Did you know that how you feed our dog can actually affect their training? A dog’s feeding routine is one of the first questions I’ve always asked my clients about, and so many hadn’t been aware of the impact that food, and how it’s served can have on behavior and the training process. Sometimes, implementing a small change during that first visit makes a big difference very quickly. Most dogs are fed one of two ways. “Free-feeding”, or leaving a bowl of food out at all times or for several hours at a time for the dog to eat whenever they want, is one. The other is serving food at regular mealtimes. Food is offered at somewhat regular times and either eaten right away, or taken up after a certain amount of time if not eaten. For example, you feed your dog in the morning while you get ready for work, but pick it up before you leave, eaten or not. I have always recommended to my clients to feed their dogs meals, if possible, rather than free-feeding. This has several benefits.
A HUGE HELP IN HOUSE-TRAINING
Feeding habits should always considered in the house training strategy. Free feeding can sabotage your new pet. Feeding regular meals will help establish a generally regular poop schedule. For puppies, that means you will have a good idea of when a big potty time is coming, before an accident happens – and setting your puppy up to succeed is the most important part of house training.
MOTIVATE YOUR DOG TO LEARN
Training your dog requires motivation on your dog’s part, and it’s up to you to find out what your dog will work best for. Something your dog really, really wants, AND that you can use to your advantage. It can be anything from a bite of a treat to a tennis ball or tug toy. Whatever gets your dog excited that you can also control. Food, naturally, is a very popular motivator used for training because it’s readily available and goes over very, very well with many dogs.
But what if your dog is hard to train because she doesn’t seem to care about anything you can offer? She ignores treats and is not ball-obsessed. It seems that if you don’t leave food out, she’ll starve. But actually, not having constant access to food should improve and encourage the development of a healthy appetite. This can really help with “only dogs”, who don’t have another dog around to “compete” with over food or toys.
When your dog looks forward to their dinner (and breakfast or lunch), mealtime becomes a fun and highly anticipated event, and you are the focus for what your dog needs and wants. Instead of the always-full “magic food bowl”, it’s YOU who brings the deliciousness. You have control of that resource and that gives you your dog’s attention. And that means more respect – and better learning!
Controlling meals also lets you easily keep an eye on how much is being consumed. If you’re trying to manage weight, portions are easier to control. If there is any change in appetite, you’ll pick up on it right away, and that can give you an early warning that your dog may be sick. And administering medication may be easier because it’s more likely to be eaten with a relished meal.
Depending on your dog’s age and specific needs, you may serve your dog as often as several times a day (puppies need more frequent meals) or as little as just once a day. Almost all dogs can benefit from meals rather than free feeding; but there are exceptions. Some dogs with medical issues and certain breeds are much more likely to experience conditions like hypoglycemia. If there is any question, ask your vet! But if your dog is okay to do so, consider feeding meals instead of free-feeding for awhile, and see what a difference it can make for you and your dog. Let me know what changes you notice!