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Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down to Eat? 5 Reasons!

Last Updated: February 13, 2024

My German Shepherd frequently adopts a lying-down position to eat from her bowl, a habit she’s maintained since her puppy days. But this behavior, while not unique to her, raises an intriguing question: Why do German Shepherds lay down to eat?

German Shepherds may lie down to eat due to instinctive protective habits such as protecting their food against predators or reasons like tiredness, laziness, or aging. Health issues such as neck pain, osteoarthritis, swallowing difficulties, or obesity can also cause this behavior.

From the influence of their physical structure to their psychological state and even the impact of their environment, a fascinating array of explanations can help us better understand this behavior.

In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind this behavior and shed light on the various factors contributing to why German Shepherds prefer to lie down while eating.

Reasons Your German Shepherd Lays Down to Eat

Here are the reasons why your German Shepherd may lie down to eat:

  • Natural canine behavior
  • Laziness
  • Tiredness
  • Health
  • Old age

1. Natural Canine Behaviour

You may be surprised that most domestic dogs don’t eat as nature intended. So, what do I mean by this?

Thousands of years ago, wild dogs had to hunt for their food. Once the prey had been captured and killed, dogs would often lay down to eat.

It meant they could hold their food between their front paws, which allowed them to guard it and keep a lookout if anything approached.

Eating in this less vulnerable position allowed wild dogs to protect their food and defend themselves if needed.

In contrast, domestic dogs generally eat from their bowls while standing, with their heads and necks bent toward the ground.

They no longer need to protect their food from scavengers (unless the neighbor’s cat is around), so they don’t need to look out while eating!

If you picture wolves, lions, tigers, etc., they mainly eat their prey while lying on the ground, which allows them to keep an eye on anything approaching and makes them less vulnerable to attack from scavengers.

If you like to give your German Shepherd a raw bone, you may have noticed it eats it while lying down. This behavior mimics that of their ancestors. The dogs use their front paws to hold the food while keeping their heads up.

Also, picture a pack of German Shepherd puppies lying down to feed on their mother. All dogs begin life eating that way; however, most outgrow it.

German Shepherd laying down whilst eating from bowl

2. Laziness

Let’s face it: some dogs, like some humans, are born lazy, and that’s how they like it!

If this is a typical trait for your dog (for example, the English Bulldog and the Bullmastiff are renowned for being lazy breeds), you will know there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Just be wary. If your dog suddenly becomes lazy, you may need to take him to the vet for a checkup to rule out any medical conditions.

Infectious diseases, trauma, parasites, and metabolic disorders are just some conditions that might affect your dog’s energy levels.

3. Tiredness

Tiredness may be the reason your German Shepherd lays down to eat. You must watch your dog’s behavior and keep an eye on anything unusual.

If this is new behavior for your dog and typically lasts more than a few days, your dog may suffer from sickness or disease. 

If it’s just a one-off, maybe following a lot of exercise or play, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

4. Old Age

All dogs, like you and I, get older! Dogs of different breeds and sizes age at different rates. The life expectancy of the German Shepherd is 9-13 years.

Behavioral changes in your German Shepherd are one of the signs of old age. As your dog enters his senior years, you should prepare for specific changes that might occur, including your dog starting to lie down to eat their food.

Pro-Tip: How To Care For a Senior German Shepherd

As the inevitable old age sets in, this can come with health issues, including osteoarthritis, which causes your dog to suffer from joint pain and stiffness.

Your German Shepherd may feel more comfortable lying down to eat at this life stage.

A senior German Shepherd.

5. Health

These are some of the health issues that your German Shepherd may be experiencing if he suddenly starts to eat his food while lying down:

  1. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs, and approximately 25% of the canine population will be affected. It can lead to debilitating pain, discomfort, and mobility problems. Although it’s a progressive condition, you can manage it with exercise modification, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers.
  2. If your dog suddenly starts eating and drinking while lying down, he may have trouble swallowing. Some degenerative diseases, such as myasthenia gravis, can make swallowing difficult and cause weakness and fatigue. Dogs also have other muscle disorders (myopathies) that could cause swallowing difficulties.
  3. Some dog breeds, like German Shepherds, Labradors, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards, are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. This can lead to painful arthritis and make standing to eat or even standing too long in one position uncomfortable.
  4. If your German Shepherd is overweight, he might find it easier to lie down while eating, especially if he has trouble breathing.
  5. Your German Shepherd may be suffering from an upset stomach and may find it easier to lie down while eating. German Shepherds are one of the breeds prone to suffering from a sensitive stomach.
  6. Your German Shepherd might be experiencing discomfort or difficulty bending his neck to eat due to underlying issues. Neck or back pain, or even weakness, could make it challenging for him to access his food bowl, indicating a potential health concern that needs attention.

