Are you starting to suspect that Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” was actually written by your dog—as a love letter to all the food in the world? Can your dog possibly be that hungry? Or is he milking you for every scrap of flavor he can get?
Of course, dogs love food. But when your pet lusts after every morsel, you begin to wonder if he’s mysteriously starving or just a terrific con artist. Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out whether your dog is hungry, or just begging. We’ve also got a few tips on how to respond.
Signs Your Dog is Truly Hungry
Figuring out your dog’s food obsession is largely a process of deduction. It’s a question of your parenting habits and your dog’s motivations. If most of the following are true, it’s unlikely your dog is begging, and she might actually be hungry:
- You’re generally consistent when it comes to table scraps. (As in, you don’t offer them.) Table scraps aren’t necessarily the wrong move, but they encourage pets to seek and expect extra chow, whether or not they’re hungry.
- You offer canine snacks in moderation, at predictable intervals for consistent reasons. For example, you give one treat midday for an energy boost between meals and one treat after your nightly walk.
- You’re consistent in how much food you give your dog at meal time, and you’re giving your dog the proper portion for his weight (PetMD offers this helpful chart).
- Conversely, you’ve been inconsistent in terms of when and how much you feed your dog. Maybe life’s become extremely hectic lately, and maybe your pet has missed a meal or two?
- Your dog has lost a little weight. This isn’t always easy to notice, since pounds are shed gradually. Check out our article on fat, skinny, and just-right dogs for a quick reference. Or visit your vet’s office for a quick hop on the scale.
- Your dog is suddenly getting more exercise. She might be burning off tons of calories.
How to Help Your Hungry Dog
Depending on the assessment above, you may need to increase your dog’s daily serving of food. But if you feed your dog regularly and haven’t increased her daily workouts, there could be several other explanations for her intense appetite.
- It’s possible the food you’re offering doesn’t contain the nutrients your dog needs and craves. It may be stocked with filler that add calories but doesn’t enrich the diet. For some good options, check out our article on the top affordable grain-free dog foods.
- When in doubt, check with your vet about the brand of food you’re using and the amount of food you’re serving with each meal.
- In some cases, a heightened appetite can be the result of an a gastrointestinal problem or endocrine imbalance. If the issue persists, you might talk to your vet about diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hyperthyroidism, or pancreatic problems.
Signs That Your Dog Is Simply Begging
If you’ve given your dog reason to think begging will result in feeding, there’s a good chance your dog is begging. Dogs are no dummies. Just as we try to understand what motivates them, they pick up on what motivates us, whether it’s tugging at our pants, making the most adorable feed-me face, or whining until the food appears.
If you’ve started slipping your dog table food or using treats to distract your dog from unwanted behavior, like whining or barking, you’ve probably incentivized begging without meaning to.
Another possibility is that your dog is bored, and she needs more activity or more frequent distractions.
How to Discourage Begging
Unfortunately, prevention is easier than reprogramming. But if you feel confident your dog’s become a big ol’ beggar, here’ a few tips to help you alter behavior patterns and turns your dog’s focus away from food.
- Stop feeding your dog when you’re eating. Your dog learned to capitalize on your willingness to share, so she can also learn you’re no longer offering human treats. Ever. Eventually, she’ll get tired of waiting for results and go make herself more comfortable.
- If the begging is intense (or simply too persuasive), physically distance your dog from the table during meal times. You can use a baby gate to confine the dog to another part of the house, place him in a crate, or use a tether attached to a heavy piece of furniture (but don’t leave a tethered dog unattended).
- Be consistent. That means all the time. Mixed signals will undermine your efforts.
- Be patient. Your dog will not alter his behavior overnight. It takes time build better habits, and you’re likely to see more frustration from your dog at first.
- Satisfy your dog in other ways. Take your dog out for an extra stroll (even a short one). Your dog craves attention as much as food, so getting outside together and treating your pet to a good sniff in the grass can go a long way.