Teach Your Dog Manners: Why Your Dog Should Wait To Eat

Dogs love food.  Well, most dogs do.  Some have better manners than others, but most treat dinnertime as a free-for-all.  Dinnertime is a great opportunity to teach your dog, and using that time to teach your dog manners means they won’t be knocking the bowl out of your hand, or fighting with each other.

Learn about why your dog acts up at dinner time, and how to get him to knock that nonsense off.  It’s important in the long-term respect that your dog should have for you, as well as keeps your kitchen clean and family safe.

Why does my dog act up at dinnertime?

Your dog acts up at dinnertime because you’ve always rewarded that behavior.

Say what?

Yep–you always put that bowl on the floor, so you’ve always rewarded whatever behavior your dog displayed.  As a puppy, he probably started acting super excited, and you thought it was cute, but now he’s 90 pounds of fun and it’s not so cute anymore.

If, every time your dog acts up, you feed him, he’s going to act up.  He thinks you want him to behave that way–otherwise, why are you giving him exactly what he wants.  It’s like if you give your kid an Oreo every time she hits her sister.  She’s gonna start hitting her sister and hope the Oreo lottery pays off.

How do I get him to stop acting up at dinnertime?

You’re just over it.  So let’s flip the script and get your dog calm and collected, and respecting your personal space.

Don’t feed him when he’s acting up.

It seems simple, but you don’t want him to starve, and he’s a hot mess while waiting for his food.

If your dog gets in your personal space–and by that I mean, you step on him, trip over him, he knocks against your leg, or even touches you, just stop.  Stop scooping his food.  Stop putting his food down.  Set the bowl atop the fridge and leave the room.  Try again in 5 minutes.

He will very suddenly realize that every time he touches you, the possibility of food dwindles.  He will get concerned.  He will spend the first few minutes staring at the top of the fridge, wondering what has happened.

Teach him waiting tricks.

Use pre-dinnertime to teach him new ways of waiting, and reward him with his own food.  My preferred waiting tricks include:

  • “Out.”  Get out of the room.  My dogs always eat in the kitchen, so I teach them that they need to change what they’re standing on.  If I ask them to leave the kitchen, they’re allowed to go stand on carpet.  If I kick them out of the living room, they need to go find the linoleum in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • “Stay.”  Combined with “sit” or “down,” the stay command is the most versatile and necessary in a dog’s vocabulary.  The dog should stay, without moving their feet or scooting forward, as long as you ask.  Start with just a few seconds.  After a few weeks, your dog will stay for quite awhile.
  • “Wait.”  Wait is a lot like stay.  It means stay here, but it tells the dog that I will ask them to come to me.  With the stay command, I return to the dog.  Once your dog has waited, you can call her to the dish or ask her to do something else.
  • “Stand, Stay.”  The stand-stay command is just like a sit or down stay, except that your dog is standing.  Most dogs find it a touch more challenging to stand still.

When you have multiple dogs…

Dealing with multiple dogs is usually exponentially harder than dealing with a single dog.  Luckily, dogs learn from watching other dogs.

Require good behavior from everyone in order for anyone to eat.  Each dog should have their own bowl, because as they age they will need specific medication and you’ll need to know that everyone is eating.  Plus, lots of dogs will fight over food (especially if one of them is sick) so keeping them separated at mealtime is important.

If any dog bumps you, all the bowls go on top of the fridge, and you go sit in front of the TV for five minutes.  If your dogs are food reactive or food aggressive, teach the out command and don’t allow them in the room as you prepare their meals.

Remember, you are the “keeper of the food.”  You have everything they want, and they will be highly motivated to do as you ask.  Use dinnertime to enforce the rules of the house as well as any other behaviors that you’ve been working on (new tricks, commands, etc.)

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