Does your dog have strange eating behaviors? If so, then you’re not alone. The reality is that dogs are very social creatures, and their eating habits are often an extension of this. If you’ve noticed that your dog doesn’t eat when you’re away from home or that your dog will even only eat if you stand next to him, you may be wondering why this is. Furthermore, what can you do to correct this behavior?

Another common yet problematic eating habit that some dogs will have is that of insisting on being hand-fed. While some dog owners may not mind hand-feeding their pups, this is not “normal” behavior and is something that most people simply do not have time for.

When you have a better understanding of what causes these common dog eating habits and how to address them, you can encourage your own pup to be a more independent eater.

Why does my dog only eat when I stand next to him?

Does your dog beg for your attention while eating? Perhaps he will only eat out of his bowl if you’re standing there watching him. If you walk away, he might even stop eating altogether. Of course you want your dog to get enough food, but who has the time to stand around and supervise their dog’s eating all day? 

There are a few possible reasons as to why your dog may prefer to eat when you stand next to him.

Your Dog Prefers Your Company

You and your dog are best friends, and dogs are naturally social creatures. Like humans, many of them actually prefer to eat around others. This is why many pack dogs will eat in groups. If your dog is demanding your presence while you eat, then, there’s a good chance that your dog is just one of these social eaters who prefers company. He doesn’t want to feel lonely while eating. 

Your Dog Can’t Relax When You’re Away

Many dogs go naturally go into “guard mode” when their owners are away. If your dog is like this, then he may simply not even think about eating while you’re gone because in his mind, his job is to protect and guard the house until you return. It is most likely that this is the cause of your dog’s eating habits if he seems to not eat while you’re away and then suddenly finishes an entire bowl of food upon your return.

Your Dog is Stressed or Anxious

While it may seem as though a lot of dogs’ behavioral problems are attributed to anxiety or stress, the reality is that even the slightest bit of stress can affect a dog’s eating habits. If your dog is dealing with anxiety, there’s a good chance that this is making it difficult for your dog to relax enough to eat. This may be further compounded by the fact that you’re not around, as most dogs will be more relaxed when their owners are present.

What should I do about my dog only eating when I’m with her?

The first thing you’ll want to do is to pinpoint the source of your dog’s behavior. Then, there are a few things you can try to potentially encourage your dog to eat when you’re not around.

Make the Meal More Enticing

A lot of dog owners will have luck with simply making their dogs’ meals more enticing. You could try adding some wet food on top of his or her regular kibble, for example. Or, try mixing in some pepperoni or other special treats to encourage your dog to eat. Just be sure to step away from your dog’s eating area as soon as you’ve offered the food so as to encourage your dog to eat independently.

If this seems to work, then you can continue to follow this trick to encourage independent eating. Over time, you might want to gradually cut down on the amount of wet food you add to your dogs’ meal until he has become used to eating his regular dry kibble on his own.

Address Sources of Anxiety

If your dog only seems to want to eat around you due to stress or anxiety, then the only healthy way to get your dog to eat independently will be to address the source of the stress or anxiety first. Start by taking a close look at the area where your dog’s food is set up. Is there anything nearby that could be causing your dog stress? Some dogs, for example, may not want to eat when their food is located close to another pet’s food (or a cat’s litter box, for instance). Likewise, sources of loud noise (such as a television) or bright/harsh light could also be discouraging your pet from eating. Try relocating his food to a quiet area of the house to see if that makes any difference.

Some dogs also suffer from stress when their food bowls are too small. Dogs generally prefer not to feel their ears, whiskers, or any other parts of their face brush up against their bowls while they eat. If your dog is having trouble eating when you’re not around, it could be a simple case of needing to “upgrade” the size of his bowl.

Separation anxiety is another common explanation for a dog that will only eat when his owner is present. If your dog gets anxious when you leave the house, he may feel too worked up to eat. If you notice that your dog does not touch his food bowl while you’re away and then quickly scarfs down food when you return home, it is fairly likely that he suffers from separation anxiety.

