The Food Bowl that is.
We hear it all the time, don’t we? Don’t feed your dog out of their food bowl, let them work for their food out of Kongs and other food enrichment toys. There are some trainers and ‘experts’ that promote the idea that dogs should never get any food in a food bowl and that they should work for it all.
But is it really the best thing for the dog? Don’t get me wrong, I use food enrichment toys for my dogs. They have Kongs, K9 Connections, snuffle mats, slow feeding bowls and other food enrichment toys. I also use part of their daily ration to reward them for good behaviour during the day (and of course, they get ‘extra treats on top).
However, for some dogs, having to work for all their food causes huge frustration and this can tip over into training and may even result in behaviour problems such as food guarding appearing as well as things such as poor impulse control. We really don’t want frustration to tip over into training as it then becomes part of the behaviours that we are training (yes, emotions can be attached to behaviours during training) and when that frustration bubbles over the top, we can end up with an aggressive outburst and someone (or some dog) is going to get bitten.
Yes, some frustration is good as we do need to teach our dogs (and kids) some frustration tolerance, so that they can cope with delayed gratification rather than just wanting instance gratification. Too much frustration is not good and can lead to aggressive outbursts (bit like a temper tantrum in a child), so we need to avoid that.
We are often advised to feed young puppies (8 weeks of age) only from Kongs. Now young puppies need more food than an adult of the same size as they are growing so fast. They need to eat frequently and need nutrient dense food. They get hungry fast. The problem in feeding only via Kongs, is that the puppy cannot get enough food in its belly quickly enough to meet their hunger pangs. Hungry dogs will have low blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels can and do result in uncontrolled aggression. Just think how ratty and irritable you get when you are hungry. Hungry animals will resource guard food and people carrying food. They are hungry, so food is very important in their lives, so they will guard any source of that food; their Kongs, their owner’s treat pouch etc. and they will guard it from other people and other dogs.
Yes, there are plenty of puppies that have been fed only via food enrichment toys and have never developed resource guarding, but there are many that have, so it is something to be aware of. Some dogs are more food driven and struggle to cope with being made to eat their food slowly. Yes, we need to teach them to slow down (with having GSDs, I always worry about bloat).
Lara (GSD), has been horrendous. Even at 11 weeks, when she arrived, she has been almost frantic to eat her meals. Feeding her only via Kongs would have been an out and out disaster. She has been hard enough to teach to cope with using a slow feeding bowl, although she is better than she was and enjoys a meal from her snuffle mat.
With this ravenous-type pups,k they do need to eat the majority of their meals from a bowl, but you can also give them part of that meal in a Kong, on a snuffle mat or scatter feed it. This type of pup, can be very grabby over treats, so watch your fingers and teach them some slow treat control and Doggy Zen (see our online Self-control course).
Also. bear in mind what I said earlier; hungry dogs are going to be more impulsive, more easily frustrated, more irritable and easier to tip over into an aggressive outburst.
Feed some of each meal in a food bowl; the rest can come from a Kong or scatter feeding as long as it doesn’t take the dog too long to get the food into their belly.
When you first introduce Kongs, they should be really easy to empty and should empty quickly, especially for puppies. We need to them to get the food out quickly to have satiate their hunger. If we make them too hard to empty too soon, all we are doing is building frustration in an already hungry dog.
Gradually increase the difficulty of the Kong. For the really experienced Kong users, you may want to try freezing them first. For some recipe ideas, take a look at my frozen Kong recipe page
Don’t train a hungry dog. Even a dog that has had its meal will be happy to take food rewards (and their are loads of other rewards we can use other than food). Hungry dogs will lack impulse control, will get frustrated faster and will be more snatchy/grabby over treats and are more likely to tip over into using aggression. Make sure they have had at least 50% of their meal before you train (can be hours before your session) so that you have taken the edge of your hunger (and make sure you don’t train when you are hungry as you will be more irritable as well).
Kongs are fabulous as an entertainment toy; to keep your dog occupied for a little while. Heck, I use them myself and the dogs love them, but just be a little careful over how you use them and don’t make them too hard too soon or use them are the only source of your dog’s food.
