Often I get asked “How can I get my dog to listen to me more” or “I can’t get them to engage with me outside” this is usually followed by “No matter what treats I have”. There is an easy way to rectify this, and its to ditch trying to bribe your dogs attention, and to instead train it into them with meals.
How many of us have been nudged by our dog at 5.15pm when their normally fed at 5pm. The forlorn eyes and squeaky demand for food.
This is a time of day we know our dog is motivated to work out things to get fed. They have worked out how to guilt you into feeding them with their cute eyes and nudges, so why don’t we use it to our advantage?
When training your dog, food motivation isn’t enough. Just because they like food doesn’t mean they will listen to you, the training needs to happen so your dog isn’t being bribed by food but instead wants to work for it. There doesn’t seem like a difference but the easy explanation is working because you love your job, or working for the pay only. Which makes you happier and which makes you want to get up in the morning?
Training should be able building a bond together, so the dog wants to work for you for the joy of it not because you happen to have food.
Just because your dog has learned the routine of a sit wait for their meal does not mean their trained. Its an easy repetitive behaviour, we need to instead use these mealtimes to build in loads of essential behaviours.
We need to have dogs which can do certain things every day, like walk nicely on lead. Not chase off after bunnies, or to sit when asked for their safety next to a road. These are the things we should be using mealtime training for. Using our dog’s food as their main treat.
It is easy to get into a lazy habit of scooping the food out and just feeding the dog. They are fed, they are happy. But we are missing this huge opportunity to actually train our dogs.
Giving yourself time in the day to do a little training at your dogs mealtimes is going to give you a head leap forward in training. I use handfuls of the dogs food to practical recall around the home, calling them from room to room and rewarding them with a few bits at a time.
Once they are rewarded in front of me I then throw a bit of biscuit away, and while their looking for it I move away. So when I call them again they are coming towards me. This training means I can repeat the call as many times as possible when the dog is not looking at me.
*Remember your recall should be your dogs name plus a word. Not just their name. This ensures they understand what you want from them, as you will say their name for many other things and it can be confusing for them.*
Walking nicely on at heel can be really reinforced at mealtimes as well as you can take the opportunity to practice it without to many distractions. I always start the heeling with the dogs sat at my heel, be that the left or right side.
I firstly reward just sitting stationary on the side of me for at least 30 seconds without a bum shuffle or getting up.
I always start with that to ensure they can focus on me for more than a few seconds at a time. Once the dog understands sitting there is rewarded then I start to take a small step forward and reward them when they come forward with me. We are looking to gain a dog who knows if they stay by myside, they will get the goodies.
Then you can move at normal speed and a few paces at a time rewarding them for being at your side. Only add in the word you want to use once they are doing it consistently. *Remember to never use the word in a harsh manner as the heeling command is not a corrective, you will poison the words meaning with shouting tones.*
Using your dog’s meals as training is not just for meal times, but its for any time. Spreading the allotted food amount over a day means you don’t need to use loads of treats, or sometimes even any. It can also stop them getting fat as they are working for their food. It also means you have hundreds of tiny rewards, so they end up getting lots more rewards than they would out of a small packet of dog treats.
I take my dog’s food on walks with me so that I can use it to reward their good behaviour any time. Its easier to carry than bits of chicken and I know the dogs love it. I will often mix up the flavours so that they get a different flavour of the Malc and Friends food on walks as a special treat. They absolutely love the Salmon and Sweet Potato so I use that on walks as its super fishy smelling. I know they aren’t getting sugary treats that will make them hyper when I’m home or upset their stomach. (No one needs runny poos at home!)
I also have a multi dog home, of nine dogs and counting. So using their food means there are no squabbles over high value treats, and they all work for the same thing. Its much easier especially when I have a dog with allergies.
One of the best things about using the dogs meals as training is that my dogs aren’t getting fat. I found a lot of treats, even the natural ones had high fat content. It was making my dogs fat the train them, and if I cut their food back they were costing me a fortune in treats they were getting as meals. It really messed up their diet while doing intense training.
Since I have used their food only for the bulk of training with he odd goodie here and there, I have kept their weight stable and saved myself a small fortune.
By using our dogs brain on a daily basis, ideally more than once a day, we are actually teaching our dogs to use their brain more focus on us to get rewards. We can make them smarter and easier to train in the long run.
The brain is a muscle and to get the most out of it, it needs to be challenged everyday and rewarded for the right things. We actually can create a dog that wants to be with us more and work for their food, rather than just stuff their face and be bored everyday.
For the perfect training regime is to do three to five small 5 minute training sessions a day using the dogs food. You don’t have to use the whole meal as their reward, just a few handfuls and then you can feed the rest as normal.
Remember 5 minutes of mental stimulation is the same as 15 minutes of heavy exercise in terms of tiring the dog out. So doing 5 minutes of training five times a day is the same as doing an hour and 15 minutes of exercise. Believe me you will have a tired pooch by the end of the day on training alone.