Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Feeding Time

One of the best things I have taught my dogs is to lie down and wait before they get their food. Nowadays, they are well into the routine, and have their preferred spots where they lie down – within sightline of me of course – as soon as I start preparing their food. They lie there quietly until they are told “Go on then!” (I believe M uses “Go get it!”), when they quickly but quietly go to their respective bowls. This all makes for smooth feeding times.

They have defined bowls and eating places, and are not allowed to eat out of each other’s bowl, even if one leaves their food. This allows me to feed them different things, sometimes necessary due to Eddie's sensitive stomach. Inevitably, it is Cassie that leaves some of her food. In the mornings she doesn’t seem to be very hungry, so she eats only the best bits. Then she has the leftovers for lunch. However, since I want to keep the same feeding times for both dogs, it means that we have three meals a day. Eddie always finishes his food, so at lunchtime, when Cassie is ravenous for her uneaten breakfast, he has a small snack. They both have dinner and usually finish it all. Eddie does sometimes get some of Cassie’s leftovers, but only in his own bowl. He has now learned and will not touch her abandoned food in the mornings. Even so, I do not leave the food for Cassie to graze on, proper food is given at set times only (snacks and treats are a different matter).

They follow the same routine, with some occasional hiccups, even if we are not at home. I find that as long as I indicate that they need to lie down and wait and there is an appropriate space, they will do so. In addition, and this is the real blessing of this routine, they will now lie down when they want any food they see. This means that even though they may technically be begging if we are eating out in cafes or at picnics, they do so by lying down (and staring at our food intently). They also do this when the target food is someone else’s, so they are a lot less intimidating than they could otherwise be.

I taught both of them this by starting with treats. I showed them a very delectable treat and then held it in my hand on the ground in front of the dog, while saying the command “down”. After some attempts at forcing the treats form my hand, some confused shuffling and whining, they would end up lying down. The first times they did it it was often an attempt at getting at the treat (which is on the floor), or out of sheer boredom, as I would only release the treat when they were fully down. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Every treat they got was preceded by a “down”.

Then, once they had some idea of what “down” required, I asked them to lie before they could have their dinner. Since it is more difficult to hold a bowl of food in front of a dog without it getting at the food, they had to have some idea of what was expected of them. Even so, at the beginning lying down for food could take a while. Well, there was just no food without a “down”. Soon I also expected them to wait.  I then used  the command “wait” (more on which here). If they tried to get the food before I said “go” they would be told off sharply and had to get back to lying down again. Only when they were lying down, quiet and waiting did they get to go to their dinner. I also made sure that I varied the point at which I said “Go on then”, so that they didn’t try to second-guess me and rush up as soon as the bowls were down.

These days, I have found myself doing dishes for a good few minutes, realizing that they are still lying there waiting, because I have forgot to say “Go on then!”. But the real beauty of this routine is, as I said, that they appear to be terribly well behaved when, in fact, they are not. I would guess that the principle could be applied to other behaviours, say if a dog is over-keen on greeting guests (not a problem I have with my greyhounds, they don’t even get out of bed!). If it learns that it has to lie down and wait before getting greeted and cuddled, it would ultimately do so as someone came to the door. The key is that the dog does get what it really wants, but only after it has displayed a desired behaviour, so you’re only using the dog’s own wish to do something turning it from naughty to nice.

1 comment:

Mayli the Labradane said...

This is such a smart idea -- and I wish you would take video of this routine. I especially like the universal application. Once doggies learn that laying down quietly yields food rewards, we will naturally lay down to "beg" for food while our humans are eating. How helpful!

- Mayli the Labradane