Are You Feeding Dinner or Dessert?
One of the best ever analogies I have heard as a dog trainer was by Pat Stuart from Operant Canine. This may be a slightly butchered version, but the idea is the same:
If I asked you to my house for dinner, you’d come, and I would expect that you’d eat the meal I’ve prepared. However, if I offered dessert, you may opt to pass because you are full, or don’t like my terrible home-made tiramisu.
Are you training your dog with dinner or dessert?
One of the biggest complaints pet parents have is that their dog is not food motivated and so training proves difficult. The reality is that every dog is food motivated if they choose to eat their dinner; which is every dog ever or else they wouldn’t be alive.
Food motivation is not our dog’s willingness to launch at us for a treat; it’s their relationship with the food they are given. Does your dog receive their food from a bowl day in and day out?
“Ditch The Bowl” and Existential Food
Ditch The Bowl was a phrase developed by UK dog trainers Absolute Dogs. It essentially is the concept of training your dog with their daily food allowance or providing it to them in creative ways. You can check out their free eBook here.
At That Dog School we are huge advocates of using food enrichment and creativity when it comes to feeding our dogs. Apart from being fun and creative, using existential food can be a great way to develop food drive in dogs. Existential food refers to the food a dog needs to exist and survive or their ‘dinner’.
Going back to that analogy of refusing my terrible home-made tiramisu, if your dog is refusing treats (dessert), consider playing the game with their dinner.
Whilst this isn’t something we do all the time, if we teach our dogs that any food offered may in fact be their dinner, their relationship and perspective of food changes.
How do you start?
For some dogs, the idea of training with their dinner may be a totally foreign concept and can cause a little bit of frustration or stress. To start out, it is recommended to provide food in an easy and fun way and not expect too much. This is where the Ditch The Bowl concept is great. Once your dog is used to receiving enrichment food toys and having to work for their food, you can then start to put this into actual training. This may be through obedience, tricks and other food driven games.
The Bottom Line
All dogs have food drive, it just depends if you are training with dinner or with dessert. If you want to build food drive, start improving your dog’s relationship with food.