by Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Kibble time: It's likely your dog's favorite part of the day. That's one reason mealtime madness commonly precedes any feeding. Fortunately, you can keep bad behaviors under wraps with the right preparation and training.
For a quick-fix solution to any behavior problem, start by preventing your dog from practicing unwanted habits in the first place. A baby gate, crate or tether can keep your dog out of your way when you prepare food -- whether it's for your dog, other pets or yourself.
Also keep cat food out of your dog's reach, especially since it's much higher in protein than what's recommended for dogs. Also move your cat's litter box, since your dog might consider it a food source as well. Place both on a high surface (countertop for food, on top of the dryer for a litter box) or behind a gate that only your cat can get under, over or through.
Reward What You Want
Each step of your dog's meal-prep process can be used as a reward for good, calm behavior. Look at what your dog is doing wrong, and think about what known behavior he can practice to earn the next step. If your dog is jumping, only proceed if he sits. Note that you don't need to use any special reward; praise and taking the next step of food prep will be enough.
So for example, if your dog jumps on you as soon as you head toward the drawer with the can opener, stop and tell him to sit. When the dog does, praise and walk toward the drawer. If your dog looks like he's going to jump again, stop your approach and cue another "Sit."
If your dog knows more than "Sit," you can vary the commands you use. Or you can use "Lie on your mat" or "Stay" for the whole process. If your dog doesn't yet know a command, then practice it hours before, or shortly after, mealtime first.
A Different Approach
You can somewhat avoid dog mealtime madness by serving all of his food in interactive food toys. Use soft foods in chew toys like Kongs, and dry kibble in Kibble Nibbles, Wobblers, TreatStiks and the like.
You can also make your dog earn half or more of each meal as you practice commands. Be sure to vary the location and distraction levels for the strongest results.
Both options give you the advantage of exercising your dog's brain and fine motor skills at the same time. Because from a trainer's point of view, a bowl full of food given away merely for exercising patience is a waste!
Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers.
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Pets | Dogs: Avoid Mealtime Madness