Dog Behavior: Feeding Habits Can Affect Your Dog’s Behavior

Feeding Habits Affect Your Dog’s  Behavior

There can be a number of ways your feeding habits affect the dog behavior of your dog and, you might not even be aware that it is happening!

Your dog’s behavior and yes, even your dog’s health can be affected by the diet you feed him if his food does not agree with his genetic makeup. An example of this is our black Labrador retriever, Sammy. Sammy was genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia and early arthritis.

Until we learned about what food was best for Sammy, cooler proteins instead of hot proteins and a more natural organic food instead of commercial processed food, his joints remained hot and inflamed. This in turn created health issues that caused some behavioral problems.

Now Sammy is on a diet that compliments his genetic deficiencies and he  feels better and consequently has no health-related behavior problems.

It’s important to be sensitive to how your feeding habits can affect your dog’s behavior.

You eat when you want to but your dog relies on you to feed him. Consequently he eats what you feed, when you feed him.

Some owners even leave food down all day. Leaving food down is okay for some dogs but can be a poor feeding habit to get into with many other dogs.

Here are some issues that can arise if you leave food down all day


Feeding habits can affect your dog's behavior


  • It can lead to obesity in your dog.
  • If you have multiple dogs, leaving food down can cause fighting amongst dogs living in the same household. 
  • And, without adequate structure, rules and boundaries, it can lead to house soiling in many other dogs.

If you find yourself faced with any of these dog behavior problems, it would be advisable to put your dogs on a twice a day feeding schedule. This is not all there is to the solution but it will aid in the process as you begin to re-house train your dog or fix whatever problem your dog has developed.

Do you only feed your dog once a day?

Another feeding habit that can affect your dog’s behavior is “once a day” feeding.
Some dogs stop eating as much food in the course of a day. You may have experienced this with your dog. You see it often in dogs that are 6 – 18 months of age.

Did you notice that your dog just stopped eating one meal?  Did he seem uninterested in breakfast any more?

Then you probably stopped putting his breakfast down and started giving him his full daily ration at dinner time. Sound familiar?

Your dog is most likely going from nutritional growth to “maintenance only” needs from his food which is about ½ of what he needed for growth.

What Happens When You Only Feed Once Per Day

When you stop feeding your dog twice a day it leaves your dog with an empty stomach for most of the day. This problem has often been referred to as “hunger tension” when your dog’s stomach stays empty for 12 hours a day. Some behaviors associated with “hunger tension” can be: destructive chewing, stealing food, begging at the table etc.

To avoid “hunger tension” in your dog, feed your dog half of the daily ration of food but give it to him in two feedings.

More good reasons to feed twice daily

Whether you are just beginning to set boundaries for a new puppy or just now setting boundaries to improve behavior in your older dog, food and the ritual of the feast can have a very significant impact on your dog’s attitude and perception of his sense of place in the pack.

In addition to providing structure and expectations with the activity of eating, following are some good reasons to frequent feed (twice a day meals) instead of free feeding your dog.

  • Frequent feeding is better. This is very helpful in house training a new puppy. Frequent feeding allows you to monitor intake and better house train your puppy. Knowing when and how much he ate can more easily be achieved with frequent feeding. Always feed a measured amount of food. With continuous feeding you never know when your pup has eaten and it’s harder to know when he has to go potty.
  • Easier to monitor whether he feels well. You’ll know the instant he goes off his food as a possible indicator that he is not feeling well. Impossible to do with free feeding.
  • Food guarding opportunities kept to a minimum. Picking up his bowl after each meal helps to eliminate the possibilities of food guarding. Continuous feeding allows your dog to develop guarding instincts of his food bowl and the surrounding space. Don’t forget to pick up the bowl after 15 minutes.
  • Feeding time = training time. Take the opportunity to work on the earn-to-learn program by doing sits and downs for his food. Dogs used to work for their food so keep up the ritual.

Another Way You Can Use His Dog Food

Use Kibbles as training treats. Use his food for dog training treats. Training him before he eats when his motivation is highest. Put one meal ration in a zip lock and feed/train out of the zip lock bag through out the day and before feeding. The remainder he gets in his food bowl at dinner time. That way you don’t over feed your dog. He will begin to know you are important in his life because all good things are made available to him by you.

You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to work on training and appropriate behavior at a time that can often be fraught with excitement, arousal and stress. Do not release him to eat until he is calm.

Feeding habits and stress

If you are like most owners your feeding habit includes feeding your dog when you get home from work. If you’ve been doing this for a while, it becomes predictable to your dog. He knows for example, that you always get home at 5:30, walk him and feed him. If he’s really lucky he’ll get another good long walk after dinner followed by a short walk before bedtime, if he’s lucky.

All of these become predictable activities he’s learned he can count on every day. He set’s his clock.

