One of the best (and easiest) ways to reinforce the bond with your dog is through your daily feeding ritual. The benefits of a good feeding process include:
- Calm, structured feeding times
- Building trust between you and your dog
- Preventing or removing possessive growling or barking behaviors
- Removing competition and fighting when multiple dogs are present
- Health monitoring (their appetite is a good marker of general health)
- Reinforcing training behaviors
- Preventing “stolen” food from counters and tables
- Reducing or eliminate household “accidents”
The earlier in the dog’s life that you start teaching this ritual, the easier it is for them to learn. Dogs as young as eight weeks old can easily learn the basics. Remember, your dog wants (and needs) to be a part of your pack, and this ritual firmly embeds them in the pack.
- Prepare the food in their standard bowl. You can add water, yogurt or other ingredients as you see fit or as recommended by your vet. Some trainers will massage the food to impart their smell (a dog’s sense of smell is reputed to be between 1,000 to 10,000 times stronger than that of humans), which they believe contributes to bonding.
- Before placing the food in front of the dog, provide a sit/stay command. The dog should sit immediately. If not, reinforce the expected behavior until the dog is sitting. Not only do we want the dog to sit, we are expecting the dog to do this calmly. You may need to wait for a moment before the dog reaches a calm state of mind (be sure that you are modeling a calm state with your own behavior).
- When the dog is sitting and calm, place the food in front of your dog with a release from the stay command and provide verbal praise.
- When your dog has finished eating, bring it outside and allow adequate time for the dog to eliminate.
The Feeding Ritual Process
Additional Feeding Training
As your dog becomes comfortable with this ritual, you can use feeding time to implement some additional training:
- Remove the food before it is finished. The dog should not react negatively. If they do, provide a direct command to sit. Repeat the process until the dog can have food removed without becoming upset. You can have the dog wear a leash to provide you with additional control if they get extremely upset or growl before you approach the food.
- Extended Sit, Stay. Extend the length of the sit/stay by waiting before releasing the dog. You can also start the sit/stay before you begin to prepare the food. Remember to provide plenty of verbal praise when the dog is released from the stay.
Once your dog has successfully executed this several times and understands that there is a process to receiving their daily food, other unwanted activities such as begging or “stealing” will diminish. It may take some time, but stick with the program and, before you know it, your dog will be a great citizen at feeding time.