Feeding time is an exciting and important part of your dog’s daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.
The key is enrichment; protocols that you can put in place, simply, to provide your dog more appropriate outlets for natural, doggie behaviour.
Why enrichment for pet dogs?
The “wild”, that idyllic place that’s considered the model we should mimic even though in actuality it is a dangerous, dog-eat-dog place, has nonetheless caused the evolution of a wide range of feeding behaviours that take up plenty of an animal’s energy and keep them busy.
Animals will naturally work for their food, with or without your help (or knowledge!):
Dogs also appear to experience that ‘eureka’ feeling when working on challenges – working on a puzzle is rewarding to dogs, even if they don’t solve the puzzle successfully (i.e. get the tangible reward such as a food treat).
Dogs are natural-born-puzzle-addicts!
Ian & Irene work on puzzles for the first time, in puppy class; they work harder relative to the value of the food reward – they are in it just for the fun:
When animals don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and are lacking outlets of natural behaviour, they can develop all sorts of difficulties.
At the very least, those behaviours that dogs are compelled to carry out will become a problem for us – dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.
And you might not like the outlets they choose for those behaviours.
All the puppies learn to settle themselves in a busy class with the help of a food puzzle and lapping & chewing, which helps dogs to chill:
Think of all the things your pup can’t do if he is chilling out, working on a food toy?!
Dogs that are unemployed, become self-employed…
With all that free time on his paws, your dog may also engage in other behaviours that become a problem for you such as barking, digging, escaping, jumping up, being obnoxious.
It is not easy to live with a self-employed dog because the jobs they choose for themselves are usually not particularly preferred by humans…
First step, ditch the food bowls.
Why do we HATE food bowls?
food bowls do very little to encourage interaction between dog and owner
food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through their owner
feeding from a food bowl wastes hundreds of reward opportunities by presenting them for free all in one go
your dog would probably prefer to work for his food than get it for free
modern pet feeding practices encourage a sedentary way of life for our pets
there is a limited range of behaviours demonstrated so dogs will need to display them in other ways (which may cause problems for people)
chasing, chewing, tracking and using their brains are important for dogs and modern feeding practices often don’t encourage any or much of that
Food bowls are human convenience devices – toss food in bowl, leave on floor, dog eats….dog is fed and my job is done.
But feeding your pet can be soooo much more…
Dogs come with predatory behaviour, built-in
Dave Mech, the wolf guru, outlines canid predatory behaviour in a sequence of behaviours called, not-surprisingly, a predatory sequence. These are behaviours that are innate in all dogs and to greater or lesser extents in different types of dogs and individuals.
The dog predatory sequence might look something like this:
These are the behaviours that your predatory pet needs to do – provide acceptable outlets otherwise he will find his own, and you might not like that.
Watching dogs play with pals gives you an insight into just how relevant these behaviours are for even modern, pet dogs. A good proportion of normal play behaviour will be feeding related with games of stalking, chasing, take downs, neck biting, and of course enjoying being chased too!
You will see your dog practicing these behaviours in other non-real-life scenarios too – give your dog a tissue or soft toy and watch him chew and dissect it, throw a tennis ball or play tug and flip the switch, turning on those in-built behaviours.
But feeding behaviour isn’t just about feeding…
Dogs engage in all sorts of feeding related behaviour, and many activities revolve around feeding.
Dogs enjoy actively scavenging for food and, let’s face it, non-food items – they will devote plenty of time to this sort of activity and often learn to do it when their owners are not watching…!
Although dogs prefer their own space when eating (not big on sharing!) they have evolved plenty of behaviour for negotiating social contact around food.
For the most part, this can cause trouble for us living with modern dogs, but it can be easily managed, with the right guidance.
Competitive interactions, that may lead to resource guarding and even social facilitation have been shaped over millions of years and generations, and despite a few hundred years of pretty intense selective breeding modern dogs still show these behaviours strongly today.
Digging/burying and hoarding behaviour may be employed by many dogs, often much to their owner’s disgust (especially the green-fingered owners). Some dogs appear really bothered when they get something quite special, carrying it from place to place, vocalising, difficulty settling…
This may be frustration related at not having a safe place to work on their treat or indeed at not being able to stash it away for a rainy day.
Grass and plant eating can cause concern for many owners. But for the most part where this behaviour isn’t excessive or too intense, it’s probably nothing to worry about and a normal part of canine behaviour.
