5 Tips for Stopping Doggie Chaos at Mealtimes

A hungry Cocker Spaniel eating from a food bowl.
A hungry Cocker Spaniel eating from a food bowl.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our April/May issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

When you share your life with a dog, mealtimes can be a little chaotic. Whether you live in a multi-dog household where food is a trigger point for disagreements or you have a chow hound who inhales his entire bowl in a single bite, here are some tips to help make mealtimes a little calmer.

Victoria Stilwell.

1. Eliminate the threat

Feeding time in a multi-dog household can get out of control, especially when you have dogs who really love to eat. The key to reducing chaos is to establish a consistent routine that allows each dog to eat separately and in peace. You might find that your dogs eat more slowly and confidently if there is less of a threat that food will be stolen from them.

With this in mind, try feeding each dog in a separate crate (with the doors closed so nobody can sneak into the other’s crate). This is an easy, hassle-free solution to keep dogs away from each other while eating. Or, feed your dogs either in separate rooms or on a rotation where one dog eats while the others are put away. Baby gates might just be the best way to help achieve calm around mealtimes.

Hungry dog eats from bowl by Shutterstock.

2. Slow them down

Keeping a dog from inhaling his food is not just about avoiding a little upset tummy; dogs who eat too quickly are susceptible to potentially life-threatening illnesses like bloat and gastric dilatation-volvulus. If your dog is a fast eater, there are many great products on the market designed to help slow him down during meals. From specially designed slow-feeding bowls to timed treat and food dispensers, these devices help your dog eat at a slower and healthier pace.

3. Turn eating into a hunt

The dog bowl is a great feeding tool but does not make mealtimes fun or interesting. If you always give your dog her food in a bowl, you’re missing out on some easy training opportunities. Whether you have a working dog or a family pet, you can send her on a scavenger hunt by putting her food in one or multiple interactive toys and hiding them throughout the home. Tell her to “go find,” and let her use her natural hunting skills to track the food down. Not only will you enrich your dog’s life by encouraging seeking behavior, you’ll also give her plenty of valuable mental and physical stimulation with minimal effort required on your end.

Dog eating by Shutterstock.

4. Teach impulse control

If your dog jumps all over you or dives for the bowl during feeding time, teaching a “wait” cue can make a huge difference. This cue teaches your dog to exercise valuable impulse control around a food source and is relatively easy to teach.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Grab your dog’s empty food bowl and ask her to “Wait.”
  • Move the food bowl a few inches toward the floor. If your dog stays in her place, keep lowering the bowl until you can place it on the ground. If she tries to jump up, grab the bowl, or do any other undesirable behavior, simply say, “Oops!” and bring the bowl back up again.
  • Practice lowering the bowl a few inches at a time, and continue rewarding your dog with praise as she waits patiently. Move at small increments so you set her up for success.
  • Eventually, you should be able to place the bowl on the floor with your dog remaining in the wait position until you tell her it’s OK to eat.

5. Address food guarding

Food guarding is a topic that truly needs its own article to be adequately explained, but it is one of the most common food-related problems that pet parents face these days. Unfortunately, many people believe that confrontation and “dominating” a dog is the key to stopping a resource guarder, but this is very dangerous and can make the behavior worse. Resource guarding is actually a behavior that stems from insecurity and a dog’s need to protect the things that make him feel safe and secure in his environment, rather than because he wants to dominate you.

Teaching your dog that your presence near his food bowl is not to be feared by adding food or delicious treats as you walk by will help him feel more relaxed. I recommend consulting a qualified force-free professional to safely work with this behavior in your home.

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