Dogs taste good to people

The most common mistakes in dog feeding

Eating behavior
© / WilleeCole

Eating behavior

Hand on heart: How much do you know about your dog's natural eating habits? Little? Then it is high time to change that, because your behavior around the bowl plays a central role in your dog's life.

We all really only want our dogs good. And yet we often do exactly the wrong thing because we have succumbed to errors, false conclusions and outdated ideas about dog feeding. You are sure to find yourself caught making one mistake or another. Welcome to the club!

Obesity, begging or even aggressive behavior are typical consequences of incorrect feeding techniques. We'll show you the most common mistakes, their consequences and how to do it correctly.


Mistake # 1: The dog cannot eat in peace

What do we humans do?

  • We want to make sure that our dog is eating well, so we watch him eat.
  • We think it's nice when the dog is always there and feed him while the usual family hustle and bustle takes place around him.
  • We think it is important that our dog recognizes us as the head of the pack and every now and then we take away the half-full feeding bowl to demonstrate our position of power. If the dog does not accept this, he will get in a lot of trouble.

What does this mean for our dog?

The dog must fear losing its food (its prey) because someone is constantly coming close to it, a higher-ranking pack member observes it in an apparently threatening manner or it has even had the experience that its bowl is actually taken away more often.

How does the dog react?

He will either:

  • try to gobble down his meal as quickly as possible in order to have as much as possible in his stomach before someone interferes with him, or
  • No longer dare to eat the food because our proximity signals to him that we are claiming the delicious meal for ourselves, right?
  • defend its forage offensively. With threatening gestures, growling or in an emergency by snapping shut. For him a completely legitimate kind of doggy communication, with which he secures his status and his prey, especially with children (who are pack mates of equal rank for him).

In any case, such disturbances in feeding mean stress and insecurity for the dog. The whole thing strains the social structures in the family pack.

How is it going right?

  • Feed your dog in a quiet place where he will not be noticed while he is eating and where nobody will disturb him. Not even from the family cat.
  • If you have several dogs, eating together in a pack only works if the social structure is stable. Unsafe, sensitive animals may need to be fed individually.
  • If you want to take the bowl away before your dog has finished eating it, call him to another room first

Mistake No. 2: According to the motto "love goes through the stomach", we use food as a form of affection

What do we humans do?

  • We are happy when our loyal dog soul looks at us with big eyes or a hole in the stomach is happy when we come home. So let's make him happy with a treat.
  • We also want to treat our dog to something and pamper him with something particularly tasty in between. After all, when we enjoy our Sunday roast, it should feel good too.
  • We want to motivate our dog to give a command such as "Sit!" to be followed. That's why we show him the treat in our hand and give it to him as soon as he sits.
  • The dog annoys us by walking restlessly back and forth, nudging us again and again, barking or otherwise trying to get our attention when we don't have time. So we give him a chewing bone or a treat so that there is peace.
  • We have less time for our dog than we would like and have to leave him alone more often. So that he is not so sad and does not get bored, he is then given something to eat or chew.

What does that mean for the dog?

Imagine a child asks you "Do you have time for me?" and you answer "Here you have a lollipop, my darling!". Over time, food becomes a substitute for love and affection for this child. At some point the child will just say "I want a lollipop now!" if it is bored, lonely or sad or if there is something to do for you. He will presumably overeat because food is comfort. And if you can always have lollipops, why should you still eat vegetables? You can imagine it figuratively: Such a child, or such a shaped dog, becomes fat!

"If love is through the stomach, what happens to love when it is through the stomach?"
Dr. Eckhart von Hirschhausen

How does our dog react?

If we feed it more often, the dog will beg more and more insistently because it has learned that its begging behavior is rewarded. Instead of asking us to play or cuddle, he only cares about food and we as feed donors are pretty interchangeable. Instead of strengthening our relationship with the dog, we weaken it with the treats in between.

If we use treats as a bribe in education, our dog will probably soon do nothing without the proverbial carrot in front of his nose. Self-confident specimens will no longer obey a command, even with treats in front of their noses, because they have come to believe that they are entitled to the food without consideration.

Last but not least, if our dog is often hand-fed, it will eat more than is good for him, because food from the boss's hand has a particularly high social value (a bit as if the puppy is licking its mum's catch directly may).

How is it going right?

  • Show your dog that you love him in other ways. Instead of feeding, play, frolic, cuddle or brush him if he likes. Your attention is a great reward for your dog!
  • Use food as a reward, not a bribe, in your education. The difference? You only conjure up the treat when your dog has completed the command. At first every time and later only now and then. This "game of chance" increases the excitement and incentive for your dog to do what you want him to do.
  • Reward your dog for good performance by lavishly praising him in a high-pitched voice, cuddling him or romping around with him. This motivates most dogs even more than a food reward.
  • Use food toys such as food balls to keep your dog busy when you are short on time. He then eats too, but much more slowly and he has to do something for his food.
  • Last but not least: subtract food rewards and treats from his daily ration of food so that he does not consume too many calories! It is best to reward it with its usual complete feed, then you do not throw its nutrient supply out of balance.