However, where dogs do this a lot, or try to, and/or where there has been any changes to this behaviour have a chat with your vet as soon as possible.
Intense eating of grass, plants or other non-food items (behaviour called pica) may be linked with gastrointestinal upset and stress.
And you thought feeding was just about putting- food-in-a-bowl…
In Part 2 we will be looking at things to get started enriching your dog’s life!
In good news, Rudi has found his new awesome forever home!And home checks are in process for Macy and Gertie so fingers and paws crossed!
We set up a confidence course behind a barrier so that the puppies couldn’t get into any mischief.
Confidence courses help to expose puppies to odd, novel and out of context items and situations in a safe environment so that we can help them learn to cope with stress and develop resilience.
Puppies learn that they can investigate new, weird and even scary things without any pressure, in their own time and they can direct the interaction, with the choice to move away built in. This is confidence building and essential for puppies.
Weird items, things out of context, new substrates, different textures and surfaces, new noises and moving things – all make for a great puppy confidence course!
And after some playtime, exploration & investigation, we had some downtime – because learning to settle is one of the most important skills we can teach puppies and dogs.
Looking after puppies, to make sure to give them the best start requires lots of knowledge, so while we parked our puppies the grown-ups discussed all things puppy:
puppy development – what’s happening to puppies of different ages and what we can do to support their behavioural development
management – how we prevent all that puppy behaviour from ever becoming problem behaviour
We looked at toilet training, chewing & destruction, biting & nipping, resource guarding, handling and self-settling.
One of the best ways to manage puppy behaviour and to set puppy (and pet owner) up for success is crate training, so we had some crate manners practice too:
lots of enrichment & entertainment – NO food bowls here!!
small challenges, everyday – cognitive, physical, sensory
well controlled social contact with other dogs, people of different types and even other species
confinement and alone training
careful exposure to novel and varied experiences
lots and lots of passive training – catch your puppy doing the right thing!
What we do now with puppies is having an impact on their behaviour over the remainder of their life; and these fosters have the added challenge of making sure that their puppies become adoptable, successful companions – no pressure then!
We practiced lots of exercises too:
supervising and managing puppy play and interactions
how to provide physical, cognitive and sensory challenges easily at home
It’s no wonder all the puppies were pooped after all that!
Awesome Pets & their People
This week we mainly had follow-up appointments with dogs and their families already working through programs, coming back to adjust the plan we have built together, to build on progress and to keep motivation up!
Harley came for a second follow-up as his people work through the program we have built together to help improve this little chap’s self-control, focus and coping abilities. He’s a super smart fella!
We were out and about with Shiloh for a third follow-up in the wind and rain (normal Irish weather!) to help her learn how to better cope with some specific fearful responses. Despite us all getting a bit bedraggled, Shiloh and her mum make an awesome team!
Shy girl Roxy came for her first follow-up – she and her people are rocking our program to help her confidence develop. She is becoming a cheeky little one!
Despite being scared of the mat at first, soon she was able to lie on it comfortably. Her dad helped by giving some support (sitting beside it neutrally) but Roxy was soon able to interact and lie on the mat with shaping, lots of choice and salami!
Lottie came for a visit too and we did some dog-dog comfort work. Lottie and her person did some awesome training, never allowing Lottie to become uncomfortable, always able to work and really closing the gap with our stooge dog (Decker)!
After we did some training work, Lottie worked on a puzzle – getting her dinner out of a plastic milk jug.
This will help her deal with any stress experienced during our training, get her brain working in a different way and keep her busy:
And Lucy Basset popped into say Hi!, check the place out, have a game with Decker and pick up a crate for her new foster brother Mason, who she will be helping to become a great adoptable pet!
We are celebrating because our CBTT3 group all completed their full course successfully! Yay!!!
They have completed 15 units at first-year degree level, battled with an enormous workload and still love dogs, training and behaviour at the end of it all.
Now the really hard work starts as they build their careers as fully fledged Canine Training & Behaviour Technicians, with our continued support.
We are beyond proud of all that they have achieved as they embark on becoming excellent dog pros!
And our trusty pack of Labs, Bassets, Rotties, Yorkies, JRTs and Beagles (don’t worry, they are all well-behaved teddies!) are very tolerant models helping lots of learners become Canine First Responders.