By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Amanda Ott
A few articles ago, Jen and I talked about food bowl exercises as a great way to prevent resource guarding. Since then, we’ve seen some interest in the topic and thought that people might benefit from a more in-depth look at the subject.
Without further ado, here’s DogBoy’s comprehensive guide to using food bowl exercises for training your puppy (and more)!
Not Just Food Bowls: Vary Your Puppy’s Feeding Exercises
Before we begin, we want to emphasize that you shouldn’t only feed puppies from a bowl. As part of their socialization, they should be dining from all different kinds of surfaces, such as:
- Dog food bowls
- Regular bowls
- The floor
Your puppy needs to get used to eating in as many different ways as possible. This makes your puppy comfortable with feeding no matter where they are, or what you’re feeding them from.
You can also use dinner for training exercises, none of which require using a food bowl. One of our personal favorites is the “leave-it” exercise, where you ball your fist around some kibble and hold it in front of your dog. If they sniff, no kibble. If they sit down and remain calm, time for a treat! And as a reminder, make sure you’re always feeding a puppy appropriate food.
Ideally, you should vary your puppy’s feeding method as much as possible. However, we understand that you may not have room in your busy schedule to train your puppy every feeding time. Luckily, we’ll talk about how you can still mix things up on a tight schedule in a little bit.
What You’ve Been Waiting For: The Food Bowl Exercises
Food bowl exercises are powerful tools for improving patience and strengthening impulse control. Have your puppy do a sit while you lower the food bowl towards them. If the puppy jumps up, bring the bowl back. If they sit back down, continue lowering. This process slowly teaches them that if they wait patiently on the ground, their food will come to them.
Once your pup has mastered these exercises, you won’t have to deal with over excitement during dinner. They also help dogs learn to control their impulses in general, which can help with:
Essentially, you’re using your dog’s food for behavioral management and basic training. While this exercise can teach your dog plenty about restraint, you can take the training even further.
To teach your puppy to be comfortable with you approaching their food, walk back and forth as they eat. Once they’re used to your presence, toss treats inside or pick their bowl up and trade it for something better. If you keep this up, the puppy won’t want to guard their food from you.
Have other people perform these small exercises as well. Let your kids or friends practice giving treats, taking the food bowl away, and approaching during dinner time. It’s crucial that your puppy learns this vital life skill at a young age, or they may develop guarding issues when they’re older.
Other Excellent Puppy Feeding Exercises To Try At Home
If you’re short on time, a great way to spice up your puppy’s breakfast is scatter feeding. The name is pretty self-explanatory, just take your puppy’s food and gently scatter it across your kitchen, dining room, or other preferred feeding area. Your floor gets shined as an extra bonus!
Scavenging for food this way is mentally enriching and fun for puppies and dogs alike. You also prevent them from eating their kibble too quickly, which is especially helpful if you have a pup who inhales their food and vomits afterwards.
If you want to participate more, do the “pacman,” where you deposit food in a trail then watch your dog slowly follow along. We also recommend using puzzle toys or slow feeders to slow your puppy down when feeding, and provide them with tons of mental stimulation.
Puppy in Bowl by Ingo Di Balla
Puppies Eating by Stephen Kruso
Puppy Face by liz west