That may sound a little strange – the concept that you show your dog leadership in the way that you feed him or her. Feeding is a primal ritual of basic survival that you can use to mold your relationship..
The best way to feed your dog is in one or two meal times per day. (If you have a puppy younger than five months, these meals will be more frequent, according to your breeder or veterinarian’s advice)
Do not just plop a day’s worth of food on the floor and walk away, letting the dog nibble at it all day on its own.
Here’s the leadership bonding ritual you should practice at feeding time:
1) Your dog needs to be in a calm state of mind, just as we teach for other exciting moments like when visitors arrive at the door. Ask your dog to sit, at least three feet away from you while you prepare the food. Return your dog to a sitting position as many times as it takes. If you need to, attach a leash to help him into position and to correct with an “upward” pop on the leash, if that helps to return him to sitting.
2) Put yourself into a calm, patient state of mind. Work on your own impatience. Make sure you plan enough time into your mornings and evenings, (or just one of those times if you feed only once per day), so you can feel calm and assertive. Move slowly, take your time.
3) When your dog is waiting patiently, put the food down. If he pops up, put the food on a nearby table or something, make him/her sit, and do it again. (Once he’s gotten used to the routine, simply standing back up with the food in your hands is enough to remind them to sit). Put the food down, stand up, and wait for eye contact from your dog, then say “okay”, and gesture to the food if you need to, to show him he’s allowed to eat now.
4) If you have multiple dogs, it’s the same routine, but it’ll require more patience at first. When one dog finishes, do not allow bullying of the other dogs. They must be patient and wait until the other dogs are done, to lick each others bowls.
5) If your dog is a slow eater (many dogs used to free-feeding don’t eat as quickly as a healthy, hungry dog should), give him five minutes, then put the bowl away. I guarantee that at each meal, he’ll get hungrier and hungrier, unless you’re feeding him *way* too much food!
Now, to the *why*? Why is this so important? Here are a few reasons:
1) Your power as a leader is enhanced a hundredfold when the dog never gets food except through you. When your dog finds food – one of the primally crucial elements of a dog’s survival, along with reproduction and elimination – without you being the immediate provider – you are wasting a powerful and easy way to increase your bonding, trust and your dog’s conviction that you are the ultimate leader.
2) Free-feeding/grazing is not natural for a dog’s system. Canids hunt and scavenge for their food. They work hard for hours, even days, to find one meal. When they find it, they do not nibble delicately! They bolt it down, not tasting, not hesitating. Some serious dog people fast their dogs one day per week, to simulate this type of eating for their dogs. The canids have a short, powerful digestive tract that is perfectly set up for fast, heavy meals. Dainty, all-day nibbling just isn’t as natural for their bodies.
3) Another thing to think about, considering your dog’s eating habits, is that in the wild, canids must work their brains and bodies very hard for long times before finding their food. Along with that work is the gratifying bonding of pack cooperation and communication to find their prey or carcass. A perfect, healthy and natural habit for you to practice with your dog is to take him/her for a “Leadership Walk” combined with some vigorous play before meals. When you re-enter the house, you handle the food first, like the leader of a pack would, you ask for respectful distance and patience from your followers, then you allow them to bolt that prey down gratefully. 🙂
4) A word on fat in dogs: Dogs have a short lifespan, and they use their bodies hard. Please make sure you never allow your dog to get even chubby! You should be able to see a defined waist in your dog, and feel his ribs with very little pressure. Every bit of fat that lies under the skin is only the smallest concern – that subcutaneous fat is a flag that there is a lot more fat smothering your dogs’ organs, increasing his chances of cancers, diabetes and heart disease. The extra weight shreds your dogs’ joints, causing arthritis, torn ligaments, and a lot of pain down the road. An obese dog often has a stronger odor, as their skin doesn’t cleanse and protect as well – their fur becomes dry and greasy and thin. They also feel miserably overheated, and pant far more than a normal-weight dog.
Thinning your dog down is ridiculously easy: Scoop 25% less into their bowl! They do not notice, or care, so what could be easier and more kind than that? Avoid low-fat “diet” foods. Dogs do not do as well on high-fiber, low-fat foods. Again – they have a short, powerful digestive tract, not a long complicated one like a grazing animal. They need a kibble with at least 12% fat to be at their best. (I’ll just tell you my favorites: Iams and PurinaOne. Safeway has a cheap, pretty good knock-off of PurinaOne…just compare the labels)
Have fun with this easiest, simplest way to practice Pack Leadership!