How to Hand Feed Your Dog Safely

As a dog owner and trainer, I’ve learned that hand feeding dog can be a great way to bond and establish trust. However, it does require some caution to avoid potential issues like food aggression or upset stomachs.

Here, I’ll share my top tips for how to hand feed your dog safely.

Why Hand Feed Your Dog?

Strengthens Your Bond: Hand feeding allows you to have close, positive interactions with your dog at mealtimes. This helps build trust and affection.

Aids Training: Hand feeding gives you the opportunity to ask your dog to perform commands like “sit” or “stay” before receiving each handful of food. This reinforces training.

Prevents Food Aggression: Some dogs become overly protective of their food bowls. Hand feeding prevents this territorial behavior.

Encourages Picky Eaters: Fussy dogs may be more tempted to eat when you hand feed instead of a bowl. The extra encouragement can stimulate their appetite.

Makes Medicating Easier: Hide pills or supplements in hand fed food instead of trying to force them into your dog’s mouth.

“I started hand feeding my rescue dog Atlas and saw a huge improvement in his trust and engagement with me during training sessions. It really strengthened our bond.”

So hand feeding offers many benefits! But it also requires handling food safely to avoid problems. Follow these tips to make mealtimes pleasant for both you and your pup.

hand feeding a dog, dog hand feed, teach hand feeding dog,

Choose the Right Foods

Stick to dog-safe foods when hand feeding:

Kibble or Canned Wet Food: Use your dog’s normal vet-recommended diet for hand feeding. Wet or dry kibble works.

Some Human Foods: Plain cooked meat, eggs, or rice are OK in small amounts. Avoid spicy/salty foods.

Dog Treats or Cookies: Small training treats or broken cookie pieces are ideal hand fed rewards during training.

Avoid: Chocolate, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, alcohol, and anything spoiled or moldy. These can seriously harm your dog!

When in doubt, stick to kibble and high-value treats made specifically for dogs. It’s safest!

Prevent Food Aggression

Some dogs may become possessive over hand fed food and snap or bite hands that come near their mouths. To avoid this:

Hand feed small amounts at a time instead of large portions.

Have everyone in the household hand feed to prevent bonding with just one person.

Ask your dog to “sit” or another command before feeding each handful.

Never take away food after giving it. Only hand feed what your dog will finish.

Stop hand feeding if aggression develops and seek help from a certified applied animal behaviorist.

“We noticed our rescue dog Tessa growling when we approached her food bowl. Hand feeding small portions and requiring a ‘sit’ first solved the problem.”

Hand feeding itself is unlikely to cause aggression in dogs without existing food guarding tendencies. But stay alert for any possessive behaviors.

Follow Proper Hygiene

To avoid transferring germs when hand feeding:

Wash hands thoroughly before and after.

Avoid hand feeding if you have open cuts on hands.

Don’t use bare hands – use a spoon, tongs, or gloves if hand feeding raw food diets.

Disinfect surfaces before prepping raw foods.

Don’t let your dog lick your face or mouth after hand feeding.

Clean food prep and dog bowls regularly.

Following good hygiene practices will help prevent passing illnesses between you and your furry pal during hand feeding sessions.

Pick the Right Location

Choose an appropriate setting for stress-free hand feeding:

Use a familiar spot where your dog normally eats meals. Maintaining routine is reassuring.

Make sure the location is quiet with minimal distractions to keep your dog calm and focused.

Have your dog “sit” or “lay down” before hand feeding. Feeding in a settled position reduces chances of choking.

Keep an eye on young puppies – don’t let them run around with food in mouth.

💡 Pro Tip: During training, practice hand feeding in different areas of your home and yard to generalize commands.

Picking the right relaxed location sets your dog up for hand feeding success.

Hand Feed Appropriate Portions

It’s important not to overfeed when hand feeding:

Follow your vet’s portion guidelines based on your dog’s weight, age, and activity level.

Split the meal into small handfuls to avoid overfeeding.

Pay attention to your dog’s appetite – don’t force food if they seem disinterested.

Reduce other meals on days you’ll be hand feeding bigger portions.

Stop hand feeding if your dog vomits or has diarrhea – feed bland diet.

“The first time I hand fed my puppy Ollie I gave him too much. Now I measure his kibble into separate piles before starting.”

Hand feeding makes it easy to overindulge your pooch! Stick to proper portions to avoid gastro issues.

Choose Appropriate Food Textures

Consider your dog’s dental health when picking foods for hand feeding:

Dry Kibble: Works for dogs with healthy teeth. Avoid in elderly dogs.

Wet Canned Food: Easier to chew for dogs with dental issues.

