How to discourage dog food eating in toddler?
September 4, 2010 4:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my toddler uninterested in the dog food?

Mrs. Haus and I have an adorable, smart 18 month old who is extremely fascinated with the dog food. She loves to pick it up and throw it to the dogs. She loves to pick it up and throw it away from the dogs. Once she's made the mess, we make her pick it up and put it back in the bowl, and she loves that, too. And obviously, she loves to pick up a couple and cram them in her mouth. Our dogs are free feeders, so picking up the dog bowl when they're not eating isn't really an option. Our house isn't built in a way that we can barricade the food and allow access for the dogs without separating them from us. That won't work either; we have super snuggly dogs that see being separated from the family as punishment. How can we discourage our daughter from playing with, throwing around, and eating the dogs' food?
posted by Golfhaus to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
I wish I had a better answer other than I did that, drove my parents crazy and lived to tell the tale. I pretty sure I grew out of it pretty quickly, though.
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:40 AM on September 4, 2010

I agree with cestmoi15. I also used to eat those dog biscuits.
posted by dfriedman at 4:46 AM on September 4, 2010

Could you buy human-grade dog food until she grows out of this phase?
posted by vincele at 4:54 AM on September 4, 2010

vincele, it's not so much that she's eating it. I know that it's not good for a person to make dog food a staple of their diet, but if she gets a couple in her mouth, it's not OMGDOGFOODGROSSGROSSGROSS. It's more that in a matter of about ten seconds, she can make a mess with them that we're still picking up fifteen minutes later.
posted by Golfhaus at 5:02 AM on September 4, 2010

Could you switch the place you feed the dogs? Perhaps feed them in the bathroom during the times your child might be in the kitchen. What a child doesn't see won't harm her parents, as the saying goes.
posted by parmanparman at 5:12 AM on September 4, 2010

I have no answers but wanted to chime in to commiserate. I am going through the exact same thing with my one year old son (but add playing with the water in the dog bowls too). It drives me nuts and when I say "no" he just smiles charmingly. Sigh.

FWIW, I redirect and sometimes just put the food on the counter when our son is awake and seemingly interested in it. Our 3 free feeding dogs have had absoulutely no problem not having the food down every, single minute.
posted by murrey at 5:29 AM on September 4, 2010

Wow, here is the time you need to begin the concept of "No."

Redirection + no = win! Just make sure you say "No" like you mean it. And do not smile.

You'll have to repeat it many times, but toddlers' obsessions don't last long. This is a teaching and learning moment for you both as a parent-child team, so make it work!
posted by kidelo at 5:44 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's what I was going to say. It is "No" and then with a toddler, you distract them. "No" ~take the dog food out of her fist~ "Let's play peek a boo." "Lets go find Daddy." "What sound does a cow make?" etc. You just have to be methodical and patient like so much of parenting -- including toilet training. You start to think your patience will never pay off and then BING you realize that your offspring no longer plays with dog food.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:56 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My 19 month old LOVES to do this - and although we solved that by feeding the dog outside on our front steps, he also loves to do things like pull the books and DVDs out of the low shelves of our entertainment center. He would do it twice a day, every day.

I'm probably a terrible person for doing this, but my son is afraid of the vacuum. So I changed the vacuum's resting spot to in front of the bookcase where he was destroying things, and he just passes on by. Now I can move the vacuum and forget to move it back and he'll still stay away.

Saying "no" repeatedly at this age still hasn't worked very well for us- we keep trying, but he is so willfully defiant and boundary-testing that it's not effective. Saying "no" for an hour straight while continuing to move him and distract him (so willfull. so unbeleivably willfull) means he is less responsive to "no" when he does something truly bad - like pulling the dog's tail or climbing somewhere totally off-limits.
posted by kpht at 6:22 AM on September 4, 2010

You have to make it a solid rule that she is not to play with the dog food. And then you reinforce it. No smiling at her cuteness-only firmness. She has to get the idea this is a NO NO. You don't even let her approach the bowls. You might cringe at this next suggestion, but you could (lightly) slap her little hands as she reaches for it, just enough to get her attention, and THEN redirect her elsewhere.

One reason why this is so worthwhile to work on this-and to actually take time to work on this-is it's important for her to learn that when you say NO you mean it. This has ramifications even up to teenage years.

Hang in there.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:26 AM on September 4, 2010

Dog food should be put down for 20-30 minutes twice a day and then picked up anyway (if you're feeding an appropriate amount, it may take a few days, but the dogs will soon be cleaning their bowls inside five minutes, they will not starve if you take up leftovers and put them down at the next meal), leaving food down all the time isn't the best choice for your dogs anyway. Can you crate the dogs while they eat, or just hold the kid while the dogs eat? This problem doesn't need to be a problem, just store the food in a kid-proof container, and only measure out the appropriate amount when it's feeding time for the dogs.
posted by biscotti at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

It seems like she has found a really good way to get her parents to play a super fun game with her :)

You can provide similar learning/playing opportunities so it's not as tempting! Whatever you do probably would work better if there's lots of attention and interaction with you and Mr. Haus.

Does she have things to fill up, pour, clean up? I'm thinking cheerios so she can eat them, too. There are cheerio activity books that are fun if playing with her food appeals to her.

Gross motor skills and playing with the dogs, depending on the dogs you could help her play fetch with them, or have her help clean up their toys. She might also be happy to help you groom them or brush them.

If she likes the idea of helping you clean, you can do lots of fun stuff with her. Something simple is to give her a spray bottle with plain water that she can hold/spray and she can "help" you clean counters, floors, water the plants, lots of things, and it's just water and there's not that much of it so no big deal if she sprays the wrong thing.

On that note, if she loves cleaning up, don't see it as "making" her do it--you're really letting her do it! I know that she should learn to clean up her messes, but at this point it seems like it's basically a reward, and is motivating her to play with the food more. My suggestion is to take the fun out of the situation ASAP--if you see her going for the dog's bowl, stop her immediately, physically move her, don't give her the chance to interact with the dogs, don't let her clean up, don't give her extra attention.

Of course what goes with this is redirecting her to lots of positive stuff, so she'll have a different choice to make that is still fun. Toddlers tend to need a lot of guidance and teaching before they are able to appropriately play on their own.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2010

Thanks, all - I should have pointed out initially that the "No!" thing isn't working terribly well. Like kpht's kid, ours is into boundary-testing, to the point that she is starting to tell US "No!" if we're paying bills or doing dishes when we could do be doing something much more stimulating to Babyhaus. It's not that "No!" isn't blithely ignored. She stops, looks at us, and many times, stops the activity. The problem is that often we don't realize it's time to say no until half the bowl is scattered across the floor. It literally takes us taking our eyes off of her for ten seconds to make this happen sometimes. We watch her like a hawk in the parking lot, at the mall, etc. At home, sometimes we just need a few seconds.

Based on what I've read, it sounds like the best move will be to say "No!" and move the dog food to the counter when she's showing interest, and putting it back down once she's moved on to some other semi-destructive task.
posted by Golfhaus at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2010

Stop free feeding dogs.
Say no and Yuk Yuk Yuk. Mean it.
posted by k8t at 2:29 PM on September 4, 2010

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