Dinnertime Etiquette – What’s Healthy For Your Dog?

I’ve talked about how to choose a healthy dog food for your dog, but what about when it comes time to actually feed them? There are many different options that people have when it comes to feeding Fido such as once or twice a day, free feeding, supplementing food, etc. I’m going to talk about what is best for your dog and the possible health risks associated with certain options.

Instinctually, dogs will eat until they are absolutely stuffed, and maybe then some. This is because in the wild, they never know when their next meal may be and they might have competition for their food from other members of the pack. Because of this instinct, you must be able to monitor your dog’s food intake and make sure that they are not over eating. Yes, they will always act like they are hungry, even starving, but that does not mean that they NEED more to eat. If you look on the back of your dog food bag, there will be a recommended amount of food for your dog based on their weight. You must remember that this is recommended and might need to be adjusted based on the amount of exercise your dog gets. The best thing to do is to consult with your veterinarian as to what amount of food would be best for your dog. Also, you must take into account that sometimes you should not base your dog’s amount of food given over the weight they are at currently (especially if they are overweight!), but rather what their recommended weight should be as directed by your veterinarian.

Many people, especially those who have only one dog, use the free-feeding method. While this method is easy and convenient, there are some health and behavioral risks associated with free-feeding that you might not be aware of. By free-feeding your dog, you are making food constantly available to them; this could have an opposite effect on their instincts and make them essentially unresponsive to food. This could pose a problem when trying to train because the dog might become no longer food-motivated. This method has also been known to create picky eaters. Their food becomes uninteresting and unexciting to them, and they will start to expect more. This could become unhealthy for their diet because many people start to try to supplement their diet with human food, which not only enforces this behavior, but can also pose a health risk to their digestive system. This method can also result in your dog becoming overweight (which comes with its own slew of health problems) because they are often eating way more than they should be, and most of the time without you being aware of it. Also, if your dog is not feeling well one of the first signs of being sick is lack of appetite. If you free-feed your dog, you will not really know when your dog has a lack of appetite. They could be eating half of what they normally do and you would most likely not even notice.

So if you don’t free-feed, when are you supposed to feed your dog? It is best to keep your dog on a regular schedule i.e., feeding at the same time everyday. If your dog is fed too early in the morning, they might become a royal pain at dinnertime because they think they are starving to death. If your dog is fed too late at night, they might be waking you up in the middle of the night to go outside to potty. Try to find a schedule that fits best with your lifestyle and stick to it. If you have a very picky eater, it might be best to only feed them once a day in order to motivate them more to eat their meals. If you have a dog who tends to beg a lot and acts like they are starving to death all the time, it is probably better to feed them smaller amounts twice a day to alleviate their hungry behavior. Do not encourage your dog to become a picky, spoiled eater. If they do not eat their meal when it is offered to them, then take it away. Do not try to supplement their meals with leftovers or coax them to eat because that will enforce that behavior even more and they will start to learn that if they do not eat, something better will come. Instead, they will learn that they need to eat their food when it is offered to them or they will be out of luck!

By following these guidelines and the behavioral guidelines from my last post, feeding time should become an enjoyable time for your dog, and a less stressful time for you!

Have you had to deal with any of these problems during feeding time? What other methods have worked for you?


Dinnertime Etiquette – How To Be In Control When Feeding

First off, every dog should have good eating etiquette towards you. This means that they are not food aggressive. Starting when you first get your dog, practice taking their food (or rawhides) away from them and then giving them back. They need to know that you control the food and that it belongs to you first and foremost. They do not have an ownership over their food and therefore should never be aggressive over it. One trick that I like is to make your dog sit and stay before allowing them to eat. For example, prepare their meal and then make them sit and stay away from their bowl. Set their food down but do not release them right away. Make them wait until you release them with a command. This will help to signify to them that you are in control of their food and that they must listen to you if they want to eat.

If they are protective over their food towards your other dogs, however, altercations can be avoided if you are aware of your dog’s behavior. Dogs should be fed separately in order to avoid any type of possible aggression, especially if you have a dog that eats faster than the other one and might bully them away from their food. This poses the problem of one dog overeating and one dog not eating enough, and also if the dogs are on different diets (such as regular and senior diets) this could potentially be harmful to their diet or in the least, upset their stomachs.

Either feed your dogs in crates or separate rooms, or supervise feeding time to ensure no bullying, food stealing, or fighting occurs. If possible, the dogs should not be fed in the kitchen to reduce the behavior of begging for human food. By feeding in the kitchen they might start to think of the kitchen as where they get their food and in turn become “counter surfers” or bad beggars of your own food.

Look out for my next blog post about more dinnertime etiquette – learning about when and how to feed your dog and what’s best for their health!

Training Your Instinctual Hunting Dog

Many people ask me how I train my dogs for hunting. But the truth is, with this type of hunting (open field coursing) the actual training part is very minimal and is more about your dog’s instinctual abilities and experience.

One of the biggest parts of training our dogs in the field is the recall. It is always important that your dog learn “come,” especially when your dog will be off lead. We start training their recall very early (8-10 weeks old). One of the easiest ways is to carry treats with you in the field, then hide behind a bush and call them. Once the puppy finds you, praise them a lot and give them a treat. It is good for them to learn that while out in the field, they should always be aware of where you are. This recall training should be constantly reinforced at home as well.

Our dogs will chase their hares very far (sometimes a couple miles away), and this is where the instinctual senses kick in for them. It is helpful for young dogs to run with experienced dogs so that they have someone to follow back, but for the most part, a dog’s sense of direction is instinctual. They use the shadows from the sun, sight, sound, and smell to find their way back to you. When training your puppy or young dog, it is important that in the beginning, you use a whistle to signal to them where you are. A whistle travels much farther than your voice, and in case of emergency situations where your dog might get confused or lost; it is helpful to have them whistle trained.

Still, most of your dog’s training comes with experience. They will learn that after a long course, you are the one that has the water; therefore you will always be a source that they will want to return to. If they get turned around, they will learn to stop and listen for your whistle to reorient themselves.

Just remember, your dog’s ability to hunt is instinctual, that instinct is supported by training, which in turn is strengthened by reinforcement, experience, and conditioning.

How has experience helped your puppy’s hunting ability?