Why Does My Dog Only Eat When I'm Around?

By Graham Harper, Journalist specialized in animal welfare. Updated: October 7, 2022
Why Does My Dog Only Eat When I'm Around?

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Many people wonder why their pets eat when they are with family, but as soon as their humans leave, they stop. What happens in the minds of dogs that make some lose their appetite? This is not an uncommon behavior, but that doesn't mean it is always healthy.

Remember that diet is the foundation of canine health and a dog's approach to food is a reflection of their wellbeing. Your dog is trying to tell you something. Understanding the reason why a dog doesn't eat without you is essential to help you change this behavioral habit. If we don't, their health could be threatened. In this AnimalWised article, we will answer your concern: why does my dog only eat when I'm around?

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Why does my dog want me to watch him eat?

It is a common to wonder why does my dog eat when I eat? We anthropomorphize our animals all the time, giving them human characteristics and even creating an inner monologue for them. If a human was to demand we watch them eat (and not eat without being watched), we would have understandable concerns. This is why it is important to note that dogs are social animals. In nature they would hunt and eat in a group, a natural behavior that is also present in other canids such as hyenas or wolves.

Perhaps you have noticed that your puppy won't eat unless you are next to them? It is necessary for us to develop close bonds with our dogs from the time they are young. This important period of socialization in puppies will help reduce behavioral problems, protect them, establish boundaries and give them the best quality of life.

However, this bonding as a puppy might work too well. Dogs learn by association. If you have accustomed your dog to eating with you in a certain room, they may think they are not allowed to eat anywhere else or with anyone else. In their mind, to eat without you is not an option. They will choose any time to eat only while you are near. And even if you do not eat at the same time, they will enjoy your presence while doing so.

While establishing the habit while they are a puppy is one reason your dog only eats when you eat, it is not the only one. It can happen in older dogs all of a sudden, implying another causes of their eating anxiety.

Your dog may feel unsafe

Many things can happen while you leave your dog at home. An alarm may ring, a postman visits, noisy construction begins and much more. While some dogs are comfortable if you leave them alone for a few hours, others are more sensitive. They can have difficulty relaxing in solitude and spend most of the time alarmed from every noise, no matter how small.

They are not only affected by your absence but do not feel safe in that environment. Therefore, they cannot properly protect their home. Remember that dogs are territorial animals, so this discomfort will be reflected in their lack of appetite. Your return home will make them feel more relaxed because they know that you will protect them.

When a dog is scared all of a sudden, there are many reasons behind it. It is common in shelter dogs or those which have experienced trauma, even if behavioral issues such as eating anxiety only develop later.

Why Does My Dog Only Eat When I'm Around? - Your dog may feel unsafe

Poor training and education

Another reason why your dog is unable to eat when you're not around is their guardian's active influence. It is important to spend time training our dog to help them navigate their environment in a healthy way. While ignoring their training is a problem, providing the wrong education can also be an issue.

If we train our dog to eat at certain times and in certain areas, they may associate this as you giving them permission to eat only when you are there. This can happen whether you use negative or positive reinforcement for dogs. It is often something we do unwittingly, but our encouragement can become misplaced.

This may also occur if your dog has trouble eating in the first place and you try to train them to eat better. It's not always our fault, but we may accidentally teach them that we need to be around in order for them to eat.

Separation anxiety in dogs

One of the most common problems related to eating is separation anxiety in dogs. This means your dog does not like being away from their human best friend, so they will not eat without your presence. In this case it is not the environment, it is the absence of the person. This behavior is a physiological and psychological way of expressing their frustration.

Not all dogs suffering from separation anxiety stop eating. However, it is quite common. Some dogs that go through this stage of separation can skip meals but continue eating at other times. Others do not even approach the feed because they just do not feel like it.

This is not the only behavior a dog assumes when they experience separation anxiety. Analyze the whole context. Does your dog have other destructive behaviors when you leave home? Do they defecate, break, bite and howl on a prolonged basis? If the answer is yes, your pet might well fall into this category.

It is best to consult with an ethologist, canine educator or trainer, although you can also start home rehabilitation. Do not forget that, in the long term, it can become a serious problem. Always go to a professional for guidance if you are at all unsure.

Why Does My Dog Only Eat When I'm Around? - Separation anxiety in dogs

How to make my dog eat when I'm not there

Problem-solving strategies will vary depending on the reasons why your dog won't eat unless you're around. Keep in mind, depending on the severity of the case, it may take from days to years for your dog to regain the desire to eat without you. The process will be progressive. Modifying these types of behaviors is not easy, but also not impossible. AnimalWised invites you to follow these simple steps to help your dog reduce eating anxiety:

  • Increase levels of confidence in your dog. Motivate them every time you leave and do not make a big deal. When you are at home and any unexpected visits or strange noises happens, act normally, without giving importance to them. Your dog will learn from you.
  • Try to educate them to eat in your absence. First place a small protective baby gate where their feed is. Then get behind them and invite them to eat, your dog will eat with you nearby. Practice moving away until you get out of sight for a few seconds and come back. Gradually prolong the distance and time of absence.
  • Play with your dog by throwing rewards from afar and then with you out of sight. Come back and repeat. This will encourage the idea that good things can also happen to them when you are not there.
  • Exercise for dogs is essential in general, but for dogs suffering from separation anxiety, it is the least you can do. Exercising your dog and giving them all of your attention before leaving the house is a good way to drain their energy in a positive way. Also if they are tired, you will be less aware of external noises and rest.
  • Make your home environment a safe place for your beloved pet. You must make them feel at ease in your absence. Cover any possible discouraging noises with pleasant music or with the TV on. Experts claim that TV channels for children work very well on pets. Close doors and windows to isolate the noise of the outside world, but beware of closing heavy air entrances, especially in summer times. Window covers as visual barriers can also work on very nervous dogs that need more peace of mind. To finish, you can think of buying a "nest" bed so they can hide and take refuge. As with dogs that are afraid of fireworks.
  • You can also leave a long recording of your voice, so that your pet can somehow feel your presence.

If your dog needs you to watch them eat or cannot eat without you being present, it is a sign of closeness. Just make sure when training them to be more independent you don't also hurt this bond. Using positive reinforcement is the best way to ensure behavioral change without instigating behavioral problems.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Dog Only Eat When I'm Around?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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