Cooked Rice or Lean Meat: Soft textures are gentle on sore mouths.

Mash or Grind Dry Food: For dogs with few/no teeth left.

💡Pro Tip: Always supervise dogs when hand feeding to monitor chewing and watch for choking.

Selecting the right food textures ensures hand feeding is safe and comfortable for your dog’s individual needs.

Hand Feed at the Proper Speed

Go slowly when first teaching your dog to hand feed:

Offer single pieces of kibble or treats initially.

Work up to handfuls of food as your dog masters gentle taking skills.

Time hand feeding to last 10-15 minutes – avoid rushing.

Pay attention to lip movement and head position to avoid nipped fingers.

Withhold food if your dog gets overly excited and gulps.

“I use hand feeding time to practice ‘gentle’ with my dog. If he grabs too fast, I say ‘nope!’ and pull back my hand.”

Hand feeding at a slow, controlled pace prevents upset stomachs and supports positive training.

Make Hand Feeding Enjoyable

Hand feeding should be a fun, enriching experience for both you and your dog. Here are some tips:

Before you begin hand feeding, get your dog’s attention by showing them a tasty treat. This focuses them on you and your hands.

While hand feeding, occasionally toss a piece of food and back up several steps. Your dog will follow you closely for the next handful.

hand feeding a dog, dog hand feed, teach hand feeding dog,

Use an upbeat, happy tone of voice and provide praise.

Incorporate training tricks for mental stimulation.

Hand feed from different positions – standing, sitting, kneeling.

Make a game of hiding pieces of food around the room for your dog to sniff out.

Occasionally feed by having your dog catch treats you gently toss.

“Mealtimes are much more engaging now that we hand feed our corgi Piper. She loves showing off her tricks for rewards!”

Getting creative makes hand feeding rewarding playtime rather than just another chore.

Monitor Your Dog Closely

It’s important to supervise your dog anytime you hand feed:

Watch for signs of aggression or food guarding.

Make sure your dog chews thoroughly and doesn’t choke.

Stop feeding if your dog seems anxious, distracted, or uninterested.

Note if your dog has difficulty seeing food in your hand. This may indicate vision issues.

Ensure small puppies don’t wander with food in their mouths.

💡Pro Tip: If your dog ever snaps, bites, or shows aggression during hand feeding, consult a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. Don’t attempt to resolve aggression on your own.

Paying close attention ensures hand feeding sessions are low-stress and safe.

Hand Feed at Regular Intervals

While variety keeps hand feeding engaging, maintaining consistency is also important:

Hand feed on a schedule, not randomly throughout the day.

Coordinate timing with your dog’s normal meal routine.

Hand feed the same core foods to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach.

Slowly introduce any new foods – don’t switch up everything at once.

Keep hand feeding amounts in proportion to your dog’s regular daily intake.

“The vet advised us to hand feed our elderly dog Sadie at the same times daily to keep her digestive health stable.”

Following a predictable routine makes hand feeding less disruptive to your dog’s system.

Seek Veterinary Guidance

As always, check with your vet about dietary changes like hand feeding:

Inform your vet if you plan to switch to hand feeding long-term.

Follow any special diet instructions they prescribe.

Ask about proper hand feeding techniques for your dog’s age, dental health, and medical conditions.

Tell your vet if you notice any issues arise while hand feeding your dog.

💡Pro Tip: Bring a stool sample to your vet if your dog develops diarrhea or vomiting after you introduce hand feeding.

Veterinary supervision ensures hand feeding safely aligns with your dog’s needs.

Wean Off Hand Feeding Slowly

When it’s time to transition your dog back to bowl feeding:

Gradually reduce the amount you hand feed over a period of 1-2 weeks.

Mix hand feeding with bowl feeding during the transition phase.

Closely supervise your dog’s first few bowl meals again after hand feeding.

Temporarily hand feed again if your dog seems distressed about the change.

Reward your dog for eating from their bowl again.

“We slowly reintroduced the food bowl when our hand-fed foster dog was adopted into his forever home. It really helped reduce his stress.”

Giving your dog time to adjust prevents setbacks in their progress when moving back to bowl feeding.

Know When to Seek Help

Consult your vet or a professional dog trainer right away if your dog has any of these hand feeding issues:

Food aggression like growling or biting

Refusal to eat or loss of appetite

Vomiting or diarrhea

Choking or trouble chewing

Notable weight loss or gain

Behavioral changes like increased anxiety or lethargy


The key to successful hand feeding is making it a calm, pleasant experience that strengthens your bond with your dog. By following these tips, you and your furry friend can enjoy the many benefits of hand feeding safely.

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