by Cesar Millan

Mealtime is when we make one of the most important connections with our dogs — or at least it should be. It is the perfect time to reinforce your role as Pack Leader, because you are the source of the food they need. So for me it is important to take a little time over meals and not just throw something in a bowl and put it out for the dogs. Here are my tips for making dinner special for your dog.

I try to be consistent — just as with all other aspects of training — and follow a ritual before every meal. First, I believe it is important to walk your dogs before a meal. This is as close to the natural experience as possible, where the dogs would have had to go hunt for their food.

I know this isn’t practical for everyone, at least on a daily basis, but I like to mix up my dogs’ food with my hands so it has my scent and energy in it. It really doesn’t take that much extra time, and the result is a meal made with love… just like my mom made for me.

Food gets dogs excited like almost nothing else, and they are alert for the sounds and scents of meals being prepared. It is important that if you pick up on this, you stop and make your dog go back into a waiting frame of mind.

It is a challenge for dogs to stay calm and wait until they’re instructed to eat — but it is a very important piece of training if you don’t want your dog to become dominant. This is even more so if you have more than one animal in your pack. Making them wait until they are calm and you give the command to eat can help avoid later problems with food aggression, and it’s one of the most powerful ways for you to assert your position as Pack Leader.

One other thing I like to do before I let my dogs eat is have them look directly at me — not at the food dish. This is a challenge for a dog whose every instinct is drawing his attention to the food. So why do I do this? I think it achieves two things. The first is that it helps the dog avoid becoming obsessed by the food. And the second — which I think is more important — is that it helps make them appreciate the source of their food. This is a wonderful way for you to bond with your dogs and show them that you are proud of them for staying calm.

How to watch for food aggression

When you walk toward your dog while she is eating, watch for her lowering her head to her food as if to block you from it. You may see the hair on her neck stand up and her body become tense and her tail rigid. You must handle this situation very carefully because the food drive is such a strong instinct. You need to redirect the dog’s attention, but you must never show affection when the dog is in this state, because it will just reinforce the behavior.

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