Hungry Yellow Lab holding his empty bowl hoping for a refill!

Do Dogs Only Care About Food? Here is What We Know

Sometimes I think that the only thing my dogs care about is food! They stare at me when I eat dinner and always want just one more treat!

Yes, food is very important to our dogs, but it is not the only thing they care about. Dogs are also very social animals and have a full spectrum of needs and wants. Through owner observations and scientific studies, we know that dogs care about their owners as much as they do food. We have learned that verbal praise, for example, is just as important to dogs as food.

How We Know What Dogs Care About In Addition to Food

Through our experience as owners, we can know quite a bit about our furry friends eating habits. With a few exceptions, most of our canine friends seem to belong to the “clean plate society”.

My dogs always gobble up their meals each day as if they have not eaten for a week! And, they are definitely not underweight. They continually scan the kitchen floor to find every fallen crumb.

My dogs find creative ways to let me know that they would love to have another treat. They bark and paw at me and sometimes jump into my lap. They even do commands that I have not requested, all on the off chance to earn more food rewards.

Sometimes I fear that my dogs only see me as their personal food dispenser! Yet they also respond well to praise and can be very affectionate.

In addition to our personal experiences, there have been some very well-done scientific studies about how dogs are motivated and responsive to different stimuli. Keep reading to learn more about what both dog owners and scientists have to say.

Owners’ Personal Experience With Their Dogs

Kay Begalke offered this heart-warming story on Quora:

My furbaby, Casey, has a very interesting habit. We couldn’t figure it out at first because none of our other dogs did it before. We’d put food in her bowl. But then Casey would look at us. It was like she was expecting something. Then she’d eat after awhile.

We figured out she wasn’t eating unless we were eating too. She seemed to see meals as a family event and wanted to make sure we were having food too.

I think if Casey was in it just for the food, she wouldn’t have this behavior. I like to think that she’s happy we adopted her and she wants to make sure her family is taking care of themselves.

Others on this same Quora thread commented that their dogs did the same thing and waited to eat when their owners ate. A couple of people thought it was because dogs in the wild will only eat after the pack leader has eaten. Others commented that their pooches waited to eat until everyone was rounded up due to their love and need for connection.

I wish I could say the same for my pups. They will eat any time food is around. But I don’t take it personally because I know they are simply food hounds! And, they can also be very affectionate. They love to snuggle up with me (after dinner), and often like to sit on my lap.

Like humans, dogs are all different. Some dogs are picky eaters and others are very food motivated. Read more about this in my post, “Do Dogs Stop Eating When They Are Full?

Scientific Studies

Female scientist studying an MRI image of a dog regarding food vs praise testing

A study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience used brain imaging techniques to investigate how dogs respond to different types of rewards. The study found that when dogs were presented with the scent of their owner, they showed increased activity in the reward centers of their brain, suggesting that social interaction with their owner is highly rewarding for dogs. Additionally, the dogs in this study showed a slightly higher preference for praise over food rewards.

Another study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that dogs who received praise from their owners during training sessions were more obedient and performed better than dogs who received food rewards. The study involved training dogs to perform a simple task, and the researchers found that dogs who were praised for their behavior were more likely to repeat that behavior in the future.

In summary, these studies suggest that while food rewards can be effective motivators for dogs, verbal praise and social interaction with their owners can be even more rewarding and motivating. Dogs who receive praise and positive reinforcement from their owners may be more obedient and perform better in training sessions than dogs who only receive food rewards.

Why Some Dogs May Only Seem to Care About Food and Always Act Hungry

Pug gobbling down his dinner and making a mess!

There are several reasons why some dogs always seem hungry and very food focused:

Breed tendencies: Some dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, and Beagles, are more prone to overeating and food obsession than others and seem to have a genetic predisposition.

Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or diabetes, can cause dogs to be constantly hungry and have an increased appetite.

Poor nutrition: If a dog is not getting adequate nutrition from their diet, they may feel hungry more often and be more food focused. Low-quality dog food or a diet lacking in essential nutrients can contribute to this.

Boredom: Some dogs may become overly focused on food if they are bored or not getting enough physical and mental stimulation. Providing more exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation can help alleviate this issue.

Overfeeding or feeding on demand: Overfeeding or feeding each time a dog begs can lead to a dog becoming food obsessed and constantly seeking out food.

Some dogs do better when food is left in their bowl all day and they eat when they are hungry. The advantage free feeding is that you don’t have to rush home to give them dinner!

However, most dogs do best when given scheduled meals at the same time each day. This avoids food guarding if other pets are in the home and help you to maintain your dog’s ideal weight. In addition, you won’t end up with ants or other pests getting into their food. If you want help with what to feed your pooch, get your free copy of our eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble.

Dogs Who Have Less Control Over What and When They Eat May be More Food Focused

Dogs who have been strays or in neglectful situations such as hoarding may be overly focused on food. As a result, food may seem like their primary focus when they are first rescued and adopted into a caring home. New owners can use this to their advantage as a way of gaining their newly adopted dog’s trust. Usually over time, however, these dogs will feel more secure after several weeks of receiving consisitently scheduled meals each day.

Some dogs can be allowed to eat whatever and whenever they want and will not gain weight. However, most dogs are better off with scheduled meals to help manage their proper weight and nutrition. As a result, they have no control over when and what they eat. So, it makes sense that dogs with scheduled meals will be a little more focused on mealtime and snacks.

Final Thoughts

Yes, dogs love food. But when we provide loving care and attention, our pooches will appreciate us beyond being their personal food dispenser. We will become their family, their pack, and just as essential as a good meal! To help you figure out what to feed your furry friend, be sure to get your free eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble!

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