Any positive reinforcement trainer is likely to give you this same bit of advice. Clients who take the advice seriously and remember to practice the habit frequently will enjoy a better relationship with their dogs. Ditch the dish. Ban the bowl. Stop feeding your dog for free!
Dogs enjoy hunting, fishing, and generally scavenging food to keep themselves occupied. Domestication in the modern sense has deprived our dogs of this challenge. Instead of asking our dogs to work for their food, we offer them an abundance of food with little or no challenge to occupy their minds.
Dogs are expected to practice a level of self control that most adult humans have not achieved in a variety of novel situations. Don’t say hi or expect to play with new dogs. Don’t become excited when new people arrive, especially not ones you don’t know. Don’t chew on anything except the few toys you’ve been specifically handed. Do consume all of your nutrients within a few minutes each day without spilling or demanding more.
It’s fairly ridiculous. We as humans certainly anticipate more enjoyment from life than that allows our dogs. As such, and with the understanding that you want to learn to communicate with your dog, I challenge you to get rid of your dog’s bowl. Measure his food each day and put it in your pocket instead. Every time he does something you like, give him a kibble. He’ll probably be confused. Many dogs who are accustomed to free food think that kibble isn’t so great. Others are perfectly happy to gobble down pen caps, nails, and anything else you offer them and are thrilled to find out the thing in your hand is edible. If your dog isn’t convinced he needs to accept your reward, that’s fine. Try, try again. It often takes several DAYS of persistence (depending on the frequency with which you’re practicing) before your pup will realize that this is the only food he’s going to get. HE DOES NOT GET FOOD FROM ANY OTHER SOURCE.
If your pup is especially reluctant, follow each bite of kibble with a more valuable reward (cheese for instance). You’re essentially making the kibble more valuable in itself. Reduce the frequency of the valuable food as your dog becomes more comfortable accepting kibble from your hand until he’s back to his regular diet.
Using your dog’s kibble as his primary reward in training is a game changer. This will allow you to reserve the especially tasty things for challenging environments, difficult new cues, and the odd treat while still being able to practice regular behaviors and reward without guilt. Dogs who feel they can work for their food make more effort to communicate with their humans. You’ll find a funnier, better behaved dog in your house within the week. Let us know how your week went!