Why Does My Dog Paw His Filled Food Bowl?

Rover pawing and pushing his filled food bowl around before eating—or maybe instead of eating? The behavior is more common than you might think. And while it can be traced to his wild ancestors, there's a chance Rover doesn't even know why he's doing it. As long as he's eventually eating the food, just let him keep pawing. If he refuses to eat, however, a visit to the vet might be in order—just to make sure he's not sick.

Something's Wrong with the Food

If Rover is pawing at a full bowl, he might be trying to tell you something about the food in it. Maybe he disapproves of it—a common occurrence if you just changed brands or flavors. Or maybe he's telling you there's something wrong with this particular bowl of food. Could there be ants crawling in it? Maybe the food is moldy, or wet or just unappealing. Before you think there's something wrong with Rover, check the food. If the problem disappears when you offer something else to eat, you have your answer.

Just Checking the Food Is Really Dead

Just because your little fluffy doggy doesn't look like a wild thing doesn't mean he's lost all connection to his wild ancestors. In the wild, predators often paw at their prey before eating it—just to make sure it's really dead. Although you know for sure the dry kibble in the bowl is dead, Rover is just checking to convince himself.

Let's Keep This for Later

In the wild, dogs will bury any food, bones or "extras" they can't finish at the time—just so they can have something to eat later. Hiding and burying food is a way to keep it away from other predators. The pawing you're seeing might be a remnant of that burying behavior. How? Well, for starters, the food bowl is inside, so there's no chance to dig and bury anything, but the pawing is the closest thing to a "pretend bury" behavior. If Rover is not particularly hungry, he might be trying to figure out if he can bury the food for later.

This Is Not the Bowl I Ordered

There's a chance it's the bowl—not the food itself—that's causing the problem. Rover might be complaining about the sound the metal bowl makes as his collar hits it. Or maybe about how it feels when his teeth hit the metal as he's trying to pick up food. Switch to a plastic bowl and see if that fixes the problem.

By Tammy Dray

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References

Mental Floss: Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Food Bowls?
Vetstreet: Why Does My Dog...Push Around His Bowl?
Science Blogs: Why Do Dogs Push Their Food Bowls Around?

About the Author
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.