What's Your Dog's Eating Habits?

What kind of eater is your dog?

Thanks to this quiz, which appears in Dr. Marty Becker's book "Fitness Unleashed," you can find out your canine companion's eating patterns and how to curb his unhealthy tendencies.

Circle the answer that best reflects your level of agreement with each statement:

1. My dog has no structured meal routine (same time, place and amount) from one day to the next.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

2. The presence of food around my dog triggers him to beg, take a bite, or attempt to wolf it down.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

3. I have a hard time consistently controlling my dog's portion sizes.

a. Not at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is me most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's me. (3 pts)

4. Begging plays a big role in my dog's diet.

a. Not us at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is us most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog and I! (3 pts)

5. My dog's snacks are almost all high-calorie treats. a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

6. My dog finds food other than what I put in his bowl by begging, eating the cat's food, scavenging, etc.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

7. My dog's appetite never seems satiated; he would eat until he exploded if we let him.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

8. If my dog is slow to eat or refuses to eat a certain food, I'll make it more tasty (toss in some canned food, add gravy, microwave it, etc.) or change diets to a tastier food.

a. Not at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is me most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's me (3 pts)

9. My dog gains weight when he's boarded, when someone house-sits, or when we have company because he's so good at getting people to give him treats.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

10. I make sure my dog has food in his bowl at all times.

a. Not at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is me most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's me. (3 pts)

11. I often share my own snacks and treats with my dog. He loves ice cream (or buttered popcorn or oatmeal cookies) as much as I do.

a. Not at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is me most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's me. (3 pts)

12. My dog knows just how to push my buttons to get an extra treat. If you saw the way he works those puppy-dog eyes, you'd feed him extra, too.

a. Not my dog at all. (0 pts)

b. This is true quite often. (1 pt)

c. This is my dog most of the time. (2 pts)

d. That's my dog! (3 pts)

Here's How to Score Your Dog's Eating Habits

Add points from questions 5, 8, and 11 to get a Spoiled Snacker score:

Add points from questions 2, 6, and 7 to get a Garbage Gut score:

Add points from questions 4, 9, and 12 to get a Shameless Beggar score:

Add points from questions 1, 3, and 10 to get a Free Feeder score:

The highest total score reveals your dog's dominant eating-personality type. If there's a tie among the highest scores, then pick the eating pattern that you feel fits your dog best. Each pattern description below includes steps you can take to make sure your pup is getting enough, but not too much, to eat.

Eating Patterns

Spoiled Snacker: What a lucky dog this is: loved and pampered and given all the perks of full family-member status. Congratulations on having such a solid, affectionate relationship with your dog. Now we must tell you, as many a doting parent has had to learn, that it's easy to mingle food and love, offering treats as signs of your affection -- but that practice is generally not good for your dog's health. If your dog is overweight, try taking these simple steps to help him get lean.

Cut treats in half. Dogs who regularly receive treats in addition to their meals are 50 percent more likely to be overweight than those who don't. To save both you and your dog from suffering during treat cutbacks, we suggest you start off by cutting your treat offerings in half. Simply take whatever goodie your dog is accustomed to getting and split it in two -- half for today, half for tomorrow. That way, your dog will still get the same attention and sense of reward from you, but for half the calories.

Show your affection in action. You may think your dog would be miserable if you stopped sharing treats with him, but we're willing to bet he would be happy to accept a substitute. Think of a favorite activity or game your dog enjoys playing with you -- or make one up. We know one dog owner who plays a made-up game that combines hide-and-seek and tag for a few minutes with his poodle every night after work. The dog gets so excited about this daily game that he starts "hiding," lying in wait behind the coffee table, as soon as the car pulls into the driveway. A short, scheduled playtime is a great substitute for a shared treat anytime.

Substitute talk for treats. While we all know dogs love to do the furry tap dance at the sight, smell, or taste of treats, fewer of us understand and appreciate how tantalizing talk can be to a dog. They simply lap it up when we baby-talk to them, get animated, and act silly. For years, Becker has recommended clients give their pets lots and lots of "emotional Milk-Bones." Many have been shocked at how readily their dogs accept this kind of audible "treat" instead of an edible one.

