I am an avid believer in the training and advice of Cesar Millan, AKA the Dog Whisperer. I watch his show, read his books and use many of his techniques on my Shih Tzu. My husband, however, had his own way of handling his American Staffordshire Terrier. BoDee loved to play and eat and my husband did not separate the two with any kind of behavior control.
Since she was his dog, I did not intervene with any of Cesar’s advice. Feeding her was both play time and a tug of war. At 65 lbs, she would jump on him, passing out kisses and nearly knocking the food from his hands. He saw this as her being eager to see him and get her food. I saw it as bad behavior.
According to The Dog Whisperer, your canine friend is supposed to be “allowed” to eat, not demand to eat. Cesar Milan states that, as the pack leader, you call the shots as to when your dog is to eat. This is not to mean that anyone should withhold food as a punishment, it just means that your dog should exhibit the same “table” manners as you expect from your children.
Sixteen months ago, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and we lost him shortly after. During his illness, he worried about BoDee’s care. He knew I was terrified of dogs that were bigger than my 12 pound Shih Tzu. How would I handle this rambunctious 65 pound dog that he loved so much?
By using some of Cesar Millan’s techniques, swallowing my fear of big dogs and having lots of patience, I learned to care for BoDee and to curb some of her “eager to eat” ways. I had made a vow to my husband that she would remain with me, and that I would give her the best care possible, but I had to teach her that I was the pack leader now.
I expected resistance because she was confused by the change in status. I am sure she missed her master and playmate as badly as I missed him. I felt that together we could overcome our loneliness and grief and her eagerness to eat and play. She was about half my weight and I knew she would knock me down with her eager jumping at dinner time.
Cesar teaches that the dog should patiently wait for their food. They should not jump on you, try to take the food or show any aggression. BoDee was not the least bit aggressive; she was just use to being allowed to act as she did. My husband saw it as a sign of affection when she jumped on him. I didn’t see it that way and was determined not to allow it.
The first thing I did was to put her on a strict dinner time schedule. He had worked varying hours and sometimes her dinner and playtime fluctuated by a few hours. Once her internal clock was set to a certain time every day, perhaps she would not be overanxious to eat or play.
BoDee is an outside dog. We have a huge back yard that has a tall privacy fence and she eats and sleeps in a large kennel. When I approached her kennel at dinner time, the eager jumping began. I waited at the gate, food in hand, until she calmed down. Whenever I reached to open the gate, she would start jumping again. After several attempts, I went in.
Of course, it was a learning process for both of us. I did get jumped on and nearly knocked down a few times, but I was determined to win, because I had promised my husband to take care of her. We had our grief and loneliness in common, so maybe we understood each other too.
Gradually, she began to understand that I would not bring the food into her unless she stood there calmly. I would not give her the food if she jumped on me. I patiently and quietly repeated the word “down” and “wait.”
When she did jump up, I held the food higher, turned away from her and said “no” very calmly. As soon as she was down on all four feet, I sat the food down, patted her head and told her, “good girl.” She learned pretty quickly that I was now in control and that I expected a different kind of behavior from her.
Cesar Millan states that dogs should have a calm submissive energy about them when they are being fed. The key to this is to be their pack leader, but to also offer discipline and affection. Dogs should have to work for their food, because it is in their nature.
That doesn’t mean to go out and run their food down in the wild. It simply means that working to keep themselves under control and submissive to the pack leader that feeds them is part of their job as your canine companion. BoDee has learned that to eat, she must be calm and patient.
It was a learning process for both of us, but by using Cesar’s techniques and calling upon my own determination and patience, BoDee and I have both learned a bit about who’s the leader and who is the pack. Now when I walk towards her, she sits patiently, whether it is feeding time or playing time.
I do not recommend this technique of changing an eager to eat habit if the dog shows any signs of food aggression. BoDee was never aggressive in her desire to eat; she was just excitable and had never been taught how to behave like a “lady.” She is now calm and happy around me, and I believe my husband would be proud of us.