Dogs and Food

By admin Posted in Basics, Puppy, Updated posts /

Dogs and Food
Treats in Training

If it is true that “Food is to a dog like money is to people” then it is silly not to make use of food treats in our dog training exercises. From experience we know that food treats can be used very effectively as a lure in puppy and novice dog training when we want to teach them the meaning of words and their hand signals. To capture a sitting position we simply allow a pup a brief smell on a treat before moving it over the nose and head and you instantly have him sitting so that you can give that position a name, “Sit.”
However, the use of food treats is not very effective to maintain reliable responses in older dogs especially if the training is off leash so it must be phased out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, because handlers find training so easy in the beginning when treats are used, they persist with the use of treats even though it causes problems. When dogs can smell that you do not have treats they are not very co-operative in training.
Training before feeding, when the dog is suitably hungry, can work for many dogs. At home, when a new training activity is introduced or we want to strengthen or increase the reliability of a dog’s response (Proofing) one can make use of different, good quality treats.
Size and Quality of treats
Treats should be small, no larger than the nail on your pinkie. You do not want to wait while your dog chews through a chunk of dried meat or sausage. I would buy a Vienna sausage, cut it vertically down twice to form quarters then lay it down and slice it into tiny pieces to be used in training. Best suggestion I have come across is of a woman handler who used a jar of baby food into which she would dip a finger and then offer her dog a lick as a reward. However, I have found that very good behaviour becomes even better after “Jackpotting” (all the treats in your hand – 3 or more).
At the club I am often asked about what treats I use or what are the best treats to use in training. My explanation is something like this; “the kibble/pellets that your dog is familiar with is at the bottom of the ladder. Above it comes bits of Vienna, then cheese followed by sun dried liver or biltong (dried meat) and finally on top, the favourite dog treat is chicken.”
But then I want to know from them, what is even better than Chicken? The answer is to play with the owner, (tuggy) or with other dogs, to go for walkies, to play fetch or tag etc. The problem of course is that these activities all interrupt the training activity which is not the case when food treats are used.
Interestingly, research seems to indicate that the quality of the treat on offer is not very important. What makes a dog’s tail wag is the anticipation of the treat that is being on offer and not so much what it consists of. When the chemical Dopamine is released into the blood the dog experiences feelings of pleasure and becomes more excited and motivated. Clever tests using clickers and treats were able to track Dopamine levels during dog training exercises. Better treats were not found to be more effective but it was the “Click” or the “Yesin anticipation of the reward that got dogs most excited and not the reward itself.
Weaning off Treats
Dogs should be weaned off food treats as soon as possible. Your leadership and your dog’s affection for you should have him keen to want to please and obey you without the use of food. In any case you do not want to have to always carry food with you to get your dog to listen to you. This can be done by:
1. When you have taught your pup the meaning and hand signal of a basic command he does not have to be treated each time for sitting or coming to you. This is a mistake. When he sits or comes on command he is praised and caressed/stroked to show your approval. However, treats can still be used but now as an extra, only after having rewarded him by hand and voice for a quick sit or a fast return. The dog soon learns that only very good behaviour may result in a treat being added. In any case, if you have to repeat a command your dog does not deserve to be rewarded. Gradually the use of food treats can be phased out in this way. Body blocking with your legs and hips can be effective to control your dog without having to use food.
2. Form sequences by adding one activity after another. Instead of treating after each activity, you can add commands such as, sit, down, sit, stand, wait, come, and then give a treat. Vary these sequences by asking different behaviours.
3. Treat intermittently. Praise your dog often to the point where the food rewards are few and far between.
4. I use a toy instead of treats for my own dogs.
Dog Feeding Routine
Dogs regard other animals, including humans, that share their space as members of their pack. Feeding time then is a great opportunity to establish leadership and a set of rules that the dog will understand in terms of this pack. It is the leader who sets the terms under which food is distributed and eaten.
Leadership can be conveyed by taking a biscuit and eating it, making it look as if it was coming from the dog’s bowl, to show that the leader eats first. The leader decides where and when you eat. Occasionally the feeding bowls can be placed in another place such as the terrace or lawn and sometimes even at the end of a practice track.
An improvised “dinner gong” or a whistle is a great way of calling feeding time. The dogs must sense you in their food preparations and watch from a distance. This is one time that you can get your pack’s undivided attention and their best behaviour.
They must go into “waiting mode” until they are all calm and all panting has stopped. Create “attentiveness” before food is set down. Dogs must work for their food! I demand eye-contact and basic obedience moves such as, Sit, Down, Stand, Bark etc. before food is given. Once the food is given the dog must be left alone and eating must not be interrupted!
Any dog that walks away from its food during meal times must have its bowl removed immediately. There may be a good reason for not eating but dogs soon learn that if you do not adhere to the leader’s rules you miss your turn. Food that was not eaten must be covered and be given at the next time they are to be fed. Food must never be left in open bowls around the house.
Food Aggression
A dog’s survival instinct naturally makes it difficult for him to share his food with anyone. However, in the domestic pack situation food possessiveness must not be allowed to become an obsession. Early signs can be noticed when the dog lowers his head over his food bowl and tries to hide it with his body as you or a family member approaches him while he is eating. His body may become tense, the tail ridged even if it is moving, hair stands up on his neck and he growls softly to tell you, “Go away.”
Great care must be taken when a dog shows food aggression because it can cause serious harm to a human who tries to interrupt him or take his food. Please also remember that this problem cannot be solved with love! Do not hand feed such a dog because you can be bitten.
In order to avoid food aggression from developing further, the following guidelines may be helpful:
1. Never feed an excited, panting dog.
2. Make waiting part of your feeding ritual.
3. Claim about two metres space from where the food is being dished up.
4. Keep a leash on in serious cases
5. Hold onto the dish with food as it is lowered. Do not put it down. Wait a while then invite the dog to come forward and allow some eating while the dish is still being held above the floor.
6. Lift the dish with food vertically upwards (never towards you because it will encourage the dog to follow the food and to move into your body).
7. Repeat several times.
8. Feed the dog in different places.
9. Praise your dog when it comes to thank you after a meal to say “Thank you.”
10. Get professional help if you feel scared.

Food to Avoid

Some human foods such as chocolate, raisons, grapes and onions are toxic to dogs. Foods that are heavily spiced or fatty can upset a dog’s digestion leading to diarrhoea, vomiting or life-threatening ailments such as pancreatitis,

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