Why Does My Dog Only Eat from My Hand? 14 Reasons
Does your dog behave normally, but only have one small quirk, where it won’t eat from a dog bowl or anything else, except your hand? Have you been wondering, “Why does my dog only eat from my hand?”
There are many reasons this might happen, but this article will cover the 14 most common reasons, as well as what you can do to start to retrain your dog. It will also cover the benefits and cons of hand-feeding your dog, so you can decide if stopping is even something you want to do.
14 Reasons My Dog Only Eats from My Hand
Something may be frightening your dog. If you adopt them, they may have some fear of bowls based on previous owners and situations. They may still be unsure of their environment as well, and they aren’t sure if they are able or willing to relax enough to duck their head and eat.
Even if they trust you, they may not trust their surroundings. They can be afraid of other dogs that share the bowl as well, or any loud machinery that may be around when they are eating, such as the dishwasher, dryer, washer, or something else that frightens them. Even if the machines are turned off, they can be scary and your dog may avoid those areas.
Some dogs are very big on guarding and protecting their owners. They may be so focused on that task that they forget to stop and eat. This is especially true if a lot is going on, such as a lot of people and things passing by your home, or a lot of people nearby.
If you leave your dog alone, it will likely eat when things are calmed down. This is also true for any other job-oriented dog. If there are small animals outside, they may be more focused on tracking them, or if they have a job to help you, they may try to do that as well while you are moving around.
In these cases, you can just give your dog time, they will eat as soon as they feel better and more relaxed.
However, if you start to immediately try and hand-feed them, this can create a bad habit for them, and it can reinforce their bad behavior. They may even expect you to feed them wherever they are doing a job instead of when they are relaxed.
Perhaps your dog has never been given traditional dog food before, or they don’t have experience eating out of a bowl. If they’ve never eaten out of a bowl before or the food smells unfamiliar, they may not realize that it is theirs.
This is especially true of dogs that are taught early on to not eat food that isn’t for them, such as eating off of plates. If they don’t realize that this bowl is okay for them to eat, or they don’t realize it is food for them, they may not stop to try it.
Being hand-fed is a way for your dog to be closer to you. They get to eat next to their owner. Dogs that are bullied by other dogs often act a lot like this. While they have adapted a lot from wolves, they still keep a lot of tendencies.
One of those is that the alpha wolf would often eat first, and then offer food to the wolves at the bottom of the pack when there was some left over. This is what your dog may be expecting, especially if you reinforce it by hand-feeding.
They may need more time with you, or realize that they are allowed to eat when you aren’t around.
Just like people, dogs can become bored with the food they’re being given. When you feed them from your hand, it doesn’t make the food any better, but it can be more fun and exciting for them than just eating out of the bowl.
Sometimes, your dog just isn’t hungry. They might have been fed too many snacks throughout the day, or just eaten plenty already. They may also not have had a lot of exercises that day, and don’t need to eat as much.
However, when you hand-feed them, they will eat because you are telling them to, or just because they feel encouraged.
Sometimes, dogs don’t feel good. Pretty much any sickness can make it hard for your dog to want to eat. They may have problems excreting waste, feel nauseous, or have pain in their mouth.
Again, if you hand-feed them, they may eat just to make you happy, or the food may be warmed or broken more from your hands, making it easier for them to eat it.
Do you remember to clean your dog’s bowl often? Even if you don’t immediately see any grime, your dog may sense that there is something gross and unhealthy in the bowl.
Try washing out the bowl regularly between feedings to make sure that their food is healthy and there are no bacteria that can harm them.
If you’ve been hand-feeding them for a long time, your dog may associate food time with our hand instead of their bowl. They may not eat unless you offer them food with your hand.
10. Reinforced Behavior
Do you praise your dog when they are eating from your hand and give them lots of love and pets? Your dog may associate eating out of your hand with being a good thing, and you only reinforce it.
Whatever the reason why you began hand-feeding, by telling your dog how good they are, you are only training them to eat that way. This means when the situation that made you hand-feed them is over, you may find that they won’t go back to eating out of their bowl.
