My dustpan needs a break from sweeping up dog food
December 2, 2012 7:22 AM   Subscribe

My dog has a habit of taking a mouthful of her (dry) food from her bowl, walking a short distance away, and depositing it on the floor. Then she'll go back and finish the rest. Anyone know what causes this behavior? How can we train her not to do it?

It's not something she does everyday, but she tends to go in phases where she'll do it for a week or two, stop, then start doing it again.

We haven't changed the brand of food we give her in a while, but she's done this with other brands as well. There is no discernible pattern (or at least one that I have noticed) as to when she decides to do this.

Any thoughts and suggestions to get her out of the habit are welcome!
posted by Shebear to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it causing a problem? I ask because my cat takes the food from her bowl and puts it on the floor to eat from there.

I just chalk it up to animals being weird.
posted by theichibun at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2012

This is beta dog behavior: she's snatching a mouthful from the kill and retreating with it.

Or she has a stubby muzzle and has a tough time eating from a bowl comfortably and/or doesn't like having her peripheral vision blocked.

Try a wide, shallow bowl that us not placed in a corner or right up against a wall.
posted by Specklet at 7:32 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dog does this. I think it's because he was fostered with with a group of puppies - they were fed en masse, from a huge bowl that all the puppies ate out of. It was his way of saying MY FOOD. I think it's rather endearing. He tends to bring it over to wherever I am in the house at the time.
posted by HeyAllie at 7:44 AM on December 2, 2012

My parents have a rescue dog that does this. It was explained to them that the dog had been brought up in a large group all fed from a communal bowl, so he had to snatch what he could and take it elsewhere to eat.

He's also got a small, pop-up 'travel bowl', so now when that one gets filled, he will pick it up and carry it around with him, food and all, so no one takes his food.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:50 AM on December 2, 2012

Our dog does it. We adopted her at 5-6 so I have no idea what in her upbringing made her start. (She has a long snout, so it's not that.) Her food is in the hall outside the bedroom, and I only mind when she brings it into the (carpeted) bedroom to eat "with" us. In those cases, I just tell her to go away (which is the most useful command to teach a dog EVER).
posted by supercres at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend's dog does this sometimes, only when she is around. (Alas, when I feed him he usually waits for her to show up to eat, presumably because he doesn't trust me.) I always viewed it as beta behavior, too, like he wanted her to know he knows his place. This is totally projecting, but he always looks at her and dumps the food and I imagined he was saying "I brought you this food because you're awesome and I'm just your humble dog."
posted by thesocietyfor at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2012

My dog does this. She likes to eat on carpet. Her food bowl is on hardwood floor. She takes a mouthful, deposits it on the carpet, then eats that little stash. She then repeats.

No idea how to discourage/stop the behavior.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dog has done this time to time, but only with kibble – she never does it with her regular food, and I think it's for the same reason HeyAllie mentions: she was fostered with a bunch of other dogs for quite a while, and I think the kibble just makes her react that way from memory. I make her food most of the time, which she just scarfs up from the bowl without ever raising her head.

If your dog was a rescue or lived with other dogs, you might just try ways to make it different enough that it doesn't recall that action, if that's what's happening. Like put it in three very small bowls instead of one big one, or add water (okay if the dog is eating it all at once, not a great idea if it's going to sit around). There are also special bowls made for dogs who eat too fast, and this may introduce enough difference that it changes the behavior. Otherwise, maybe wet food, or putting down newspaper in a favored spot, or under the bowl.
posted by taz at 8:07 AM on December 2, 2012

My dad's dog used to do this, especially once they got a second dog (who was definitely the more dominant of the two, so the beta dog explanation makes sense to me). I don't think they ever got her to stop, even after the second dog died. But I don't know that they tried very hard - it just didn't bother them much.
posted by mskyle at 8:12 AM on December 2, 2012

This isn't quite the same thing, but sometimes I'll mix some "real" food in with my dog's food for him, like a few bits of chicken or beef or potatoes or something. When I do this, he deftly removes all his dog food from the bowl and scatters it on the floor, leaving behind the special bits. He then eats the special bits, runs around excitedly, then goes back and eats the floor food.

