Dog Behavior: Pawing at a Full Food Bowl

Your dog relies on instinct at mealtime.
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It never fails. You pour kibble -- or worse, canned dog food -- into your beloved canine’s bowl, and he paws at his food before eating it. Aside from the yucky mess he’s just made, you can’t figure out why he’d stick his dirty paws into his dinner.

Creatures of Instinct

Don’t worry. He’s not displaying some kind of OCD behavior. Remember, he comes from the wolf family. Wolves run in packs. Packs have the alpha wolf, or dog, instinct. He is “checking out the kill,” even though he or the pack leader didn’t actually kill the food. By pawing at it, he’s reassuring himself that his kill isn’t going to rear back up and attack him. Once he knows this, it’s safe for him to dig in with his teeth. In other words, pet parent, your beloved canine family member is operating solely from instinct when he paws and noses at his food.

Pack Mentality

Even though your dog may be the only canine member of your family, he’s still operating on a pack mentality. He can’t erase this instinct in his behavior any more than you can erase your instinct for grossing out when he sticks a paw covered with mud, or worse, into his food.

In your canine’s mind, once his pack leader -- you -- have filled his bowl, it is his responsibility to make sure his food is good and dead before he takes that first chomp from his bowl.

He Doesn’t Want to Fight

Once you have established yourself as his alpha leader, he is aware he’s subordinate to you. He doesn’t want to fight because he knows he is your subordinate. Remember, he places great value on the pack and his place within that pack.

If you did your training work correctly, he is not about to violate his placement in your pack -- family -- and risk losing your regard or his ability to eat. For this reason, he relies on his inbred instinct to reassure himself that the canned meat or kibble is actually dead before he begins to eat. This is why he paws at the food in his bowl. While it makes no sense to you, it makes perfect sense to him.

Stopping the Behavior

If you have been feeding Bosco right in the middle of the busiest part of your house, try moving his food and water bowls to a more secluded spot. The kitchen might be too busy and he may actually perceive that he’s at risk there.

Help calm him down by moving his bowls to, say, the laundry room. First, you only use this room when washing and drying clothes. He feels more secure. You’ll also benefit from not having to sweep up the food that he’s pushed out of his bowl. That alone will be a benefit you’ll enjoy.

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