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Friday, Mar. 15th 2013

Dog Bowl Aggression, and the Wonderful Resource We Waste Everyday…Part 2!!!

 
The last post gave you the skinny on the problem behaviors that food bowl aggression can lead to and why they happen.  The next three posts will provide some options for ways to incorporate meal time into your dog’s training!
 
There are three basic techniques that you need to be familiar with as you work with Fido to eliminate the dog bowl aggression…
 
1)      Use toys to feed your dogs
2)      Feed your dogs from your hand
3)      Have your dogs work for their food
 
So let’s take a look at each of these ways to use feeding time as a training tool!
 
The First Technique…Use toys to feed your dogs
As queried in an earlier blog post, why are we wasting feeding time and only giving the dog 60-90 seconds of unsupervised activity time from a bowl? (Thank you Dr. Dunbar!) Instead, we could use feeding times to teach, train and mold our furry four legged friends to use proper doggie manners! To get started, I suggest you feed your dogs at least twice a day (three if your schedule allows) and do not use a bowl.  I want you to split up the feedings so the dog has their favorite point of the day (meal time) multiple times vs. only once. Toys will give your dogs more mental stimulation, thus helping to wear out the mind, which is much better than just letting them wolf down their food in 60-90 seconds which would leave them bored.  (Remember idle hands…?) More importantly, toys make the dogs work for their food instead of just waiting for their human to fill the magic bowl!
 
It is important to remember classical conditioning at this point when you are feeding your dog (Pavlov anyone!) This is a great opportunity to build positive associations with food! Previously, we had just the 60-90 seconds to pair an association with dinner time, but as we use food dispensing toys, we might have upwards of 10-15 minutes to make those same connections! You can even freeze the toys with food in them and gain additional time while you eat! What do I mean by associations and classical conditioning? Well, if my dog is aggressive around, let’s say kids, while eating; I want kids to be present around the dog while the dog is eating! I always take steps to ensure safety, but with kids, you have to be extra careful! A simple and easy safety measure is to tether the dog when feeding them (remember to use a toy) and simply having the child in the room with the dog (but NOT sitting right next to him!) Tethering is also effective when you have multiple dog households, dogs that don’t really like each other or even with cats.  Through use of toys as the means to deliver the food, you are positively reinforcing the association of chewing on toys as an appropriate behavior (rather than chewing on the couch, pillow, shoe, etc…!!!)
 
The goal is to create a subconscious mindset in your dog that all the good things in the world (food) happen when this stimulus that makes me nervous (child) is around. Please remember that this is not going to make your dog think “I love kids” just because they are around during meal times; but it is more like that warm fuzzy feeling those of us who love coffee get when we walk into a Starbucks. We associate the smell of coffee with a sense of well being! 
 
Once again I want to stress that this does work with dogs with problems, but it is not a quick fix!  I find that if I can teach people to use these techniques from puppyhood, these problems will rarely occur.  So to those of you that have dogs that already have food bowl aggression, it’s time to get busy; and for those of you who have a puppy…let’s get started young so that you can build a positive association at feeding time from the very beginning!
 
Now we have toys at feeding time working for us…so what’s next? What about making food even more important (as well as your status and relationship with your dog?) Why not feed your dog by hand?
See the next blog post Dog Bowl Aggression, and the Wonderful Resource We Waste Everyday…Part 3!!! which focuses on the Second Technique – feeding your dog(s) from your hand (or by hand.)
 
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