Updated: Apr 3, 2022
Yes, hand feed your dog. That's the best decision I have made, honestly! It changed everything.
You might think, why have I not done it before? Well, it was partly not necessary and partly impossible, while they were eating raw. Our family expanded by two dogs in the last two years, making it in total of five, so, needless to say, there was much more chaos that needed to be managed.
I went through some very rough and complicated times, while our family was growing, so it took some time for me and everyone to settle in comfortably, to start making changes. Eventually it got really bad and I needed to regain control quickly. Working on bringing balance with them, I regained some of my own as well.
BIULD A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU, NOT THE BOWL
While it is definitely not necessary with every dog, if you have a reactive, independant or any other kind of more complicated personality in your home, this method will definitely be life changing.
Every time I heard training tips about treats, I just laughed, because even the most exciting treats, do not work with some dogs, because, for example, their hunting instinct, will be stronger than any treat you have in your pocket! Especially, if there is more than one dog, because if one starts something, the others follow. So, the call back with a treat might not work for your. BUT, a big reason for that is, that your dog is full and feels safe with you, he knows, he gets food at home, like a clockwork and he will get treats, eventually, even if he follows his nature and does something bad. He does not rely on you, he relies on routine. Therefore he feels more free, to not pay attention to you. Loving you and relying on you, are not the same and you do need both. If you change up the routine and take away the safety factor of two meals a day, the dog will definitely pay more attention on you and will work gladly on earning it's meals. Doesn't it make sense?
This method is a well know and advised method by many different dog behaviour specialist and trainers. I am NOT one of them. But I am one of those who tried it and it worked! That's why I am sharing.
I STARTED FROM HOME
I started from restraining them from eating, when their bowls with food were set in place. Instead of letting them basically run towards it and grab it out of my hand before their bowl touches the surface, they were sitting in their places and waiting*, as I called them one by one, to eat. It was NOT an overnight achievement, but it was a quick achievement, that helped them focus and wait, which, seemingly, they had completely forgotten how to do in the last few years. Soon, they nailed it perfectly! That is, at least, until I hold a camera to film it, then off course they have to act out :)
(*Videos of this along with other things of our daily lifes, can be seen on our Instagram)
After working on the sitting and waiting for their name to be called, I added a whistle to the game and took our waiting routine, around the house and back yard. I have used whistle before, but I kept loosing it from my neck, so I never fully trained them with it, until now. They have to wait in one room, while I wait in one of the other rooms and call them with a whistle, to come get their treats or their food.
Waiting in different parts of the yard, until they are allowed to come and get food from my hand, in the end scattering some on the ground for them to search. While dropping food on the floor, might seem like a bad encouragement to collect, what's on the ground - it is not! By teaching them to search on command, you also teach them NOT to eat something from the ground, before they are allowed.
Eventually, I filled my doggy bag with their food and fed it to them on our morning walks. We stop at random places, they sit and get the food, one by one from my hand. Sometimes a handfull, sometimes just few kibbles. They never know when they will get it, so their focus is impeccable. While passing by a trigger, like an approaching dog or bicycle, I just put my hand into the bag and walk pass, while they are focusing on my hand in the bag.
Sometimes I do it only in the mornings, because with the evening meal, I add all the supplements and oil, they need, with their food. Sometimes I do it both meals and just give them supplements in between, with water and something else delicious mixed in. But every day, we do the "waiting" for their turn to eat and 95% of days we do hand feeding. If it has been boring day, their meal will be a mix from my hand and searching game. To keep things interesting. Have been doing the hand feeding for few months now, the really visible results where there after a week or so.
Lucy (7-8 years), has been independent, stubborn, ALWAYS pulling dog for the 4 years I have her. No amount of training, positive or not, no treats, nothing helped and I did not expect for anything to change anymore. There's a saying "you can't teach old dog, new tricks". Turns out this saying is very wrong and it is NEVER too late to make changes. After four years, Lucy is not pulling and mostly even walking behind me. She reacts EVERY time I call her name and looks back at me. Our recall, when she is off leash, is much better, than it ever was, even in fields filled with wild animal smells. I have her focus and attention, in all aspects of our day. She also became more calm and not relying on the clock. At 18 o'clock, she always started demanding food and was very restless. She was also restless in the morning, showing to the bowl, waiting anxiously to get food. It's all gone now, she is free from routine and happy to get food when she gets it, without anxious waiting. She is also very reactive, aggressively, dog, who now either completely ignores triggers going by, while I distract her with food in my pocket, or calms down much quicker and focuses on me, instead of her reaction towards something. This was not affective before, with treats.
Josie (7 years) has had issues with recall since she was little, but I had a trick - I teached to jump on things. She was not a runner, but putting her back on a leash, was an issue often. Jumping on a stone or bench, solved that issue. She was pretty good walker besides me, but with the expanded family, she became way more distracted and all over the place. Hand feeding method, brought her focus back on me fully. She walks wonderfully with and without leash now. She is not running to the yard as soon as the doors open, she waits for me to go with her and often walks behind me. She is also not anxious anymore about routine and not so much about the bowl, she is more excited to earn her food from me. She also feels more seen. She is my "first born" and while I do everything I can, so she would never feel neglected in the big family, she is still sensitive not to be alone child anymore, in some instances. Hand feeding her, is a small, but very important showing of affection, to her personally and she gets a bit of extra, while others are not watching :)
Sjuzi (6 years) has been very picky food eater. Hand feeding made her excited about food and much better eater.
Popsi and Lu did not change much, because they were manically focused on me already :) But, they also are less anxious when the routine is gone. Popsi has strong hunting instincts, but is more focused on me than ever before, even in tricky situations.
IT REALLY WORKS
For me, this seemingly small change, has done wonders. From the outside, it always looked like, it's all good and we work fine. People were always amazed that I managed to walk five dogs with one hand. But they did not know, that this was a result of tense control at all times and it was requiring much focus and awareness. Lucy was always the main problem, making it difficult. I did not think that it can change, but now we are indeed doing better and walks with the pack became a much easier task.
You do not have to do it every day, or with every meal, adjust this method and system to your life and routine, and your dog. But, if you want more focus and better relationship with your dog, do not just hand him his food and do not just leave the bowl always full, for them to decide when to eat. Make a game out of it. Be creative. It will be life changing :)
Hopefully, it will be good for you! :)
P.S I have to say, there is another small ingredient that helped achieve this miracle with Lucy, but about that, I'll write in a another post :)