Why Dogs Eat… And Eat… And Eat…

So you may ask yourself, “Why does my dog act hungry all the time?” The short answer is… we’re not absolutely sure. Some experts believe that dogs came to look to us as a food source after early wolves basically domesticated themselves — the wolves that were curious but non-aggressive and came close enough to human camps to scavenge leftover scraps wound up being rewarded with more food.

This, combined with their natural instincts after a hunt — “eat it when the alpha wolves let you and before any other wolves can” — naturally led to them gobbling up anything offered by a human. Of course, to a hungry dog “offer” can also mean leaving it on a counter, dropping it on the floor, or putting it in the trash.

Wolves (or dogs) hunting in a pack also learn the concept of scarcity and food being a limited resource. They may not eat every day, or even every other day, so they fall into a “get it while you can” mentality. This carries over even when the dog is getting two or three regular meals every single day.

Of course, our domestic dogs have not been wild wolves for a long time, so it can be hard to reconcile such an ancient trait with modern behavior. Our dogs probably never grew up going on a hunt and being allowed to share food in pack order. Another possibility is that our dogs really aren’t that hungry. They’re just very good at manipulating us into giving them handouts.

How to Handle a Hungry Dog

If you do have a dog that would gobble down anything — and especially if that dog is overweight — then you have to take control as the Pack Leader. Consult your vet on your dog’s actual dietary needs per day, create a regular feeding ritual and schedule for your dog, and stick to it. Don’t let anyone in the house give him human scraps or handouts, and only give treats when your dog has earned them by doing a job and then showing calm, submissive energy.

You can also slow the gobbling with special bowls that have pillars in them that the dog has to eat around or, if you want a cheaper low-tech solution, you can put a tennis ball in the dish, which she’ll have to nose around.

When you start with this schedule, leave the food down until the first time your dog walks away from the bowl, whether he’s eaten everything or not, then take the bowl away. This will help reinforce the idea that this is meal time and he won’t be finding more food until the next meal time.

A Sudden Change in Appetite

Maybe your dog isn’t a voracious eater and knows when to stop. A dog’s habits can change. When they do, it’s usually a sign of something. If your dog goes from finicky to gluttonous, you need to determine the cause so you can take care of the problem as quickly as possible.

There are two reasons a habit as basic and instinctive as appetite might change suddenly: psychology or physiology. Psychological reasons include changes in environment. Have you moved recently, or has there been a change in the household pack? For example, have grown kids moved out, significant others moved in, or are there any new dogs?

Things like this can lead to insecurity and anxiety, which can trigger a dog’s feast or famine mentality. Part of the pack went away, or a strange new person is here and might be a threat to these resources. In the case of a new dog, that may actually be the case, and you’ll need to monitor things to make sure that the new dog isn’t trying to intimidate the old dog away from the bowl, then stealing the food when you aren’t looking

If a formerly docile dog starts to show food aggression, then the cause is definitely psychological, so you’ll need to deal with that problem in addition to working on the dog’s anxiety over household changes.

If you have a new human member of the household, let him or her take over the dog’s feeding duties for a while. If someone has left the household, place something with their scent on it near the dog’s bowl. If you have a new dog in the house, make them both earn their food by sitting and showing calm, submissive energy, feed them with separate bowls placed at a distance, then monitor them and don’t let either of them approach the other’s bowl, even if it’s to sniff around for scraps once they’ve finished eating.

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