What to Do When Your Dog Won't Eat: One Simple Tip

'El Diablo Jalapeno' Chili was not a welcome change for Mr Snuggles.
'El Diablo Jalapeno' Chili was not a welcome change for Mr Snuggles.

So, you've put the food bowl down in front of your dog, you've turned away to get on with your latest naked Hitler sculpture made entirely from Bratwurst (I assume) and suddenly you realise something isn't quite right...and then it hits you that you aren't hearing the usual frantic sounds that usually go with canine mealtimes. You turn back to your beloved pet, only to see him/her sit staring intently at you, their eyes communicating one simple message..."This again?"

If this is the first time this has happened, your first reaction will be colossal surprise and confusion; you know your dog, and you know he/she will eat ANYTHING, up to and including their own feces. Whatever you've put down in front of them can't be any worse than that, surely? You may be tempted to fuss over your dog, to coax them, or possibly even to get angry with them (especially when you've spent all day lovingly preparing their favourite meal, cleaning the house to get everything ready, doing your makeup, putting on your best dress, making sure you're wearing your new french underw—hang on, if you're doing all this for Fido, stop reading and see a shrink immediately. Especially if you're a man) but all of these would be straight-up wrong. The solution is brief, stress-free, and mind-numbingly easy to administer...if you have the backbone.

" 'Fussy'? So I'm wrong to not want a red with chicken? Get me the manager human."
" 'Fussy'? So I'm wrong to not want a red with chicken? Get me the manager human."

First, the Disclaimer:

I am not a qualified vet, I am merely a pet owner who has found this method to work best after trying many others. (I COULD be a vet, of course. In fact, if I chose to train to be a vet, I would be the world's sexiest vet.) But, it goes without saying that you know your dog; if their behaviour or personality seems different to normal, get them checked out. A simple test (again, not a vet, just a sexy, sexy man) is to see if they still have interest in food treats other than their usual kibble etc. If they do, it's a pretty good bet that they're fine and just being fussy,

Lectures Don't Work

The first time one of our two Staffy crossbreeds turned their nose up at dinner, we told her off. And the next time. And the next time. But we quickly realised—after checking that she wasn't ill or out of sorts in any other way—that if there's one thing that dogs understand, it's a reaction of any kind. Telling them off won't fix it, and may only exacerbate the problem. In fact, with ours, the other one then started doing the same thing. And two fussy dogs are infinitely more annoying than one.

" can do this all day..."
" can do this all day..."

The Secret: How to Get Your Dog to Eat

So here's what you do:

Put the food bowl down, and stand over them waiting. If they ignore it and look up at you, count to 10...and then take it away. And then walk away. Don't be dismissive of the dog in any way; just let them know that all that's happened is their food was taken away. Then, at the next mealtime, give them the same bowl. If the same thing happens, give them the same response. What will probably happen (bear in mind, our dogs take it in turns to try it on about once every three months) is you'll end up in a minor battle of wills.

It'll be you feeling guilty about them not eating, and them trying to push you into giving them what they want. Believe me: stick with it, and you will win. It took our female three days the first time (and then there was no more problem for several months), but eventually, they will get the message, and eat what they are given. We felt TERRIBLE, but ultimately we couldn't afford to keep wasting food and switching brands just because our dogs decided to be fussy. Some owners may disagree, but I believe (along with many other responsible dog owners) that dogs are happier when they know their boundaries and know who's in charge; and that sometimes means making difficult decisions. So be strong, take the bowl away, ignore the puppy-dog eyes and the whining and pestering, and you'll get a dog who eats what he's given and is happy about it. Good luck.

Results may vary.
Results may vary.

A Head Full of Knives

A Head Full Of Knives - An Urban Fantasy Novel
A Head Full Of Knives - An Urban Fantasy Novel

How do you REALLY know what your dog is thinking... and what if knew about the end of the world?

In The Darkness, That's Where I'll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story
In The Darkness, That's Where I'll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story

"Science fiction, drama, humour, horror, and yes--even romance--are expertly blended ... IN THE DARKNESS, THAT'S WHERE I'LL KNOW YOU is shaped with an exquisite precision that culminates in a climax that leaves the reader exhausted from the dizzying thrill of emotions... If you missed this book in its original serialized format, now you've been given another chance to read one of the best books that I've had the pleasure of reading in recent memory." - Ain't It Cool 283 Amazon UK reviews, rated 4.9 out of 5!


