Domesticated dogs retain many traits of their wild relatives' -- including playing with their food. A dog who enjoys batting his food around before he eats it is just mimicking the feeding behaviors of his undomesticated ancestors. Providing more exercise and a structured feeding routine will go a long way to fulfill your house pet's need for order and stimulation.
In the wild, canines depend on stalking and hunting skills to survive. Feeding time is a pack ritual, in which individuals have specific roles to ensure the success of the hunt. Each kill requires intense mental concentration and a lot of running. Domestic dogs today don't have quite as sharp of instincts, as they don't have a need to hunt. But they do appreciate more stimulation than most households provide.
Many dogs resort to undesirable behavior out of boredom or lack of exercise. Your pup may simply see spilling her food and batting it around as a new and interesting game to play -- one that may seem to get the owner's attention. Try providing 30 additional minutes of play or exercise to your dog's daily routine. She may have less energy for playing with her food and more of an appetite.
Exercise First, Then Feed
You can provide feeding structure and stimulation similar to what wolves experience by maintaining an "exercise first, then feed" schedule for your dog. For canines, it's the natural order of things to work for their food, so going for a run or walk before breakfast is much more natural than eating first and getting around to exercising later in the day. Even a short game of fetch will do the trick.
Intelligent or high-energy dogs may need additional brain stimulation. With the right tools, feeding time can become an ideal mental workout. Pet supply stores sell feeding games and toys such as food cubes that dispense food when a dog rolls it a certain way. If you make your pup work for her food, she may be more inclined to eat it rather than play with it.
Olivia Kight is an experienced online and print writer and editor. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2012, and has worked on education, family life and counseling publications. She also gained valuable knowledge shadowing a zoo veterinarian and grooming and socialize show dogs, and now spends her time writing and training her spunky young labradoodle, Booker.