Tips from the Trainer: Feeding

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By Steve Kotowske

Some dogs are picky eaters, or sometimes they just don’t seem to prefer eating when you are around. These can be signs of more serious behavior issues like lack of respect for leadership or even impulsiveness. Even worse, maybe your dog shows aggression around the food bowl.  We have a solution for some of these problems, and it is the starting point for a better relationship with your dog. Like anything that needs fixing, you will need to gather some tools. Let’s start with the most basic tool that every dog owner should be familiar with, your dog’s food bowl. Seriously, the food bowl might just be the most useful tool in your toolbox. If you keep things in perspective and understand your dog is an animal, it will be happy to work for its food.  Humans used food to domesticate wild dogs, so why stop using it now to maintain that healthy relationship? It only makes sense. When referring to food we need to separate treats from sustenance. Working for sustenance, your dog will fully understand your leadership and will keep the relationship in healthy order. Treats can be used for other task training, or for when you just feel like rewarding your best pal with something extra. Teaching leadership through feeding looks like this… prepare your dog’s food as usual, but do not allow them to have it. Ask your dog to sit – we don’t use commands or a commanding voice, because dogs don’t command each other around when having fun; don’t believe me, listen sometime.  If your dog breaks from the sit, softly use a slight negative sound like “uh-uh”. You don’t need to sound like a game show buzzer, just keep it light. Only repeat the negative sound, not the cue to SIT. This ensures that you are not arguing with your dog to do the behavior. Instead, you will be letting them know that you do not agree with the refusal to sit (assuming they understand how to sit when asked). Add a soft, verbal praise once sitting. Once the dog is sitting, get its eyes on your eyes by motioning your hand towards your nose – then, give them a fun release word like FREE or EAT or OK! Follow up with a lot of praise while they are eating. If your dog does not eat all of its food within a short period of time, remove the food and use it later for the next meal time. Your dog will learn to eat after it is given permission, but most importantly it will ask for permission, like any animal where pack hierarchy applies. You are far from being a pack dog, but you can still lead your dog pack in a way your dog will respect you and, in turn, they will follow your leadership.

Steve Kotowske

Steve Kotowske is the senior trainer and owner of What’s Up Dog in Santa Rosa Beach and Miramar Beach, providing training, boarding & supplies. For more information please visit

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