My advice is to not ditch the bowl completely.
We all get told to do it, but just how do we do it correctly?
What am I talking about? Socialising your puppy of course.
With having a new puppy myself, I’m back to going through this process with my puppy. So let’s take a look at what socialisation is all about. Basically, it means exposing your puppy to everything that it is likely to meet as an adult, so that your puppy isn’t frightened by those things in later life. Sounds all fine so far, and we’ve all seen those checklists where we tick off that our puppy has met x number of people this week and x number of dogs and heard x number of sounds and so on.
Checklists are great as a basic, but they do tend to shift your focus onto completing the checklist rather than the actual process of socialisation and what it means to the puppy. Socialisation is the process of allowing a puppy to become familiar with something, whether that is a person, and object, a sound or another animal. It is a process of habituation (becoming familiar with) and it should be a positive experience (nice things happen) or neutral (nothing pleasant or scary happens). Given a choice, I prefer to make every experience that a pup has, a pleasant one. It sets the pup up for being a well rounded, confident dog that can take a few emotional knock-backs because it has a host of positive experiences to fall back onto.
If we become focused on just ticking the boxes on a checklist, we can forget to make these experiences pleasant or neutral for the pup. What can happen is that a pup is put into a situation and then feels overwhelmed. This is not a positive association for the pup, nor is it neutral; it is a negative (scary) situation for the pup and continual experiences like this will create a pup that doesn’t like certain people, dogs or situations or could even become a nervous dog altogether.
If someone wants to say hello to your puppy, ask them to ask the puppy if it wants to say hello. If the puppy puts its tail done, turns its head away or moves away from that person, then the puppy is quite clearly saying that it doesn’t want to say hello. Respect the puppy’s decision and just ask the person to stand there and leave the pup alone. What you don’t want to do is pick the puppy up and thrust it into that person’s arms as now you have just taught your puppy that you won’t protect it when it is frightened (you are no longer a safe place) and you have just made that person and that experience (other people approaching) a very scary thing. You also don’t want to drag the puppy by the lead to ‘say hello’ or allow the person to keep approaching until the puppy can’t escape and has to submit to being touched. These situations will end up being very scary for the puppy and they can learn quite quickly, to be scared of people (or even a specific type of person, such as men, women, children, babies, etc.) and try to run away or to drive the scary person away by barking and lunging. What we have just done is the direct opposite of socialisation! We actually made people scary!
The same can happen when your puppy meets another dog or puppy. Allow them the chance to decide whether they want to interact or not. There is little point is pushing your pup into interacting with another dog or puppy that is going to be aggressive or bullying with them. A poorly run puppy play session, whether it is at a training class or a dog creche, can do untold damage to your pup and make them worried by other dogs approaching, so that they react by barking and lunging or these play sessions can teach your puppy to be a bully. Neither of these scenarios are good or appropriate socialisation.
Pups do not need to play with every dog they meet or every person they meet in order to become sociable around them. All they need to do is be able to see them and have wonderful things happen whilst dogs, people, vehicles etc. are present. If the puppy wants to approach closer, then fine, but do be guided by your pup’s body language, not by an arbitrary check list that says your puppy MUST meet 10 people this week. Yes to the meet, and be prepared to say no to the interact.
Of course, depending on your pup’s innate personality, it is entirely possible to over-socialise your pup. What do I mean by this? Well, your pup can have so much fun saying hello to other people and dogs that it has little interest in you and all that it wants to do is drag you over to say hello to other dogs and people or it clears off to see them as soon as the lead comes off and has little interest in being with you. You’ve basically become your pup’s social manager and little else. Your puppy needs controlled exposure so that it learns that responding to you is still important and you should most certainly work on teaching your puppy to come away from another dog (not all dogs are friendly) and from people (not everyone likes dogs)
Being able to take your dog anywhere and have your dog continue to do as it is told, is just fabulous and opens up so many opportunities for you and your pup to go on social walks with your dog. Socialisation is something that every pups needs to experience in a positive way. Note that I say it is something that the pup needs to experience; their choice. It is not something that we just expose a pup to, as that it when it is likely to go wrong and we end up turning what was a confident pup into a shrinking violet that finds the World a very scary place.