I've always chalked this up to two things: 1) separating the types of food on your plate just like we did when we were kids, and 2) he's a dog and dogs are weird.
posted by phunniemee at 8:16 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

can you clarify if she takes the food away to eat it or does she just move it away and leave it there? It's not clear from your question.
posted by empath at 8:25 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Hey all: thanks for the responses, and empath points out one thing isn't totally clear from my question: she does not eat any of this food - just sniffs it and then goes back to her bowl. So we end up with a bunch of dog food on our floor, twice a day. It wouldn't bother me so much if she ate it; it's just the cleanup that is a pain.
posted by Shebear at 8:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cat does this - I find little kibble stashes around sometimes. Do you leave the food around long enough on the floor for the dog to get back to it to eat it? or do you clean it up pretty soon?
Try letting it stay out for a bit.
If he doesn't come back for it, then try giving him a little less food in his bowl.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:40 AM on December 2, 2012

Since she eats kibble every day for both meals, have you tried a food dispensing toys like the Kong Wobbler or Squirrel Dude? Most trainers prefer them over bowls since they offer much more mental stimulation and fun for the dog as well as a daily challenge and can help keep your dog happier, better-adjusted and more confident since she now gets to work for her food. In your case, they might also solve the food depositing issue.
posted by halogen at 8:49 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The beta dog explanation makes sense, but I think it could also be food sharing/puppy feeding behavior since she does not return to eat it, and you essentially 'consume' it by cleaning it up; I am imagining a kind of reciprocal arrangement in her mind-- you give her table scraps, she gives you bowl scraps.

Very charming, really.
posted by jamjam at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

I was just reading about this a little while ago.

It could still be beta dog behavior. They have the instinct, but don't know why they're doing it. My cat will scratch by his bowl to "cover" his food even though there's nothing near his food to cover it. He'll even look to see if it's covered (it's usually not). He's always done this, but moreso now that there are two dogs in the house.
posted by patheral at 9:19 AM on December 2, 2012

Maybe it's her way of saying she needs a canine companion to take care of. Adopt another dog to act as dustpan, problem solved.
posted by Talia Devane at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2012

1) Cats are weird. Your dog is doing something weird. Ergo, your dog is a cat.

2) Your dog worships the God of Kibble and must leave tribute when she's sinned. I'd check all your shoes on the days she does this.

Seriously, it sounds like superstitious/hoarding behaviour left over from a time when she didn't feel food secure. She takes some food to a "safe" place, goes back to eat at the bowl, finds that she can eat all she wants, and then doesn't bother eating the saved food because she's full.

Is there anything different about the days she does this? Has she misbehaved, been scolded, been under any extra stress? Your question says there's no discernible pattern, but maybe when she starts doing this again, you can actually track what else was happening on that day and see if there is a pattern. Something you think is irrelevant could be the trigger.
posted by maudlin at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2012

Our dog does this, and she spent five months in a shelter, so I agree it's probably a defensive behavior. She prefers to actually eat her food more or less near where we are in the house, so she picks up a mouthful and carries it there.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2012

No idea what the psychology is behind it, but if you feed the dog in a crate/kennel you can probably keep the dog from doing this.
posted by radioamy at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2012

I think training your dog to eat the 'leftovers' will be easier than training your dog out of dropping them on the floor.

If it were my dog, I'd train them by feeding them half their normal food quantity so they're still hungry after the bowl is finished, and then pointing to the food on the floor and giving them a happy "here's a treat!" command and getting them to eat it. Once that's done, I'd give the second half of the food (if they only drop food when they first start eating, they shouldn't do it again with the second half).

Once they learn the command, they should eat the food off the floor when commanded. If the food is so low value to them that this doesn't work, you might want to switch dog foods to a better/tastier brand.
posted by zug at 11:26 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dog does this as well. It's because we buy her this dog food that has soft bits in it. She likes those bits the best so she will pick it out, dump it on the floor, and choose her favourite parts to eat.

We discourage it by putting it all back in her bowl. She seems to get it, so now she scavenges within the bowl.
posted by cyml at 12:35 PM on December 2, 2012

My dog does this. We think it's because there are two different kinds of kibble in his food and he's able to eat the one he prefers first if it's not in the bowl.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:41 PM on December 2, 2012

Have you tried feeding your dog less? If she were hungrier, perhaps she would eat *all* the food - even if she temporarily stashed some on the side?
posted by sarah_pdx at 3:45 PM on December 2, 2012

I do have a suggestion that I think may reduce your problem by 50 percent - only feed your dog once a day. We've fed our adult dogs only once a day and they've always had perfect health and no food weirdness.
posted by wilful at 4:03 PM on December 2, 2012

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