Get rid of the food bowl

...for a happier, better behaved dog

Think about where dogs evolved from thousands of years ago. They used to have to hunt and scavenge for food most of the hours of the day using the innate senses bestowed upon them. Once they caught or found something, their energies would be directed at dissecting and consuming it.

Now we put the same, pre-measured food in the same bowl, in the same spot at the same time each day. Or worse, leave it down all day like a buffet. Boring!

Hardly surprising then, they have found other ways to fill the hours. Excessive barking, destroying furniture and shoes, digging up your flower beds, anxiety behaviors, and so on. We’ve essentially taken away their job, in an attempt to make their life better.

When I have a consultation with a new client, regardless of the behavior I’m there to solve, one of the first questions I ask is how, when and where the dog receives their food.

Most dog breeds were bred to perform a job for humans, most dogs have some level of prey drive, and ALL dogs like to eat. I’m not buying the excuse “my dog isn’t food motivated.” As long as there are no medical conditions inhibiting appetite, eating is a survival instinct and dogs want grub.

Have you ever seen your dog play with their food, hide it, dump it or toss it around? They’re trying to make it more interesting. Give them back their job and make finding calories more challenging.

Kongs

Kongs are a must in every dogs home. They’re a solid rubber, hollow toy perfect for filling with food. Start very simply by filling it with your dogs kibble and a few higher value chunks of food like chicken or low fat turkey dogs. As your dog investigates and moves the Kong around, food falls out. They soon learn how to expediently remove the contents.

Once they start to understand that this is their new food bowl you can start making it more challenging.  Fill with kibble about two-thirds full and top off with something squishy like Kong Paste or peanut butter. Now your pal learns to lick out the soft stuff to get to the kibble. At this point you can go two directions. Either freeze the concoction to make the top layer harder to get through or add less kibble and more soft food.

When I add more soft food to the Kong I start to use healthier choices such as a great quality canned food, cottage cheese or scrambled eggs. If you go with more soft stuff don’t start freezing yet. Allow them to be successful extracting it at room temperature first.  For the dogs that never really get to that inch or so of soft food at the very bottom, I simply fill the bottom third with kibble. 

Both my dogs are “kong-a-holics” and always prefer a challenging Kong to a boring, easy bowl of food. My favorite Kong stuffing recipes for Emmy and Cody are slightly scrambled eggs, mixed with kibble. The omelet like goo goes in the Kong, and the Kong goes in the freezer for several hours.  I also keep several cans of high quality dog food on hand and layer tuna & cottage cheese with it in the Kong. Again it goes in the freezer. Freezing makes it less messy and takes longer for the dog to work at it.  If I need to be gone several hours I make 3 Kongs each dog. If I would like them to be quiet for an hour while I work with clients I’ll give them 1 each.

Feeding Kong’s in the crate is great way to give a positive association with being alone. For new puppies that need to be put in a laundry room for several hours, this is another safe and positive association. For appropriate size and strength go to Kongcompany.com or ask the experts at the Health food stores I’ve recommended in training resources & tools.

Chicken Feed Method

Dogs are expert “sniffers” That’s the natural way they used to find food. Instead of putting their breakfast in a food bowl, take their morning portion of kibble and toss it all over the back yard or in every room of the house. It keeps them mentally focused & stimulated making sure they’ve tracked down each calorie. And when they’re busy hunting kibble, they’re not busy digging, barking and destroying furniture.

Come & Find It

This is a great training exercise, as well as an interactive way to feed your dog. You can even be sitting in your favorite chair watching the news while you do it.

Measure out your dog’s meal and place it in a cup or bowl next to you. Toss a few pieces of kibble to the other side of the room and say “find it!” or “get it!” Let them hunt it up themselves. If you keep showing them where it is or repeating your cue they’ll learn to rely on it. Soon they will become self reliant and their instincts will improve. When they find it say “Cody, Come” in a cheerful voice (say it only once). When they come back to you feed a few pieces w/ lots of verbal praise as well. Then toss a few and say “find it!”, again. This is an excellent way to practice the recall and interactively feed your pal. Great rainy night game as well.

Tip: if they insist on jumping on you or trying to get to the food simply pick up the food, stand up and leave without ANY emotion. They’ll soon learn to respect your space and understand that as their fair consistent leader, you’ll be in charge of doling out the good stuff.

Buster Cube, Talk-to-me ball, & other interactive feeding toys

Are fun & suitable for filling with kibble.

Pack leader (Dominance = Priority access to resources)

Portion out your dogs daily allowance of food for the day and put it in baggie. Keep several pieces in a pocket and throughout the day ask your dog to do simple commands. Sometimes you’ll deliver food, sometimes a game of fetch and sometimes verbal praise. He’ll never know what the reward will be only that he enjoys being asked. Every once in a while I’ll just toss a small handful out of the blue, and say “find it!”

I keep training and playing equally exciting and rewarding for my dogs. Sit gets a game of tug, come gets “find it!”, and stay gets a belly rub.

Mix it up; let your dog enjoy working for his daily meals, as well as playtime and attention.

Get rid of the food bowl…for your happier, well behaved dog.

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