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help your dog overcome separation anxiety; even leaving a television or radio on while you’re away may help your dog to feel less lonely and help him eat while you’re gone. There are even anxiety medications that your veterinarian may be able to prescribe to help your dog relax while you’re gone, which may make it easier for him to work up an appetite and act upon it.

Consult With a Vet

If you’ve tried all the recommendations here but are still struggling with a dog who will not eat unless you’re present, it may be time to schedule a vet appointment. Some underlying medical conditions, injuries, or other sources of discomfort may be preventing your dog from relaxing enough to eat while you’re away. The only way to know for sure will be to bring your dog in for a full examination; your vet may also be able to provide some personalized recommendations for getting your dog to eat in your absence.

Why does my dog only eat when I hand-feed her?

Another potential feeding problem that dogs may encounter is that of only wanting to eat out of their owners’ hands. This issue most often arises out of habit. You may have had good intentions in hand-feeding your dog during his first days or weeks in your home. Unfortunately, as your dog comes more accustomed to this, he may have a hard time eating any other way.

There are many potential reasons as to why your dog may only eat when being hand-fed. Explore some of these reasons below, along with some potential solutions.

Your Dog is Feeling Protective

Dogs are naturally very protective of their food. When eating from an open bowl, some dogs may feel more “exposed” and at-risk than they do when feeding comfortably out of the palm of your hand. Your dog may have an especially hard time eating out of his own bowl if he came from a situation where food wasn’t always guaranteed; if your dog had to fight over food with other dogs or animals in the past (as may be the case if your dog was previously a stray or previously neglected), then he may simply not feel secure enough eating out of a bowl. If this is the case, then it makes sense that your dog will be prefer to eat directly from your hand.

Your Dog Has Become Accustomed to It

A lot of times, dog owners will unknowingly get their pets into the habit of eating out of their hands. This might start with feeding a dog table scraps directly from your hands or even trying to hand-feed a shy dog who has just been introduced to the household. 

If you have no problem with hand-feeding your dog every meal, there is really no issue. However, most pet owners simply do not have the time to hand-feed their pets. And of course, you will also probably run into troubles if you need to leave your dog with a sitter or at a boarding facility for any period of time. It is healthy to make sure that your dog is able to comfortably eat out of his own bowl and not rely on hand-feeding. 

If your dog has become accustomed to hand-feeding out of habit, then the best course of action for most dogs is to gradually “wean” them from being hand-fed. Start, for example, by cutting out one hand-feeding and offering your dog a bowl of food instead. As he becomes used to that, try dropping another hand-feed and replacing it with a bowl feed. Eventually, you should be able to get your dog used to eating entirely out of his own bowl.

There’s Something Else Going On

Aside from habit and feelings of food insecurity, there are not too many reasons that a dog would only want to eat out of the palm of your hand. If neither of these reasons seem to be the root cause of your own dog’s eating habits, there could be something else going on, such as a medical condition or underlying injury. Your best bet will be to schedule a vet appointment to have your dog checked out by a professional.

Why does my dog wait to eat his bone until I get home?

It is not uncommon for dog owners to give their dogs something to keep them busy while they’re away. For example, you might try leaving your dog with a bone or other special treat before you know you’ll be out of the house for a few hours. The idea is that this treat will keep your dog occupied and help to prevent any feelings of stress while you’re gone. 

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for all dogs. If you’ve noticed that the special treat you leave for your dog remains untouched until you get home, there may be some other issues going on.

Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

We hate to circle back around to separation anxiety once again, but it’s so common in dogs that you’ll see this subject come up repeatedly to explain a lot of unwanted behaviors. More than likely, if your dog is not eating a bone or other treat until you get home, it is because your dog is too anxious while you’re away to enjoy it.

Of course, if the bone remains untouched even after you get home, you might simply be dealing with a dog who doesn’t enjoy bones or prefers a different type/flavor of bone. Try experimenting with treats until you find something your dog likes. Otherwise, you’re probably dealing with separation anxiety that you will need to address in order to correct the behavior.

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.