If you are not too sure that you are reading your pup’s body langauge correctly, then please seek help and advice from a reward based dogs training (avoid anyone that tells you that your pup needs to ‘face up to its fears’). You could also take an online course in Canine Communication.
Have aread of our other article on socialising dogs. Sociable or Socialised?
Lara is now 15 weeks of age and has been here almost 3 weeks. Time flies when you have a puppy! She’s getting huge now and is almost as tall as tallest Springer Beau and bigger than Rush (cockerpoo).
She’s not just got bigger, her character has change, she’s no longer than quiet shy puppy; she is a thug! She’s bitier, noisier and more active, but on the up side, she does settle down whilst I’m working (she’s currently asleep at my feet) and she’s still go a great appetite.
Her appetite has led to some frustration when trying to feed her using a slow feeding bowl as she just couldn’t get the food out as fast as she needed to. I have changed her diet from one that had over 50% rice and only 16% meat in it (expensive food as well!) to one that contains 30% meat and 30% rice and that appears to be filling her up better (she doesn’t bolt her food as fast now, always a concern with a breed that is prone to bloat). She can now also cope with a slow feeding bowl, but in the early days, she had half her meal in an ordinary bowl to take the edge of her hunger and then the rest in the slow feeding bowl. When I saw that she was happy to tackle the slow feeding bowl first, rather than the open bowl, I knew she was ready for a full meal from the slow feeding bowl. No more frustration now when she has her food in a slow feeding bowl.
She’s continuing her education with regards on self control around food, which is much easier now that she isn’t so hungry and with recall games (luckily I’m a member of Susan Garrett’s Recallers programme, so lots of games to play). I do need to go back and revisit the collar grab game as we’re going through a bit of a blip with regards to that.
We’re having loads of fun playing tug games with various tug toys, but work is needed on getting her to bring items back. Normal enough stage for a puppy.
She is bitey, and will be started to change her teeth soon. When she gets bitey, she is given an appropriate object to chew one. As with most puppies, squealing like a puppy just makes her bite harder, so re-direction onto an appropriate chew toy is important. I need to find some old towels to moisten and freeze, so that she has a cooling chew toy for when those gums are sore.
We’ve had a couple of days where Lara has had a bit of an upset tum; not bad enough for a vet visit, but enough that she’s had to wake me up several times overnight to go out. She is good as she does let me know when she needs to go out and her house training is coming on fabulously, but I could have done with a bit more sleep. I have definitely had ‘puppy brain’ for the last couple of days and have gone through the ‘why did I get this puppy/’ ‘This was a mistake’ stage. Funny how things improve when you get a good night’s sleep as I did last night.
We’ve also started playing with teaching her to put her front feet on objects (only low ones) and she’s learning to search the living room for hidden treats (easy searches to start with). She still has little meanders on lead whilst the big dogs runabout, and she’s finally started to play with the other dogs, but that is supervised.
We are now having an issue with her coming in from outside. She’s getting a bit big to pick up and fetch in (she really is a big puppy for her age!) and have fallen into the bad habit of luring her in through the back door (bad trainer) and so she has started holding out to see what is offered,k before she decides whether to come in or not. It’s cold and I really don’t want to stand there with the door open for several minute whilst she decides to come in, so a new strategy was needed.
She now gets about 30 seconds to decide whether she is coming in or not. There is no food in view and I’m not luring her. If she decides to come in the door, that behaviour is marked and then a food reward is produced and given. If she decides that she isn’t going to come in, the door is closed and I’ll open it a minute or two later and try again. I think it took six attempts the first time I tried this, we are now down to just two attempts on the last go. Something I need to keep working on until it is cracked.
Apart from these minor problems and a bit of redesigning of the leather suite, Lara’s ast 3 weeks have been progressing in the right direction.
Her microchip is registered in my name, but I do need to change her KC registration over to my name.
I do need to get some more photos of her though!
