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  • Writer's pictureJess

Why Dogs Will Eat Their Treats, But Not Their Food

Updated: Feb 13

dog lying next too his food bowl

We love our dogs, and their eating preferences often baffle us. It's not uncommon for dogs to eagerly devour treats while turning their noses up at normal dog food, leaving many pet owners puzzled.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the reasons behind the question 'why is my dog not eating his food but will eat treats' and offer practical solutions to ensure your furry friend maintains a healthy diet.

Understanding Why Dogs Prefer Treats

Dogs can have a decreased appetite for a variety of reasons, often influenced by their keen senses, past experiences, social cues, health issues, and the need for dietary variety. Their exceptional sense of smell and taste allows them to detect subtle differences in food, affecting their food preferences.

Positive associations with tasty treats and human food can make them favor these over regular meals, causing havoc with your dog's diet. Health problems or dental issues may also deter them from specific foods, while a monotonous diet can lead to boredom.

Understanding these factors helps pet owners address choosy negative habits and ensure their dogs enjoy a balanced diet.

1. Novelty

One of the major reasons dogs behind the issue is novelty. Dogs are naturally curious and drawn to new things, making treats seem more exciting than the usual dry food, wet food or other dog foods you may be feeding them in their normal feeding routine.

2. Taste and Texture

Dogs have a keen sense of taste and smell, so treats' flavor and texture might be more appealing.

3. Positive Associations

Dogs often associate treats with rewards during training, making them irresistible - Pet parents have a habit of overdoing this, so try to find a balance!

The Role of Evolution and Instinct

Wolf looking into camera

Dogs eating behaviors are significantly influenced by their evolutionary background, a fascinating journey that began thousands of years ago when they were wild hunters and scavengers.

In those early days, their survival hinged on their ability to seek out and consume high-value, calorie-rich foods. This natural inclination towards rich food sources has persisted through generations, contributing to their preference for treats that often carry a more intense flavor and nutritional punch compared to their regular meals.

The concept of conserving energy for hunting, another inherited trait, can also play a role in their appetite. In the wild, dogs would spend a substantial amount of time and energy tracking, hunting, and catching their prey.

As a result, they have developed an instinct to limit their calorie expenditure when it's not necessary. This tendency can lead to dogs showing less interest in their daily meals, which may seem less exciting and energy-demanding than a tasty treat.

Understanding these evolutionary traits helps shed light on why dogs often exhibit a preference for treats over their normal food.

1. Ancestral Diet

Ancestry is closely related to dog eating. Dogs were hunters and scavengers, making them inclined to high-value, calorie-rich foods. Your picky pooch wasn't always this way, in fact this is programmed into their brain to help prevent your dog starve.

2. Survival Strategies

Dogs instinctively eat food to conserve energy for hunting, which can affect their appetite for regular meals.

animal skull

Behavioral and Health Factors

Many dogs exhibit picky habits for various reasons. Just like humans, they have individual taste preferences, favoring certain flavors or textures, which can make them selective about their food.

Dog treats often have strong scents and flavors that are more appealing than regular kibble, adding to their allure. Dogs are also curious, so novelty in treats can capture their attention. Associations formed during training or positive experiences with treats can make them more desirable. Texture matters, with some dogs preferring specific mouthfeel characteristics.

Health issues, such as dental problems or allergies, can affect their appetite, and a dog's loss of eating may simply be that they are seeking attention.

Changes in environment, overfeeding on treats, food quality, stress, anxiety, age-related changes, and disruptions in routine can further contribute to picky eating tendencies.

Understanding these factors can help caregivers address their dogs' eating routine effectively and ensure they receive proper nutrition.

1. Stress and Anxiety: Dogs may turn to comfort foods like treats during stressful times. Separation anxiety, changes to your dog's environment, loud noises, other pets or changes to your dog's routine being major factors, particularly in senior dogs.

2. Dental Problems: Dental pain can make it hard for dogs to chew regular kibble, and it could their usual food could be adding to your dogs suffering. Your dog's mouth is incredibly sensitive so seek veterinary advice if you believe there is an underlying issue.

3. Medical Reasons: Underlying health issues can impact a dog's appetite such as kidney disease, upset stomach or partial anorexia.

dog with a vet

Feeding Strategies and Solutions

To address this behavior, consider the following:

1. Balanced Diet: Ensure your dog gets a balanced diet with all necessary nutrients. Steer away from table scraps, dry food or canned food and mix up their diet with raw food or something like cooked ground beef instead.

2. Transitioning: Gradually introduce changes in their diet, including portion control and scheduled feeding.

dog eating from a food bowl

3. Alternative Foods: Explore alternative diets such as raw or premium dog food, more nutritious food see if your dog will eat kibble. Monitor their progress when they begin eating new foods - you may be surprised what you see from your dogs body language.

Training and Positive Reinforcement

Using treats effectively in training sessions is a valuable tool for reinforcing positive behaviors in dogs.

By selecting high-quality treats that are both tasty and nutritious, you can motivate your dog to learn new commands and engage in desirable behaviors. During training, timing is crucial; provide treats immediately after your dog follows a command correctly to reinforce the connection between the action and the reward.

Keep training sessions short and focused to prevent overindulgence in treats, which can lead to weight issues. Gradually reduce treat rewards as your dog becomes more proficient in responding to commands, transitioning to praise and affection as the primary reinforcement.

This helps maintain a balanced diet while still offering occasional treats for exceptional performance. Consistency in using treats during training will lead to better results, creating a strong bond and understanding between you and your dog.