Pro Tip! Do you want the only dog bed clinically proven to reduce joint pain and stiffness in dogs with arthritis or hip dysplasia? For more info, check out this article, Big Barker Sofa Bed: Is It Worth It?

Is Lying Down While Eating Normal for German Shepherds?

I have never been too concerned that my German Shepherd often eats while lying down, as it is something that she has always done since being a pup.

She is pretty tall for a female dog, and I always felt that perhaps she feels more comfortable eating while lying down due to her long legs.

It is usual for a dog to eat lying down, although it can be rare. It is natural canine behavior as dogs lay down while eating in the wild, keeping alert for predators.

If your dog usually eats lying down, let him continue. However, if he has suddenly started lying down to eat, you may need to rule out any medical causes.

Dog Laying Down Eating (German Shepherd)

A dog that suddenly starts lying down while eating would benefit from a check-up with the vet to determine why he has changed his eating position.

If you find out your dog is suffering from a health problem, your vet may recommend eating from an elevated dog bowl.

However, in breeds prone to bloat (GDV) and sensitive stomachs, like the German Shepherd, an elevated feeder is somewhat controversial.

We’ll cover this topic later in the article, but first, you must be aware of bloat.

Bloat (GDV)in Dogs

X-ray of dog with bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus, GDV)
X-ray of a dog with bloat – the red double bubble pattern indicates stomach torsion.

Bloat in German Shepherds occurs when the stomach twists and fills with gas or gas fills the stomach first, and pressure builds. The stomach then becomes distended. This causes breathing problems and cuts off return blood flow to the heart, causing tissues to die and a ruptured stomach.

Bloat in German Shepherds can be life-threatening and must be treated as a medical emergency. Your dog can die within hours without treatment. Bloat is also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and German Shepherd stomach twist.

“Bloat still kills about 30 percent of the dogs it affects, even after extremely intensive treatment.” – AKC

Vets do not entirely understand bloat, and what causes it is unknown.

It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Poodles, and St. Bernards, are particularly at risk, although any dog breed can get bloat.

These are the symptoms you need to be aware of:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Stomach pain
  • Retching
  • Salivation
  • Restlessness

Although you should be aware of bloat, don’t worry. You can take many preventative steps to ensure your dog never has to deal with bloat in the first place.

Knowing the signs and catching GDV early on makes your dog extremely likely to come out perfectly healthy.

Risk factors include eating too soon before and after exercise, a disorganized feeding routine, and eating too quickly.

The Impact of Elevated Dog Bowls on German Shepherd Health and Posture

There are many differences of opinion on whether elevated dog bowls are good for dogs. Some owners approve of them, and others don’t. So what’s the bottom line?

Elevated dog bowls are good for German Shepherds as they help relieve neck and back strain, allowing them to eat more comfortably.

They are perfect for arthritic, elderly, taller dogs or those with swallowing or digestive issues. It is unknown whether they prevent or cause bloat.

Those in favor of elevated dog bowls have often been recommended to use them by their veterinarian, particularly in dogs with osteoarthritis, which is sadly now 25% of the canine population.

However, dog owners are divided over whether elevated dog bowls (raised feeders) cause or prevent bloat (GDV) in dogs.

As German Shepherds are prone to bloat, their eating posture is essential. So, let’s take a look at the evidence:

The safest option, in the absence of further evidence, is to advise that owners of ‘at risk’ dogs feed from a feeder on the floor. This may not reduce the risk of GDV, but there is no evidence to suggest that it will increase the risk.” – Veterinary Evidence

Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove whether elevated dog bowls cause or prevent bloat in dogs.

When deciding whether to use a raised feeder for your German Shepherd, you should consider your dog’s health and needs and any advice from your vet.

German Shepherd Eating From a Raised Feeder
My German Shepherd Willow eating her food from an elevated dog bowl.

Check out the above photo of my German Shepherd Willow eating her food from an elevated dog bowl. She is a tall dog and enjoys eating from a raised feeder, especially since she has spinal osteoarthritis.

If you decide your German Shepherd will benefit from an elevated dog bowl, there are many to choose from to suit your budget.

