By Sue, from "It's a Dog's Life" - Training YOU to train your dog!
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In pack culture one of the codes of conduct is that leaders eat first, having the choice of the tastiest and best bits of food. Any of the lower ranking members daring to venture near are aggressively warned off until the leaders have had their fill.
Some dogs appear to be fussy eaters. Their owners become concerned and produce ever more tasty food in an effort to ‘tempt’ their pooch. The end result is that the dog has effectively trained the owners to ‘Cordon Bleu’ standards! The dog that goes back and fore to “graze” from his dish during the day perceives no threat. No one is going to eat his food or take his food away. This does not necessarily mean that the dog is “dominant”, but putting into practice “who eats first” can dramatically affect other behaviour and the dog’s general attitude to his owners.
More rarely a dog will walk round and round his food while showing a reluctance to approach to eat, even to the stage of anorexia. This is the reverse of our ‘grazing’ dog – this dog is seeking permission to eat. He needs his leader to eat first before he can take his own share.
The principle of ‘leader eats first’ can be established in a simple routine which conveys a very subtle but powerful message to our canine companions.
Divide your dog’s food ration into 2 meals daily. Ensure your dog watches you prepare his food. It may be as simple as measuring the complete meal into his bowl on the draining board. Get yourself a biscuit and without looking at the dog, stand and eat it. When finished SPIT IN THE FOOD BOWL, place the dog’s food bowl on the floor giving permission to eat by saying the dog’s name. If he has not eaten all or any of his food within 10 minutes, remove the dish. Do not give the dog anything else to eat until the next feed time when you repeat the above steps. Within 3 days your dog should be eating all his food. If he is leaving some food in his bowl look closely at his waistline – are you giving him too much? Perhaps he eats better at night than in the morning, so divide his daily ration into ⅓ and ⅔. Give him ⅓ in the morning and ⅔ in the evening.
Maximise training with ‘Earn to Eat’
To capitalise on feed times, use them to maximise training. Repeat the steps outlined above for “Who eats first” but instead of feeding the whole ration, put the bowl down with 1 or 2 pieces of food in it. The dog will wolf them down and then look at you with an expression of extreme puzzlement. Pick up the bowl, ask for a “come”, “sit”, “lie down”, “sit”, drop a handful in the bowl and put it down. Repeat a variety of obedience commands for each handful of food put in the bowl. That gives you two training sessions daily and also prevents food bowl protection.