Ask Dr. Wan: Dog Hides at Mealtime

Dr. Michele Wan, certified applied animal behaviorist, answers a reader's question about a dog who runs and hides at mealtime.

I have a 4-year-old male Chihuahua named Mojo. At mealtime, he runs and hides. I've tried picking up the food after 30 minutes. Instead of eating while he can, Mojo would rather go hungry. I have no idea why he does this. He is a rescue, so I'm not exactly sure about his upbringing. Please, what could be troubling my little buddy?

Thank you,

Since your Chihuahua is a rescue, we will never fully know his history.  It is possible that he had bad experiences with mealtimes in the past.  For example, perhaps he lived with other dogs, and they fought over meals.  

It is also possible that there is some other stimulus that is bothering him around mealtime.  For example, if your Chihuahua is sound-sensitive, he might find the sounds associated with meal preparation to be aversive (e.g. the sound of food falling into a bowl, the sound of a can opener, the clanging of bowls and utensils). 

Not knowing exactly what is causing your Chihuahua to run away at mealtime makes it difficult to address the problem.  However, there are some steps you can take to try to improve Mojo’s feelings about mealtime.  

  • Change up your meal preparation routine.  For example, instead of always feeding your dog at 7:30 AM in the kitchen using a metal bowl, try feeding him an hour earlier in the bedroom with a plastic bowl.  Since we don’t know exactly what stimulus is causing your Chihuahua to run away, change the entire meal preparation and feeding scenario, and see if his eating habits improve.  You could also try feeding your dog using food toys (e.g. the Kong), rather than a bowl, and feeding many snacks throughout the day, rather than two large meals.
  • Change your dog’s food.  Perhaps your dog has developed an aversion to his current food.  Try feeding him something different and unusually tasty (e.g. raw dog food or canned dog food if he usually gets kibble).
  • Be calm and quiet around mealtime.  Simply put the food out, and leave the room.  Until your dog’s feelings about mealtime have changed, you can simply measure out each meal, and leave the food out until he has finished it.  (Note: Raw food should not be left out for long periods of time.  Follow the handling directions on the package).  Alternatively, you could try feeding Mojo by hand.
  • Keep a daily log of the changes that you have made and your dog’s eating habits, so you can track progress and identify what is and isn’t working.
  • Talk to your vet to rule out any medical issues that might cause your dog to avoid eating.  If your dog is losing weight, please see your vet right away.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you and that your little guy will one day run towards, rather than, away from his meals. 

Have a dog training or behavior question?  Post your questions to Dr. Wan below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com.  Please read the guidelines before submitting your question.   

Dr. Michele Wan, a certified applied animal behaviorist, provides dog behavior consultations and classes to Fairfield County dog owners and phone consultations to dog owners nationwide.  She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.

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