Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dog Training Tips - Feeding the pack

My own dogs learn the rules of proper etiquette at meals from the time they are young puppies. I feed them all in my kitchen at the same time, each from their own bowl. When I rescue dogs or take in fosters they all learn to follow the pack rules. It is more of a challenge for some than others, but all of them have learned to eat peacefully along side the rest of the dogs.

My feeding rules in general are - All dogs lie calmly while meals are being prepared (a struggle for some new dogs, but they learn). When food is ready they go to their spots and wait as I put the bowls down - in the same order in the same places every meal - new dog last. (New dogs have their first meals in crates or x-pens in the great room so I can assess their attitude and they feel comfortable while getting to know the rest of us.) No one is allowed to approach anyone else's bowl until that dog walks away. The first bowl down is usually finished before I put the last bowl down because I also make them each do something before getting their food (and being Labs, they eat quickly leaving no atom behind!). A new dog at first has to sit and make eye contact and not approach any other dog's bowl. Then they may have to down and wait, or let me check ears and teeth, or whatever little thing I think they need to learn - but starting easy and progressing in difficulty over time. One dog I rescued was food aggressive, so he progressed to sit and wait with his bowl on the floor and make eye contact. If he failed I simply pick the bowl up for a second and he corrected himself and we tried again. In the beginning he tried barking to boss me I turn my back on him, making eye contact impossible for a few seconds. Since he had previously learned he had to make eye contact before being rewarded, he corrected himself and tried harder when I turn to face him again. For my own dogs we do more advanced obedience stuff or silly tricks. The older they are the less they have to do.

The Labs that I bred and owned for many years were all softies and very obliging; taking pride in doing the "right thing". That's the personality I prefer; it fits my easy-going training and life style. But some of the rescue and foster dogs have more dominant attitudes and different histories, so need more discipline as well as clear step by step training rituals. If you have a dog that is food aggressive, please use caution. I have experience and a pack of well-behaved dogs setting good examples at meal time. The best way to avoid such problems is to control the food and the attitude from the beginning. I don't like the strict "no free lunch" approach to living with dogs, but you have to do what the dog needs to get your point across. I adapt my training to fit each dog and each situation and everyone eats peacefully. A few of my dogs retrieve all of the bowls for me when everyone is finished - a fun way to end each meal.

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