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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA

How We Train

Three Dogs and Two Babies:
Food Bowl Safety...Making Deposits in Your Dog's Bank Account For Good Behavior!

Children and dogs can be wonderful companions, but supervision is necessary to make sure that everyone stays safe and happy. The old theory about dogs and kids was to keep children away from the dog when he is eating. This isn't bad advice if you have an older dog who is not very tolerant about having kids around his food bowl, or a dog who has shown aggression when people approach him while he is eating. If your dog growls if you approach him when he is eating, you should book a private behavioral consult with a qualified professional to help you teach your dog to accept people around him while he is eating. Allowing a child around a dog that is guarding it's food bowl is asking for trouble.

This article is not addressing dogs with this issue, rather it is addressing dogs who don't have a problem but whose owners are intelligent enough to want to make sure there never is a problem regarding the dogs bowl (or bones or toys for that matter). Children are fast and unpredictable regardless of how closely you watch them, and they can get into an unbelievable amount of trouble when you're watching them (never mind when you turn your back for a second). It is a good insurance policy to make your dog's experiences around your child as enjoyable and rewarding as possible.

First of all leave your dog's empty bowl hanging around the kitchen so that it decreases it's novelty and value to both your dog and your child. Next, when you are feeding your dog include your toddler when possible by scooping out the food and having your child give handfuls to your dog in his bowl. You may have to first teach your dog to sit and stay until he is released to eat. Once he eats the first handful, go back and let your child give him another handful and so on until your child has delivered the entire amount to your dog's dish. If the dog acts out of control, don't be afraid to go back and retrain a better down and stay until released.

The more active and excitable your child is the more likely your dog is to be active and out of control as well. Be patient, it may take a while to get the hang of the whole thing. Once you have this down, try having your toddler deliver your dog's food and then after your dog has finished help your child give your dog dessert by adding a tablespoon of yogurt to your dog's dish. The idea here is to increase your dog's desire to like having your child around. The more your dog associates your child with getting good things the more he will tolerate him doing all the crazy things that toddlers do when we're not looking.

Anytime your dog is going to get a treat or a chew stick, or rawhide let your toddler deliver it (even if it's with your help) and have him put it in your dog's food bowl. Again you are putting money in the bank for your dog liking having your child around it's dish (be sure to wash your child's hands with soap and water after handing rawhide or pig ears). If you find as you do these exercise that your dog is not all that crazy about having your child around his dog bowl don't be afraid to stop the exercises and hire someone to help you.

It is always better to be safe than sorry rather than risking a bite. Some dogs show that they are uncomfortable by freezing (he may stop eating and stand still), staring or growling. Growling is your dog's way of letting you know he is uncomfortable with what you are doing, it is an insurance policy or at least fair warning, that if you don't stop what you are doing you are going to regret it. You should never punish a growling dog, even by taking his food bowl away (which would be a natural response albeit the wrong one !). Taking your dog's food bowl away is exactly what he fears and by making his fear come true you are asking for trouble. The next time he's sees you coming he is sure to bite to make his point. A better approach would be to ration his food in handfuls and deliver it a little at a time, if he growls at you when your hand moves toward the bowl, you would simply go away with the food still in his hand. The dog would quickly learn that growling at the source of his food is a bad idea since it makes you, the source of food go away, the dish remains empty on the floor.

The more you work to insure that your dog will never have a problem around his food bowl the better for all the parties involved. Giving your dog the experience of having your child be the source of all that is good is an excellent way to make sure that their relationship blossoms into the best of friends.

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