Need help feeding a picky dog?

interactive food puzzle

Is your Coton a finicky eater? 

Feeding a picky dog is a common and frustrating problem for many Coton parents. Before finding the solution for your fussy eater, it can be helpful to understand why your dog is turning his nose up at his food so you can find the right solution.

Feeding a picky dog: Why your dog is picky with food and what you can do about it:

Problem: She doesn’t like the food bowl.

Solution:  I couldn’t believe it when my new puppy didn’t gobble up her food like Luc used to do. I thought “oh no, I’ve got a finicky Coton”. But I discovered that Lucy just loves to work for her food. I put the same food she turned her nose up in the bowl and put it into a food puzzle, and she ate the whole thing. Plus it keeps her from eating too fast and also gives me a few minutes of uninterrupted “me time”. It also keeps her mentally stimulated, which helps prevent boredom and behavior problems.  You might want to try this before anything else since it’s easy and inexpensive, especially for puppies who thrive on playing. If your dog isn’t into working for food, you might be surprised that putting the food in a different bowl, or even on the floor, can be enough to get your dog interested in the food. Hand feeding can help as well.

Here are the 3 food puzzles/toys that Lucy loves. I often switch these up during the day so she doesn't get bored. Her favorite (and mine, since it's so easy to use and keep clean) is the Bob-A-Lot. Kong makes a similar Wobbler, but it's a little too heavy for Lucy now. We might revisit as she gets bigger.

Lucy also likes this interactive slow feeder food dispenser. She doesn't eat her entire meal, though, like with the Bob-A-Lot. But she eats quite a bit of it and she enjoys it. It is sometimes hard for her to apply enough pressure to open up the puzzle lids, so it might not be best for brand new puppies.

Another food puzzle that Lucy likes is the Snuffle Mat because she enjoys hunting for food. There are so many snuffle mats on the market, but this is the one we're currently using. Easy to use and to care for.

Problem: He truly doesn’t like the food he is given. If you’re a good pet parent, you want your dog to have the healthiest food there is, right? But think about how your children would react if they had the choice between a hot dog or a plate of vegetables. Unfortunately, the healthier choice doesn’t always taste as good as the lower quality choice. 

Solution:  Add a little bit of the more tasty foods to your dog’s food. Sometimes just a tiny bit of boiled chicken,  ground beef, or sweet potato can make it hard for your picky dog to resist. Or you can add a touch of wet dog food, which is often tastier than dried food. 


Problem: She’s getting too many treats or table scraps throughout the day, so she’s not hungry, or she’s holding out to get the more desirable food.

Solution: Reduce treats. Easy Peasy. If you have a puppy and need treats for training, try to find single ingredient or low calorie treats and break them into smaller pieces. Or you can use your dog’s regular food as treats for training.


Problem: Your dog usually has a healthy appetite, but suddenly she’s not interested in her food.

Solution: First, rule out any medical issues. Often your dog is just bored with eating the same thing day after day. Imagine if you had to eat the same thing every day for the rest of your life. Even your favorite foods would eventually become tiresome. So, give your Coton an assortment of food, but make sure to switch over gradually so there’s no digestive issues.


Problem: There may be a medical issue causing decreased appetite. Is loss of appetite sudden? Are there any other symptoms such as lethargy, pain, food sensitivities, losing weight, dental issues, parasites, change in behavior? Are there new stressors in your dog’s life (new baby, new dog or cat, new home, too much time alone)?

Solution:  Always check with your vet to rule out medical reasons for a dog who won’t eat (not your family, friends, or social media).


Problem: Feeding a picky dog may just be about location, location, location. Some dogs like privacy when they eat and others don’t like being left alone. 

Solution: This may take some trial and error to see what your dog’s preferences are. You can try different rooms, in their crate, or behind a gate if they like to eat alone. And for those who like company, feed in a place where there's other dogs or people around. 


Problem: The food is not fresh. It can be a lot cheaper to buy dog food in bulk, but large bags of food can last a long time for small dogs and the food can go bad over time. 

Solution: Buy an appropriate amount of food so it doesn’t spoil before you get to the bottom of the bag. Also, make sure to keep dog food in an air tight container. This is is a simple and easy fix for feeding your picky dog.


Problem: Your dog is a couch potato. 

Solution:  It may surprise you to learn that your dog's activity level plays a role in his appetite. If you give your dog plenty of exercise, it will increase his appetite. We’re not talking about running a marathon, regular walks should be plenty for a small dog like the Coton. You can also play tug of war or fetch. And mental activity counts as well. Even teaching your dog new tricks can be enough mental stimulation to make him hungry. 


Problem: Your dog is shy or fearful. Many unsocialized or shelter dogs can become fearful and have trust issues

Solution:  Hand feeding your dog can help you bond with your dog and build trust. Once your dog develops more confidence, you can slowly wean them off hand feeding. Although many people continue this practice, as it can also help with impulse control and resource guarding.



Here’s a previous newsletter article where I gathered up our visitor suggestions for parents needing help feeding a picky dog: 


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