Structure Your Dog’s Obsession With Food: Learn how to be in control of strong food drives

On this snowy day in Ohio we are working with Maui, a 9-month-old Rottweiler. Maui has a great food drive—in other words, she is very food motivated! That’s great because it means she’s a good eater. But, it is also important that when you have a dog with a strong food drive, the dog knows that YOU are the boss of the food, not the other way around! You need to have control over how and when she takes food, which includes doing so without nipping, biting, or any other undesirable behaviors.

Managing your dog’s food drive

When training your dog’s food drive (how and when to take food and treats), the reinforcer is of course food! Food is the driving force in this scenario and is the best way to establish good eating behaviors. I like to use Bil-Jac frozen dog food—dogs love it so it makes a great motivator and reward.

  • Start by putting a piece of food in your closed fist. Allow your dog do her all of her “extinction behaviors” to try to get her way (mouthing, nipping, jumping, etc.).
  • As soon as she backs off, click and reward. • Repeat this several times so that she learns that when she relaxes, that is when she gets what she wants.
  • Always put the food in the palm of your hand and put it out flat when rewarding your dog so she can’t bite. And most importantly, she only gets the food on YOUR terms, not hers.
  • After a few repetitions with treats in your hand, find your next thank you for other good behaviors. Ask for a sit, do a bit of walking by your or changing directions, and reward your dog with treats to thank her.

Remember, practice, patience, and perseverance are the keys to success when working with your dog no matter what behaviors you are trying to teach her. Ultimately what you want from your dog is attentiveness, willingness, gentleness, and compliance—that’s what it’s all about. When it comes to food drive and feeding time, this may take a bit more practice and patience. If your dog is highly motivated by food, chances are she attacks her food excitedly and messily. The goal at feeding time is to teach your dog that she must wait for your permission to eat.

  • Using the back of your hand under her chin, say leave, (if you need to you can also stand on her leash).
  • Get your dog to sit and look at you.
  • Only then do you give her permission to eat.
  • Give your dog 5-10 minutes to eat, and if she doesn’t finish, pick it up and try again at the next feeding. Again, this establishes that YOU control the food supply, and given time, your dog will learn to adapt to your food rules and routines.

Another trick I like to use is to let the food soak in water for a few minutes prior to feeding. It allows the dry kibble to hydrate a bit, therefore making it easier for your dog to digest and also less likely to end up scattered all over your floor.

It will take time and practice before your dog masters these behaviors, especially if she has a strong food drive! Keep it up and you will see results.

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