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Dogs can be great to have around the house, I think we all know that. But what is the usual and predictable item that we can use to predict a dog’s behavior? You guessed it, food.
Your dog has a very strong relationship to food. And thus a very strange relationship with you, the pet parent. When you decide your dog can eat, you give her something. When you want a trick, she gets a snack. When it’s dinnertime, she hangs out by your table waiting for some of you scraps. Is there anything wrong with this? “Of course not” you might say. And you’d be right, there is really nothing wrong with that.
Food is a reinforcement of erratic and aggressive behavior
But what if there was a different way of doing things. What if instead of your relationship with your dog being tainted by the notion that you’re the one in charge of feeding her, you could have a purer and more rewarding relationship? There are several things I want to get in to with regard to a dog’s behavior, but in this article I want to focus on how that behavior is related to food and what you can do to better create an atmosphere for your pup to be more even keeled instead of experiencing emotional ups and downs. If you’re like most pet parents I’ve helped, there is an immediate correlation between the way your canine acts and when she gets to eat, and even what and how that food is given to her.
Treats for good behavior
Most pet parents have taught their dogs to do certain tricks that create a certain heir of obedience in their relationship. The obedience is most likely tied to a snack of some kind, but may also be attached to some other form of reward. Dogs, if you remember, are almost like computer programs, built around the “if this than that” paradigm. Simply put, if you remember the Pavlovian response in dogs, that their mouths water whenever the trigger in their minds let them know there was food on the way. This study permeated scientific research on humans and has become mainstream in marketing products, services, foods and just about anything else you can imagine. To think like a dog, it’s helpful to think how a human responds to certain stimuli. What happens when you get ready to go out on a date? What does your blood pressure do? What about the smell of the Cinnabon at the mall? Does that make your mouth water? You’ll eventually “turn a trick” for the owners of the food store and pull out your wallet to give some money in exchange for that food. Trick? you might ask. Yes. This is a response of your inner cortex telling you that there is a tasty reward at the end of you pulling out your wallet to buy something.
A Dog’s Currency
Not so different from people, dogs that are obedient and those that can perform tricks actually use this as their currency. Since currency is an abstract thought to a dog, one that she’ll never understand, she has learned that when she performs correctly, she’ll get a treat.
Removing Yourself from Feeding with an Automatic Dog Feeder, Controlled by an App
So where does that leave your relationship? Do you have a relationship with the person who sells you your food at the market? Or is it strictly transactional? If you fear that your relationship with your dog has become transnational and may actually not be as pure as you’d like to think, there are some alternatives to removing yourself from the transaction, making way for a deeper connection. For example, I found an absolutely amazing product from a progressive company that understands this dynamic, and who is doing wonders for pet-person relations. If you get an auto feeder for dogs, this may actually help to remove you as the one with whom the pup needs to perform for in order to have some needs met. In this manner, it’s actually common for pet owners who move away from the provider role and into the companion role to experience what they call a “deeper sense of emotional and spiritual connection” with their loved animal.
Dogs and humans have long had a close kinship, as you’ll agree with me on this point. And dog ownership in the US has become a multi-billion dollar industry. And it’s no wonder this happens. Dogs are intuitively great creatures to have around, especially in the cases when they’re actually employed for special work like a service dog or a police dog. These breeds have been raised and trained to put the human counterpart first. Do you think the cop that the dog rides around with is the one that feeds him? Think again. They’ve taken all the care of the pup away from the police officer he protects and given a higher meaning to the relationship. One that requires service and sacrifice, and one that isn’t tainted by the dog thinking he’ll get a treat for chasing down a perpetrator.
Creating the Relationship you want with your dog
It’s easy to create the relationship you desire with your dog, and it can be a very rewarding lifetime for the both of you. I encourage you to try the auto dog feeder as mentioned above or some other way to remove yourself from the feeding process. Others have tried different kinds of feeders, here’s a great article on a slow feeder for dogs, but you won’t get the same results as you would with a gadget that removes you completely from the process. You can also order my book on treating other behaviors in dogs, including more in-depth chapters on the above mentioned thoughts.