Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Disciplining Your Dog Through Feeding

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Oliver, Xena and Tanner Await
Permission to Eat

Today's post is a requested topic, and one that can be a very good disciplinary tool. What your dog learns from waiting permission to eat is more than it would appear. The myriad lessons include:
  • You own the food, the dish, the home
  • You are in charge
  • You decide when the food is shared
  • You choose the place a dog eats
  • You establish behavior rules for eating among the pack
  • You discipline members of the pack who do not behave properly
  • You reward members who are the calmest and most patient
  • The dog learns to trust that you WILL feed him eventually, if he exhibits good manners
  • You decide who is given permission to eat first, second, etc. based on behavior
  • You are a calm and patient teacher for your pack
And all of this leads to the ultimate lesson:
This must always be your goal, in order to maintain the peaceful, happy home you desire.
People who have seen my dogs being fed have often asked how I taught them to wait patiently, eat only when given permission and eat only their own food, without aggression. I'm no Dog Whisperer, but I guess I am a visual learner. I have all the Dog Whisperer DVDs that are out, and have read Cesar Millan's books. Although my dogs all went through advanced training with traditional methods (sit, stay, down, come, off, drop it, take it, etc.), I have found that combining Cesar's energy techniques with the more traditional methods has made for a good blend. Here's how I taught my pack to eat with good manners:
  1. The dogs each learned the sit-stay or down-stay command at an early age and have continued to practice this every day at mealtimes.
  2. Adding the Leave It command, when your dog is in a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay is as easy as placing your hand over the food bowl (or other item) for a second or two (at first) and then removing your hand when the dog is holding his stay. This is his reward--food for Stay.
  3. At each meal this is practiced until you can gradually build up to 10 seconds, and then the hand is no longer needed over the bowl. Maintain a confident stance facing your dog, engaging his eye contact with yours while he performs Leave it. Build up his time gradually.
  4. Any change in body language or a move toward the food is your signal to move forward toward the dog reminding him firmly, yet calmly, to Leave It.
  5. Soon, with continued practice, including with treats or favorite toys periodically throughout the day, your dog will not need much more than loose supervision. I once forgot about Tanner waiting permission to eat and found him nearly a half hour later, sitting in a puddle of drool. Poor fella! He is soooo good at Leave It!
  6. If you have one well-trained dog and bring a puppy or other new dog into the house, try training him within view of the other dog. It is always good to have an example to follow, as long as the example is a good one. Oliver quickly picked up good meal time manners from his older house mates, merely by following their lead.

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Permission Granted
Bringing your pack together to eat:
  1. When each of your dogs has a solid understanding of the skills above, you can bring 2 of the calmest, most patient ones together to eat near one another.
  2. This is again a time for heightened supervision, as their mere presence may change the dynamics.
  3. Your confident stance facing the dogs will help them to understand that you continue to lead this exercise and they are expected to perform as usual. Keep up any hand signals that you normally use, to give further input on the expected behavior.
  4. Be sure to reward your dogs for good performance with a simple word of praise or a pat on the head. Keep the praise calm to continue this energy throughout the next step of getting everyone outside for their post-meal "business."
I'll leave you on that note with a simple commercial for Friday's post. I'll be tackling boredom busters for dogs who spend several hours a day in their crates, or simply at home alone. Join me for a few ideas, and feel free to comment with yours. I would love to hear from you at the comment link below, or just email me at

And one final note. Today, at Organic Journey Online, I am presenting a great idea, borrowed from Carmen at Agility class. She makes recycled tug toys with her old clothes, and they are wonderful. With Carmen's permission, I made some and wrote about them there. Feel free to follow the link and check it out. Free Tug Toys!


KD Mathews said...

New to the site, I end up on older posts as I look around at all the interesting topics! LOVE this post!! Food is an amazing motivator and can really allow owners to assert themselves in a rather smooth non aggressive way....great pictures to compliment the great advice!

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