If you start having to work late, it is possible that you could create anxiety-producing stress in your dog because of your late homecomings. If your dog becomes stressed, he develops tension, gets frustrated and behavior problems can develop.

Why would working late cause dog behavior problems?

If you think about it, lying around the house all day long for 8 – 10 hours can get pretty boring and monotonous. It’s no wonder why the highlight of his day is your arrival, his dinner time and his walks with you – until you start showing up late.

Adjusting your feeding schedule to an hour or hour and a half after you get home can keep your dog’s feeding time more predictable and your dog less stressed. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book.

Also remember that feeding a carbohydrate-rich diet can, in some dogs, increase levels of serotonin and can produce immediate and/or long term changes in the excitability of your dog. Make sure you feed a premium pet food that has the appropriate mixture of protein, fat and good quality carbohydrates your particular dog needs.

Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you.   Don’t be a stranger.  I’d love to hear what you think.   Remember:  

“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad.  Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog. 

His Ground Rules for Great Dogs  is your must have easy, step-by-step process to helping your dog. Your dog must and wants to understand what you expect of him. But you have to empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you must empower him to be successful at living in a human home. Ground Rules gets you there. Grab them now.


24 replies
  1. Janet Wong
    Janet Wong says:

    Hello Jim, I do have some questions regards this topic today. My 5 yrs old male Maltese- Tofu was diagnose having “Hypothyroid” and that leads to “Body shaking” (Vet can’t tell why he doing that?). Anyhow, he ends up must taking medication to stop the illness (which it helped). During that period of time he can’t hold the food, picking up dog food, or even swallowing due to his shaking. We end up had to cooked and boil veggies and chicken meat feeding him. Now, my problem is I being trying to switch back to dry dog food but he won’t eat it. The only thing I can make him eat is add a 1-2 drips of low organic chicken broth to mix with it. (SIGH…) I’m planning to cut out adding the chicken broth slowly..but now Tofu is being picky plus he turn into a little progressive attitude when feeding along with his playmate too. Please advise!! Thank you!! Janet

  2. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Madie; Science Diet is awful food. Each dog is different, our lab Keeper requires a lot of exercise to not only keep him happy but keep him well behaved. I don’t “think” spaying your dog will have much difference but I am NOT a vet. Find ways to have her use her BRAIN with fun games, we play games with Keeper a lot that require him to use his brain and his natural nose ability to wear him out. Works a LOT better than just physical exercise. Get reative with your dog, find out what she likes to do besides walk

  3. Madie
    Madie says:

    Hi Jim,
    We recently adopted a dog, shes a cross Shar Pei/Staffy. We usually feed her a mix of the Hills Science Diet Advanced Fitness dry food and BARF Chicken patty, we take one patty and half a cup of the dry food, and mix it together, we give her half of the mix in the morning and the rest at night, as well as snacks to keep her happy during the day while we’re at work.
    My question is, how much do you believe a dogs diet will affect her exercise needs?
    We currently have to take her for 2 walks a day — roughly an hour for each walk, so 2 hours of walking a day.
    If we miss her afternoon/evening walk, she usually has trouble settling at night to go to sleep.
    I don’t mind walking her every day but it can be hard to keep up the 2 hours of walking a day when my partner and i both work full time hours.
    She isn’t desexed, but has an appointment for that surgery next week, I’m not sure if that will help at all but once that’s done we will be able to better socialise her so she can play with other dogs and tire herself out that way.
    Can you provide any advice?

  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    Brenda: not sure what your question is. I will tell you that a grocery store does NOT carry any desireable dog food – it’s all junk

  5. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    We have a 8 month old Husky pup. We feed her twice a day 7am and 7pm. (May vary 8am on weekends) She has always been eager for her food. I asked at the co-op what they would recommend. I gave her what they recommended and purchased a second bag. Half way through the second bag after the time change she has decided she no longer wants her food. I purchased a bag of food from the grocery store and mixed it in and she ate it up. She is now back to I don’t want to eat and have stopped feeding treat snacks from table. She seems to want to eat leaves, wood chunks ….. but take them away. Has become less active in the last week or two. We had her to a dog park a couple of times but is a 20 min. drive one way so don’t go as often. Sorry can’t remember the name of the dog food. Blue bag and a Canadian company is the best I can do.

  6. Jayne
    Jayne says:

    I have a 2yr shizsu he is a fussy eater I give him good food natural food from pet shop with all the vitamin and proteins in.I’ve tryed feeding him twice a day but he has the habit of wanting treets from first thing in the morning till his evening meal.we started giving him a treet when he did is business out side from a pup,how can I get him to eat 2 meals aday instead of feeding on treets and dog biscuits till his evening meal.he’s all ways begging for food and he takes food from my granddaughter when he can.