Choose treats you can feel good about. Your dog may be accustomed to dog treats that look like miniature steaks, pieces of cheese, and Fig Newtons, but if you really want to share your food with him, he'd be far better off eating bits of fruits and vegetables instead. This might sound silly, but we've never met a dog yet who doesn't enjoy at least one fruit or veggie treat. A few favorites we've seen are whole baby carrots, frozen green beans or peas, blueberries, and apple slices. You may be surprised to find that your dog also enjoys broccoli, bananas or even lettuce. Try a few of these low-calorie, nutrient-rich options and let your dog choose for himself. Unlike small children, most dogs aren't especially susceptible to choking. If your dog (or more likely, your puppy) chokes on a particular food, though, either cut it into smaller pieces or choose a different treat altogether.

Garbage Gut: This dog is so hungry! Everything is fair game, and nothing is ever enough. This dog will tear open a trash bag and eat not just the food inside, but also anything with a little food on it. He'll chew through plastic, paper, cardboard, and in extreme circumstances drywall to get to a meal. You've probably seen this dog all but hyperventilate as he watches you prepare his meal -- and maybe also yours. This dog's body has no discernible "fullness detector" and he will literally eat himself sick whenever the circumstances allow. The gluttony is really not his fault -- just a genetic predisposition to making sure he never starves to death and always has enough calories to feed his busy lifestyle. Naturally, the odds are this big eater is a dog who requires plenty of exercise, too.

Outwit and outmaneuver. If your dog is really a Dumpster-diver and a food-on-counter stealer, you're going to have to beat him at his own game to reduce his calorie intake. The first step is just accepting that this is a problem that affects your dog's health and that it needs to be dealt with. Perhaps if Rover has been augmenting his diet by helping himself to the all-you-can-eat garbage buffet for a long time, you've come to accept this as the way things are. Try one of the following to break your dog's bad habit:

Sprinkle on baking powder. Most dogs have a favorite time of day (or night) for trash-can raids. Before bed or before your dog's trash time, generously sprinkle the top of the trash in the bin with baking powder. While some dogs enjoy hot pepper sauce and other spices people use as repellants to keep them out of the trash, very few will keep eating beyond the icky taste of the alum in baking powder. Even though it's unappetizing and should help curb the problem, it won't hurt your dog if he eats some.

Buy a lid lock. Toddler-proof garbage-can lid locks available in any discount store are even more effective in keeping dogs out of the trash than they are in keeping kids out. This inexpensive solution will bring your dog's garbage-can raid to a quick halt.

Prepare food in a dog-safe area. If you have a big dog, you may also have experienced the theft of food off the kitchen counter and table. You can find a useful tool in preventing counter theft in the toddler aisle. Oven guards are clear plastic shields that will block your dog from reaching food on countertops. They are inexpensive and easy to remove once you break your dog of his bad habit.

Spread meals across the day. One of the best ways to make sure your dog isn't truly suffering from hunger is to split up his meals so he gets to eat more than once a day. A two- or up to four-times-a-day eating plan is healthier and more satisfying for your dog. If, in fact, your dog has been consuming lots of calories on the sly, you may even be able to up his daily dose of kibble once you've gotten his snacking habit under control. Ask the veterinarian how much food your dog should have daily, divide it into equal portions, and stick with the plan.

Shameless Beggar: Those wide eyes. Those perked ears. That wagging tail. Your dog may deserve an Academy Award for his gifts in working any audience for a treat. We're always amazed at how an accomplished beggar dog can change his routine to suit his potential treat giver. To his primary caretaker, he looks like he really just needs one more bite. To the kids in the house, he looks like he'll turn somersaults for just one teeny-tiny nibble of whatever they're having. To well-meaning neighbors and guests, he fixes his best "Can't you see they're not feeding me here?" look in hopes of a big score. This dog has talent, and his unique abilities are getting him into big trouble. Here's how to shut down the effectiveness of this treat-scoring machine.

Enact a permanent ban on treats from the table. Many of the goodies that dogs successfully beg for come straight from the family table. Eliminating this one area of begging will likely cut down substantially on your dog's treat quota. If you're going to have a hard time sticking with a decision not to share table food, we suggest putting your dog in another room, in his crate, or out in the backyard during mealtimes. If you really want to share a healthy scrap of your own food with your dog, you still can -- just put it in his bowl instead of offering it under the table.

