Humans work for money, food is doggy money - dogs will work for it.  Used correctly, this valuable resource can not only provide hours of entertainment for your dog, but can also help reinforce your position as leader.  By utilising our dog’s daily food rations we can shape how our dogs behave using positive reinforcement techniques and environmental enrichment.

In the wild our dogs would have spent a considerable amount of time, the major part of their day in fact, locating food.  Nowadays in their modern day lives, our dogs are provided with their entire daily allotment of food in a bowl at the end of each day.  This is the canine equivalent to social security payments - money for nothing!  This food is then inhaled in 3 - 4 seconds and the dog is left with nothing to do.  It is then up to the dog to find other often unapproved ways to stimulate itself.

By robbing our dogs of the opportunity to work for their food we force them into leading dull, unstimulating lives where boredom becomes the norm and behavioural problems arise due to a lack of activity and motivation.  They get fat, bored and dim.  Food can assist us in providing mental stimulation for our dogs in the form of food puzzles and training tasks - i.e. environmental enrichment.

Providing your dog with a variety of food puzzles in the form of food dispensing toys, treasure hunts, hanging toys, frozen food treats, buried treats etc. ensures their long and often lonely days are full of fun and interesting things to do and discover.  While your dog is busy trying to work out how to get the food from the home made piñata he's not barking at the fence, digging holes in your yard or re-designing your furniture!

Your dog's remaining food should be made available in the form of training treats.  There are a number of benefits to feeding your dog this way:

  1. Your dog is motivated to work with you because you have something that he wants
  2. It reinforces your position as leader since you are controlling your dog's most valuable resource
  3. When half your dog's daily food is delivered during training sessions your dog begins to look forward to these sessions with glee.
  4. 'Paying' your dog for good behaviour helps you to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspects of your dog's behaviour
  5. Your dog will repeat behaviour that is rewarded with food
  6. You will spend more time with your dog when half his daily food intake is delivered during training or as a reward for desired behaviour
  7. You and your dog will bond more closely through training an time spent together
  8. You will not be "bribing" your dog with excessive use of treats.  Instead, you are using your dog's daily food for training rewards.

I usually suggest a half and half ratio - i.e. half your dog's food to be used for environmental enrichment and the remaininghalf to be used as training treats.

By allowing your dog to work for food you will provide an interesting, challenging and enjoyable job for your dog.  Life for your dog becomes much more fulfilling.  Educated dog owners don’t use food bowls, they understand the importance of keeping their dog mentally and physically agile.  So go on, throw our dog's food bowl away forever today!

** Article sourced with the permission of Danielle and Urban Dog Training - www.urbandogtraining.com.au.

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