How to Choose Dog Food for Picky and Finicky Eaters

dalmation looking at bowl of food. what is hydrolyzed dog food

Does this sound familiar? You are thrilled that you finally found the world’s healthiest dog food at JustFoodForDogs, however, you have a dog that is prone to being a picky eater. Your dog loves the food now, but you are terrified that he will become bored of it and start being picky (finicky) – because you truly believe what we believe, that dogs should be fed real, balanced, whole food.

Or maybe your dog needs prescription dog food for a medical condition, but you have not been able to get him to stick to one recipe. Perhaps he’s healthy now, but you are worried about what would happen if you ever did need to feed him a special diet.

As long as your dog gets to “choose” what he eats – you’ll be at risk of having to feed him potentially lower-quality food or food that is not necessarily what he should be eating. The best analogy that I use is that of getting a child to eat their veggies and a balanced meal. We make sure children eat their greens because it’s good for them – we don’t let them choose what they eat, or they’d happily eat ice cream and cookies for every meal.

Dogs evolved as opportunistic scavengers that fed off of our discarded food – they have evolved to eat whatever is offered to them and therefore are not finicky by nature. Picky behavior is learned. Unfortunately, in every case of a picky dog – it is us, the pet parent, that has taught (or trained) them to be picky.

dogs that are picky eaters

The most common cause of picky behavior is offering too many dog treats, too much variety, or changing foods if they ever seem bored or are holding out for something new.

5 Tips for Dogs that are Picky Eaters:

  1. Eliminate or limit variety if you have a finicky dog. Variety is fine as long as your dog is accepting whatever you put in front of him. However, some dogs become selective when variety is offered to them and will start rejecting foods that they once accepted. If your dog refuses to go back to a previous recipe he loved, then you want to give him limited options.
  2. Do not “react” immediately if your dog is no longer as enthused with a recipe as before. If you change your dog’s food as soon as he shows a small amount of disinterest – you will quickly train him to be picky. He’ll learn that rejecting food gets him new options and he’ll start rejecting food simply to see what’s next on the menu.
  3. Eliminate or limit treats if your dog is being picky. Just like a child doesn’t get dessert if he doesn’t finish his meal – we shouldn’t expect your dog to want its food if it had treats all day. Step 4 will only work if no treats are given in between meals – no treats at all. Long term, limit treats so that you don’t promote “holding out” for treats.
  4. Feed on a schedule and set the food out for 30-45 minutes, if it’s not eaten during that time – take it away. Put down a fresh batch at the next feeding time –most dogs do well with twice-daily feedings, 8-10 hours apart. Your dog will beg for treats during this time but remember Step 3 – no treats unless he’s eating his food, and then only limited. Resist the temptation to add anything to the food – remember – you are training him, not the other way around.
  5. Stick to one or two options he likes best, and avoid introducing new recipes. If you do and your dog rejects his next (regular) meal – go back to step 1 and follow the plan above. Feed only one recipe (with no treats) for the next 2 weeks.

The above strategy will work with 95% of finicky dogs. Some dogs are good at holding out and may even lose weight. If you have an exceedingly finicky dog, stop all treats and give us a call and talk to one of our trained Nutrition Consultants for additional tips.

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4 responses to “How to Choose Dog Food for Picky and Finicky Eaters”

  1. Since reading your blog, I have adopted the elimination strategy. If my pup doesn’t eat the food that I have prepared, I limit the treats. Its working for now, but I admit, I feel bad because I know that I am part of the reason why she is so picky.

    Thanks for Sharing Dr. Chavez.

  2. I have to disagree with this article. I fed my dog the same meal since she was a puppy, with no treats (because she has a sensitive stomach), and she still decided not to eat her food one day. She won’t eat for days if she doesn’t like what is served. I brought her to the vet multiple times to make sure nothing is wrong with her. I had to change foods a couple times, until she started eating again. Then we also discovered there are other factors that lead our dog to not eat. She needs a very quiet environment. If there is a lot of noise or activity around where her bowl is placed, she will not eat. She also won’t eat if any other dogs are anywhere near the vicinity of her bowl. If we place her in a room by herself, she still will not eat. She needs one person to be with her at all times or she is more worried about where her people are than eating what’s in her bowl.
    I will add that I fed her your food for the first time today, and she scarfed it down like she hasn’t eaten in months with no problems at all. So hopefully that will last!

  3. We do have a dog that held out so long she lost considerable weight. We’ve become a little resigned to the fact that it’s easier to change her food periodically. We always make sure that it’s high quality dog foods and never resort to grocery store brands. She seems to be content to cycle back through after awhile. It may not be the best solution, but when dealing with a 14 yr old dog that was losing weight she couldn’t afford to lose, its working.

    • I agree with you. I think that it is necessary at times to provide a different menu as long as it isn’t switched daily. I’ve found that my dogs do better when changing their menu every other month. I am very regimented on providing extras so having a change to something new on a controlled basis keeps my dogs interested and ingaged. Heck I wouldn’t want to eat the same thing year after year. I shouldn’t deny my pets a variety of activities and food to keep them happy and healthy.

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