Puppy Food and Behaviour: 10 Top Tips

Navigating the journey of puppyhood can be as challenging as it is rewarding, especially when it comes to their behaviour. In this article, we’ll explore the vital link between your puppy’s food and how they act. What your puppy eats, how they’re given their food and the way you respond to them can all affect a puppy’s behaviour. Whether you’re a seasoned dog guardian or a first-time puppy parent, these expert tips will guide you to nourish your puppy’s body and nurture their behaviour positively.

First, let’s answer some common questions about puppies and food!

Can Food Affect My Puppy’s Behaviour?

Absolutely. Diet plays a crucial role in a puppy’s physical and mental development. Nutrient-rich food supports cognitive function, growth, hormonal development, and your dog’s overall wellbeing, influencing behaviour positively. Conversely, poor nutrition can lead to behavioural issues like lethargy or hyperactivity.

Why is My Puppy So Aggressive with Food?

Food aggression, characterised by guarding food, often stems from fear of losing a resource. This behaviour can be mitigated by creating a calm, safe eating environment for your dog to eat in, and ensuring consistent feeding schedules.

Popular advice is to start taking food or other valuable items away from your puppy so that they “get used” to you removing things from them. However, this can have a negative effect, leading to your puppy learning to protect what they have. Food is a basic need, so your puppy should have food available when they want it.

Why Does My Puppy Only Eat if I Hand-feed Them?

If your puppy prefers hand-feeding, they might be seeking comfort or reassurance by being close to you or having your attention on them. Puppies are more likely to eat when the body is not experiencing stress. Try gradually transitioning your dog to eating out of a bowl or via an easy enrichment activity like scatter feeding while maintaining a comforting presence. This can encourage independence without causing stress.

How Much Food Should I Feed My Puppy?

The right amount of food your puppy depends on their age, breed, and activity level. Generally, puppies require more calories and nutrients than adults to support their rapid growth. The amount of food will also depend on the type you are feeding. For fresh or raw food, this is worked out using a percentage of your dog’s body weight. Weighing your dog regularly can help you determine how much they need to be fed. Activity levels will often fluctuate with puppies, too, so if your puppy has had a busy day, they are more likely to be hungry.

There are other behaviours that a puppy can exhibit that may be hiding their hunger. Mouthing, nipping, barking and chewing on furniture/fabrics could mean your puppy is hungry. These behaviours can often be misinterpreted as associated with teething or “excess energy”, but start with feeding your puppy a little more food to assess if they were just hangry!

How Often Should You Feed a Puppy?

Puppies can be fed three to four times a day – or you can offer “free feeding” to your puppy. This is where your puppy can access food whenever they are hungry. Free feeding can be beneficial as it may lead to less resource-guarding behaviour and allow your puppy to self-regulate around food.

If you are going to have set meal times, make sure that they are frequent enough to support your puppy’s fast metabolism and provide a steady energy supply throughout the day. This will help promote better digestion and consistent growth.

Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

Puppies have different nutritional needs to adult dogs. Adult dog food can lack nutrients essential for a puppy’s physical growth, such as higher protein and fat content. Feeding them adult dog food can lead to developmental deficiencies and hormonal issues. For more information on dog lifestage nutrition, check out our blog.

10 Top Tips for Feeding Your Puppy

Now that you know the answers to some of the most common questions around puppy food and behaviour, it’s time for some top tips on how best to feed your puppy.

Waiting Can Be Problematic

One of the first things puppy parents are often taught to do concerning their puppy’s food is to have the dog sit and wait to be released before eating. However, a few issues can develop from this advice later down the line such as:

  • Your dog hesitating to take food
  • Your dog sitting whenever food is present
  • Dogs not following food during teaching (luring)
  • Resource guarding
  • Reduced interest in food
  • Digestive issues from dogs eating too quickly

Instead of having your puppy wait, you can simply give them their food or have them in another room away from where you put the food down. You can also scatter some of the food on the floor as you put the food down to distract your dog. Your puppy should be excited about their food – we want to foster those feelings instead of adding pressure.

Be Thoughtful About Where Your Puppy Eats

When setting up where your puppy will eat, there are two main rules: the space must be quiet and it should be away from others. Give your puppy an eating place away from household traffic so they can eat peacefully. If your puppy is in a multi-dog household, do not feed your dogs in the same space. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers, so there is likely to be stress around eating in front of another dog.

Monitor Behaviour Changes

Watch for changes in your puppy’s eating behaviour, which can indicate health issues. Consult a veterinarian if your puppy suddenly loses their appetite for more than 12 hours, vomits after eating or begins to have diarrhoea.

Don’t Be Afraid to Feed “Human” Food

While there are some foods/ingredients that you should undoubtedly avoid giving to your puppy, there are many others that your puppy can safely experience. Whenever introducing a new food for your puppy to try, go slowly. Adding in too many different foods or too much can cause your puppy to experience digestive upset.

Enrichment Time

Food is a basic need; therefore, no dog should be required to earn their food. However, as previously mentioned, dogs are scavengers, and foraging for food is a natural behaviour that we can mimic to meet their species-specific needs. You can take a portion of your puppy’s food and use it in low-barrier ways like scattering it, putting it in an easy-access food toy or smearing it on a surface for them to lick.

Read the Labels

If you decide to buy treats for your puppy, read the ingredients to understand what you are feeding. Look for a limited list of ingredients with a quality meat source (not by-products or meals) as the predominant ingredient(s). The more meat, the better.

Nature’s Menu Country Hunter Puppy Treats

Clean Your Puppy’s Bowls

Your puppy’s bowls need to be cleaned regularly. Bowls can harbour mould, bacteria and other nasties that may harm your young dog. Clean your puppy’s bowls after every meal or water change.

Rest and Digest

Schedule relaxation time after eating to help your puppy avoid digestive upset and future gastrointestinal issues. To help your puppy with this routine, establish a calm, sedentary activity like chewing. Providing natural, single-ingredient dog chews for your puppy can help to maintain their healthy diet while promoting relaxation.

The Importance of Fresh Water

Always provide access to fresh, distilled water. Hydration is essential for your puppy’s overall health, aiding digestion and nutrient absorption.

Take Action Against Resource Guarding

Resource guarding is a natural behaviour, but we can do things as pet parents that make this behaviour become a problem. Here are a few tips to avoid this:

  • Avoid taking things from your puppy when you do not need to.
  • If you do take something, swap it for an item that has value to your puppy. But try to avoid taking it as much as possible because you may find that you do not have something as valuable as your dog’s current item.
  • Get help from a qualified behaviourist as soon as you see the early signs of resource guarding. Early intervention can set you and your dog in the right direction again without much work needing to be done.

Wrapping Up

There are many things to consider when thinking about your puppy’s food in relation to their behaviour. We hope this article has given you some ideas and guidance to chew on to help make your puppy’s start to life a happier and healthier one.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting www.rplusdogs.com

Renee Rhoades MSc, dog behaviour expert
About Renee Rhoades, MSc

Renee Rhoades, MSc, is a distinguished authority in canine behaviour and welfare, recognised for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of both dogs and humans. The founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy, Renee offers cutting-edge private coaching and online courses to dog guardians worldwide. Renee specialises in transforming fearful and high-energy dogs, addressing aggression, reactivity, generalised anxiety and hyperactivity.

Beyond client-focused coaching, Renee is also the co-host of DogLogical, a podcast dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our dogs. In addition, she extends her expertise by mentoring fellow dog professionals, contributing to the growth and development of the industry.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting www.rplusdogs.com