Why Dogs Move Their Food Bowls Around

A dog might push her bowl around because she's looking for different food, because she wants to eat in a different spot or because she wants to bury it. If you try a bowl with a nonslip bottom and she still tries to push it around, there are ways to figure out why. There isn't one answer to why dogs move their food bowls, so it may take some detective work to discover the cause of your dog's behavior.

Dog by red food bowl (digital composite)
Your dog may be moving her bowl around because it's just not a good fit for her.
credit: Gayla Bailey/Photodisc/Getty Images

Behavioral Psychology and Dog Bowls

Theories about dog bowl-nudging antics provide starting points for understanding your dog's possible motives. Dr. Jason G. Goldman, a specialist in behavioral psychology who is an editor at ScienceSeeker, theorizes that a dog who moves her bowl around is searching for food with a particular odor or to suit where she'd rather eat.

Dogs have a dominant side based on gender; she might move her bowl so her right side isn't near a wall. Generally, girl dogs are righties and boy dogs favor their left paw. Goldman suggests that in a household with more than one dog, one of them might move her bowl searching for food that smells like the other dog's breath. Even if they eat the same food, the food mixed with the other dog's saliva smells different, triggering her to push the bowl in pursuit of a different food.

Empty Bowl Nosing

If she's pushing the bowl around when it's empty or nearly empty, your dog might be asking for more food. Even if you're feeding your dog the correct amount of food for her size and activity level, some dogs feel anxious when their bowl is empty. If your dog isn't overweight, you might try giving her more food when she moves the bowl. Keep an eye on her weight because some dogs will eat too much if surplus food is available.

Moving the Filled Bowl

A dog may move her bowl when there's food in it because she doesn't like the food, it smells wrong or there's too much food. Wet food that's been in the bowl too long will spoil, prompting your smart pup to bury the smelly stuff. Dogs also bury food to save it for later. If she's moving her head from side to side over the food, that's likely a sign of a burying motion dogs use even indoors. Many dogs instinctively protect food from competitors by pushing the bowl into a corner, taking food out of it or trying to cover it -- some dogs do this even in a one-dog household where no one ever takes their food.

Troubleshooting the Moving Dog Bowl

A simple first step: Try a plastic bowl or a plate. Some dogs react to the noise of their collar tags on a bowl. If she consistently moves her dog dish to a different place before she eats, consider feeding her there. She might want to eat in a warmer or more protected spot or be more comfortable on a rug than on a bare floor. Alternatively, move her bowl to a place that excludes other animals or that's closer to you.

To check if she dislikes her food, give her a small amount of a different food to see if she continues to push the bowl. If you normally keep food in her bowl, or you feed her more than guidelines on the dog food suggest, try putting her on a feeding schedule.

Consult with your vet before changing your dog's diet or feeding schedule, especially if she's a puppy, ill, pregnant, nursing or old -- or if there's a sudden change in your dog's eating habits or health, such as a loss of appetite, bloating, bowel changes or loss of interest in her usual activities. Feeding stands offer a solution for keeping her dishes in place if your dog's bowl-moving presents a tripping hazard or other problem in your household. A feeding stand should be low enough for your dog to lower her head when she eats to avoid the risk of bloat.