How to Feed a Picky Dog

Structured feeding schedules and quality food will stimulate your dog's appetite.
A Lhasa Apso dog image by Florussel Sathya from

If you have a finicky dog, you know the challenge of getting him to eat. Not only is it frustrating when a dog ignores his food, but it is also worrisome. Ruling out health problems is the first step to solving your dog's appetite issue. Once you know he's healthy, you can focus on making him a robust eater. This may include some healthy dietary and mealtime changes, but it also requires some self-discipline.

Step 1

Take your finicky dog to your veterinarian to make sure there are no health problems or injuries. One of the common symptoms of many canine illnesses and diseases is an uncharacteristic change of appetite. Your veterinarian can rule out issues that could cause your dog to be unenthusiastic about eating, including pain in the mouth caused by tooth problems. Your vet may also comment if your dog is simply overfed and obese.

Step 2

Think about what you are feeding your dog. Feed a high-quality dry dog food according to label directions for your dog's size. Add sufficient warm water to the dry food to moisten it nicely. It will be easier for the dog to eat, and will help to hydrate the dog so he does not feel the need to drink a large amount of water after the meal. This must be a complete dog food that supplies all the nutrients a dog of your dog's size, age and activity level needs. Within those specifications, you may choose to experiment with your dog's taste preferences to see if he will dive into one such food more readily than another. But first, make sure your dog realizes that mealtime is a brief opportunity.

Step 3

Be consistent with your dog's feeding schedule. Divide his daily ration into two or three meals per day instead of giving him all of his food in one meal or giving him unlimited access to food. This type of feeding schedule is less overwhelming for his digestive system and his overall structure, and also ensures that the food he eats is always fresh. Providing his meals on a schedule will help your dog anticipate mealtimes and be ready to eat when they arrive.

Step 4

Remove your picky dog's food after a reasonable amount of time if he has not consumed it. If you are feeding proper quantities of high-quality dog food two or three times per day to a healthy dog, he should be finishing his meals within a couple of minutes. If he doesn't, give him a few more minutes, then remove the food. Don't feed him again until his next scheduled meal. Never leave his food with him for more than a few minutes. If he's eating, but consistently not finishing his food, cut his ration.

Step 5

Limit the treats you give your dog during the day, or cut them out entirely until you see the dog eating normally at meals. Small treats should only be given as a reward for some desired action on the part of the dog, such as coming promptly when he is called or going to his kennel when told to do so. If you feel tempted to give him a treat just because he looks cute, rub his ears for him instead. Do not let him train you. Too many treats during the day may be causing your dog to not be particularly hungry when mealtimes arrive. He may also learn to favor the treats over his dog food. Consider using bits of his regular dog food as treats. Be aware of the quantity of treats you are giving as rewards, and cut his regular ration accordingly.

Step 6

Look at your dog each time you measure food for him, and consider whether you should be increasing or decreasing his ration. Feed and exercise your dog with an eye on his weight. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to discern his ribs by touch, but you should not be able to see them.

Step 7

Make your dog's feeding time stress-free. Distractions from other animals or children during mealtimes may cause your dog to leave his food, especially if he is nervous when they are around. Provide a quiet area where your dog can eat, so he is able to relax and confidently focus on his food instead of on what is going on around him.


  • Keep your dog's dishes clean. A dirty bowl can be as repulsive and unhealthy for a dog as it would be for you.

  • Make sure your dog gets the exercise he needs each day. Active dogs often have heartier appetites than dogs who are bored and do not spend much time walking or playing.

  • Do not give your dog table scraps or "people" food. Though your dog may enjoy sampling what you are eating, this practice can ruin his appreciation of dog food. Do not actively create a "picky" dog.

  • Make sure your dog always has an ample supply of fresh, clean water available.

Items You Will Need

  • Dog dish
  • High-quality dry dog food


About the Author

Jennifer Lynn has been writing as a correspondent and reporter since 1991. She has written for numerous newspapers and currently writes as a correspondent for Gannett. Lynn has a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on English from Ohio University, where she also studied journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Photo Credits

  • A Lhasa Apso dog image by Florussel Sathya from