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

Dogs have a lot of baffling behaviors, and some are cuter than others. One less cute behavior, practiced by some dogs, is a refusal to eat when their owners are not home. What makes a dog do this?

Like so many dog behaviors, the tendency to not eat when their owner isn't home is likely rooted in either or habit.

Puppy Eating
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Separation Anxiety

If your dog refuses to eat unless its owner is present, separation anxiety might be the cause. Just like people, some dogs don't feel like eating when they're anxious. Some dogs, especially those with traumatic pasts, might only feel safe enough to eat when a trusted human is around. Dogs are also social animals, which may translate to them feeling more comfortable when others (especially their owners) are around.

To understand whether or not your dog has separation anxiety, think about their other behaviors they display when you're not present. Do they show other indicators of stress, like chewing up household objects, defecating or urinating indoors, or vocalizing excessively? If so, you might be looking at a case of separation anxiety.

Not all dogs who won't eat when you're gone have separation anxiety, though. It's just one possibility, so it's a good idea to check in with your veterinarian for advice.

Habit

As puppies, some dogs learn "how" to eat their dinner when their owner is in the room. This learned behavior is often incidental, not purposely fostered by the owner. Most people don't set out to teach their dog to only eat when they're in the room, but rather just happen to be standing next to them at meal times. An owner might praise a confused puppy who finally figures out how to eat from his food bowl, accidentally creating a link in the dog's mind between eating and the presence of humans. (Even though this may lead to some inconvenient situations down the road, you have to admit it's pretty cute.)

Feeding of hungry dog
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How to help a dog with eating issues.

The resolution to this issue will depend on the cause. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, positive reinforcement training and and an increase in physical exercise can be helpful. Taking your dog for a vigorous walk before you leave the house can help to relieve excess energy that the dog may otherwise have spent pacing anxiously.

Additionally, examine the dog's environment to see if anything else is potentially exacerbating their anxiety. If your dog gets scared of slamming doors in your apartment building, consider leaving the TV or radio on to soften outdoor noise a bit. You might also leave one of your shirts in your dog's bed so your smell can comfort them. (Awww!)

It's tough to diagnose the root of the problem on your own, so consult a vet before making any big changes to your dog's life. The vet will also help you decide what to do going forward.

Does your dog refuse to eat when you're not home?