Are Golden Retrievers Picky Eaters?

When we got our Golden Retriever, he started off eating everything and anything put in front of him. I was not surprised as Golden Retrievers are typically very food motivated and prone to obesity if not monitored. 

However, lately, our Golden Retriever has become fussy and seems to be a picky eater. Otherwise, a healthy dog with lots of energy who gets plenty of exercise and play, I began to wonder if he was indeed a picky eater or if we might be responsible.  

As a whole, Golden Retrievers are not picky eaters. Picky eating is generally not due to behavioral issues or personality. Instead, fussy eating is usually caused by feeding table scraps or too many snacks, although a lack of exercise or a dislike of its dog food may also contribute to the issue.

Any change in normal behavior requires a bit of detective work. Often, the cause, provided that it is not medical in nature, is due to well-intentioned owners showing love to the dog with food. That love comes in the form of food, and usually, that food is from the table during meals or treats during the day.

Why Is My Golden Retriever a Picky Eater?

If you have a Golden Retriever who is fussy, the three leading causes are usually one of or a combination of these three issues:

  1. Feeding table scraps or overfeeding snack throughout the day
  2. Lack of physical exercise
  3. Dislike for the texture or taste of its specific brand of dog food 

Most Golden Retrievers are not picky eaters. In contrast, they are much more likely to be highly food motivated and prone to weight gain or even obesity. It’s their high food drive is that makes them easily trainable as puppies and adults.

After all, a dog that values food highly and is eager to please has a currency that can be used to elicit the desired behavior. 

If you’re interested in why Golden Retrievers are always so hungry, I wrote an article on that very topic. You can read that post here: Golden Retrievers: Why Are They Always So Hungry?

Some Golden Retrievers, although rare, can be fussy because that’s just who they are. Just like us humans, Golden Retrievers have individual and unique personalities.

So, your picky Golden Retriever might be fussy because it has a more discerning palate.

Your Golden Retriever maybe like most in the breed; it “lives to eat.” Or, you may have a Golden Retriever that is the rarity and “eats to live.” Either can be prone to being a picky eater, just for different reasons.

Our only choice in these cases is to appreciate and embrace these personality differences and find ways to work with that dog. 

However, a naturally fussy Golden Retriever is usually the exception, not the rule. 

The most common reason a Golden Retriever is a picky eater is that it is fed table scraps or too many snacks throughout the day. Human food is very palatable to a dog. Therefore, given the preference, they will prefer human food. 

Given a choice, most kids and adults would prefer pizza, chips, and ice cream versus more healthy but less palatable food options. Our dogs are no different. Some foods just taste better. 

Exercise or lack of, more specifically, may also be a contributor. Golden Retrievers are highly active dogs that need upwards of 1 to 2 hours per day. Therefore, a Golden Retriever with an unmet need for exercise could be fussy due to lower energy expenditure and less appetite. 

Lastly, a Golden Retriever may not like a specific brand or even texture of dog food. Some may prefer the taste of one brand and not another. Or they may prefer wet over dry. 

Our Golden Retriever Bailey does not like certain textures, specifically softer textures like cucumber, strawberries, or blueberries. However, he will eat them if the strawberries or blueberries are frozen.

How Do I Get a Fussy Golden Retriever To Eat?

Suppose you have a fussy Golden Retriever. In that case, the goal is to ensure the dog eats enough food to get its required calories and micro and macronutrients. We don’t want the dog to become skinny or underweight. 

So, what can we do if our Golden Retriever is fussy? 

You can get a fussy Golden Retriever to start eating by not feeding scraps from the table, reducing the number of snacks given during the day, and providing adequate daily physical activity. Other things you can try include establishing a feeding routine, feeding by hand, or using a Kong toy to feed meals.

Stop Feeding Table Scraps

This should be the first thing that is looked at as it’s often the main reason a Golden Retriever is fussy when eating its food. Human food can be calorie-dense and filling, and your Golden Retriever may be becoming full from getting some table “treats” throughout the day. It adds up. 

A Golden Retriever is typically much smaller than an adult human, so they don’t need the same calorie intake we do. 

However, the main driver is taste. Human food tastes better. So, given a choice of pizza, roast beef, or steak versus dog food, your Golden Retriever will go for the better tasting options – human food. 

The other issue with table feeding is it conditions the behavior. Meaning your Golden learns that it gets to eat with its family at mealtime and gets our food.