Some bowls, especially plastic ones, can have a lot of static during dry weather. This means that your dog can get shocked every time they go and eat. This leads to negative training for your dog and they may avoid the bowl to avoid getting hurt again.
12. Improper Temperature
Other bowls, like the metal ones, don’t keep a constant temperature. In the sun, they may get really hot. However, in the shade or on cold days, they can be very cold. Both of these conditions can make it unpleasant for your pet to eat, and they may avoid them, being afraid that it will be too hot or cold to eat from.
13. Picky Eaters
If you only hand-feed your dog certain foods and put something different in the bowl, this may cause them to only want to eat only one or the other. They may not enjoy the one in the bowl as much, and so they wait because they know you will give them plenty of food that they like more.
At some point, after it has been happening for a while, your dog is probably just trained to eat from your hand. They probably think that is just the normal way of things and don’t realize they are doing something you don’t want them to do, or that it is wrong.
Should I Let My Dog Eat from My Hand?
There are both benefits and downsides to feeding your dog from your hand. Whether you decide to go that way or not is ultimately up to you, but it is better to understand all of the pros and cons first before deciding.
For some dogs, it is better to hand-feed them. However, for the most part, dogs do better with bowl feeding than hand-feeding.
Benefits of Hand-Feeding A Dog
There are quite a few benefits to hand-feeding your dogs.
1. Your dog learns to lean on you for survival
2. Your dog is motivated to listen to you
3. A bond forms between you and your dog
4. You can spend quality time with your dog
5. No resource guarding
6. Slows down eating speed
7. Stops from overeating
8. Reduces fear in scared dogs
Cons of Hand-Feeding Your Dog
• It takes a long time. If you have a bigger dog, it may take quite a long time to feed your dog all they need to eat.
• They can only eat when you’re home. If you are gone for most of the day, or you want to go out and hang out with your friends, your dog won’t have a way to eat while you are gone.
• It really only works for kibble. If you are hand-feeding your dog and you want to try the raw diet or give your dog wet food, you may struggle with using your hands, as you probably don’t want to hold raw beef, organs, and gooey wet food in your hands while your dog laps it off.
• It can be gross. While it is cute for a small puppy to nibble food out of your hand, it isn’t as pleasant sometimes as they grow up. Bigger dogs with drooping jaws can be a huge problem, and definitely fill your palm with slime and slobber.
• It can remove control from your dog. If your dog already feels uncomfortable or nervous around people, hand-feeding may make your dog feel less in control and like it can’t be in charge of its care.
How to Get My Dog to Eat on Their Own
1. Move the Bowl
Sometimes, the bowl is in a location that isn’t comfortable for your dog, like a loud area, or somewhere a lot of people would walk by.
Try to find a calmer and quieter place that your dog may enjoy a bit better, or that they associate with calm like their kennel, or a room they usually relax in.
Additionally, some dogs may enjoy being around their owner when they eat and don’t want to be alone, so try a couple of different options.
2. Change When You Feed Them
Sometimes, you may be feeding them during times that are hectic, busy, or right before you leave. Try to find a calmer time to feed them when everyone is home so they know it’s a good time and safe to eat.
3. Add Treats and Snacks
If your dog is bored with its food, it may need a snack or two to help them eat it. Instead of changing out your dog food completely, sprinkle a bit of cheese, add a bit of broth, or mix in a bit of yogurt to help your dog enjoy their food a bit more.
4. Make Designated Meal Times
By having food served at the same time every day, you will let your dog know when it is time to stop what they are doing and eat. Try to stick to the same time every day and create a routine that your dog will understand.
5. Slowly Move from Hand to Bowl
Now that your dog is used to your hand, it may be hard for them to switch to the dog bowl. Keep hand-feeding your dog a bit, but slowly move over more and more to the dog bowl. Eventually, your hand will be just over the dog bowl, or even in it. After doing that for a while, try moving your hand out of the bowl for a feeding session and see if they start eating.
6. Get A New Bowl
Sometimes, the bowl may not work well for your dog. Find a nicer bowl that won’t shock or burn them, or is big enough they can easily reach it. You may also want to look at a bowl stand so your dog doesn’t have to bend so low to eat. Also, certain mats and bowls increase their mental enrichment or slow down feeding.