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Canine Leadership; Pretend you know what you are doing with food

Last week I covered the need for our dogs to see us as leaders of their human/canine pack. You may have also read that many behaviourists consider that owners need to appear as Alpha male and female dogs within our hybrid family. Dogs are social animals like ourselves but it is not necessary for us to act like wolves in order to show the leadership skills necessary for our dogs to feel secure.

Dogs do not see us as weird relations that walk on two legs. We can mimic dog’s body language like getting down on all fours, bending our front arms whilst tilting our head sideways and upwards to replicate the gesture of play bow. This is the normal sign that “I want to play with you”. There are many other signals but it is not necessary to know them all in order that we command their respect.

Survival is the key and in all dogs, there is a pre-programme for how they should interact with all beings. This programme is not set in stone as it allows for enhancement by adding and using a second learned programme that together with the first programme adapts the dog to any given environment. Not only this but such programming is repairable where errors occur or there is a need for changes.

This very simple programming only requires us to show our dogs that we act like the Alphas in providing the packs necessary needs but it is not necessary for owners to become canine sociologists; just look as if we are.

The first and most important need for all dogs is that Alphas know how to obtain food in order for the pack to survive. It does not matter whether you have to hunt for the food by chasing it and then kill it or simply pop down to your local super market. All that matters is that it appears. Wolves spend most of their days hunting for food yet for our dogs owners deliver it on a platter.

Alphas always eat the food first though on occasions they let puppies eat first when food supplies are low. We can also see wolves let others in the pack have the food but alphas always retain the right to take it back again if they wish. I will cover this one in the next article regarding the use of our eyes.

We need to be careful that dogs do not see us simply as a server so we have to ask what the key here is. Quite simply it is that Alphas control all the food in who eats first and there is some recognised order.

You will read that many writers consider it very important that humans eat first before our dogs. This is not as simple as it sounds with our busy lives so how can we create the appearance of Alpha control of food if we actually eat after our dogs. In fact eating before or after is not as important as it would first appear. Wolves eat when there is a kill whatever the time of day that is. There may also be more than one kill so more than one meal. This can mean there is too much food available and dogs will eat until they almost burst so burying food is just a continuation of eating.

We have altered this to making the meals just the right quantity for the health of our dog and many owners think there should be a strict routine of feeding dogs at certain times. This does create problems of making us into simple waiters because the dog has a good body clock so it knows when the normal time is for feeding. This means the dog makes a demand to humans as it is mealtime and we supply on command of our dog. This means the dog controls its meal times.

It is for this reason that one of the normal changes that I ask owners to change to when they have a dog with a behavioural problem they should regain control of the food. There should be an end to regular meal times. When the meal is prepared owners should not always fed the dog straight away and always before feeding the dog owners should appear to actually eat it first. The writer Jan Fennel in her book the Dog Listener suggests owners try eating a biscuit to simulate this eating in front of the dog then place the food down on the floor whilst walking away from the dog. Occasionally owners should place it down on the floor but then picked up and placed in some high up cupboard. Walking away is important and again I will cover this in the next article.

It is not necessary to do this all the time but it is always good to practice such food control so your dog is aware you can give as well as take away. If whilst taking it away the dog tries to claim the food for itself by lunging at it and growling then any such attempt the owner should take it away. Later when it has calmed down then offer the food again.

Kathryn Hollings dog Osito at only eight weeks was prepared to growl at her if she attempted to take it away. The placing and removing the food plus the use of the growl/gruff bark at Osito made it clear such tactics by him was not acceptable. Now she can take food away whenever she feels like it but now she only does this occasionally just to check.

For my dog Winston he is fed anytime between 4pm and 9pm. Sometimes I pretend I am eating first and enjoying it. At first Winston use to bark at me but now, he remains quiet until I place the food down. Sometimes I hold some biscuits in my hand and whilst he is eating, I will add a little to his bowl just to test he does not growl. Sometimes I will just take the bowl and lift it up again adding more food then returning it too him.

Just to keep up the pretence of control I will eat a biscuit and then give him the last bit. This may seem like a tease to humans but to a dog, this is just the way Alphas would behave.

There are volumes that I could write regarding food control but this is only necessary in if there is a problem or the dog is a professional where the handler must be able to influence the dog to a very high degree.

Many owners will actually unknowingly practice Alpha food control because they have busy schedules and the chore of feeding the dog is carried out quickly where the owner simply mixes it and plonks it down on the floor walking away to go somewhere. Such actions are almost the same way an Alpha wolf behaves in its pack. Again, I will go through this in the next article.

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