Meet Lara, a 12 week old German Shepherd pup that joined the household late last Tuesday. It’s hard to believe that She has only been here a week, it feels like she has been here ages.
She arrived late on Tuesday evening, so it wasn’t the ideal time to introduce her to my guys, so she spent the evening in a crate in the kitchen, with her familiar bed to help her settle She was so good. She woke me a 4am as she needed a pee.
Wednesday morning, she started to meet the gang one by one, and because the big dogs were still at kennels (cos I’d been at a workshop), I could just leave the kitchen door open and let her decide when she was ready to come through to the living room. My guys were fabulous, popping through to see her and then going away again, putting no pressure on Lara at all. A couple of hours later and all of them were happy together, so Lara’s bed moved to a crate in the living room.
The next couple of days were spent letting Lara settle in and building a bond with her, as well as teaching her the household routine. She quickly worked out the kitchen steps and to go out and in when she was asked. She also had to get used to that annoying thing called a collar (she had arrived with a check chain).
She is such a greedy guts when it comes to eating, she really does wolf her food down. I tried her with a slow feeding bowl one day, but that just lead to one very frustrated puppy who couldn’t get her food down quick enough. I’ll try again when she is a bit older. She was such a bitey pup in the those first few days. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her moments, but it is easier to direct her onto a toy now, and she will calm down with some gentle cuddles. All tied in with her being a bit stressed due to the change of home and with her being tired.
The crate door is only closed on a night, and when she is tired, she either takes herself off to her crate for a nap or settles down at my feet (which is where she is now). She has discovered the delight of buffalo horns and the leather suite! She’s also learned to have a harness put on and off.
Saturday was spent rearranging the van crates so that she has one that is easy to get in and out of and bless her, she has worked out how to use the van step to get in and out without jumping.
Sunday, she spent at an indoor flyball tournament meeting and greeting people. I did take her indoors, but only when she was happy to go inside on her own. Such a noisy p[lace for her, but bless her, she rocked it. Calmly saying hello to folks and then patiently siting and watching me whilst I had a chat, despite the fact that dogs were racing just a few feet away. I must admit, I was so impressed with her offering so much eye contact and on being so calm in such a noisy, busy environment. She was a very tired puppy when we got home.
Monday, we took it easy as Sunday was such a tiring day and just worked on the collar grab game and It’s Yer Choice, as well as working on gentle tug games. Tug is being kept fairly gentle as she’ll be teething soon. She has a good nose as she soon found out which pocket had the treats in! She was a bit of a bitey monster on Monday (she was tired) and the suite suffered from her teeth again (bad owner, I should have been watching the pup better).
Yesterday, she learned to walk on a lead with the other dogs and to load into and out of the van with the other dogs. This makes my life so much easier as it means less trips to and from the van to put the dogs in or out. She had a walk with Leon, Ash and Teal They were off lead, but Lara stayed on as I didn’t want her running about like a loony and I’m not 100% sure that she will recall to me in such an interesting environment. So we just walked along at her pace, stopping and sniffing when and here she wanted. The other dogs ran about like loonies, whilst we just toddled along. A short walk to them in terms of distance, but not time. We had a blast. Madam then had to go back in her crate whilst the rest of my dogs had their walks.
Worming day today. The benefit of a greedy pup is that the tablet was easy to give! More short training sessions today and more sleep. Her training sessions are only 2 minutes long maximum as she is a baby and can’t concentrate for long. All of them have taken place with the other dogs present, so I need to do some sessions with her on her own. Think we might try her with the snuffle mat today.
One of the things I am really having to work on her with, is to not rush over to the Other Half and jump up him. So whenever he comes into the room, she sits near me and is rewarded for being calm. This is definitely work in progress as she does love people and does love launching herself at them.
She has a busy day tomorrow as it’s my monthly meet up with my training buddies, so more new people, dogs to watch as they are working and a new environment to explore (a social club). She’s a puppy, and at the moment, we are enjoying her just being a puppy and educating her how to fit into the human world. There are no real training goals and expectations at the moment; we’ll just see where this journey takes us.
Oh, she can get on the suite now!