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Food only for training? Or free meal for all?

You have surely heard phrases such as ‘ditch the bowl’, ‘nothing in life is free’, ‘feed only from hand’ etc. This is all about using the dogs’ daily portion of food in training: rewarding them for different behaviours and exercises outside and at home.

Recently, I’ve noticed there’s been more and more posts saying dogs should NOT need to work for food and some people suggesting it’s inhumane to feed only from hand… supported by sentences such as ‘your dog deserves a bowl’ and ‘you don’t want hunger to be the reason for the dog to interact with you’... but wait… How did we get to such extremes? (Extremes are catchy aren’t they? :) )

Let’s just look at the dog’s perspective - as this is how it should be done if we talk about dog training ;)

We have to remember one thing… There are different types of dogs that have different temperaments and drives. If I have a Labrador, and most of them have quite an extreme food drive, it might be that the best way is going to be training with food AFTER the meal. Otherwise the dog is going to be too excited about food and may not think clearly enough for an optimal level to learn. With such a dog you also don’t really have to get creative about treats. As long as it’s food - it’s good ;) Just keep an eye on their weight…

There are also dogs that are not that naturally food oriented and especially if we add the human aspect - the owners that have been leaving the bowl down for the dog to nibble on, or even trying to add this or that… (not with bad intentions!) with the dog learning to turn their nose up to their food… Then we might find it difficult to teach a simple sit - especially if we want to do it outside! Not to mention working on more complex behaviours or challenges. It's so much easier if you start with a puppy and you know what you're doing, you create the relationship and motivation gradually. Then it's easy to say you don't need / should not need to 'ditch the bowl'... but if you work with dogs that have bad habits already, have not been taught to cooperate with humans, have serious behavioural problems and are not naturally food motivated… well that's a bit of a different story…

Food is the EASIEST thing we can use to train and reward our dogs. It’s ALWAYS worth to have a food motivated dog - no matter if you need to work on some behavioural challenges, use food for dog sports training or you just want to do some tricks. But depending on what kind of dog you have, you might need to adjust how you manage motivators, and think about what, how and when to use it.

Yes! choose good quality and tasty food for your dog.

Yes! give your dog a diversity of food / treats to make training more fun!

Yes! make food interesting: throw it, allow your dog to chase it, catch it!

Yes! use all/ most of the daily food in training if you need to work on a dog's food drive!

Yes! feed your dog from a bowl if they burn calories like hell and/or have a natural food drive etc. !

No, feeding from hand does not mean the dog will interact with you only because of hunger. No, feeding from hand does not have to mean starving your dog. It can actually help you a lot in building better communication with your dog and their motivation for training.

Thanks for reading!

Lila Zachwatowicz

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