As a leader, it is your responsibility to provide food. Feeding on a schedule is a good way to keep an eye on what your dog is consuming as well as letting him know that you are the leader. When I say schedule, I do not mean feed the same time every day. I mean, feed at different times every day, and make each feeding a training session. You want your dog to know that feeding happens when you are ready, not because of what his internal clock says. Feeding at different times in the morning and at different times in the evening.
There are two ways to feed your dog. Regular feeding occurs when you place the bowl on the floor allowing the dog to eat it all, at one time. Hand-feeding occurs when the dog has to work for each bite of food he receives. Hand-feeding is a technique that should be done the very first week with your foster dog. The goal of feeding for leadership is for your dog to learn problem-solving techniques as well as show self-control. This is the foundation of all training.
Hand-feeding addresses leadership, problem-solving and self-control. It gives you a chance to acknowledge behaviors that you would like to see repeated, whether they are tricks or good manners.
The goal of hand feeding is to train your dog to think about his actions and to make good decisions. Do not give any obedience commands. Sit with the food on your lap and wait quietly. Do not have the food in your hand. Keep the bowl in your lap. If your dog moves toward the bowl, simply cover it with your hands.
You want the dog to offer behaviors in order to receive any food. You dog will throw a number of behaviors. He will run in circles, bark, sit, lay down, roll over, and so forth. For the behaviors you want extinguished, simply ignore the dog. For the behaviors that you like, mark them verbally (“good” or “yes”) or with a clicker, and then give the dog a small bite of food. If you are feeding soft or homemade food, use a spoon. Timing is essential. Mark during the desired behavior, and not after it is completed or as the dog moves onto another behavior. For example, if you like for your dog to sit, wait for him to begin to sit. As the dog’s bottom is moving towards the floor, mark it with “yes” and give him a piece of food. Reward all positive behavior. ANY behavior that you do not mind seeing again, no matter how small, need to be marked. Good manners can be walking by the cat without chasing it, or not barking at a noise outside. These are behaviors that you want to see repeated and the new owners would appreciate, so mark and feed.
Lastly, the dog must do something physically different to earn a mark and a piece of food. He is not allowed to just sit and stare at you. This means he is not problem solving, but simply waiting to be fed. If your dog does not want to work for the food, he does not eat. If this happens several times than you need to change his food.
Let’s break this exercise down into steps:
1. Grab your dog’s food bowl and fill it up with his normal amount of food for that feeding.
2. Sit somewhere comfortable, where your dog is going to have plenty of room to work. You do not have to sit on the floor.
3. Place the bowl in your lap and use your hands to cover the bowl, if the dog is trying to put his nose in it. Do not move the bowl out of the dog’s reach or tell the dog to leave it. He is offering an inappropriate behavior, so, simply cover the bowl and ignore him.
4. Stay silent throughout the process until your dog gives you a behavior that you would like to see repeated. When he offers a behavior that you want, mark it with your marker and give a piece of food.
5. Wait for him to offer something different and repeat.
6. If he gives you a behavior that you do not like followed by a good behavior, be sure the good behavior is exhibited for at least three seconds before recognizing. The pause only happens if the good is following a bad behavior.
This process may take between 15-45 minutes, depending on the dog’s confidence level and problem-solving skills. When beginning this technique feed the entire bowl this way. Do not feed half the bowl by hand and then place the bowl down for the remainder of the feeding. If your dog does not earn all of his food in the time allotted, put the food away and try again later. It is not unusual for a new dog to leave a portion of his food. I recommend feeding this way, at least once a day, unless you have a very nervous or shy dog, then hand feed both feedings.
Just because you allow a dog to eat all of his food at once does not mean he gets it without working for it. Instead of working for each bite, make sure he shows self-constraint before the bowl is placed on the floor and before you give him permission to eat. Allow him twenty minutes to eat and then pick up the bowl.
The dog should sit or down. The dog must remain in that position until permission is given to eat. Your permission word should be consistent. I use “okay.” The dog does not have to stay in this position while he eats.
1. Fill your dog’s food bowl.
2. Stand still, holding the bowl firmly in hand, and remain quiet. Do not shake the bowl, do not talk to the dog and do not hold the bowl over your dog’s head. Wait until your dog sits or lies down; immediately begin lowering the bowl to the floor. Stay a couple of feet from your dog in case he attempts to move toward the bowl.
3. If your dog comes out of position, pick the bowl up. Again, say nothing.
4. When your dog gets back in the appropriate position, begin lowering the bowl. You may continue lowering the bowl as long as the dog is in position, but the second he comes out of position without permission, pick up the bowl.
5. As soon as you get the bowl to the ground, give your permission word, and allow your dog to eat.
6. Each time you do this, require your dog to wait longer before earning permission. Do not become predictable in the amount of time you make the dog wait before eating.
If your dog has hip issues or finds it difficult to sit, you may do this in the stand position. Do not allow the dog to eat until he is standing in the same place. Each time he moves toward the bowl without permission, pick up the bowl. If you have multiple dogs, teach the exercise individually and slowly put them together, as a group, requiring them to all wait together.