There’s no question that food can have a powerful effect on a dog. How you choose to incorporate food into relationship-based dog training actually matters. By using a dog’s natural food drive, you can impart lessons of leadership, calmness, impulse control, and respect.

two dogs looking up at a food bowl

Move to Set Mealtimes

Scheduling your dog’s meals and sticking to a schedule not only gives you the opportunity for a training moment but also reinforces your leadership. If you want your dog to be more attentive to basic good manners rather than making poor choices (e.g. barking at the neighbors) it takes consistent reinforcement that you are their household leader. Having a set breakfast and dinner time is one way to do just that. 

Filling a bowl all day is free feeding that reinforces many negative issues, especially for dogs who are not well-behaved. A comprehensive approach to dog training includes changing how you feed your dog. Read on for how to structure meals. 

Feeding Time at Home

It’s important to realize the comprehensive aspects of changing a relationship with your dog and how mealtime is a factor. Every interaction you have with your dog is a training opportunity. 

golden retriever sits inside on tile floor in front of owner patiently

Consider this routine:

  1. Have your dog on Place with leash and prong collar while you prepare his food.
  2. You may need a second helper to ensure the dog remains on Place. A sit position is fine. 
  3. When the food is ready, approach your dog remaining on Place. 
  4. His attention will be very focused on you holding his meal! See if you can set the bowl down without losing his focus on your eyes.
  5. Slowly lower the food bowl to the floor.
  6. Before releasing your dog, wait for him to look up at you.
  7. Release with “break,” “okay,” or “free” to allow the dog to eat. 
  8. This will take many repetitions to go smoothly.

Why Skip the Treats

The biggest reason to skip treats when training is that dogs easily become food-treat obsessed and focused more on the treat than your commands. In relationship-based balanced dog training, praise is the reward. Marking a job well done with light positive praise is a great reinforcement technique. Moderating, then curbing, training treats allows a clear connection between you and your dog uninterrupted by a hand waving a treat. Now your dog is listening to you and not excited and focused on a tasty morsel! 

Some additional examples of using food in dog training opportunities:

  • Feeding your calm dog in their dog crate with the door closed
  • Walking your dog, on a leash, past food while he is fully attentive to your leash control 
  • Tossing the food into a patch of unfertilized lawn can slow down mealtime and make your dog work for their food
dog lies patiently next to food on plate learning to resist the urge to eat anything in sight
white doodle eats dinner in his dog crate
yellow lab mix sitting on cement floor on leash looking at camera

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