Feed time is a ritual that allows you to have another opportunity to have your pup “earn their keep” so to speak. Rituals are defined as “solemn ceremonies or actions performed in a customary way.” The reason potty, sleep and feed rituals are so important to your dog’s life and state of mind is that they represent the major naturally occurring activities in a dog’s daily life. Consistently ritualizing your main events, such as potty, sleep and feeding times is to help keep your dog stress down, and they know what they can count on day in and day out.
We have to teach our dogs about feed time.
In the animal kingdom, animals have to work for their food.
So, it’s up to us to create that same dynamic with a dog that sits, waits, and is exhibiting a calm state of mind before you allow him to eat. He’s earned it.
Remember, in a dog pack, the leader tells the dogs when to start and stop eating…we have to create that same dynamic!
I primarily feed dogs in their crates or appropriately confined spaces like an expen. Crates are an absolute must for families with more than one dog or with children around. You eliminate any chance of food aggression and food guarding issues when you feed in a crate. I use this method right at first with pups and particularly with overly excited or food-dominant dogs. Crates are your best friend at helping an over-excited dog or food-dominant dog learn how to exhibit some impulse control. Crates help establish a much needed routine for puppies. Gosh, who wouldn’t want to be in a comfy, snuggly place, with a well-stocked mini-bar where all you have to do is eat in peace and relax! I’m all in for that (and your pup will be too!)
If you have established a solid foundation of PLACE (I encourage you to read my blog about it) you can use PLACE along with your feeding ritual. I do have a lead and on the dog when I use “Place” in the event I need to step in and help the dog make a better choice, I can easily do so by grabbing the leash and helping them back on to PLACE. Place gives a dog a defined space with a very clear directive of what the dog can consider his own space, which you have placed them on. You, the human, ensure that NO ONE bothers a dog on his defined space. He needs to be left alone and not bothered by humans or other dogs. On Aly’s Acres, regardless of how many dogs in a pack are eating on their individual places at any one time, it’s always peaceful, relaxed and calm. No over-excited or defensive minds HERE!
FEED TIME rituals are a time for you to establish order, safety and appropriate balance in your relationship with your puppy. Feed time rituals begin and end with your influence. You say when it starts, by putting the dog in the crate, setting food down and shutting the door to the crate. You say when it’s done when you pull the bowl out of the crate. You ask for manners and only feed calm dogs. You wait it out if they are not calm. Just wait. No talking to the dog. No staring at the dog. You just wait. When they are calm, simply set the bowl down, close door and walk away. Leave the dog alone. Allow him to eat in peace. Do not panic if every morsel of food is not consumed at each meal. A healthy dog will not starve itself. Eventually, a dog adjusts to a work/eat/rest orderly schedule.
Feeding Ritual Benefits vs. Free feeding:
- You can keep track of calories
- You will know right away if your dog is not feeling well, because you will notice if his eating intake suddenly changes
- Feeding rituals help with potty training
- Feeding rituals help maintain a dog’s food drive. Some dogs lose their food drive when food is available to them all the time
Feeding Ritual Dos:
- Feed two times per day. A puppy or underweight dog needs more meals scattered throughout the day
- Feed your dog in their crate. Be sure to feed after some purpose-driven exercise. They are in their crate and then they can rest
- Create a routine and stick with it—dogs love this!
PUPPY PIT STOP: Puppies have different caloric and nutritional needs than older dogs, so you will feed them differently. Portion out your pup’s daily total intake and divide into three or four small feedings a day, which should be adequate to meet the nutritional demands of your growing puppy. Make sure to up your food volume during growth spurts. Again, don’t panic if every morsel isn’t gone. A healthy puppy won’t starve itself! For more information on food recommendations for your dog read the annual review of food from THE WHOLE DOG JOURNAL.