Dog's who have strong food drive (REALLY value their food) are very easy to get to work for a motivator, like food... even through stress, arousal, fear, distractions, etc. This is why we want to make sure our dog has good food drive.
There are many benefits to teaching your dog to value their food, and eat it quickly when it is offered. Not only does it make training your dog a thousand times easier and more fun, it also makes it much easier to monitor your dog's weight and health.. the first sign a dog is sick is that they stop eating or eat more slowly compared to how fast they normally eat. This also gives you a timeline of when they may have started to feel poorly, and may give you insight as to what the cause may be. Also, dogs with low food-drive often do not eat very well, if at all, when boarded. This is because they do not value food enough to eat through the stress of a new environment without you. This can compromise their immune system and make them more susceptible to illness.
If any of my dogs are taking more than 5 minutes to eat, I am instantly monitoring that dog. Are they active? Are they drinking? How is their stool? Are they eating faster or slower the next meal?
Your first homework assignment is to make sure your dog has solid food drive that we can use to our advantage during training. If your dog already is super food motivated (eats all of their food, just kibble, every meal within 5 minutes or less, then you may disregard this assignment and move to the next).
What I want: A dog who eagerly eats their whole meal within 5 minutes (unless your dog has a medical/dental issue that prevents them from eating this quickly) of it going in the bowl- consistently! No walking away to eat food, no free-feeding/grazing through the day, no leaving some as leftovers.
If your dog does not have this strong of food drive, then I want you to follow this proven protocol that we have used with thousands of dogs to build food drive!
Rules for feeding:
Must measure your dog's food each meal! First, we need to determine if we are feeding the correct amount. Assess your dog's current weight based on the chart presented below. If your dog is at the ideal weight (can see, if a short coated dog, or easily feel a rib or two), continue to feed the same amount. If your dog is underweight (can see all ribs), increase the amount. If your dog is overweight (pretty common!) feed less! Do NOT follow the food bag's recommended feeding amount... every dog, just like people, have a different metabolism. I look at the recommended amount once, and then for the rest of my dog's lives, I look at their current weight/body condition to evaluate if I need to increase, decrease or keep the same amount of food per day. I check body condition every few weeks. For fluffy dogs, you need to feel them!
Once we determine the amount we should be feeding, we feed twice a day. This gives your dog two opportunities to eat their food. When you are measuring out their food, make sure they are aware that the food is being offered.
Absolutely no additives to the food to get them to eat such as canned food, chicken, beef, cottage cheese, beef stock, treats, etc. Just feed their kibble.
If at any point they do not come over to the dish, walk away from the dish, or take longer than 5-10 minutes while staying at the dish, take the rest of the food away until the second meal/second opportunity.
At the second meal, repeat the following rules, but then put the remaining food back in the container- this is food they lost the opportunity for.
If your dog is really struggling to eat their food, I temporarily reduce the amount of food I am feeding for each meal, until they are getting in the habit of eating everything that is in the dish. Once they start eating regularly, I increase the meals until I am back to feeding what they should be eating.
I am very strict on this protocol! No healthy dog will starve themselves, they will all get hungry and start to eat! I am not giving any other treats/food/chews they can eat at this time just to make sure they aren't getting any calories in that may prevent them from eating their food.
For the vast majority of dogs, you should notice big improvement in their food drive usually within 1 week, sometimes two! It usually does not take very long!
However, if your dog doesn't eat anything in 3-5 days, I would allow them to have 1/2 of their daily portion to eat during the day.