How to build up your dog’s food drive.
It’s extremely common for dogs in the home to become “grazers” and eat a little bit of their food throughout the day. Often times, owners may find it easier or better for their dog to have food out that they can pick at all day. However, leaving your food out for the entire day may be one of the killers of your dog’s food motivation. Let’s dive in a little bit further to one of the most valuable resources in a dog’s life – food.
What exactly is food motivation?
Food motivation within dogs is their desire to perform a certain task or behavior when the outcome of performing the task correctly is food. This is most commonly seen in puppies, as they are rapidly growing and always seem to be hungry. As dogs grow older and become fully mature physically, they may lose their massive interest in their kibble. There are many ways to either continue with or improve on their food drive from the puppy phase. It’s important first, to discuss the ways you can ruin food drive.
What kills food motivation in dogs?
There are a few resources in a dogs life that they value most. These include shelter, water, and food. For the most part, dog owners keep water out 24/7 for their dog to re-hydrate. Utilizing automatic dispensing water bowls such as the Torus Water Bowl will help keep your pup satisfied and hydrated. In terms of shelter, their need is satisfied from having a home to sleep in and a comfortable bed to lay on. Food, however, is a resource many owners mismanage.
One of the biggest threats to a dog’s food motivation is leaving the resource out with unlimited access. Think of it like this – every day we go to work for one main reason: to make money. This resource is essential for our well-being – it provides us groceries, gas, shelter, and much more. If that resource was suddenly available to us in an unlimited fashion, such as a “money tree” in the backyard, we would have no more incentive to go to work and earn it. The same goes for dogs and their food.
The second cause of lowering food motivation in dogs is putting certain additives and “goodies” in their food bowl to mix in. Owners will often add chicken, rice, condiments, or other treats to help entice their dog to eat. While this will ultimately get them to eat, they will quickly get used to a higher quality food. They will begin to hold out for the extra mix-ins if they are offered plain, regular old kibble. As soon as you begin to entice them with additional treats in their food, it will be difficult to ween off of it and go back to their regular kibble.
My dog’s food drive is non-existent – now what?
Fortunately for you, there are quite a few things you are able to do to help rebuild your dogs food drive. First and foremost is removing their unlimited access to their food. Professional trainers like Delaware K9 Academy recommend feeding your dog meals, just like humans do. Most owners feed their dogs based around their schedule, but normal feeding times of breakfast and dinner are most common. If your dog has absolutely no food drive, this will be a rude awakening and certainly will not be an overnight fix. This will be a longer process to help get them back on a feeding schedule.
The first step is to identify your feeding times for your dog. While every person’s schedule is different, let’s go with the example of 8:00am for breakfast and 6:00pm for dinner. When it’s breakfast time, you’ll want to put your dogs food down and let them see you place it in the bowl. Whether they choose to eat is up to them. The most important part, however, is what you do next. If your dog chooses not to eat after just 5 to 10 minutes, you must pick the food up and place the food back in the bag or bin. From here you will simply wait until the next meal to put the food down and try again. The same rules apply to every single meal – 5 to 10 minutes on the ground and then pick the food up.
Practicing this strategy with extreme consistency will be key. Your dog will quickly learn that if they want food, they must eat when it gets placed down for them. If they choose to not eat, they will be hungry in a few hours and will be forced to wait until the next meal comes around. Your dog may miss a meal or two while practicing this feeding regiment, but it’s important to stay strong and consistent to help build the food drive back up.
Building drive through hand feeding
Another excellent option to help build food drive in your dog is through the practice of hand feeding. It’s an extremely simple practice – you take a few pieces of kibble in your hand and hold it out for your dog to eat. Rather than utilizing a bowl to feed your dog, your hand becomes the bowl. However, there is one more additional step to see any type of benefit. Hand feeding is just the first step.
Once your dog has gotten used to eating from your hand, you will need to start having them work to earn their food. Simple commands like come, sit, and down are sufficient to make them earn their reward. Trainers like DE K9 Academy offers customized training plans to help your dog become more consistent with the obedience commands. Through requiring your dog to work prior to being fed, you will be teaching them they must earn their food. This prevents them from thinking that the resource is unlimited and free and rather must be earned.
If you follow through with these few steps, you’ll see an incredible progression in your dog’s food drive. Neither step will change your dog overnight, but with continuous effort, a change is inevitable. Happy Feeding!