So it’s best never to start the behavior, to begin with, but if you have, then stop giving the dog table scraps no matter how sad your dog looks and no matter how much it begs. 

Limit Snacks

Snacks can add up quickly as well. Especially when snacks are being used in training throughout the day. The key is not to eliminate the snacks but rather to balance snack intake with regular feedings. 

First, snacks should only comprise one-third (or less) of the dog’s daily food intake. Second, the snacks should be as low in calories as possible, so always be conscious of opting for low-calorie options. Finally, cutting commercial snacks into halves, thirds or quarters reduces calories while cutting costs. 

Snacks such as freeze-dried liver, beef, turkey, or lamb, make excellent choices. They’re one ingredient, lower in calories, and easy to break into smaller pieces. And they don’t spoil. 

Vegetables and fruits can be delicious and low-calorie snacks for your Golden Retriever that are rich in vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Like other snacks, be mindful of the amount given.

If you need some help in determining which are the best vegetable and fruit choices for your Golden Retriever (spoiler: some are not good options or potentially dangerous), then read these two articles:

Golden Retrievers: Can They Eat Vegetables?

Can Golden Retrievers Eat Fruit? (Good Fruit Options Versus Bad)

Also, make sure you reduce your Golden Retriever’s food at meals to compensate for the snacks given throughout the day. If your Golden is getting full from snacks, it just might not have an appetite for regular meals. 

Most dogs are overfed, not underfed. Usually, if tabling feeding is eliminated and snacks are reduced, the problem resolves itself. 

Establish a Feeding Routine

Set an established feeding routine for your Golden Retriever. Most Golden Retrievers should be fed twice per day. Once in the morning and once in the early evening, e.g., at 7:00 am and 5:00 pm. Try to stick to a set schedule, so your Golden knows that it gets fed at those times. 

Many dogs have a better appetite after some exercise. Hunger increases when more energy is expended. However, exercise to get food is also aligned with a dog’s instinctual drive is to seek out food.

Think about it – that’s mostly what wolves do in life other than sleep, go potty, and mate. They look for food – that’s their job. So, a walk before meals often primes the appetite and aligns with the dog’s need to work for its food. 

Set the food down for about 15 minutes, and if the dog does not eat, remove the food and put it back in the bin. After 15 minutes, if the dog hasn’t eaten, it is not hungry or waiting for something better. 

Removing the food teaches the dog that if he isn’t eating what’s in front of him within a specific time, it will have to wait until supper time. Provided no table scraps are being fed, and snacks are limited, then the dog should have a more robust appetite at the next meal. 

In contrast, leaving the food down often teaches the dog that it can get food anytime it wants, so why does it need you? The dog learns that if it doesn’t get any better options throughout the day (e.g., table scraps or snacks), its dog food is there whenever it wants.

Once the only option available is to eat its food within a specified timeframe or there will be nothing else until the next meal, the motivation for your dog changes.

Provide Adequate Daily Exercise

Golden Retrievers need a lot of activity. The breed is a high-energy dog and enjoys all levels of activity. Activity should be a mix of physical exercise such as a walk or run with play such as tug and fetch. 

If table scraps and snacks are not the issues, a fussy dog can often be traced to a lack of exercise. The dog is not hungry because it’s been lying around all day and has little appetite. 

Feed From Your Hand

Often a dog will eat from the hand and not the bowl. It may also prefer eating the kibble from the floor. I’m not sure why hand-feeding works in some instances, but it does. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try.

Try hand feeding your Golden Retriever some kibble and scatter some food on the floor. You can then try placing some food from your hand into the bowl. Often this does the trick, and your dog will begin eating its meals. 

Feed Meals Using a Kong Toy 

Add the kibble to a Kong toy. You can add the soaked kibble, add a bit of peanut butter (not too much) or honey, and then freeze it.

Many dogs enjoy feeding for a Kong toy because it’s mentally stimulating, they have to work for the food, and they like to chew. The Kong meets many of the dog’s needs, all in one rubber chew toy.

However, you will have to teach your dog to enjoy the Kong. Start by giving it to your Golden Retriever with some loose kibble, so it figures out that the toy dispenses food. Once the dog gets it, they usually enjoy eating from a Kong.

Bailey trying to dig some food out of his Kong.

What Can I Feed a Fussy Golden Retriever?

So, if you have tried the recommendations and nothing has worked, you may just have a fussy eater. It happens. Now you just have to work within the dog’s “eat to live” nature and try to accommodate it as best as possible. 

