring, eventually. You might have even said, “I can’t eat this again. I’m tired of it”. 

The same can be true for your dog. The kibble they loved a few months ago may be so boring they don’t want to eat it anymore, unless enticed by you hand feeding them. 

They can also be picky. We all have foods we dislike, and some that we refuse to eat. Some dogs are pickier than others, and won’t eat food they don’t like out of their bowl. 

Sick or Not Feeling Well

When your dog isn’t feeling well, they won’t feel like eating. Loss of appetite and change in eating habits is a warning sign for a wide variety of canine diseases, from a simple cold to cancer. 

Food from your hand is obviously more interesting than food in the bowl, and this can be the nudge they need to eat. It’s also possible that physical problems make it painful for your dog to stand and bend over their bowl. 

Owner Reinforcement 

It’s possible that you are the reason your dog will only eat from your hand. It starts out innocently. Perhaps your dog is bored with its food or has a minor illness. You begin hand feeding them. 

Because it’s so adorable or simply because you are relieved they are eating, you praise them as they eat. The problem is that this reinforcement now has them only wanting to eat out of your hand, long after the initial crisis is over. 

Is it bad to hand feed your dog?

It isn’t universally bad to hand feed your dog. In fact, it can be a good thing in many instances. It becomes problematic when it becomes a long-term habit, and you are tired of feeding them all their meals by hand. 

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and downsides of hand feeding your dog. 

Guarding Issues

Resource guarding is a natural instinct. In fact, it’s a matter of survival. If a dog’s food is consistently being stolen in the wild, they may starve to death. 

Of course, there’s no danger of a domesticated dog starving in its home, but the instinct remains. Some dogs have stronger resource guarding instincts than others, and it can take many forms. 

They may guard their treats, food, or even their owner, showing aggression when someone tries to “take” what’s theirs. The problem is that even being close to the dog may send them into aggression. 

One way to ease resource guarding is to work with food. When you hand feed your dog, it’s clear that you aren’t trying to steal his food. Instead, you are providing it. This can help desensitize him to other perceived threats. 

Patience

If your dog is impulsive or impatient, hand feeding can help teach them patience. Make them wait calmly for each bite of food. They will quickly realize that patience gets them what they want, and impatience doesn’t. 

Bonding

Bonding over food is common in humans. We bond with our babies through feeding them. We even bond with our partners by cooking for or feeding each other. Even as adults who are perfectly capable of securing food and feeding ourselves, it strengthens the trust and bond. 

Dogs are similar to babies who rely solely upon their caregivers for food. This creates a very strong bond because it’s related to the survival instinct. When you hand feed your dog, you are highlighting the fact that you are providing the food. Hand-feeding allows you to interact with your dog, strengthening the bond. 

This is often recommended for puppies or an older dog you’ve adopted, because it helps create the initial bond between dog and owner. 

Eating Too Fast

Does your dog seem to inhale their food without even chewing? Eating too fast can cause health problems for your dog. Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea are common. Your dog gulps air along with the food. As it expands, it can rarely cause the stomach to twist or rupture. 

Hand-feeding your dog small bites can prevent them from gulping their food down. Over time, it will hopefully break the habit, and they can safely eat from their bowl again. You can also get a specialized bowl that slows down your dog when eating. 

Health Issues

If your dog is sick and not eating, there’s nothing wrong with hand-feeding them until they are on their feet again. It can give them calories and comfort. 

The Problem With Hand Feeding Your Dog

The biggest problem with hand feeding your dog is they may stop eating from their bowl. Sure, feeding them from your hand occasionally is enjoyable, but it’s likely not something you want to do at least twice a day for the rest of your dog’s life. There’s also the issue of dog sitting. What happens if you want to go on vacation? Finding someone to walk your dog and fill their food bowl is one thing, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone willing to hand feed them.

Why has my dog suddenly started wanting to be hand-fed?