Mistake # 3: We want to offer our dog variety

What do we humans do?

  • A varied diet is important to us, which is why we change the type of feed more often.
  • If our dog gets diarrhea from the new food, we think "So he can't take that." and switch to the next feed.
  • We feel sorry for our dog because he has to eat the same ready-made food day in and day out. That's why we treat him to something special every now and then.
  • We know how happy our dog is about a piece of sausage or cheese. That's why he can sometimes have something off the table.
  • Leftovers that are too good to throw away, we put in the dog bowl.

How does our dog react?

If we often give our four-legged friend something special - from the table, from the hand or the leftover filet from the plate - we may turn to a picky eater who expects "only the best of everything". But, as we know from our own experience, what tastes particularly good is rarely healthy as the sole food.

If we keep adding something new to the dog's bowl, it is very likely that our dog will develop diarrhea or constipation more often, as his intestinal flora does not have time to adapt to the constantly changing food. We also know this from ourselves when, for example, we suddenly have to do without our dark German bread abroad or are confronted with spicy dishes.

Since table scraps and special treats usually end up in the dog in addition to the usual food ration and are often high in fat, he will probably also get fat.

How is it going right?

  • Throw overboard the idea that a lot of variety is healthy for your dog. It arises from the misunderstanding that ready-made food is something like a microwave lasagne (at least not a balanced meal). But the opposite is true: high-quality complete dog food contains all the nutrients, minerals, vitamins and co that your dog needs in exactly the right proportions. Everything you change about it does not make your dog's diet any more balanced.
  • Free yourself from the belief that your dog suffers from the "monotony" in the food bowl. You can train him to eagerly await new taste experiences, but by nature he does not feel the same urge for variety as we do. We have this urge, because as (with all due respect) "omnivores" we have to take care to consume more vitamins from fruits, the next day more protein from meat and on the third day more fiber. The predator dog provides its prey - or its balanced complete food - everything it needs. There is no need for variety.
  • Proceed slowly when changing feed. Mix a little more of the new food into the usual food every day for a week to give your dog's gastrointestinal tract time to get used to the new food.

What can we learn from the wolf's eating behavior?

There is still a little wolf somewhere in each of our domesticated dogs. It is therefore worth taking a look at the feeding behavior in wolf packs:

  • Wolves hunt together and can kill large prey in packs. To do that, they have to work together as a team.

This is exactly the reason why our dogs are social beings who want to cooperate with us. They feel most comfortable when they know exactly what place they occupy in our pack and access to food has enormous symbolic meaning for them, as it is closely linked to social status.

But be careful: Most dogs are reluctant to share their food with other dogs because - unlike wolves - they do not need their help with the hunt! Even if we can learn a lot from the eating behavior of wolves, it is not so easy to transfer it to dogs (thanks to thousands of years of adaptation of dogs to us humans).
  • Wolves fill their stomachs as full as they can after a successful hunt. Who knows when there will be something again? Incidentally, the Stone Age man in us sees it exactly the same way.

So don't expect your dog to eat enough food "until he's full". Most of the specimens eat as much as they can fit in and such a dog's stomach is extremely elastic, as every dog ​​owner knows whose protégé has attacked a feed sack without being noticed. It is up to us to use common sense and to ration the amount of feed. Not worrying that your dog is begging for food most of the time doesn't mean he's hungry. A fully-fed dog is rarely really hungry and healthy dogs can easily survive a day of fast (even if they won't be enthusiastic about it).

  • Wolves eat together in packs and adhere strictly to the hierarchy of the group. High-ranking animals eat first and get the best prey. They are allowed to take their prey away from lower-ranking animals, but usually they don't because they don't need to. If there are disagreements about the order in which to eat, these are resolved through ritualized behavior so that no pack member is seriously injured in an argument. After all, this would have fatal consequences for the group's hunting success.

Your dog will place enormous importance on your food-related behavior. Your body language as well as which of you two gets something first and how delicious it smells. Think about this the next time you fill your dog's bowl before you sit down at the table (because he will then calm down). Or the next time you offer him a treat without him having to make an effort.

When it comes to dog feeding, we humans often find it strange to follow a strict hierarchy. We seldom worry about the social significance it has for the dog if we give him a treat or watch him eat. What we don't see so closely can mean constant social insecurity and ultimately stress for our dog.

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