In my experience, the dinner time ritual that I started with my oldest dog is the most effective behavioral tool in so many ways. It reinforces so many important dog behavior rules and training all in an exercise and it takes less than a minute a day. Your dog learns respect for you, it reinforces your place as pack leader, prevents food aggression, promotes harmony between dogs in multiple dog households, teaches restraint, good manners, sit, look, ok release, and stay. This is real doggie training bang for your buck.
I don’t remember why or when I started doing this with my first dog, Carmina, or even where I learned it. I learned it from somewhere, but it has been so long I don’t know where. Carmina, the mixed breed rescue dog who is now 12 years old was once what Cesar Milan famously terms a “red zone dog.” She is the reason I started learning about dogs, simply to learn how to prevent her from knocking me off my feet while attempting to attack any dog in sight. She was my only dog for 8 years, until I got Riyo four years ago. Obviously, by the time I got 4.5lb Riyo, I was comfortable knowing that I could trust Carmina.
Each dog since has been indoctrinated into the dinner time ritual. It is much easier training one dog at a time, as you can imagine. If you already have 4 dogs, it will be much harder to get this started.
Here’s what you do. You have their food prepared, and your dog is all excited to start chowing down. Usually, you put the bowl down and the dog’s head is in it before the bowl hits the floor. Many dogs immediately become possessive of it at that point. Instead, make the dog sit, then start to put down the bowl. As soon as the dog starts to move in, stand up again and put the dog back into a sit. If you have to put the dog into a sit, do it. Don’t let that bowl hit the floor until your dog understands it is not allowed to move forward. After the bowl is down, your dog will undoubtedly move toward it again. Stay over the bowl like you own it and put the dog back into a sit. You will be surprised how fast they figure this out. Do NOT let the dog move toward the bowl until you release it with “OK!” Most likely after a few days, they will get this ritual perfectly.
I taught each dog the same ritual as soon as they came into the house. Since Carmina already knew the drill, I could easily focus on training Riyo because she knew the rules already. Riyo learned within a couple of days. The Darcy came and the same drill. Carmina and Riyo would sit politely and wait until I explained the rule to Darcy. He got it within a few days as well. I also fostered a Doberman for a week that also learned the same drill within a couple of days.
Then, I added Lizzie who exhibited signs of food aggression, growling over the bowl, right off the bat. That stopped within the first week I had her and never returned. It was the same drill, the other three dogs waiting patiently and politely as Lizzie got schooled in dinnertime manners.
I also added the word “look” to the ritual. Carmina I did not bother with “look” as she is old enough that seeing at all is an accomplishment. The other three, as you can see in the picture, actually have to look me in the eye. They also learn the release word “ok” extremely well. You can talk, countdown, whatever, but until you say “OK!” the dogs wait. Start with 10 seconds, but work up to where you can do at least 30 seconds to a minute with no problem.
As you can see, the result is four very different dogs eating right next to each other with no problems. Considering Carmina (lower left) came to me with the caveat “she needs to be separated from other dogs,” this is a great thing. Lizzie also could easily be an aggressive beast if left to her own decisions.
In conclusion, in less than a minute a day, this exercise helps with numerous behavior issues as well as teaches and reinforces obedience commands: “sit,” “stay,” “look,” and “ok.” It doesn’t get much easier and less time-consuming than that!
P.S. If you noticed Lizzie has very little food in her bowl, it’s because she already ate half a bag of chicken and a raw drumstick during her tracking run.