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An Insight into Dog Appetite and Satiety

An Insight into Dog Appetite and Satiety

Dogs, just like people, go through moments during the day during which they feel hungry and then feel full, but exactly what mechanisms in dogs are responsible for triggering such sense of appetite or sense of satiety? Your dog seems always on top of making sure to let you know when meal time is around the corner, and after he eats, you can literally see a satisfied look on your dog's face. Some dogs may go as far as throwing a party with a bout of fun post-meal zoomies! Interestingly, there are several things going on in triggering these sensations that are worthy of discovering!

what makes dogs hungry

What Triggers Your Dog to Feel Hungry?

Just like us, the sensation of hunger and satiety is controlled by the hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, a state of balance in your dog's body despite changes that are often outside of your dog's control.

The hypothalamus therefore ensures that everything is maintained at an ideal, life-sustaining level.

Any time something is out of balance, just like a "check oil" light turns on a car's dashboard, the hypothalamus goes on high alert and does what it can to get things back to normal.

For instance, if your dog develops a fever, the hypothalamus acts like a thermostat and sends commands to other body parts to get that high temperature back to normal.

If the hypothalamus detects that your dog is getting very cold, the hypothalamus initiates shivering, so that his temperature can be brought back up quickly.

In the same way, the hypothalamus acts as a "check fluids" spy when your dog's electrolyte and water balance are out of check, and triggers thirst so your dog can re-hydrate.

Along with ensuring your dog's body temperature is maintained at a comfortable level, your dog's hypothalamus also ensures that your dog's levels of blood glucose are maintained at a normal range.

 According to Pet Education, when your dog's glucose levels decrease, this triggers a sensation of hunger so that your dog is replenished with glucose and his energy needs are met.

What Triggers Your Dog to Feel Full?

dog feeling full after eating

Just like humans, dogs are also equipped with a satiety center that is located in the medial hypothalamus.

The sensation of being full occurs when all the needed metabolic fuels have been supplied and are being assimilated by your dog's digestive tract. But there is likely more going on than that.

The distention of the dog's stomach when it is full, along with the processing of nutrients in the liver and all the associated chemicals and hormones, all must likely play a role in the process responsible for causing a shift from a sensation of hunger to a sensation of satiety.

The sensation of satiety is therefore associated with the absorptive phase, while the sensation of hunger is associated with the post-absorptive phase, explains William E. Monroe, a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Did you know? Along with a full belly, sometimes certain illnesses may cause a dog to also feel a sensation of satiety when the dog should instead be hungry. Ingestion of toxins, dehydration, a distended belly may inhibit a dog's desire to eat food.

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A Word About Motivating Operations

Did you know that you can take advantage of your dog's sensations related to hunger and satiety for dog training purposes?

Motivated operations is a technical word used in Applied Behavior Analysis, but because it's a technical term, doesn't mean its concept must be difficult to understand.

Motivating operations is simply a procedure that is implemented to alter the dog's receptivity towards certain stimuli he encounters. Now there are two gradients of motivated operations: establishing operations and abolishing operations.

An establishing operation entails increasing the effectiveness of a stimulus through deprivation, thus triggering more motivation. The theory is that deprivation from the stimulus creates a state of neediness that increases the value of the stimulus, thus triggering more motivation. So if say, you were stranded on an island for a year, seeing other people would feel very rewarding. Social deprivation therefore may increase certain behaviors such as writing letters to distant friends or traveling to another island to meet people, as social contact is very reinforcing!

An abolishing operation, is the opposite, it entails decreasing the effectiveness of a stimulus through satiation, thus, triggering less motivation. So if say, you lived in a very crowded city, being offered to see more people may be the last thing you would want, therefore, you may find the idea of a few days on a private island very appealing! Social satiety therefore may decrease certain behaviors such as seeking others, trying to get accepted in groups and making more friends as social contact is not very reinforcing!

Putting Rewards to Good Use

dog motivation

Back to dog training, food rewards can be effective or less effective in obtaining desired behaviors, depending on these variables.

Just like you may not be interested in eating again after going to your favorite buffet, your dog may not feel like eating much if you coordinate his training session right after mealtime.

Of course, we all know about those dogs who would keep eating and eating and eating no matter what, (by the way, science now has an explanation as to why Labs are always hungry), but you occasionally stumble on some dogs who are less responsive to food as certain finicky fellows out there.

Now, this doesn't mean that you should starve your dog to get him super motivated to perform, that would be plain cruel! Also, consider that skipping meals can go against you, since too much appetite may get in the way of training.

Trainers are familiar with dog owners who skip their dog's meals in hopes of attaining better attention for their training sessions. This may work with some dogs, but not all. Some dogs when they are very hungry become too focused on getting food which leaves little space for thinking, while some others just refuse to eat because there are other things going on (too nervous, too excited, too fearful etc,) and they won't eat until they are more comfortable in their surroundings.

Sometimes, something as small as timing your training sessions a bit before meal time, so that your dog is more eager to eat those treats (and if your dog totally adores his kibble, you can even use a portion of your dog's kibble ration, if you are concerned about extra calories) is all the tweaking you may need to make these dogs more motivated. And if you are training at home, you can always end that session on a super positive note: meal time!

And for those nervous fellows, sometimes private classes with a trainer (perhaps even in the comfort of their home) along with patience and a gradual approach, may help them feel more comfortable enough to come out of their shell to start eating and discovering how fun and reward dog training can be!


  • Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Stephen J. Ettinger, Edward C. Feldman, W.B Saunders Company

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Neeta Lind, IMG_1463 CCBY3.0

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