Check out the Dogit Elevated Dog Bowl from Amazon. It’s a pretty cool 2-in-1 design in four colors. It has anti-slip feet and a vet-recommended stainless steel bowl.

Note: Clicking the above link(s) will take you to Amazon or an online store where we have an affiliate relationship. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Using a raised feeder is not advisable if your dog tends to gulp their food. In this case, an interactive or slow feeder could be your best option.

I like the JASGOOD Slow Dog Bowl as it’s better for large breeds and even has a section in the center for water.

Or, for a crazy purple color, check out the Outward Hound Fun Feeder!

Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down to Drink?

German Shepherd laying down drinking water.
My German Shepherd Willow laying down to drink water.

My German Shepherd will sometimes lie down to drink from her water bowl.

She usually does this after a long walk, especially in the summer months when she is warm, so I guess she does this due to tiredness. Most other times, she drinks from a normal standing position.

If your dog suddenly starts having difficulty drinking from a standing position, he may have trouble swallowing and need a check-up with the vet to see if he has developed any health issues.

Ensure your German Shepherd has access to water at all times to prevent dehydration. The easiest way to check for dehydration is to check for loss of skin elasticity.

You can also check your dog’s gums. If they are dry and sticky, your dog may be dehydrated. Other signs are heavy panting, sunken eyes, or a dry nose.

It’s essential to change your dog’s water regularly throughout the day.

You can also get a dog water fountain, such as the Petsafe Drinkwell, that entices your German Shepherd to drink more – and saves you from having to keep changing his water.

Why Do German Shepherds Sit Down to Eat?

So now you know why your German Shepherd lays down to eat; what does it mean if he sits down to eat?

German Shepherds sit down to eat as it is more comfortable and reduces strain on the back or neck.

Sitting down to eat is also a learned behavior, as dogs no longer need to protect their food from predators and now eat more relaxedly. Other reasons are old age, health, and being trained to sit.

  1. Learned behavior: We have already learned that wild dogs would lay down to eat their food, whether they had scavenged it or killed their prey. So, a domesticated dog sitting down to eat is similar to a dog standing in that they no longer need to protect their food from other scavengers and eat more relaxed. Over thousands of years, the domesticated dog has evolved to eat in this position.
  2. Comfort: Some dogs may find it more comfortable to sit while eating, especially taller dogs, as this can help to reduce stress on their neck or back. You may believe that your dog is tired or lazy. However, it may just be their personal preference; after all, you and I sit down to eat to enjoy a good meal!
  3. Training: You and I may be to blame for this canine behavior, especially if we have trained our dogs to sit as a reward for food, e.g., for good behavior or during training. Some dogs may have got confused as puppies and think they have to sit when fed a meal. Some dog owners train their dogs to sit before being allowed to feed, hence the confusion!
  4. Health or old age: Your dog may have developed health issues, e.g., arthritis or hip dysplasia, or old age may have set in.

Why Do German Shepherds Eat Food Away From Their Bowl?

Does your German Shepherd take some food from their bowl, walk away just a short distance, or even head off into a corner or hiding place to eat it? If so, have you ever wondered why?

A German Shepherd may eat food away from its bowl due to a strong desire to protect or hide the food, which stems from instincts and a pack mentality.

They may also not like to eat alone if their bowl is in another room, or they may not enjoy eating from a metal bowl.

According to the experts, the most likely cause is pack mentality.

When wild dogs killed their prey, the least dominant dogs would drag pieces of food away and retreat to a safer place. They did this to avoid fighting the leader or a more dominant canine for food.

Although the domesticated dog no longer has this competition or threat, this behavior of eating food away from the bowl is your dog’s evolutionary instinct taking over.

Even centuries of domesticity haven’t wholly been bred out of them, and some breeds will still have this instinct more than others.

Usually, the domestic dog doesn’t take the food all that far away as they want to keep an eye on the rest of the food in the bowl. If your dog takes their food into another room to be with you, they may feel lonely and don’t like eating alone.

If you have more than one dog, instinct may be more common. Some have no problem sharing food bowls, while others like to grab a portion of food and eat it away from the feeding area.

Final Thoughts

Allowing your German Shepherd to lay down or sit while eating is no cause for concern – as long as there are no medical concerns. All dogs, like humans, have unique personalities and will do whatever they feel comfortable with.

However, if your dog suddenly starts to lay down to eat or drink and has never done this before, it may be for medical reasons rather than comfort, and a trip to the vet is advised.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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