I distinctly remember the dog I had as a little girl. She was a black lab named Sadie, and she loved human food.
How do I know how much she loved it?
After dinner, if my mom was in a good mood, she would let me put any leftover scraps from the table onto Sadie’s bowl of food. As Sadie watched me carefully, her mouth would salivate, and long drips of saliva would fall on the floor in front of her.
Finally, I would move away and watch her start to eat. That dog, in an amazing way I cannot fully understand, would eat every morsel and drop of the human food I had put on her bowl and would somehow miraculously avoid any and all of her dog food. After she had eaten, dog food would be strewn all around her dish, licked clean of the human food that had touched it, but not eaten.
Of course, my mom would then make me clean up the mess. But I didn’t care. Sadie was so elated to have some of our food (even if it was just extra salad, cooked carrots, or plain rice), that it was worth it to see her that happy.
Many pet owners I’ve talked to since this time have told me similar stories, and this leads me to the main topic of this article: Why exactly do dogs love and want human food so much?
Why does my dog want human food?
Most people think that the simple answer to this question is: Because it’s good. And while this is partly true, it’s not the whole story either.
First, let’s start with the obvious: It is certainly true that dog food does not tend to be as universally-acknowledged as “good” as human food. After all, “beef taste” is not as good as a real beef burger patty. “Chicken, rice and vegetable flavor” is not as good as real chicken, rice, and vegetables.
Humans know this, and dogs know this too.
At the same time, dog food scientists have tried their best to create dog food that actually tastes good to dogs. And for the most part, you know — because you are consistently buying more dog food for your dog every month — that dogs do eat their dog food. It’s certainly not terrible, in other words.
So, why then, does your dog immediately ditch their own food every time they get their chance at even a rather puny morsel of human food?
Aside from pure taste, scientists have recently revealed that part of the reason for this is dogs’ innate ability to detect what’s truly desirable. To break it down, your dog sees you as desiring and coveting your own food — whether it’s steak, a bowl of ice cream, or a bag of chips. They, in turn, conclude that that food that you’re eating is the best food out there. And this makes them want it.
Of course, we can’t deny the actual good flavor of many human foods. Additionally, human foods have strong smells, and dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell.
Finally, dogs tend to like human food for its variety in flavor, texture, color, temperature, and size. After all, their food is often simply a series of small, brown nuggets that never alter in shape or size. Like humans, dogs value variety in their food.
Why does my dog only want to eat human food?
If your dog has stopped eating their own food, there are several reasons they might be coveting human food instead.
Often, dog owners tell me that their dog waits every evening until the last possible moment to eat their own food in their bowl. What are they waiting for? They want to see if they’ll get some human food, and if they do get it, they’re ready to ditch their own food completely.
These dogs want only human food.
Why? Probably a more suitable question is: “Why wouldn’t they?”
First, dog food is pretty good (if you’re a dog), but you have to remember that it’s the only game in town if you’re a canine. You don’t have the option of going to the store. You can’t open the fridge and pick your own meal. That’s all they have, and the lack of variety of flavor just doesn’t cut it sometimes.
Next, dogs see you eating and loving your own food, and they want in on the action. They sense that your food tastes delicious (and they can definitely smell it too), so they’re ready to have some whenever you’re ready to share.
Finally, they may enjoy the connection they get with you when you eat together. Openly sharing food in the animal world is quite rare unless you’re simply used to it (two dogs living in one house and sharing food) or doing it out of parental love (a dog mother feeding milk to her pups). When you share food with your dog, you’re showing love and affection to them, which they truly appreciate.
The problem is that dogs should not eat only human food, and that’s what we’ll be discussing next.
Is it ok for a dog to eat only human food?
Short answer: No, not really.
While it probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of humans (after all, we eat only human food and we’re fine!), dogs should not eat only human food. There are several reasons for this.
Lack of nutrients
Dogs actually need a lot of nutrients, despite what many people think. The essential vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients they require are included in their food by dog food scientists. Human food, on the other hand, just doesn’t provide the same nutritional quality. A healthy, well-balanced human diet is good for humans — not dogs.
While it’s certainly okay for most humans to eat grapes, chocolate, and caffeine, these ingredients are not recommended for dogs. In fact, they can be downright dangerous to dogs.
There are a number of foods on this “not for dogs” list, which is another big reason why veterinarians don’t recommend feeding dogs human food only. Sometimes, you’ll forget a food is dangerous to dogs and feed it to them anyway. Other times, you may not realize there’s a bad food for dogs included as a hidden ingredient in something you’re eating.
How do I get my dog to stop eating human food?
If you’re someone who’s been feeding your dog human food only for a while now, it’s going to be difficult to wean them off of this diet and back onto a dog food-based diet. Still, it’s certainly doable and wise to do.
Essentially, you want to move slowly. Don’t expect your dog to start eating dog food only overnight. The method I usually recommend is the “waiting game.”
For one to two meals a day, put a bowl of dog food down on the ground and leave it there for one hour (or you can choose a different time period of one and a half or two hours). During this period, you will hope that your dogs eats their food. If they don’t eat it after the set period of time, however, take the bowl away. Over time, your dog will get the idea and eventually start taking advantage of the time during which their food is on the ground. Dogs certainly won’t starve themselves, after all.
Some dog owners who try this method still continue to give their dogs a few human foods here and there. They may give them one “homemade” meal or small scraps when they have them. As long as there are no dangerous-to-dog foods included, this shouldn’t be a problem for most dogs.