By Cesar Millan
There’s one thing that still brings most humans right back to their instinctual side whether they realize it or not, no matter how far removed it seems from Nature with all of our grocery stores and restaurants and fast food places.
That thing is eating. The only hunting most of us do for food nowadays is to go to a building and pay someone else to give it to us, and unless you’ve had experience on a farm, then you really can’t appreciate how the food on your plate got there.
But eating is so vital to us and it’s such a sense-laden experience that our intellects turn off and our instincts turn on, at least when we’re dealing with what we’re eating. Most people haven’t learned how to do that, though, when they’re the ones giving out the food.
What’s your ritual for feeding your dog? If you’re like a lot of people, it goes like this: grab the bowls, get the dog food, and either scoop out the dry, ladle out the special diet you’ve cooked yourself, or fire up the can opener.
All the while, your dog or dogs are standing right at your feet, probably in the kitchen, dancing in anticipation. Maybe you talk to them, asking if they’re ready to eat, then you put down the bowls — and your dogs excitedly bury their face in the dish and wolf it all down without stopping.
But it’s just food, and dogs have to eat, right?
Well, yes they do, but this isn’t how it works in the pack. A pack in the wild has to hunt for its food, and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to find it regularly every day, two or three times a day. A pack might go a week without eating before landing prey big enough to feed everyone, or they may get lucky and have a surplus after one good hunt.
Yet, despite that scarcity of food, the Pack Leaders always eat first, and any less dominant dog that would try to approach before they are allowed would be severely corrected. The Pack Leaders lead the pack to the prey and the pack kills it, but the leaders dine first, and then leave what’s left for the others.
What dogs learn through all of this is that food comes from the pack, and they receive that food in accordance with their place in the pack. And then we come along and turn that on its head by feeding our dogs when they haven’t earned their food and, far too often, feeding them when they are excited.
In my exercise, discipline, and affection fulfillment formula, feeding is definitely affection. This means that it has to come after exercise and discipline. A dog pack may have to travel for miles before it finds food. It we don’t make our dogs earn their food, we’re going against Nature.
Making your dogs work for it first and then waiting until they go into a calm, submissive state before feeding them is one of the best ways to establish your leadership over your pack. It should also be the easiest for humans to understand, since we have such an instinctual relationship with food ourselves. Even in the human world, we often use food as a reward for each other, whether it’s buying someone lunch as a thank you or bringing donuts into the office for our coworkers.
The key word, for both humans and dogs, is “reward.” Imagine if you knew someone who was constantly bringing you food when you hadn’t done anything for them. On the one hand, you’d probably appreciate the free food. On the other, you’re be wondering, “What do they want from me?” and it would probably start to feel a little weird.
When we don’t give our dogs the opportunity to earn their food, it feels a little weird to them, too. This is essentially letting them eat first, without working for it, and so it puts them in the position of Pack Leader. You become the submissive member of the pack who has killed the prey and presented it to the dominant dog.
If you have a dog that tends to be overexcited or tries to be dominant toward the humans in the pack, then making them work for their food and only giving it to them when they are in a calm, submissive state will go a long way toward fixing their behavior in general.
Food is an enormous motivator, for both dogs and humans. Be aware of your instinctual connection to food as a human, and you will begin to understand how feeding time for your dogs is a great opportunity for you to establish yourself as the Pack Leader.
Stay calm, and bon appétit!