Our last blog discussed the importance of maintaining a pet’s healthy weight by engaging in various physical activities. One of the suggested activities involved teaching a pet to wait for food and rewards. Let’s look a bit closer on just how to do this.

Combating the over-eager eater

Dogs don’t have manners; they have learned behaviors that require you to determine if they are acceptable or not. One natural canine behavior is to eat quickly. This comes from instincts developed from ancestral pack living where members had to eat quickly, and often exhibit aggression, to simply get food. Now, just because your dog doesn’t have to fight with another to get enough calories, that doesn’t mean the natural instinct to be protective of food has disappeared. But, you can teach your dog to have better “table manners” by training them how to wait for treats and meals.

Waiting for treats

This is not only mental stimulating, but rewarding for dogs because they seek your approval above all else. When your pooch has earned a treat by sitting and staying as another dog passes, or laying down when the mail man comes to the door, a treat that requires a little patience can be that much more rewarding.

Dogs will snatch at treats when stressed, overly aroused, or hungry. Before giving a treat, check in with your dog to see if any of these factors are going on. Once you determine your dog is in the right mind set for a treat try these steps:

  1. With your fist closed completely around a treat, hold your hand within reach of your dog’s grasp and say “sit.”
  2. If your dog tries to snatch at your hand say “ouch” loudly and remove your hand from their reach. Instruct them to “sit” again.
  3. Wait a few seconds as they sit patiently waiting and present your hand again.
  4. If your dog licks or nudges your hand say “gentle.”
  5. Slowly open your hand to give the reward.

Waiting for meals

Although it is fun to watch your dog rush to their bowl at the sound of kibble, this actually does not reinforce appropriate behavior. Instead it suggests to your dog that it is ok to rush to all things that excite them; walks, visitors, car rides…everything. Instead, patience is a virtue that can help your pet, who once ran with wolves, in all aspects of good pet behavior.

Meal times should be structured and about the same time every day. Here are some steps to reduce food bowl assaults at meal time:

  1. Put kibble in your dog’s bowl out of reach from your dog and then hold it at chest level.
  2. Ask your dog to sit while the bowl is in your hand. Standing is ok as long as they are calm.
  3. Lower the bowl six inches towards the ground and ask your dog to “wait.”
  4. If you dog is able to wait, continue lowering the bowl to the ground while providing gentle praise for their behavior.
  5. If your dog moves towards they bowl while you are lowering, simply bring the bowl back up and start over.
  6. Once your dog is able to wait, lower the bowl to the ground and after a few seconds, release your dog with the command “ok,” or “eat.”
  7. Use the wait cue and prolong “ok” for longer and longer lengths of time to increase the effectiveness of this waiting technique.

These humane training techniques can be valuable in maintaining your pet’s healthy and safe lifestyle. As humans, we could also benefit from implementing a little patience with our food. Remember to take time to sit down to eat, plan meals ahead of time so you do not go too long between them, and just like you insist for your pet’s diet, be strict about your portion control. Pets and their owners are more alike than we think – we all still have a bit of a wild streak in us when it comes to food!