Comments 43 comments

Georgina_writes profile image

Georgina_writes 4 years ago from Dartmoor

Great doggie psychology. We have a really fussy jack russel. I've printed this off for her to read (by the way, how did you know about the French underwear?). Rating up and following you.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the rating Georgina! It's only been up two minutes as well, thanks! :-)

Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

So I admit that I have been plagued by this problem. My boy sometimes doesn't show any interest in the food. In the morning, I take away his food as you have advised and my wife serves the same at lunch, when he eats it. But for dinner, if he doesn't show interest, I take it away, and take him for his normal walk. When we come back, as a rule, I would offer the food once again. Normally he eats it. If he doesn't, I take it away for the night.

Great hub. Very informative. Voted up.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago Author

Cheers Suhail. To be honest, I wouldn't give him the second offering after the walk; cements the simple idea that it's a case of eat it when it's there the first time, or don't get it. Thanks for the vote buddy.

idaburns 4 years ago

iam glad iread this it help me to under stand my dog better thanks iam going to try. that

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago Author

Thanks Ida!

Rain Defence profile image

Rain Defence 4 years ago from UK

You don't get fussy dogs in India / Thailand, or any other place where people are poor and food is scarce. They would eat each other over there, so if you put down a bowl of food, they would be doing backflips, high fiving you and anyone else around and doing the running man, before eating the food and the bowl.

Good tips, show that dawg who's boss!

geetbhim profile image

geetbhim 3 years ago from Ludhiana India

I don't agree with you Rain defence in India too this happen my puppy don't eat the food given to him he look at me, when I spoon feed him he will eat, what I was not able to understand is constantly serving one food even they get bored. Thanks to Doctor Darts for writing this informative hub, even I noticed if we change the food he eats them very quickly.

Voted up!

Sharon 2 years ago

I have an 8 month old jack Russell she is so fussy. I am going to try your idea. Every thing else hasn't work. Fingers crossed

Mindy 2 years ago

It's not so much that my dog is picky about his food, he just chooses to ignore it because he wants to play with my neighbors dog (who's carrying his puppies) or play with his toys or chew a bone. He'll eat one bite or two and that's all he'll eat for the entire day.

Victoria Baughman profile image

Victoria Baughman 2 years ago from Michigan

This made me giggle because my very special American Pit Bull Terrier is very guilty of this and I am just as guilty. She waits until the end of the day, just before bed, to eat her food. It's as if she waits to see if one of the kids will drop her an extra treat from their plate. I'm going to try this.

alex 2 years ago

Hi my cousin's dog is a year old, he eats but by hand only, I've tried leaving the bowl but he won't have any of it. Any tips please? PLEASE HELP.

Judi 20 months ago

Reading this article made me happy because we've been struggling with our dog for quite some time now. Suddenly he decides to turn his nose up at food that he's been chowing down on for a year now. It's been an ongoing battle between him and I (my fiancé just laughs and thinks we're nuts). Me standing over the bowl yelling at the dog to EAT...NOW!! The dog just sitting there, staring at me and NEVER taking not even one bite of his food. I see I'm not alone and I will continue to do this.....just won't yell at him anymore. Eventually, they do get the picture. Thanks.....

Bear 17 months ago

This is great advice. I get so sick of all the comments people make such as, I gave him this and he wouldn't eat it, then I gave him that and he wouldn't eat it, so now I just give him sirloin steak with bechamel sauce and a side of roast potatoes - it's just ridiculous. I have a dog that doesn't eat purely for attention. In the beginning I was telling him off which unfortunately just gave him more reason to not eat. The vets have checked over him at least 6 times and they continue to tell me there's nothing wrong and that I should get the help of a dog behaviouralist. He will often go 2 - 3 days (2 meals a day) skipping and usually by the third or fourth day he eats (the fact that he is toy poodle doesn't help with his fussy behaviour). Great article. Thanks

nicki gregory 13 months ago

we have a boston terrier that refuses to eat everytime my mom goes on vacation for days. she wont eat until mom comes back. how do i get her to eat while moms gone? sometimes mom is gone for a week or more at a time. she wont eat her wet, dry dog food. nuthing i eat.. but she will eat treats. i can't just feed her treats. Is there anything i can do to make her eat? she wont drink either. i have had to get out a syringe and squirt water in her before.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 13 months ago Author

Thanks for all the comments guys. Alex, sorry I just saw yours; hopefully you've fixed the problem by now? It's a battle of wills, guys, and hunger will win in the end.

