How do I get my dog to wait for food?

PUBLISHED: 13:34 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:34 07 September 2018

With good training you can ensure your dog doesn't try to snatch food all the time  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With good training you can ensure your dog doesn't try to snatch food all the time Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Tim James of Blackstar Dog Training explains how feeding time provides the ideal opportunity to teach your dog some basic obedience…

Every owner has an opportunity each day to work on an essential aspect of their dog’s training – and many don’t make the most of it. I’m talking about feeding time and how small changes in how you go about it can make a huge difference to your dog’s overall obedience.

There are, of course, exceptions, but most dogs are highly motivated by food and look forward to mealtimes with great enthusiasm. This provides an ideal opportunity to underline basic obedience training and, in doing so, also to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Some owners choose to free-feed – simply filling a bowl with food in the morning and then letting the dog scoff down a little and then graze at other times in the day whenever it is hungry or bored.

While not inherently a problem, free-feeding is often associated with the absence of rules and boundaries in the dog’s wider world and a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to training generally. If that’s you and your dog and you’re happy with the way things are going, then great.

If not, then why not use mealtimes to work on your dog’s general obedience and gently send him the message that you are in charge and, whenever he doesn’t know what to do, it is to you he should look.

At the heart of the approach is that your dog should always sit and wait for his food. He should also wait to be given the command to eat. You should be able to command your dog to sit, to place his bowl on the ground and have him wait patiently until he is told he can have the food.

The reasons are many. The ‘ritual’ behind doing it this way will help your dog (especially a young dog) realise that you are the provider; it is from you that food comes, rather than it just appearing anonymously on the kitchen floor every morning. Enforcing the sit command will – thanks to the motivator of breakfast about to arrive – make it a more instant response when you ask him to sit in the park or at a road crossing.

Ensuing your dog waits for the command to eat will make things far easier when you move training on to important instructions, such as a long stay. I have said before that if you have the dog’s eyes you have the dog, and making your dog sit patiently for his food will dramatically improve his focus on you – and that, in turn, will make every aspect of obedience training more effective.

Finally, this approach will make it less likely that you will encourage your dog to routinely scavenge for food. He will become used to sitting and waiting to be fed and so less inclined to look for it under the dining room table or in every hedgerow.

Such an approach helps build anticipation of a reward to come. This, in turn, can aid obedience training later by helping the dog understand that, whenever you issue a command and it is followed to the letter, a reward will follow in the form of a treat, lots of praise or, with dogs that like to work, another task to carry out.

By enforcing a little order, this way of doing things can also be helpful if you have a dog that tends to bolt its food and then to suffer from indigestion – you will be able to give him only part of his food and then more when he again sits and waits.

Finally, if you have a dog that can become agitated or even aggressive when eating alongside others this method will mean you can make him wait until the other dog has finished before allowing him to pile in.

Top tips: 6 ways to make your dog wait to eat

1. Let your dog see you filling his bowl with food and then hold it out in front of you. Command your dog to sit and, if he does so, mark that he has done the right thing with a calm but enthusiastic ‘yes’.

2. Move the bowl toward the ground and, if he stays seated, keep going until it is on the ground in front of him. If at any point he starts to move toward the bowl, simply pick it up and repeat the sit command.

3. If your dog gets overly excited and starts to jump up, simply turn away and place the bowl out of reach. Wait a short while and then try again (you may need to be patient and repeat the exercise a few times before the penny drops and the jumping stops).

4. Once your dog is reliably sitting with the bowl in front of him, simply do nothing. Don’t be tempted to issue a command of ‘wait’ or ‘stay’ – we want him to decide for himself that the best way to get the food is to be patient.

5. Don’t ask for too much too soon. Initially, even a brief wait is long enough. So, show him he can have the food by releasing him by pointing at the bowl and issuing a simple ‘OK’.

6. Over time, you can build up how long your dog must wait, but don’t make it too long – for him waiting 10 seconds is almost as tricky as waiting 10 minutes and longer stays are for the field or park.

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