Imagine this: you’re sitting at the kitchen table, scrolling through your phone, when you hear a strange noise coming from the other side of the room.
You look up and see that your dog has been pushing their bowl of food across the floor with their nose, scattering kibble everywhere.
You might be wondering, “What’s going on? Why is my dog doing this?”
It’s completely normal for dogs to play with their food and toys. In fact, this type of behavior can be a sign of mental and physical stimulation. However, if your dog has never displayed this behavior before and suddenly starts, it could be a sign of a medical issue or a change in their behavior.
In this article, I’ll explore the potential reasons behind your dog’s food-pushing habits and offer some tips on addressing them.
I’ll also look at medical issues like dental problems and vision loss and behavioral causes like boredom and picky eating.
Finally, I’ll also discuss instinctual and breed-specific behaviors that might be at play.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
To get this question out of the way, Yes, pushing food around _can _be normal if it’s based on behavior; it is not normal if it is based on a medical reason.
If your dog has toyed with their food since puppyhood, then it’s completely normal. But if your dog had never pushed food around before and suddenly started, this can be considered abnormal behavior.
Truth be told, the answer to this question is akin to any unusual behavior your dog displays: if your dog has done it “forever”, then it’s not that weird. On the other hand, if your dog unexpectedly develops a new quirk, then it is worth sorting out why. Better safe than sorry!
If your dog is of the variety that has never pushed food around and suddenly started, it’s best to take them to the vet to rule out a medical cause. Pushing food around is an indicator that your dog isn’t inclined to eat, which can be caused by various health concerns.
If your dog is young or middle-aged, pushing food around can be due to a dental issue. Dogs can’t tell us when something is wrong, so being attentive to what they’re doing (or not doing) is the clue to sort out what is amiss. Tooth problems are hard to pick up in a dog but almost always manifest in food-related behaviors. Maybe it’s time to see the doggy dentist!
For older pups, vision loss can be another reason food is pushed around. Your dog may be having trouble seeing and using their nose to feel around where the food is. Unlike with dental issues, where your dog’s appetite will likely be suppressed, vision loss still has your dog eating - just eating in an odd manner.
A belly ache can also cause food pushing, as your dog is trying to push the food out of the way to indicate that they don’t want to eat. If your dog is rather food motivated and suddenly stops, a stomach problem could be to blame.
Upon first glance, pushing food around with a dog’s nose can be akin to a small child pushing food around with their utensil. In some cases, this is true - dogs do play with their food. If you have a particularly curious and mischievous puppy, pushing food around can be a way of entertaining themselves or getting your attention.
Typically, this behavior is rooted in a lack of mental and/or physical stimulation. Offer your puppy enough puzzle toys, training activities, and exercise, which should help relieve the issue.
If you free-feed your dog, your pup may just not be hungry. Pushing food with the nose is how a dog can tell you that they don’t want to eat but feel pressure to eat from you. Monitor how much your dog consumes and only offer the amount of food they need to eat!
Dogs can be picky eaters, too, despite the stereotype portraying them as living vacuum cleaners!
If your pup doesn’t like the food you’re offering (or wants to try to get something different), pushing food with the nose is a sign of rejection.
This can be an especially common problem if you offer your dog their food at the same time as eating something of your own; your food may seem more tantalizing!
Pushing food around can also be an instinctual or breed-specific trait. For example, wolves and other wild canids stash food that they don’t eat to ensure that it isn’t wasted or stolen and they have enough for the next time hunger strikes.
Although our pups don’t need to worry about their next meal, this instinct can still be biologically in place. Your dog is pushing food around to “stash” it in the bowl for later. If you wait, you can see if your dog comes back to it or not (a clear sign of stashing).
Some breeds feel the pressure to stash more than others, particularly hunting dogs. Primitive breeds such as Jindo, Hokkaido, Azawakh, and such rare pups tend to stash. Spitz breeds like the Siberian husky can stash as well due to a scavenging instinct.
Sometimes, the issue isn’t actually with the food - it’s with the bowl! If your bowl isn’t designed for your particular dog, pushing food with the nose may be a way for your dog to try to get the food out. Make sure the bowl is sized appropriately for Fido and isn’t too deep for them to reach. Putting the bowl on a stand for larger dogs can also help.
If nose pushing is a behavioral trait, you can remedy this by encouraging natural eating habits. Look into whether or not free feeding or scheduled feeding is right for your dog, and start there!
Next, avoid feeding your dog from the table and offering your own food. This helps push your dog into eating the food that they are supposed to! As well as this, it is okay for your dog to not like certain foods. Try to pick out a high-quality meal plan for your dog (whether this is premium kibble or stepping into the world of raw feeding), as the better quality of the food, the better your dog will feel.
As with anything your dog does, reward positive behavior! Be excited and happy whenever your dog finishes their meal, validating them. If your dog isn’t finishing because they are full, offer less food.