Food For Thought

Do some people see removing their dog’s ‘running buffet’ as a form of cruelty, I wonder? The dog may not now like having fixed times when he can eat and his humans may like it even less.

But it can be a necessary evil.

There is endless stuff written about using food in training and behaviour work, not only as reward but also for desensitising and counter-conditioning.

However we hear less of the price that some dogs (or more accurately, their owners) have to pay in order for this use of food in training and behaviour work to be effective.

Without value to the dog, food is no more use in training than a chocolate teapot.

imagesI went to dogs that had a big bowl of chicken bits left down permanently along with a bowl of dry food. When the lady is preparing her meals, one dog is lifted up onto the side and she feeds him little bits as she goes. While the humans are eating the dogs get titbits of human food. At bedtime the dogs get several chocolate drops and during the day they get gravy bones which, to us, would be the equivalent in size and weight to eating half a baguette. Whenever the people return home they bring treats for their dogs. Several bits of rawhide chew are around the floor.

All this for doing nothing in return.

The previous dog I went to had a water bottle full of kibble constantly on the go.

For food to work it has to have value and if all the tasty things are constantly on tap, how can it be used as ‘payment’? I liken it to a millionaire lottery winner being offered a tenner.

This is a big predicament for people whose way of life and way of loving their dog is to lavish him with food. So often they say they bring treats home because they feel guilty at having left him alone, if only for a couple of hours.

There could be human psychological reasons for all this feeding which need to be acknowledged. It’s hard for them. They may have worse withdrawal than the dog to the removal of the food, to the extent that they dither and never actually do it properly. They are sure it’s going to make their dog unhappy and think they don’t love him or, even worse, that they might lose their dog’s love.

Where feeding in ways that get the dog to work for his food like scattering it, feeding raw bones, feeding in treat balls or water bottles is great, if food is to be used for reinforcement or reward, anything left should be removed as soon as the dog has lost interest.

Animals in a natural environment would immediately eat what they need, knowing that anything left would quickly be claimed by another animal. That surely has to be the natural way for an animal to feed – unless they are grazers or ruminants like cows and horses.

With the food situation under control, when called in from the garden and knowing he will get a small bit of chicken as he steps in the door, the dog is much more likely not to turn a deaf ear! When he hears a distant bang and a small piece of cheese is dropped on the floor immediately, he will begin to become less reactive to bangs.

Out on walks it’s obvious that if he’s not full of food – hungry even – the chicken or liver treats dropped to build happy associations with things he’s wary of will have effect. With food valueless, one might otherwise as well be scattering pea shingle on the ground.

Here is one of my stories of dogs who do not value food because it’s constantly on tap.

My main website: www.dogidog.co.uk

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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (ABTC - AAB) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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