Feeding a dog is easy, right? You just put food in a bowl, and put it on the floor; no problems there. However, what most dog owners don't realise is that feeding a dog in an improper way can encourage all types of negative behaviour in your pet, from nervousness to begging, and even outward aggression.
This might be surprising to many dog owners, but it also might make sense. If your dog acts out around mealtimes, it could be down to the way you are feeding them. A few small changes can make all the difference, and could have some very positive effects on your dog's behaviour overall.
The first thing you should do is observe how your dog acts when you feed them. You can do this by going through your usual process in stages. For example, you might start by getting their food out. Do this slowly, and pause. Then pick their bowl up and pause again. Put food in the bowl and give it to your dog, doing it slowly with breaks in between each stage.
You should be able to observe how your dog acts at each point, and determine if there is a problem. The behaviour type you are looking out for is for your dog to be quiet, patient and even a little bit submissive. This means they are ready to be fed, and you can do so with not negative consequences.
However, your dog could be on one of two sides of this perfect personality. They could either be too aggressive, jumping up, begging, whining or even barking and being obviously angry. Alternatively, they might be too submissive, and be visibly nervous about the process of being fed.
All of this bad canine behaviour can be traced back to when your dog was a puppy. In most cases, their mothers would wait for them to be patient and submissive before she would feed them. This is good dog behaviour, and should be encouraged.
However, in large litters puppies might have to struggle to get fed. In these cases, some dogs learn to become aggressive, pushing aside their siblings so they can feed first. The siblings who get pushed aside might become nervous around food, and develop an anxious streak at mealtimes.
In both cases, the way to get around this negative behaviour is the same: your dog must learn to earn their food. In the wild, dogs would have to hunt down what they ate, so it is fairly instinctive for them to do so. This involves two things: work and good behaviour.
The first, work, does not mean that you need your dog to do something productive. There just needs to be some kind of effort put in before dogs can get fed. For most owners, this means going for a walk first. The exercise will calm your dog down, and is a form of work in that your pet will be mildly exerting themselves in order to be fed.
The next stage is good behaviour. Once you have walked your dog, they need to be waiting quietly and patiently before they can be fed. You should command your dog to sit before giving them any food, and keep issuing the command if they start being restless. It might take a while, but eventually they will learn that they will only receive food when they are calm.
The important thing is not to react positively to your dog's bad behaviour. Do not try and calm an aggressive or anxious dog down by fussing over them and speaking reassuringly. To a dog, this just means that they get rewarded with attention for negative behaviour, and they will keep doing it.
This should take care of most negative dog behaviour. If your dog keeps acting badly at dinnertime, there might be another cause. For example, they might simply be irritable because they are too hungry, and want more food.
If this is the case, you might want to look closely at the type of food you are giving them. A high-quality brand like James Wellbeloved dog food will be much more filling than a discount kibble, which could make all the difference to your dog's mood.
Written by: Hannah Dyball