There are several reasons why your dog suddenly wants to be hand-fed. 

Misinterpretation

It’s possible that you misread your dog’s signals. Your dog can’t look at you and verbally ask for you to hand feed them. Instead, it’s up to you to decode their behavior. Ask yourself what your dog did to indicate that they wanted to be hand-fed, or that it was necessary for them.  

Fear or Anxiety

Fear and anxiety can occur for many reasons. A new person or dog in the household, a change in routine, or too much stimulation in the home can all cause anxiety. 

Too Much Going On 

They may simply be too wrapped up in what’s going on around them to eat. Out of concern you hand feed them because they will eat the food when you offer it to them. 

Sickness

When a dog is sick they lose their appetite. It’s a good idea to speak with your vet if you notice drastic changes in appetite or feeding behavior. If they are showing other signs, including lethargy, pain, or behavioral changes, take them for a check-up. 

Bored

Boredom can strike at any time. Your dog may have enjoyed the food before but recently grown bored with it. You may have missed more subtle signs of a lack of interest. 

Loneliness or Separation Anxiety

If your dog is feeling lonely or has separation anxiety, hand feeding is a way for them to connect with you. Dogs with separation anxiety often show distress when their owner leaves. This can range from whining at the door to destroying objects when you are gone. 

How do I get my dog to eat from the bowl?

With a little work and consistency, you can get your dog eating from their bowl again. 

Fear

If your dog is experiencing fear of other dogs or extreme submissiveness, move their eating location. Be sure that all other dogs are well away from the area during feeding time. 

If anxiety is the problem, you may need to try being present with your dog when they eat. Don’t hand feed them. Stay close by and praise them gently when they eat from the bowl. Your presence should make them feel more at ease. 

Too Busy to Eat 

Is the home high energy during feeding time? Is your dog very alert or playful around mealtime? You may need to change when they eat to a more relaxed time. 

Changing location can be helpful as well. Find a place with few distractions. Of course, this doesn’t help your dog stop barking at a fly and go to the bowl. 

Walking your dog before feeding may also help. This gives them a chance to expend physical and mental energy. They should be more relaxed after the walk. Be sure to wait until your dog has cooled down before feeding them though. 

Socialization 

If your dog is craving socialization, give them attention throughout the day. It might be helpful to schedule a few doggy playdates as well. Puzzle toys can help keep their mind occupied when you aren’t home, so they don’t feel as lonely. Some owners even turn on the tv for their dogs or video chat them while they are away. 

If you feel your dog needs socialization during mealtime, stay close to them while they eat from the bowl. Your presence may have a similar effect as hand feeding. Offer them light pets or soothing words as they eat. 

Another approach is to have play or social time after meals. You can use time together as a type of reward for your dog. Dogs are creatures of routine, so they will learn that eating means fun time, which can make them more enthusiastic about meals. 

Boredom or Pickiness 

This one is pretty simple to solve. You can try changing their food or add a food topper. There are many store-bought options these days. You can also make your own. Blueberries, pumpkin, mackerel, sardines, and yogurt are all great healthy additions to dog food. 

It might take a little trial and error, but it’ll be well worth it when you find something your dog loves. 

Sick or Not Feeling Well

If you suspect your dog isn’t eating from their bowl because they are sick, you’ll need to make a vet appointment. Nearly any health condition is easier to treat when it’s caught early, so don’t hesitate to get them an exam. 

Owner Reinforcement

Regardless of the reason for your dog only eating from your hand, how you interact with them during mealtime is key to success. It can be hard to stop hand feeding your dog, particularly if you are worried about them eating enough. 

Again, a vet appointment is a good idea. They can assess your dog and let you know if they are malnourished. To get your dog eating out of its bowl, you’ll need to stop hand feeding them. You should also avoid giving them scraps and treats until the issue is under control.

A healthy dog will eat from their bowl when they are hungry enough. Once they are eating from the bowl, you can add treats back in moderation. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.