Why Does My Dog Paw or "Dig" His Food Bowl?

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Rick's Photography/Shutterstock

Sometimes, dogs can behave straight out quirky. The range of their weird behaviors varies from chasing their tail and scooting on their but, to “pawing” or “digging” food, which sort of looks like they’re burying their kibble but they’re not really doing anything. Have you ever seen your pooch trying to fake bury his food by pawing at it? Don’t worry, the behavior might look odd at the very least, but it’s not a reason for concern. Here’s what dogs that dig, bury, or paw their food are trying to tell you with this behavior.

Why Does My Dog Paw or "Dig" His Food Bowl?

Dogs may exhibit pawing or digging behavior around their food bowl for various reasons, and the interpretation can depend on the individual dog. By closely observing your dog's specific actions and considering these factors, you may gain a better understanding of why they engage in pawing behavior. Keep in mind that individual differences among dogs can lead to variations in behavior, and what holds true for one dog may not necessarily apply to another. Still, there are some common explanations that hold true for most situations when “pawing” is in question.

  • Too Much Food Served:

In the wild, dogs might use their paws to cover or bury their food to protect it from other animals or to save it for later. This behavior could be a residual instinct from their ancestors – if they eat a bit and then paw at their bowl before leaving the meal, it means that they are trying to stash the surplus away for later. Try downsizing their portions to see if the behavior goes away. 

  • Scent Marking: 

Dogs have scent glands in their paws, and pawing at the food bowl might be a way for them to mark the area with their scent. This could be a territorial behavior and might be seen in households where there are several dogs present. 

  • Excitement or Anticipation: 

Dogs might get excited about mealtime, and pawing at the bowl could be a way of expressing anticipation or eagerness for their food. This is especially true if they are eagerly pawing the ground even before the food has been served. These dogs can often be voracious eaters as well, so to prevent them from snarfing up their food in seconds, try utilizing a  slow feeder for dogs to promote a more appropriate pace of eating and prevent bloat and other digestive issues due to lack of chewing and fast eating.

  • Exploration:

Some dogs are naturally curious and may paw at their food bowl as a form of exploration. They might be testing the surface or investigating the contents. If you notice that they are pawing at the food itself, spilling it out in order to see what’s under, then this might be the case.

  • Attention-Seeking Behavior: 

Some dogs learn that pawing at their food bowl gets them attention from their owners. If your dog has been reinforced with attention or food rewards for this behavior in the past, they may continue to do it. Try to “retrace your steps” and remember if you provided attention before.

  • Discomfort or Dislike: 

If your dog paws at the food bowl but doesn't eat all that much, it could be a sign of discomfort or a dislike of the food. They may be trying to express their displeasure or disinterest. Try switching the brand of food they’re eating or using dog food toppers meant to entice even the pickiest of eaters to finish their bowl of kibble. There are various flavors around, but most dogs seem to love juicy and meaty options best, such as this  chicken and beef dinner wet topper.

If your dog's pawing behavior is not causing any issues, it may simply be a quirky habit. However, if the behavior becomes problematic or if you notice changes in your dog's eating habits, it's a good idea to consult with a veterinarian. They can rule out any underlying health issues and provide guidance on how to manage or modify the behavior if needed. Additionally, observing your dog's overall  body language and behavior can help you better understand the specific reason behind their pawing at the food bowl.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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