The Importance of Food part 2: How we can use the symbolism of food to help our dogs be calm and happy

Following on from the previous blog, we now know we can provide our dogs with 3 pieces of clear and direct information about our status because they know, from deep within their basic instincts, that: 

  • the one who eats first must be of higher rank
  • and, that higher ranking individual must therefore be better able to cope with making decisions regarding the welfare of the family.

The slightest gesture around food has the power to convey a HUGE amount of information… and so we can help our dogs be calm and happy by doing 3 things:

  3. & Keeping food really SIMPLE

These three simple rituals, when we feed our dogs, show them we have “the power of food”.  

  1. The first is GESTURE EATING.  And this is very simply eating a small snack immediately before you put the bowl of food down.  You can anything you want to eat… whatever you want, as I feed raw food to my dogs I am definitely not going to be eating their food!  That’s not what it’s about.  It’s about a GESTURE that is quick and clear: “I eat directly before you, then I provide you with food, and then I walk away, leaving the remainder with you.”  Nor is this about always eating your dinner before feeding the dog – it has to be clearer, quicker and more immediate than that.  So prepare their bowl, eat your snack, put the bowl down straight away.
  2. PICK UP THEIR BOWL.  The moment they have walked away from their bowl of food, whether the bowl is empty or there is food left over, it is of huge importance to pick the bowl up, only putting it back down at the next meal time.  This is the second simple ritual around food.  Dogs cannot be allowed to see that they control when they eat and how much.  It is so much better for their long term mental health, happiness and general behaviour that we are consistent with this.  Your dog HAS to know that he doesn’t control food. And this is one very subtle and very common way for dogs to see if they do control food or not – they will eat enough to survive and then use it as symbolism for the rest of the day!  Maybe you know of a dog who, goes to eat a mouthful whenever you come into the kitchen?  The concept of “grazing” is not helpful at all when it comes to feeding dogs.  Dogs are not prey animals grazing all day, they are predators living in groups where there has to be leadership and food is a resource that is used symbolically to communicate this.
  3. KEEP IT CLEAR & SIMPLE.  Avoid anything that takes the emphasis away from the actual nature and communication of simple Gesture Eating.  So, you don’t need eye contact, this is non confrontational, and you don’t need to speak, because they are watching us for information, and we are adding confusion if we do.  If you are in the habit of asking them to sit first, I want you to try without.  If they are over excited, rather than telling them to sit and wait, show them what you want instead by simply stopping, folding your arms, looking away and being patient.  Dogs want their dinner and if you give them enough time to figure it out, they will understand that crazy behaviour doesn’t get them anything, but calm behave does.  Dinner time is a great teaching time of day but you need time and calm to do it right.  Try not to squeeze it in around another 100 hundred jobs.  It’s very important so give it due time and consideration.

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