Why Won’t My Dog Eat Until I Get Home

Picture of a young dog

Every dog owner takes pleasure in seeing their dog eat their meals with hearty gusto. If you’re headed out for a day of shopping or to work, you likely fill up your dog’s bowl to ensure he has access to adequate nutrition during your absence. However, it’s not uncommon for many owners to come home to discover that the provided dfood has been untouched all day. If this is a scenario you’ve seen in your home as well, you might be wondering—why won’t my dog eat until I get home?

There are several reasons that might explain why your dog doesn’t want to eat until you’re home and settled in for the night. These include:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Social eating
  • Habit

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a condition where a dog becomes so distressed when separated from his owner that he is unable to function normally. The symptoms of separation anxiety range in intensity with some of them being very extreme. Loss of appetite is not uncommon in dogs that suffer from separation anxiety.

When a dog experiences separation anxiety, other signs may be evident. Among the symptoms of separation anxiety are:

  • Howling
  • Barking
  • Chewing
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive “grooming” or licking of paws, feet, or legs
  • Inability to eat or drink

If your dog is refusing to eat his meals in your absence because he is suffering from separation anxiety, there are some things you can do to help him. These include: 

  • Taking your dog for a vigorous walk before you head out for the day.

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety when you must be away, it’s a good idea to try to tire him out before you leave. A vigorous walk will help your dog to expend his energies in a positive way, particularly if it involves visiting places that allow him to use his nose as well. If you take the time to exercise your dog in advance of your absence, chances are he’ll be tired enough that he’ll easily settle into a good snooze and spend his alone time quite peacefully.

  • Providing fun toys for a distraction

One of the best things you can do to help your dog see time apart from you in a more positive light is to provide him with a wide selection of high value toys to enjoy. For best results, purchase toys in different sizes, colors, fabrics, and styles to keep your dog’s interest level at an all-time high. By engaging your dog’s mind with a toy that he finds stimulating, you are giving him a pleasant distraction to focus on during your absence. For maximum effect, reserve the toys your dog likes the best for him to play with only when you are not at home. This can help your dog to start viewing your time away from the house in a more favorable light since it means an opportunity to play with some of his very favorite things.

  • Downplaying “leaving” time and your return

If you make a big deal every time you need to leave for an outing, it will naturally heighten your dog’s anxiety. Keep your leaving and your returns calm affairs by removing all emotion from your outings. Some experts recommend speaking to your dog in a calm voice, informing him that you’ll be right back before you head out for the day. Downplaying your return home will also help to remove some of the emotion from a time that can cause your dog a lot of anxiety and stress.

Some dogs suffering from separation anxiety struggle because they are deeply bonded to one member of the family and are deeply upset when that person is absent. Other dogs simply dislike being alone and would be much more at ease if accompanied by another family member or even another household pet. If your dog refuses to eat only when you are gone, chances are your dog is overly bonded to you, and adding a new canine or feline companion to your house will not resolve the issue. For dogs with severe separation anxiety, it is best to consult with a professional behavior modification specialist for assistance.

Are Some Dogs Just “Social Eaters?”

The modern dog traces his roots to the wolf. It is a normal occurrence for wolves to eat as a family unit, meaning that yes, for our dogs, there is a certain social component to eating. Not only do wolves typically eat as a pack, they also care for one another by hunting and sharing food with other members of the pack family. The member of the pack designated as the leader or the “alpha” is given the privilege of consuming his or her meal before the others in the pack as a sign of respect.

The modern dog is a very different animal, having been domesticated since its early days in the wild. However, in spite of the modern canine’s new status as a family companion, the dog still retains many of his original instincts, including a desire to eat with those who he has designated as other members of his pack. For families that only have one dog in their home, it is not uncommon for the dog to want to eat at the same time the rest of the family does. From the dog’s perspective, eating is a reason for celebration, and greater enjoyment is derived from eating with companions to join in the fun. For dogs who view eating as a social pleasure, they find it difficult to eat until all of the guests invited to the eating party are gathered together. This could be the reason your dog won’t eat until you are home.

If your dog is a social eater, there are things you can do to help him move past this. Begin by feeding your dog in a separate room from you and the rest of the family. Just as you place his food on the floor, add an exceptionally tasty topper like beef liver, bone broth, or chopped up meat to your dog’s dish to encourage him to investigate and eat heartily. By teaching your dog that you leaving the room is connected to him getting an added “bonus” on top of his favorite food, you can help him to learn that eating by himself can be a very good thing indeed.

Could My Dog Only Eating When I’m Home Be a Learned Behavior?

In some cases, dogs have picked up the habit of only eating when their owner is in the home. This may be an intended association that is retained from puppyhood when the dog’s meals were presented and eaten while the breeder/owner supervised his eating. If this is a habit you continued when your dog joined your family, it may be your dog has come to associate eating only happening when you are there to observe. If you watch your dog eating his meals on a regular basis and praise him while he eats, your dog may start to crave this approval and may refuse to consume his food until you can be there to provide the support he has come to desire.

If your dog has established this pattern, the first step you should take is not providing any encouragement or praise to motivate the dog to eat. Simply place the food on the floor and retreat to another area of your home. If your dog is reluctant to eat, you can provide some enticement through the addition of a tasty treat or small amount of chopped up meat. By building the association of something positive happening at mealtime when you are not present, the dog will become more interested in consuming his meals when alone.

Why won’t my dog eat til I get home? There are a number of different things that could be to blame from separation anxiety to a preference for social eating to a learned habit. Follow our top tips to help your dog learn that eating can be fun both in your company and solo!

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