Get your family, friends and neighbors on the plan. An effective Shameless Beggar is like a con artist in search of a dupe. Anyone who will give in is an ideal target; they'll eat three squares a day at your house and squeeze in a few more off the pet-loving neighbor's patio. When you decide to turn off your dog's begging, be sure your entire family is onboard, as well as any friends, neighbors, pet sitters, or other caregivers who interact with him.

Try a beg-and-switch policy. What would happen if every time your dog begged for a sausage or a bone he was rewarded with a baby carrot or a snap pea? One of two things: Your dog will either cut down on his begging or develop a taste for a fresh vegetable. Either one of those would be good, wouldn't it?

Share time instead. When your dog starts begging, take a minute to play fetch or chase or to tickle his tummy or rub his ears. One of the things that surprised many of the participants in the PPET study was that there was no increase in begging behaviors as their dogs started receiving less food and more walks. It seemed the extra exercise and attention was an acceptable substitute.

Free Feeder: When we talk about this doggie dining personality, owners of certain breeds (Labs and beagles come to mind) inevitably laugh and point out that if they free-fed their dogs, those dogs would literally eat themselves to death. We know of one 90-pound dog who, left alone in the garage with a full bag of dog food for the day, polished off the entire 40 pounds. Yuck! In fact, this category is for dogs who do not blatantly make pigs of themselves, but who are routinely given more food and more time to eat it than they need. These are dogs like Clancy, a corgi belonging to Matilda Murphy in Bethlehem, Pa. When given two cups of food in the morning, Clancy spends about five minutes eating half, then walks away. Half an hour later, he often goes back for more, and then hits the bowl again one more time to finish off the food. It may sound like this is a dog who just enjoys his kibble, but in fact, it's a dog who is receiving too much.

Measure or weigh, every day. The significant problem with the Free Feeder's diet is that it's not consistent -- or that it's consistently too much. We recommend the next time you're at the grocery store you invest in a 1-cup measure to be used from today on to measure your dog's food. Next, put in a call to or visit your dog's veterinarian to ask how much of what food is the ideal amount for each day. Divide that quantity into two or three portions, and feed your dog only the measured amount.

While there is no substitute for a veterinarian's recommendation about what food and how much your dog needs, we've seen enough clients who are far, far off the mark to want to offer a basic guideline so you know if you're in the right ballpark. Dr. Steve Garner, a veterinarian in League City, Texas, and owner of Safari Animal Care Center, explains the science and math of dog-food portions better than anyone we know:

"As a rule of thumb, dogs come in three sizes: small, medium, and large, each with different caloric needs. In general, a small dog needs forty calories per pound of body weight per day, a medium-sized dog needs thirty calories per pound, and a large dog needs only twenty calories per pound. So if you multiply the dog's weight by the correct number of calories per pound, you'll get a rough idea of what that dog needs to consume to maintain a healthy weight (for example, a thirty-pound dog times thirty calories per pound per day equals nine hundred calories a day).

"Most dry dog foods contain an average of 350 calories per measuring cup -- so that same thirty-pound dog would require slightly less than three measuring cups of food a day. Because canned food is mostly water, most brands contain about half as many calories per cup as dry food, so the allotment for the thirty-pound dog would be more." Dr. Garner's formula will help you determine if you're substantially overfeeding or underfeeding your dog, but he cautions that the numbers above are just a guideline -- some dog foods have more or fewer calories per cup -- and that the only way to be sure your dog is getting the right amount of food is to monitor his body weight or ask your veterinarian for guidance.

Same time, same place. To further ensure you're in control of how much your dog eats and when, feed him at the same time and in the same place whenever you can. A set schedule gives your dog a clear sense of when the next meal is coming. It'll alleviate any need he may feel to "save something for later."

Pick up the bowl. Give your dog ten to fifteen minutes with his food at each meal, then pick up the bowl with any food left in it. We don't recommend that you pick up the bowl the minute your dog is finished, because it may make him feel like he's got to wolf down his meals or lose them; but after ten minutes, your dog has eaten all he needs of any given meal. Any kibble left over is just going to contribute extra, unneeded calories.