Nicki; what do you do when you put the bowl down and she won't eat? I would say let her see you take the bowl away after leaving it for a moment, and then ABSOLUTELY NO TREATS AT ALL. Sounds to me like she's obviously pining for her owner (as you've probably guessed) but if she's getting tasty treats that go down easy (think of what you will eAt when you're hungry or depressed, ice cream and junk food) then she'll never get hungry enough to get with the program ...

Anne 8 months ago

I've read ur article our jack Russell is driving me insane with food he just won't eat normally need to hand feed and tease him to eat it have even put meat on his food to try and tempt him been eating fine then he had a dose of being sick and now won't eat only bits even just left on floor for him makes no difference it's like he's scared of food .help ideas needed please

7 months ago

Our Boston girl is 2 1/2 yrs. We just adopted her. She was a "show dog", won best in breed international! Her owner passed away of cancer :( she was sent back to the breeder in FLORIDA, we live in PA! There the breeders husband got cancer! Sent sweet girl back to PA! She started acting out, attacking her older sister..bad! So Guardian now knowing she has to let one of those 2 dogs go..calls her vet, which is also our vet. He told her he has the perfect home, us! We just lost our 16 yr old chihuahua in February this year & asked our vet to keep an ear open. So now we have this precious baby (no longer a show dog, just needing loving home & she was very picky eater. We've fed her what her guardian was feeding her but then turned away from it. We did what you said NOT to do. But now she's not eating at all. We know she's grieving awful & has been thru SO MUCH. Tonight we tried a scrambled egg with food & she started choking on it. We bagged the egg & hand fed her some kibble, she ate maybe 10 pieces. She just had her vet visit yesterday, everything great. She had a distemper & was also given a 1/2 pill to help joint pain from shot..we were told to give her the other half today. She also had a flea & tick pill today, which Guardian never gave her, she said she thought it was in her heartworm pill!! Could that have made her sick? My gut is telling me this dog is going thru more than what's obvious to vet. I'm worried she is very sick, after all the cancer & loss she's been around :(

I just googled this & you were 1st on list, so here I am! My vet just went on vacation for 10 days or I would have called him!

PS, our vet is the very best & has taken care of all our FURBABIES..he also has 2 bostons of his own along with others! Before our last loss @ 16 yrs old there was our baby who we had to say goodbye to after 17 yrs!!

Sorry this is long..but I don't know what to think.

Soli.C 7 months ago

Thanks for the great help! My girl is pretty picky when it comes to her food. But i have to learn to be firm and stick to this plan. I'm sure it will work with her. And i hope it works for your pals too!

Jill 7 months ago

Really? You have to mock Rosie O'Donnell to make your point in this article? When can we stop fat shaming women to get a laugh? It's not OK. And it adds nothing to your article, and makes you look like a jerk.

shadow 6 months ago

I was really worried. i never thought dogs can get fussy..

Thanks for the info.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 6 months ago Author

Hi Jill, though I don't like the slightly aggressive tone of your comment, you make a very fair point, and I have edited that line out of the post. It's been a few years since I wrote this article and I'm surprised to see such a line was even in there. I guess people change and learn, huh? Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Rachel 6 months ago

the problem with this is ours do this then they puke up bile then they have a seizure

Andy 6 months ago

I have a six month Border Collie who I've hand fed since I picked him up at 7 1/2 weeks. He's the brightest dog I have ever met, mellow temperament and is the gentlest little guy I've ever met. He's started to turn his nose up at Orijen food (not cheap or full of fillers like some of the others - NZ based). He would rather play with his Action Ball rather than eat at the moment which is a little bizarre. He isn't I'll as if I bring out a little tab of cheese or savaloy he'll be doing the collie eye until I submit. Will definitely be giving this approach a shot, probably even more beneficial given how intelligent BCs can be, he's probably found a little weakness and trying to exploit it haha ^_^ will post back in a couple of days and let you know how I get on.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 5 months ago Author

As long as you're giving him treats at a time when he's turning up his nose at regular food Andy, STOP! :) Good luck with the approach bud. Will probably take more than a few days though.

