Eat, Train, Love
How to use your dog’s meals to improve their behaviour and enhance your bond.
Written by Sarah Fulcher, Cert. CBST, CTDI
Edited by Barbara Medland
Every meal that we feed our dogs is an opportunity for us to improve our dogs’ behaviour, enhance our bond and enrich their lives. Unfortunately, this daily occurrence is often overlooked and is a missed opportunity to improve the lives of our pooches.
As easy as it is for us to just fill our dog’s dishes up on occasion and let them graze on their food, this approach is not successful at teaching your dog the needed skills such as good behaviour and reinforcing your role as the food provider. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between behavioural issues with dogs who are free-fed. Allowing your dogs to eat whenever they want is a bad habit to have, especially if you are travelling with your dog or boarding him.
The Problems with being Free-Fed
Our pooches love to work for their meals, by doing something that will reward them with food, or make them search for their food. You have to feed your dog everyday anyways, so why not use this time that is required as a training reward?
I suggest that you feed your dog’s daily portion of food the following three ways:
An additional benefit of using a food toy such as a Kong is that it keeps your dog busy for several hours. Once your dog has figured out how to get dry kibble from their Kong, you can make it harder on them by mixing in liquid food, such as canned food, yogurt or pumpkin mush and then freezing it overnight. This technique of using the Kong as a frozen meal delight is a great option for when you want your dog to be occupied for a long period of time, such as when you are leaving your dog in the morning before going to work. This can also be a useful technique for when you come home from work and need some time to yourself.
While your dog’s regular food may make a great training reward inside the house where distractions are low, for more difficult tasks such as training outdoors a higher value food reward is more appropriate. Treats such a good quality commercial soft treats (Zukes, My Mighty Wolf, Wellness) are usually sufficient, or real meat rewards such as hot dogs, chicken, liver etc. for when you need to pull out the big guns.
The ratios of food can be adjusted depending on how busy you are. If you are quite busy on a given day, put more food in your Kong. If you have more time to spend with your dog, increase your ratio of food dedicated to training and enrichment with less that is given to them directly in their bowl. Whatever you decide to do in terms of the ratio of food distribution, feeding your dog is a great opportunity to use the time to enrich, train and bond with your dog without having to increase the amount of treats you give them and their caloric intake.