Here are some things feed to your fussy Golden Retriever that might help it be less fussy. Some are as simple as adding water.

Add Some Warm Water 

Adding water is the cheapest option and the first to try. 

The kibble may be too dry for the dog’s liking, so add a little warm water. Doing so helps soften the food a bit, creates a bit of gravy, and releases the aroma. 

You can also try soaking the food overnight. A good kibble will not become mushy but rather soften a bit while creating an often palatable slurry mix.

Then, throw it in the microwave for 10 seconds to release the aroma. Just make sure it’s not too hot before feeding. 

Mix in Some Wet Food

This is the second thing I would try.

Often wet food is more palatable to a picky eater and older Golden Retrievers. It also has the added advantage that you can easily use it to rotate the flavor of foods discussed in the step below.

Instead of buying three bags of dog foods, which can be expensive, you can buy three different wet food brands and mix them in the dry during the week – a much cheaper option. 

Experiment With Different Flavors

If you ate the same food at each meal, day in and day out, the chance is you’d get sick of that food. A picky Golden may be the same.

Trying rotating the dog food with different flavors – fish, beef, and lamb, for example. Your picky Golden may want some variety in its meals. Alternately, you may stumble upon one flavor that hits the mark, and you can use that on a go-forward basis.

No need to buy multiple bags of expensive dog food. Instead, you can use wet food to mix into the food, as discussed previously, or try adding some toppers as discussed below.

Then, when you find something your Golden Retriever likes, make a note of it and put it in the food rotation.

Add Some Meal Toppers

You can try mixing in some yogurt, low-sugar peanut butter (they sell peanut butter for dogs in pet stores), sardines, or a tiny amount of leftovers. Yes, leftovers are technically table scraps, but they’re not fed from the table but instead at the dog’s mealtime, so it’s controlled.

You can also try commercially available toppers that are freeze-dried powders but often, a fuzzy may not like these are there just more of the same – dog food. 

This is one of the topper’s we tried with Bailey. He’s not overly fond of it.

I use powder PB2 (I don’t get the one with cocoa in it), which is basically dehydrated peanut butter and has three ingredients: peanuts, salt, and sugar.

Two tablespoons have 50 calories. It’s low in fat and sugar. I mix it in water then add it to the food. Bailey enjoys this on occasion as part of his rotation. 

Choose a Good Quality Dog Food 

Lastly, your Golden Retriever may simply just not like the food it’s getting, especially if it’s a cheaper brand with a lot of fillers. Try another brand but make sure it’s a good quality dog food.

A discerning palate may have a preference for better quality and tasting food, just as we may have a preference for t-bone versus a strip steak. 

When Should I Be Concerned About My Golden Retrievers Picky Eating?

Picky eating is usually not a problem, provided the dog remains active, has energy, is at a healthy weight, and is happy.

Often a picky eater may skip a meal or two, and it’s not a concern. A dog will not starve if food is available, and eating should resume after a day.

However, there are times when a change in eating behavior may be a cause for concern.

If your Golden Retriever has stopped eating and it does not resolve in one day, that may be a cause for concern. Also, be on the lookout for the dog being in distress or pain, whining, or any signs of a physical cause for no appetite. Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect any medical issues.

It goes without saying that if the issue is not resolved within a day or the dog is in pain or distress, then a vet visit is mandatory. Don’t wait. 

Another issue is if your Golden Retriever is becoming too skinny. If your Golden Retriever has become underweight or too “skinny,” this is a cause for concern. Again, as above, it is highly recommended to call your vet. 

Your vet can help rule out any medical or physical causes and work with you on solutions to address any problems. 

Hold up: I wrote an article on how to tell if our Golden Retriever is too skinny. If you have a fussy Golden Retriever that is not eating, I suggest taking a few minutes to read the article. The article identifies signs that your Golden Retriever has become too skinny and when there is a cause for concern. You can read that article here: Is My Golden Retriever Too Skinny? (Signs to Look For)

Final Thoughts

Most often, the cause of picky eating in a Golden Retriever is not a behavioral or personality issue but directly attributed to feeding table scraps or too many treats. The solution then is simple; stop it.

However, if you do indeed have a finicky Golden Retriever on your hands, then you will most likely have to address the issue with multiple solutions. Try those discussed above and keep a journal of what seems to work and what does not.

If the situation does not seem to improve within a reasonable timeframe, then consider discussing the issue with your veterinarian.

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