5 Lessons I Learned from My Dog About Eating

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

I am the owner of a mostly lovable mutt. The runt of a rescue litter from rural Louisiana, Charlie has an interesting relationship with food. In short, there are few things he looks forward to more than eating, and if you try to come between him and his bowl — beware.

While the past several years of negotiating my dog’s relationship with food hasn’t always been easy, it has been educational. Here’s what I’ve learned from my pup about eating.

1. Breakfast is worth getting excited about.

Charlie is a pretty good sleeper, which is to say that he sleeps exactly as long as I do. But the moment I open one eye, he is awake, aware that it is time for the best meal of the day (besides the other meal of the day: dinner).

It is at once the most annoying and the most enjoyable part of my day. If I don’t get up immediately, he will sit and stare and whine at me until I rouse myself from slumber. But once I do, he will, without fail, do a little dance of anticipation. He jumps and twists and sometimes shouts in his way (bark!), and I can’t help but laugh and join in the revelry.

2. Sharing is sometimes overrated.

I remember when Charlie was a pup, all fur and floppy ears. When it was time for him to eat, I would put out his bowl of food and walk away. I think I read somewhere that’s what you’re supposed to do so that you don’t make a big deal of meal time. It was either bad advice or Charlie is not like other dogs (or both) because one day I heard a noise. “Grrrrrrufff!” it went. Upon investigating, Charlie was, with no one or nothing nearby, guarding his food with his tiny little growl. Dog owners will know that this behavior shouldn’t be encouraged (and I now hold my dog’s bowl while I feed him to let him know who’s in charge — mostly me), but there’s something to be said for keeping your food to yourself.

3. Try everything once (and don’t be afraid to spit it out if you don’t like it).

My dog’s philosophy when it comes to food is eat first, taste later — which makes him a pretty adventurous eater. He has definite favorites — anything meaty, but especially bacon, yogurt, cheese, or really any kind of dairy — but he’ll try pretty much everything I put in front of him, from cumin-scented rice to carrot sticks. The latter, by the way, go down much better if they are covered in peanut butter. Celery, on the other hand, will get chewed up and then coughed out in the corner.

4. Don’t turn your nose up at unorthodox food combinations.

I think I started adding milk to Charlie’s dog kibble to keep him from inhaling it so quickly that it goes down the wrong tube or up his nose or somewhere else it isn’t supposed to be. It didn’t really strike me as being gross — after all, my dog loves kibble and he loves milk — but when you think of the fact that his food is made of salmon, sweet potatoes, peas, and cranberries, it’s actually a little bit unsavory. But given the speed with which my pup licks the bowl clean, it must be rather tasty — or at least tasty enough.

5. Food trumps everything.

Charlie likes walks almost as much as he likes food. Every morning after breakfast, he trots along the left-hand side of the hallway until we get to the great expanse of my lobby, which he cautiously crosses, skeptical of its elaborate pattern, and then leaps down the stairs to freedom. And while it’s mighty fine to be a dog running around sniffing things, if I say the word “treat,” Charlie will come sprinting.

Have you learned any fun lessons about eating from your dog?