Esther Hans 5 months ago

Hi! I have a very baby Jack Russell (she's 7 weeks) and had her first round of injections last week. She's currently on the Hill's Science Plan for mini puppies but she's refusing to eat it. I out the tinned food over it so that she can at least eat something but then she started getting diarrhea. I am at my wits end - I have been doing everything in my power to make the food more appetizing for her but nothing works. I live with my family and the pity her when I don't feed her and give her human food. I don't know what to do as I work during the day. Help me, please!

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 5 months ago Author

Your family are being extremely unhelpful. If she's getting tasty human food then she's going to expect that. She won't starve to death if you insist she eats only what she's supposed to, and eventually she will get the message as long you're consistent. You need to absolutely lay down the law with your family. But check with your vet, as ever, that there isn't an underlying medical issue for her appetite

Felicia 5 months ago

I rescued a adorable shut tzu when I got her home she would eat and was coughing up bile sometimes 3 plus times a day . After a couple trips to the vet we tried one thing after another from mixing dry with something appealing to straight prescription canned food (from the vet) tried feeding her more often to keep something in her tummy to stop the retching. She seemed to do ok on hsmburger chicken rice but I knew she couldn't eat like this forever. I give her a .05 milagram of famolidine and the vet suggested I pull her from the grain, welllllll... She's doing amazing but now she will not eat anything that isn't prepared straight off the stove. No I'm not kidding. She gets chicken, salmon, liver, beef , turkey , sweet potatoes, potatoes . All of these are soft foods so no chewing dry food, I feel like she needs more nutrition and honestly I feel like some of the foods out there today are really good well balanced food for dogs do I purchased both wet and dry nutrish and dish by Rachael Ray ! Heck I'd eat this stuff ! No luck ! Help !!!! Well my sweet Nikki has to have a pill once every 24 hours that is normally snuck in a piece of ham or treat and pulling her food for days only makes her sick because there is nothing in her stomach so... I would welcome any suggestions . Anyone else had this problem of the retching with their dogs ?

Rotties 5 months ago

My female rott (4.5 months old) is like this, i have changed about 5 brands of dog food to get her to eat it, I first introduced one to her and then buy the biggest bag of the one she EATs. Come home to see after one meal, if I don't beside her and hand feed her, she'll go hungry for a day and i have to give in. My male Rott (9 weeks, - female's to be husband) he ate his food normally but since my female Rott is acting like a mother to him, he is quickly learning how not to eat his food and get something else. My female has been on a raw meat + kibble diet, and raw meat is 3 times as expensive as dog food in a months span.

I just read this and will start on doing this from my, wish me luck.

Linda 4 months ago

Very few dogs need a flea and tick pill and they are poison. Often causing lack of appetite. And although the fussy eater may not want to eat--especially after smelling what you eat, sometimes they are reacting to the fact it is basically garbage (even so called premium brands) they detect toxins in the food (not long ago thousands of dogs died from bad dog food --and it was many different brands, some expensive). It really is pretty cost effective to make them their own food. Cheaper cuts of meat, etc. And healthier. Google for articles re pet food recalls and deaths. Also google homemade dog food remedies, natural flea and tick repellents.

Smokey the Jerk profile image

Smokey the Jerk 2 months ago from Michigan

HELP!!!!! We just adopted a 10 year old Pomeranian from our local shelter. When we got Smokey we knew he had problems, cataracts, hearing loss, teeth that need pulling. After taking him to our vet we found that we were correct. We adopted a money pit and we knew that from the start, but the poor old guy needed a home....and my husband and I are suckers for a sad face. The problem is that since his teeth are bad ( and he's set up for dental work next week) I gave him soft food. I should state that he's EXTREMELY picky. My others dogs would eat the leg off an elephant, but not Smokey. So, the first night we had him I gave him some boiled chicken. He scarfed it down. The next morning, same thing. Then I headed to the local pet food palace and bought all kinds of tasty (yuck) stuff in cans. He ate it for 2 days, no problem. NOW he's decided he's not going to eat. I offered it to my other dog and he wouldn't eat it either. Okay. Maybe there's something wrong with the food? So I opened another can, and another, and dice. I'm not cooking chicken for Smokey the Jerk every day of the week! So I took the food away ( and because my cats thought this stuff was manna from heaven , I set it on the counter) but now I feel guilty as all get out. My head is screaming " he's starving! I can hear his stomach growling! Good lord he's a rescue and he's thinking he has the home from hell!" In a word, torture. I'm torturing myself, and Smokey is sound asleep on the couch oblivious to my discomfort.