1. Training Techniques: Incorporate treats into training routines, ensuring consistency.

dog training

2. Training for Eating Habits: Use training to encourage your dog to eat regular food. Eating treats should be used to encourage positive behaviors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Get answers to common questions:

1. Why Does My Dog Prefer Treats Over Food?

Dogs might prefer treats over regular food due to several factors. Firstly, treats are often more flavorful and appealing to dogs due to their higher fat and protein content. Additionally, dogs may have associated treats with positive experiences like training or playtime, making them more enticing - pet parents usually do great at this part!

Lastly, if your dog won't eat, it may simply be that they are holding out for something they find tastier, like treats.

2. How Can I Encourage my pup to eat regular dog food?

To encourage your dog to eat regular food, consider a few strategies. Ensure the food is fresh and hasn't gone stale or rancid, as dogs have a strong sense of smell and may refuse old food. Stick to a regular feeding schedule and remove the temptation to offer them table scraps!

Avoid leaving food out for extended periods; instead, pick up the food bowl after a reasonable time if your dog doesn't eat. You may also want to avoid eating in front of them - after all, every pet parent is guilty of slipping them table scraps!

You can also try mixing a small amount of wet food or a flavorful food to entice your dog. Always consult your vet if your dog's appetite changes suddenly.

3. Are There Health Risks from Too Many Treats?

Yes, there can be health risks associated with feeding your dog too many treats. Overindulgence in all those treats can lead to weight gain and obesity, which may contribute to various health issues, including joint problems and diabetes.

Additionally, some treats may be high in calories, additives, or allergens, which can affect your dog's health negatively and cause stomach upset. Always monitor treat intake and choose high-quality, balanced treats to mitigate these risks.

4. Can Treats Be Used for Training and Diet Balance?

Absolutely, treats can serve multiple purposes in your dog's life. They can be used as rewards during training sessions to reinforce positive behavior and learning.

Additionally, treats can contribute to a balanced diet when chosen wisely. High-quality treats like those from Wag & Whistle can provide essential nutrients, aid in dental health, and support your dog's overall well-being while still being delicious.

5. When Should I Consult a Veterinarian?

You should consult a veterinarian if your dog's eating habits change drastically, such as a sudden loss of appetite or excessive consumption.

Persistent changes in appetite, or if your dog refuses to eat new food, can be indicative of underlying health issues that require professional evaluation. If you're concerned about your dog's treat consumption, weight, or overall diet, it's advisable to consult your vet to ensure your pet's health and well-being are maintained.

6. Do dogs get bored of their food?

Yes, dogs can get bored with the usual dry dog food, canned food or human junk food. Just like humans, they appreciate variety in their diet. Feeding them the same food day in and day out can lead to taste fatigue, making them less enthusiastic about their meals. However, if your dog recently had a change of food, they may want their old food back.

7. Should I take my dog's food away if he doesn't eat it?

It's generally not recommended to take your dog's food away if he doesn't eat it immediately. Some dogs have different eating habits and may not always finish their meal in one sitting.

Instead of removing the food, try setting a regular feeding schedule, offering the food for a specific amount of time (usually 20-30 minutes), and then removing any uneaten portions.

This helps establish a routine and can encourage your dog to eat during designated meal times.

8. How do I get my dog to eat dog food again?

To encourage your dog to eat dog food again, consider the following steps:

  • Gradual Transition: If you're switching to a new brand or type of dog food, mix a small amount of the new dog food with the old food and gradually increase the proportion of the new food over several days to avoid digestive upset.

  • Warm It Up: Warming your your dog food slightly can enhance its aroma and make it more appealing.

  • Add Toppers: Adding small amounts of dog-safe toppers like plain boiled chicken, broth, or a sprinkle of cheese can entice your dog to eat.

Why will my dog only eat dry food?

Dogs, like humans, can have preferences when it comes to their food. If your dog prefers dry food, it could be due to various reasons. Dry food may have a texture and taste that your dog finds appealing, they may be familiar with it, or it could be related to dental health benefits.

It's essential to provide a balanced diet that meets your dog's nutritional needs, regardless of their food preference. Consulting with your veterinarian can help ensure your dog's chosen dry food is nutritionally suitable.

How Wag & Whistle Treats Can Help

Wag & Whistle treats can significantly contribute to your dog's overall well-being is essential. Our natural and nutritious treats offer a wide range of benefits, from supporting dental health to promoting strong muscles and joints.

With options like our Buffalo Horn and Braided Tendon for prolonged chewing and dental care, or our Salmon Training Treats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy coat and skin, you can cater to your dog's specific needs.

Furthermore, using our treats during training sessions enhances the learning process, making training more enjoyable and effective for both you and your furry friend. Whether you're looking for a special reward, a dental aid, or a hypoallergenic treat, Wag & Whistle treats have you covered.

Plus, our treats are responsibly sourced, grain and gluten-free, and suitable for dogs of all sizes and ages, ensuring your pet's safety and satisfaction.

Make the most of these benefits to provide your dog with the care and attention they deserve, enhancing their overall quality of life.

1. Quality and Nutrition: Providing high-quality, nutritious treats.

2. Natural Ingredients: Using natural ingredients that promote good health.

3. Training and Positive Reinforcement: Leveraging treats as valuable training tools.

4. Variety of Options: Exploring a range of treats to cater to different preferences.

wag and whistle yak bar


Understanding your dog's preferences and addressing their habits ensures a happy and healthy furry companion. Ultimately an upset stomach for us is the same as an stomach upset for your pup.

With patience and the right strategies, you can help your dog enjoy both their meals and treats while promoting their overall well-being. No more hungry dog!!


Jess - Owner, Wag & Whistle

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