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How to Stop the Mealtime Madness Right Now

The Martin Family and Mealtime Madness

A story about going from aggressive dog behavior to perfect dog mealtime manners with proper training.

Evie and Frank Martin lived in a large home with a huge back yard which they shared with their three children and four dogs.  Things were pretty lively at the Martin household but for the most part it worked.  Sure there were little squabbles over toys or wrestling matches that got a bit out of control with the dogs but for the most part life was pretty manageable. Except at mealtime…Doggy dinner time was a freaking nightmare.

 

image of aggressive dog behavior at mealtime

Image of aggressive dog behavior during feeding time.

Introducing the Players

Damian is a five year old over- weight black lab who growls at any dog who comes within five feet of his dog dish.  Taz is a three year old female Jack Russell who would have made the Artful Dodger proud.  She is a food thief with no sense of self preservation.  Tess and Hank are seven and eight year old hound mixes who just want to have dinner in peace.

Some days Taz would finish her food first and try to steal from anyone who still had food left.  If it was Tess or Hank they just ate faster and slid their dishes across the floor to avoid her.  If it was Damian Frank was prying Taz out of Damian’s mouth.  She has scars now because of that stunt.

Other days the dogs got so excited that food got knocked out of Frank’s hand and ended up on the floor where Taz tried to steal it and Damian attacked any dog who happened to be near it.  Once one dog attacked they were all in it.  It was scary, bloody and dangerous.  Evie and Frank were dog lovers and so were their children.  They knew how to train the dogs to do cute tricks and a little obedience but none of them had any experience with aggressive dog training.

Some Solutions don’t Solve very much

They spent months trying to manage the behaviors.  At dinner time each dog was put in a separate room and fed there.  Taz was always convinced that something better was happening in one of the other rooms so they had to chase her around to get her into her room.  Then she scratched on the door until she was let out.  Damian barked constantly until he got his food and once it was finished he barked until he was let out.  It wasn’t bloody but it was still chaos.

A Change in Perspective

Evie was convinced that there was some way to fix the problem.  After all they were smarter than their dogs, right?!  She started searching on the internet and found a lot of articles about being the “leader of the pack” and how dogs are pack animals like wolves and have to have a strong leader and a structured pecking order for all things, from who goes through a doorway first to who gets the first treat.  It kind of made sense but the problem was that there are also three kids in the house ages eleven, eight and five.  There was no way that they were going to be able to keep all of that straight or be consistent.  There had to be another perspective.

Hope and Logic Shine a Light

Evie continued her research on training methods and came across an article written by a behaviorist named Gary Wilkes about why “pack theory” isn’t relevant to dogs and how a much simpler and more direct approach could make her family’s life much more serene.  It made a lot more sense.  Evie learned that neither wolves nor dogs have a permanent rigid social structure and much to her and Frank’s relief their dogs were not constantly looking for openings to stage a coup.  More like their kids they needed boundaries, structure and consequences.  They could do that.

Laying the Foundation

Frank and Evie came up with a plan.  They knew it would take time but they were committed.  They also knew if they were more experienced with behavior and consequences they could speed up the process considerably but the only consequence they were comfortable with at this point was taking the food away from any dog who didn’t follow the rules. While they were working on laying the foundation the dogs continued to be fed in separate rooms.

Since the dogs were familiar with some obedience behaviors Frank and Evie started with sits and stays with each dog individually in the spot in the kitchen where that dog was going to be fed.  The next step was teaching each dog to stay in position while his dish (empty to start with) was put in place until he was released.  The next step with each dog was to put a dish with food in it and have the dog stay until released.

 

Image of well behaved dogs at feeding time.

Image of well behaved dogs at feeding time.

After the dogs were able to do this consistently Frank and Evie brought all of the dogs into the kitchen.  They put Damian and Taz on tie downs, which are simply lengths of rope with a leash hook on the end, to keep them in their designated spots.  They were taken off tie down after everyone was finished and dishes were picked up.  In the first few practices Evie put the food in the dishes but then covered them with plastic wrap so no one could get the food without permission.  Any dog who broke the stay got his dish taken away.  Frank uncovered the dishes for the dogs who held their positions.  After a few days the dogs got it.

It took the Martin family about five weeks of concerted effort but now anyone in the family can safely feed the dogs and life is good.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurie Yakish is a dog trainer and dog behavior specialist working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is certified through Animal Behavior College but more importantly Laurie was mentored by Gary Wilkes who pioneered clicker training and many other groundbreaking behavior modification protocols.  Laurie is an active member of IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals).  Dog obsessed since she was four years old, by seven she was frustrating the daylights out of her mother by stealing snacks out of the cupboards to use as treats to train her dog Pepper to play high jump.

You can learn more about Laurie and her unique brand of dog training by visiting  www.dogtraininglauriesway.com

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