Dog refuses to eat unless fed by hand – What to do?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

If you’re reading this article, it means your dog has refused to eat unless fed by hand. 

And even though it was fun initially, now it’s just getting too much for you to handle and you want to stop this ritual of hand feeding once and for all. 

Well, we’ve got answers for you:

Stop hand feeding your dog from this very moment. They have just gotten into the habit of being hand-fed and nothing more, so you’ll have to wean them off slowly and steadily. They may act up and not eat, but they won’t starve themselves either. So you have to stay strong and not give in to those puppy dog eyes. 

Here’s a useful video i found: 3-month-old puppy wouldn’t eat from the bowl but only from my hand. Problem solved!

But why do dogs eat from hand only?

Is it because of something you’ve done, or are they at fault?

Either way, we have got the solutions for you. 

Why do dogs want to be hand-fed?

The following reasons will tell you why your dog insists on being handfed only:

They’re scared 

Dogs may appear to be scary for some people. But actually, these little fellows get scared very easily and with the smallest of things. 

If you have another dog or any other pet in the house, chances are that one will try and dominate the other. They may either steal the food or scare them away, which may cause your dog to have anxiety and lose their appetite.

In this case, you may want to start feeding them by hand so they do not go hungry. Also, the dominated dog would be comfortable because they know you’ll hush away the other pet.

Here’s a video where someone also faced feeding problems and how a trainer helped them overcome it:

Feeding area

Where do you feed your dog? 

Is it near a loud machine? Dishwasher or a dryer maybe?

The environment also matters a lot when it comes to your dogs. They want to eat in peace and in their own space because they’re very possessive and protective of their food. 

So if the food bowl is placed somewhere where there’s too much noise, dogs won’t eat from their bowl and would prefer being hand-fed. 

Negative associations 

Dogs are generally very social animals and want to have people around them. If you give your dog food before leaving for work, chances are that they have associated the food with being left alone.

Yes, it even saddens us while typing this reason. The poor lad wants you to feed by hand because this will make sure that you’ll be around even when the food ends and they’ll be able to see you around. 

Too busy to eat

Some dogs are very protective of their owner and their owner’s home. They’ll ensure that nothing comes near the house, be it a bird or even a butterfly. They’ll keep barking to make sure no intruders are coming inside the house. 

This causes your dog to stay a little too occupied then needed to be. And when you being the parent see your dog is busy, you reach out for their bowl and take it up closer to their mouth or start hand feeding. Maternal instincts we suppose. 

The next time your dog is busy barking away other birds and animals, they’d be expecting that you’ll come running to feed them and this will become a habit before you know it. 

They want to be around you more

Dogs are man’s best friends. You must have heard it before. Well, they literally are your best friend, the ones who wouldn’t even eat without you, just because they want to eat with you so that you both get to spend more time together.

Try and give them more playtime and attention so that your best friend doesn’t feel guilty when they eat without you. 

Food is boring

There may be a time when your dog thinks that the food is boring and is not willing to eat. You would obviously want your dog to still eat their food regardless. 

So this is where you need to start acting like a parent and try and animate or play with the food, so it becomes a little more interesting for your furry child. 

This attracts your dog towards the food and eats it, which eventually gets your dog to develop the hand-feeding habit.

They’re sick

Is your dog getting old? They may tend to get sick more often and their teeth may start to get weaker and start decaying. 

When you feed them with your hands, you are not only giving them full attention but are also crushing the food which makes it easier for them to chew and swallow. 

How to help your dog to eat on its own?

Whether it was your maternal instincts that you couldn’t stop from hand feeding your dog or it was because they were sick.

Either way, here are some solutions to help get your dog eating from their bowl and all by themselves. 

Try placing the bowl elsewhere

If your dog is scared of other pets, try placing it elsewhere in the house where they can have their privacy or feel safer from the dominating pet. 

This trick may also come in handy if your dog is scared of the machines where the bowl was initially placed so that they get their peace and quiet when eating food.

Alter the meal timings 

I understand that you have to go to work so you can better feed your dog, but we’ve to take care of your friend’s emotions and feelings as well, right? 

So here is a tip. Try and feed your dog an hour or two before you leave so that they know you’ll be around after the food. 

Try and adjust the mealtimes in between the hours you’re home so that your dog feels safe and can eat peacefully. 

Adjusting the bowl’s height

Sometimes when dogs are sick, they may find it difficult to bend down to the bowl or they may be feeling pain when they have to bow down to eat food.

What you can do to help your friend is to elevate their bowl using a stool or a small table. Place the food bowl over the top to allow your dog to eat from their face level instead of bending down and feeling pain.

Here’s an amazing elevated dog bowl we found at chewy for dogs facing neck pain.

Staying strong

We have to get a little strict because ultimately, we all want what’s best for our children, be it a furry child or a human child. Set your dog’s mealtimes, and make them understand that if they don’t eat during this time, they won’t be getting any food later. 

Place the bowl and if they eat it, well then good. Otherwise, remove the bowl after 10-15 mins. Repeat the bowl placing and removing again after a few hours. 

This may take a few trials but will help you train your dog to not only eat at their time but also only from their bowls. 

They’ll learn that the food will only be given in the bowl and no one will feed it to them, and they’ll have to help themselves.

You’ll have to stay a little strong, but I am sure you’ll be able to do it.

Retraining

Sometimes all the tips and tricks fail, but that does not mean that you should give up hope. Here you can try and retrain your dog and teach them the basics again.

If they are habitual of eating out of hand, start off by placing your hand near their food bowl. They’ll start eating. 

After a few times, try and keep your hand inside the bowl and then eventually, drop the food little by little into the bowl.

This will ultimately take them back to eating from their bowls again.

In case you’re still having problems, here’s a video on how you can teach your dog to eat from a bowl:

Related questions 

How many days can my dog go without eating?

If your dog’s healthy and takes in good water intake, they can stay hungry for up to five days. Some may even go up to seven days but make sure things don’t go to this extent and visit the vet as soon as possible.

Do dogs stop eating when they are full?

No. they’ll eat until the bowl is finished regardless of the amount. It’s your job to give them only the amount they require in a single meal.

Will a picky dog starve?

Dogs won’t go hungry for more than 24 hours and certainly won’t starve themselves. So don’t worry about keeping them hungry while retraining them.

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