Two Easy Things you Need to do Every Day When Feeding Your Dog
Our dogs are pack animals and they thrive on social structure. Many insecure or fearful dogs feel that way because they do not understand their place in the household or pack. When they are confused about the role they play, how they should behave and whom they are subordinate to, our dogs are not their best selves. Creating structure does not mean asserting dominance. A great way to create a respectful, peaceful hierarchy in your household is to ask your dog to work for their food.
- Never leave the food bowl down
A meal is your dog’s biggest paycheck. Leaving your dog’s bowl of food down all day so they can munch whenever they please is a missed training opportunity and a missed opportunity to remind your dog that by providing the meal you are the one responsible for the well-being of the pack.
Leaving the food bowl down can create anxiety in dogs, which can also lead to food and object guarding. A food bowl that’s down all day means a full time job for a dog that tends to guard. Instead, pick the bowl up and give your pup a chance to relax without worrying about where their meal is or who might steal it.
Leaving the food bowl down also means that you won’t know exactly when your dog is eating or if they have a healthy appetite. If you don’t know when they are eating, it’s difficult to build a routine or understand your dog’s bathroom needs. And if your dog's appetite is lacking it’s impossible for you to know if it’s because they aren’t feeling well or if it’s because they know the food will be down all day and they can return to eat whenever they please.
If you leave your dog’s bowl down because you have a dog that’s a picky eater, the answer is simple; they’re not hungry! By picking the bowl up off the floor when your dog walks away from an unfinished meal, you are establishing boundaries that let your dog know that mealtime doesn’t last all day. If your dog only eats half of their meal and walks away, throw the other half away, or if it's dry kibble, save it for the next meal. As soon as your dog realizes that they don’t have an all day buffet, their metabolism will regulate, their appetite will return and they will start to lick their bowls clean.
2. Ask your dog to “sit” and “stay” before they eat
By attaching commands like “sit” and “stay” to mealtime, it gives you the chance to practice your dog’s obedience skills and also to maintain your top-dog status. To your dog, if you’re in charge of the food, you must be the leader of the pack. Following commands like “sit” and “stay” help your dog understand that they are working for their food and their meal is a paycheck.
“Sit-stay” at mealtime is also an excellent exercise in self-control.
If you practice “sit” and “stay” before they get to eat their meal, (start with short increments of time for holding the “sit-stay” to help make the training experience positive and easy to understand) your dog will be an expert in no time. A dog with self-control skills is not only a well-behaved dog; it’s a safe dog. Knowing that your dog can sit and wait until you release them means that you can keep your dog out of potentially harmful situations, eg. to keep them from chasing an animal running across the road.
If you have multiple dogs, feeding time can also be chaotic. With dogs that are well practiced in sitting and waiting for their meals, you can maintain an orderly routine that elicits respect and good behavior from everyone.
Capitalize on the opportunity that mealtime brings. Leaving your dogs food down can create all sorts of issues that are easily avoided by closing down the all day buffet. Asking your dog to work for their food is the best way to maintain control over mealtime, to assert your top-dog status and to have one, two or three (depending on how many times a day your dog eats) chances for a great training session!
If you’d like to know more about how to choose the right dog food and how much to feed, check out our article A Guide for Picking the Right Food for Your Dog.
Like human children, dogs thrive in a structured environment. The more structure, the more secure a dog feels with his/her human pack.