Channel your inner Yoda when viewing your relationship with your dog. You see how exuberant your dog gets when you fill up his bowl for meals – well, you should be the bowl. The relationship you share with your dog should be as exciting for you both as your dog is for their meal. Ideally, even more so.
Dogs are motivated by many things: food, toys, praise, freedom, smelling, interacting with others, .. rewards to your dog vary and range from higher value to lower value reinforcers. One reward that is something you give your dog and don’t ever take back is food.
Hands to side of head, fists open to jazz hands; aka: mind blown. Read that again. It is a reward you can’t get back. A toy, yea you get it back. Food, it’s theirs to keep.
Food is such a valuable relationship building tool that often gets taken for granted. Many dog owners feed their dog once, twice or even three times a day. Delivering these meals in a bowl on the floor to their dog. And many may even add in extra snacks to make that food more enticing. Yes, some owners make their dog sit and wait, and this is great, but still a huge reward is being delivered to your dog from a silver dish and not from you.
You can be the bowl.
Use your dog’s meal times as training opportunities. Take 2-5 minutes out from your nightly routine to add in some training for that food. Tap into your dog’s prey drive by making your food rewards alive and active; having your dog chase your hand with the food reward. You can interchange between your terminal marker (break out of position for reward) and your duration marker (keep holding position, reward is coming to your dog) with their food. Be unpredictable when using your terminal marker, sometimes having them chase for one piece of food, sometimes receiving multiple pieces chasing after each one individually, and sometimes jack potting them with the rest of their food in the bowl.
Silver bowls full of food do not arrive in front of your dog’s face in the wild, nor do they sit there all day to be eaten at leisure. Free feeding your dog is the worst. Don’t do it. It only devalues food, and food can be so much fun to work with. Not wet food…that is definitely not fun to work with. If you leave your food out for 24/7 access your dog most likely isn’t going to work for it, so pick it up if they don’t eat it. Remember when you were a child and if you didn’t want dinner well then you weren’t eating. Same thing for your dog. I promise you that your dog will not starve themselves. If presented with copious amounts of high value food all the time why in the world would they work for it? If your dog is already used to the free-fed lifestyle that’s ok, today is a new day. Start picking it up.
Our dogs look to us for guidance, leadership, companionship and for survival. There are a few core ways to communicate and teach our dogs how to live in this crazy world of ours: primarily through the use of rewards (praise, affection, food, toys, freedom, etc) and punishment. Food is such a valuable way to train and bond with your dog, so don’t loose this as a tool in your relationship. Get up this moment and pick up the bowl and from now on be the bowl.
Katrina Kensington @keendog.katrina