Eating is one of the most primal activities for dogs. They love it, and they have respect for whoever gives them food (the leader in the pack). You can use your “power" of being pack leader to enhance your dog training efforts - every day.
The following suggestions will help you establish your role as pack leader and reinforce dog obedience, deferment to your leadership, dog training techniques, and overall attitude and disposition (yours and your dogs).
A good habit to have in feeding your dog is consistency. Dogs love routine and food is a very important subject to them.
For example, feed your dog at approximately the same time(s) each day (some modification is fine for weekly schedule changes. ) If feeding two times a day, pick two windows of time that you can be consistent with, for example, between 7:00 and 8:00 am and then again between 5:00 and 6:00 pm.
Having a window of time helps prevent anxiety in a dog expecting to be fed at a specific time each day (5:15 pm - yes, dogs can zero in on a specific time of day like 5:15).
This is a very real concern for dogs and some dogs can fall apart emotionally and physically if they are expecting food at that time and don’t get it. Ever hear of the dog that is panting and spastic and throwing up or having diarrhea? This dog is anxious. Setting a window of time and sticking to it will help your dog remain calm. Practice the same routine every day.
2. NO RUNNING BUFFET
A big mistake is to offer up the running buffet, where food is available around the clock. This is actually a pretty common feeding program in many homes because it’s simple for the humans - add food as needed.
So why not do this? Because it leads to an obese, lazy dog who doesn’t listen to your commands, respect your leadership position or adhere to rules you’ve set forth in your dog training.
3. MEALTIME IS DOG TRAINING TIME
Wonderful things happen at mealtime - for you and Fido. You get the opportunity to have your dog perform (reinforcing all that dog training you’ve done) for his meal. This could be sit, down, come, place.
So what, you say? Well, this is the easiest way you have of getting your dog’s affirmation of you being the leader and reinforcing dog training. If you aren’t the leader, guess who is. It will be the demanding, obnoxious dog bossing you around for a meal.
What exactly does it look like? Hold the food bowl in your hand. Your dog may be spastic, jumping, yipping, and pawing at you for the food. This is another dog training opportunity for you - teaching him to be calmer at mealtimes.
State your command once and wait (good to start with a sit, which is usually the easiest). Your dog sits and the bowl of food goes to the floor with praise for a good sit and a release “OK" that they can move to get the food.
When your dog complies with your command, he has just deferred to your leadership in the pack. (When beginning this program, you may need to help your dog with completing his command and praise warmly and then give food. )
Once your dog has the program down, you can introduce other feeders such as spouse, responsible children, etc to gently let your four-footed family member know her position in the pack.
By changing your dog’s feeding routine, you change so much more. You get to reinforce all the dog training and dog obedience you’ve worked so hard on - and it feels effortless. You get increased respect from your dog for providing the important commodity of food and for being a consistent provider. The more you establish yourself as leader of the pack, the more your dog will want to please you and dog training will be a snap.
O’Neal Hendrix is a premier professional dog trainer in Atlanta, GA. For many years, she has “worked miracles" with dogs and their owners. Check out her Trainer's Pick dog toy recommendations for all dog breeds and temperaments!