In my first blog on this topic I stressed the importance of creating the proper relationship with your dog. Your dog should trust you, respect you, and know that you are consistent in your expectations, rewards, and corrections. Otherwise, they will never respond to commands reliably. If we want our dogs to do their part, we must do ours. In this blog, I will start to delve into specific things you can do to cultivate this relationship.

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog who has ingrained bad habits (which they got because we have ingrained bad habits) the formula is the same. Maybe you are thinking of getting a puppy or adopting, that’s wonderful, take this information and get a great start to your new life. If you are pondering a new dog, check out our other blogs on the topic – Here  and Here.

Back to Square One

Whatever your circumstance, begin at the beginning. Just as we earn our paycheck, your dog needs to earn theirs. A dog who has everything, food, toys, lavish attention, has no need to attend to the owner, why would they? Change the paradigm, gain relevance to them, show them that all the awesome things in the world come from mom and dad. Using obedience commands such as “place,” teach them to be calm and not roaming the house looking for something to get into or other shenanigans. But wait, Fluffy needs to be a dog, they’ll be miserable you may say. Do you let a baby who just began crawling have free reign of the house? Do you let them loose and go about your business? Or do watch them vigilantly, slowly, as they grow, teach how to appropriately and safely interact with the world?

This, I promise you, is the hardest thing for many people to wrap their heads around. They think you’re turning the dog into a robot, making them miserable. What they fail to grasp is that our dogs thrive on structure. When we are consistent, they develop good habits and have more freedoms and experiences because of it.

How Do I Start?

To become more relevant, become the source of all good things. Start with food. Simple, right? This is where they start to earn their paycheck. How many dogs are free fed, the bowl down and full all day? Or given their food twice a day and it’s left out till they get around to it? Start hand feeding. Measure out their full amount of food for the day in the morning and use that to have them perform behaviors throughout the day. Earning the paycheck.

If they are learning behaviors, use this food as your training tool. If they know behaviors already, or when they learn them and you are fading the need for food reinforcement, I am not saying you should give them a treat for every sit or down or come. What I am saying is that they should do a sit, down, or come for every bit. My dog, who is solid off leash with no treats, isn’t going to regress because I have her do some simple come fronts to get her dinner, when the rest of the time she gets verbal and physical praise rewards.

Use this food to do focus work, practice having them look to you when you say their name amidst distractions. Use it to work on their heel position. The options are endless. This helps gain relevance and that container of food staring at you will spur you to work with Fido, an added bonus. If you’re busy that day, a few simple one step come fronts for a handful of food each will get them their meal in no time and they still had to work for it.

Again, I am NOT saying that your dog needs a treat for every behavior. We use hand feeding as a valuable tool in training, but we also ween the dog off treats. At the end of the day, a reliable dog will perform without food (always make sure to still intermittently reward with praise). But using a behavior to reward with food in a specific context, doesn’t mean lure your dog into a position in perpetuity. If you’ve progressed to that point of reliability on behaviors, and have faded luring, then weaned off treats using variable reinforcement, then only use the food for new behaviors or in a brief session solely for feeding purposes.

Give it a shot. It’s only a single brick in the foundation were laying, but get started. I’ll bring you more in the next blog. As always, Rachel and I encourage questions and comments. If you have a training issue you want to discuss or a question regarding the implementation of hand feeding, leave it in the comment section!

Eric has been helping owners regain their lives and enjoy their companions for 10 years. Eric's experience runs from rehabilitating aggressive dogs, tackling the toughest behavioral challenges, and training service dogs, to training narcotics dogs and hunting dogs. As well as anything in between. A Michigan native, Eric learned his craft apprenticing under two long time trainers in Colorado and went on to teach dozens of other trainers as well as countless pet owners.

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