  7. Jim
    Jim says:

    Lamb and chicken are considered “hot” proteins, meaning if you have a wound up dog, not the best choice of protein

  8. John Klusmann
    John Klusmann says:

    We were wondering, on Sarah’s post of an obese dog, you suggested no chicken or lamb. Are they okay to feed regular weight dogs under 20 pounds? We have 3 mixed breeds, all appropriate weight. What is the problem with chicken and lamb? John

  9. Jim
    Jim says:

    Ray: you don’t say how old your “puppy” is. Very young puppies need to eat at least 3x a day but check with your vet. Your puppy should also sit before putting the food bowl down. Meals need to be fed regularly so you puppy does not get overly hungry. Not really enough info here to be more specific

  10. Ray
    Ray says:

    My puppy is aggressive when he is hungry, he will snap at me if I touch him while he’s eating but only at the start of his meal, once he as eaten enough all aggression disappear, my problem is he eats different amount and I can’t seem to gage when he is hungry except in the morning.

  11. Jim
    Jim says:

    Premium food does not always equate to what works for your dog. AND who is defining the food as premium. We had always fed Sojos but with Keeper that one did not work for him because he is a very very high energy dog so we switched him to another food with higher protein amount: Ziwi Peak. Also if you are buying your food in a grocery store – it’s not premium. Here’s a blog post I did on nutrition

  12. LEMADU
    LEMADU says:

    We have a 2.5 yo lab who is still VERY food motivated. We do not know how to cut him from three (or even four) feedings a day, to two. Same amount of food- just split differently. He gets very demanding for food and walks. He gets premium food and walks from 3-5 times a day. It gets to be a full-time job. He is very well-behaved otherwise and shows no signs of anxiety, tension or misbehavior and we do not want to invite this. How can we cut back and have him work with us?

  13. Worried!
    Worried! says:

    My shih tzu has stopped eating his food. After 24hrs I bought him a new kind of food and he ate a little of that. Then he refused to eat anymore the next day. His poo is fine, he is enjoying the walks as usual but at home he is quiet and sleepy.
    I have a 3 months old baby but we tried to give him as much attention as possible. He always gets regular walks. It’s been like this for 3 days now and he will only eat a lottle when I feed him of my hand.

  14. Bruce Taylor
    Bruce Taylor says:

    My dog suddenly won’t eat the treat. Will walk around showing the treat, for hours. Strange new behavior. No change has occurred in his habitat. Very calm dog.

  15. Jim
    Jim says:

    I would check the quality of the food you feed your dog. I know in this article I referred you to a few other articles about the quality of food and the affect on a dog’s behavior.
    If your dog is NOT getting the nutrition she needs, then she’s hungry which “could” account for this behavior. It also appears there is a lot of stress and anger around this behavior
    which, just like humans, makes everything worse. If you’d like to do some private video coaching you can read about that here

  16. PugMom
    PugMom says:

    Hello! I have a 10 yr old Pug. She generally is a good dog, but there are a couple habits that she has that drives everyone in the house crazy to the point that no one wants her around. 1. When she eats (I feed her in the morning and at dinner time), she inhales her food to the point that she almost throws up. Also, for several minutes after she eats, she does this very annoying smacking with her mouth. 2. She constantly acts like she is starved (she is a healthy weight of 22 lbs). She sits and waits while someone is preparing or eating food and the second you move your feet, she runs to that area and franticly scours the floor for any minute scrap that may have hit the floor or furniture. I am at my wits end and no one in the family even wants her around. They all want me to get rid of her because she is so annoying with these behaviors.

    Please help!!

  17. Jim
    Jim says:

    Amanda: You say “no matter how consistent I am” – consistent with what? Blue Buffalo is a good food, however that does not necessarily mean it’s the best food for him. I can’t give any better direction to you than that as I don’t have any type of history etc. I do live video coaching if you’d like to get some help that way.

  18. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I have a Siberian Husky that no matter how consistent I am hes always looking for something better to eat. He gats blue Buffalo so its a good high protein food. But sometimes he seems like he’s holding out for table scraps. He has no health issues and gets breed appropriate excersize

  19. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    I would feed him 2x a day. I would enclose him in either an exercise pen or a crate. Allow 15 minutes for him to eat and no more food till next meal. Also make sure you are
    feeding a high quality food. Nothing you get in the supermarket is a high quality food. I would also do grain free and look for a protein source such as beef, turkey, fish. No chicken
    and no lamb. It will be imperative that you pick it up after 15 minutes and make sure you are not over feeding. Hope this helps

  20. sarah
    sarah says:

    i adopted a dog who has started to hide his food. he came from a shelter to a home three years ago who free fed him. now he is obese. i have him now and am trying to feed at the same time each day but he has started to try to hide his food. he origionally came from a puppy mill the humane society figures he is about 5 to 6 yrs old now. is this a behavior i can change?

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