So now that I have rambled and poured out all of my guilty feelings my question is this: how long do I let him starve? I know he's not starving, that's my head talking again. But how many days do I let an 11 pound dog refuse to eat before I go back to (sigh) boiling chicken?

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 2 months ago Author

Hi Smokey, firstly try a different brand of food and get your dog checked out at the vet to rule out any medical complications. If that makes no difference and there's nothing wrong with him, don't LET him be 'picky.' You are in charge, not the dog. Put the food down for ten seconds, and if he doesn't eat, let him see you scrape it into the bin. He needs to learn that it won't be coming back, its eat or don't eat. Keep this up. If he still hasn't eaten after several days, take him back to the vet. DO NOT (boiled) CHICKEN OUT. Let me know how it goes. Good luck,

Smokey the Jerk profile image

Smokey the Jerk 2 months ago from Michigan

He's eating, like a HORSE!!! I followed your recommendations and within one missed meal Smokey decided it was best to eat what was put before him. Problem solved! Thank you so much! Smokey's not a jerk anymore

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 8 weeks ago Author

Excellent. Smokey seems to have realised that he doesn't run the show. Readers, take note! But always check with the vet first!

Cyndi 8 weeks ago

I did this, it took 4 missed meals, I guess it's clear we have a very stubborn pup on our hands but it worked like a charm!!! I will admit after missed meal 3 I was getting very close to caving but it worked finally and she has cleaned her bowl 3 meals since!! Thank you SO much! You're a genius!! This something my vet never considered, this is my first dog ever and I am VERY relieved! Thank you!

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 8 weeks ago Author

You're more than welcome Cyndi!

Lisa 7 weeks ago

I've got a girly one when I first got her she was ok bushes is 4 now n I have a dog walker n she gives her chicken nuggets toast everything n she won't eat nothing else so I put her food there n she won't look but I've spoke to a vet n they sai give her nothing at all apart form her food n when she hungry she will eat but I'll put it out in morning n if it still there hour later I remove it till tea time see how I go but there so fussy dogs there like a baby could you plz tell me if this is ok thankyou

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 7 weeks ago Author

Your vet is 100% correct and your dog walker is, I'm sorry to say, an idiot. I sincerely hope you've either sacked her or told her to stop feeding your dog garbage. But if you're leaving the bowl out for an hour, you're doing it wrong.

As I say here: put the bowl down, wait a few seconds, if the dog doesn't eat it MAKE SURE SHE SEES YOU TAKE IT AWAY AGAIN then walk away without a word. It may take several days but the dog WILL get the message. If you give in, be prepared to feed your dog chicken nuggets and toast for the rest of her life and let her dictate what you feed to her.

Be strong, you can do it, and trust me; if the vet says the dog is ok, then she will get the message. Hunger will win out and she'll learn to eat what she's given.

Smokey the Jerk profile image

Smokey the Jerk 7 weeks ago from Michigan

God help me, it has started again. I put the food down, he sniffs, he walks away, I pick the food up, I put it down at dinner, he sniffs, he walks away.....2 days now. I know he's hungry, he begs and hops up & down asking for food. There's nothing medically wrong with Smokey. He just got the works at the vet, head to toe checkup. I thought I had this issue covered! What the hell did I do wrong now?

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 7 weeks ago Author

Stick with it. Ignore him when he asks for food. The food is fine and he's misbehaving by refusing it. He'll soon get the message. The middle ground is to put a fresh plate down at mealtimes rather than the same one, but let him see you throw his uneaten meal in the trash. Don't talk to him when you do all this, just ignore him and go and do something else once you've taken his food away. Simple as that. He's basically trying to get back to the chicken he liked. Don't let him.

Smokey the Jerk profile image

Smokey the Jerk 7 weeks ago from Michigan

Okay. Thank you. At least I don't feel so guilty now!

Del 2 weeks ago

Rosie is a 13 month old short haired border collie. She's never been a massive eater but recently she was poorly for a few days with a gastric infection and since then I cannot get her to eat her normal food. The only thing she is interested in is tinned tuna and because she's been poorly I've given this to her a couple of times because I can her her tummy rumbling. She is 15 kilos and bright as a button - I'm really worried about her lack of appetite as she is due to be spayed this coming week.

DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 2 weeks ago Author

I'd check that one with the vet. Sounds like its related to the infection so I'd check with a pro before implementing my method.

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