Bobbing the head is not an uncommon behavior in dogs. If you have lived with your furry friend for years, you must have seen the pet bob his head many times.
That said, head bobbing can become worrisome if it suddenly becomes your dog’s way around food, causing you to wonder, “Why is my dog bobbing his head around his food bowl?”
Your dog may bob his head around his food bowl as a mere habit he is repeating or as an expression of contentment or displeasure with the food. However, if it seems involuntary, it could point to medical issues such as head injuries, brain tumors, or idiopathic head tremors.
This article explains the different reasons your dog is bobbing its head around the food bowl. The details on each reason will help you determine when the behavior is simply a question of habit and when you should do something about it.
Let’s start with head bobbing as a safe routine behavior.
1. Your Dog is Simply Happy That It’s Eating Time
There are two basic things every dog owner should know by now:
- Dogs love their food and are happy when it’s time to chow down on their meal.
- Dogs are routine pets and often repeat behavior as a habit.
So, if your dog shakes his head as you set down his meal and does not usually do so at other times, he is probably just saying, “I’m glad I can finally eat!”
If the dog somehow associates head bobbing with mealtimes, he will keep doing it habitually, which leads us to the next answer to the question, why is my dog bobbing his head around his food bowl?
2. Your Dog has Associated Head Bobbing with Mealtimes
Does the term positive reinforcement ring a bell? Well, if it does, you know that the main idea of the theory is that rewarding behavior reinforces it and makes it repeated.
So, if your dog is healthy and only seems to repeat head bobbing when it’s time to eat, the pet must have associated the behavior with the pleasure from mealtime.
This means that your dog bobbed his head the first time, and you followed that by setting the food down for the pet, reinforcing it as a mealtime habit.
That statement might make you go on the defensive and start thinking, “But I don’t remember doing that!”
Truth is, you may have done it unconsciously. But your dog does not know when you do something with intention and when you don’t.
It’s enough that the food bowl appears to touch the ground in front of your dog while or after he bobs his head for the pet to associate it with the pleasure of eating.
In a certain sense, you are unknowingly training your dog to bob his head at mealtime. And as long as the behavior is simply a happy food-time habit, you don’t have to worry or feel guilty about it.
3. You are Taking too Long to Set Down the Food Bowl
Dogs can be impatient if food is in sight but not getting to them. We have all seen them jump up in an attempt to reach their food in our hands.
If you’ve taught your dog that jumping on you to reach his food is unacceptable behavior, the pet might find other ways of expressing impatience while he waits for his meal to touch the ground.
You can find out if that’s the case with your dog by setting your furry friend’s meal immediately without making the pet wait. You should be able to determine the case with a couple of meals.
If your dog does not show any signs of bobbing during the meal, then you have your answer to why your dog is bobbing his head around his food bowl: your dog bobs his head in waiting.
4. The Food Isn’t What Your Dog Expected
If you have a dog that’s choosy about what is on his plate, bobbing his head could be the pet’s way to say, “I don’t like what’s in here!”
Your dog could do the same as a way of rejecting the taste of his food, especially if you’ve just changed his food type, and your pup is trying to adjust to the change.
Apparently, head bobbing behavior against food taste is similar to what dogs do if they swallow something toxic like a toad.
Of course, ingesting toxins is a matter of immediate vet attention. Instead, if it’s about taste preferences, you might just need to change the food type or give your dog time to adjust.
5. Your Dog Could be Having a Brain-related Medical Issue
Several medical issues can cause head bobbing or head tremors in dogs. These medical conditions include:
- Head injuries.
- Idiopathic Head Tremors (Most common in Boxers, Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, and Labrador Retrievers).
- Brain tumors.
- Distemper Myoclonus (A neurological manifestation of Canine Distemper).
- Nervous system disorders.
Head bobbing from these medical conditions is usually spontaneous or involuntary. This video by Southeast Veterinary Neurology gives you an idea of the nature of medical-related dog head bobbing:
According to the Veterinary Information Network, a dog with head tremors caused by a medical condition related to the brain or the nervous system can manifest them at mealtimes. This is because the dog diverts his attention to the eating task.
As long as the dog sits quietly, the tremors may not occur. But a bowl of food can trigger them because the dog’s brain is activated towards the food and eating activity.
If your dog is bobbing his head around the food bowl, chances are your pet has learned to do that as a way of expressing the joy of mealtime. Alternatively, the behavior could be telling your dog’s impatience when the meal isn’t getting down to him from your hands.
If head bobbing seems to point to something more complex than these reasons, you already know the drill: Talk to your vet and rule out the possibility of a serious medical condition.