I always get one particular question from folks when they find out I am a dog trainer. “What can I do to make my dog pay attention to me?” Well that’s a bit like asking what a person can do to get better gas mileage. Trust me; there are more than just one or two answers! That being said, there is one thing I wish all dog owners would do. And of all the things I could teach them, the one thing that will produce the fastest and biggest change in a dog’s behavior is to hand feed your dog.

Okay, I know many of you are wondering if Mikey has finally lost it, but I really mean it. When you hand feed your dog, you make yourself more important, you teach bite inhibition and you get your pooch to pay more attention to you, all without being mean to your dog! Let’s break this idea down into the three smaller pieces to get the whole picture!

The first thing that hand feeding your dog does is make you more important in your dog’s eyes. Some trainers call this “being the pack leader” others call it “being the alpha dog.” I simply call it making yourself the most important or necessary thing in your dog’s life. To be honest, I don’t put any credence in the idea of pack theory or could care less who the “pack leader” is in my house (unless you are referring to my wife!) The way I look at leadership with my dogs is that if I control all the really important resources in Fido’s world, who is really going to be calling the shots? So, if I could get people to hand feed every piece of food to their dog for at least 30 days, the dog is going to very quickly understand that without Mom or Dad Fido might not get fed! This is not only a great way to bond with and build a better relationship with any dog, but it works even better when the dog is new to the family!
So how does hand feeding impact bite inhibition? I believe that all dogs need to be taught to be careful with their mouths and teeth when interacting with people. There is no better way to get this point across than by hand feeding. It gives me the perfect opportunity to focus on giving pieces of kibble, one or two at a time, and teaching the command “gentle”? If the dog touches my finger with teeth, I can squeal “ouch,” with a calm voice use the command “gentle” and withhold the food for, let’s say 10-15 seconds, then repeat the process. Before you know it, the shark you have been living with is now the polite and patient dog you wanted in the first place! In fact, if you do it right, you will find that when you say “ouch” anytime a tooth is felt, most dogs will actually begin licking you as a way to express their own apology and realization they got to rough. So simply by feeding our dogs by hand, we are teaching mouth skills (or bite inhibition) with humans who they need for the stuff they want. But wait there’s more…
It makes sense that hand feeding your dog would help get your dog to pay attention to you, right? But why does that matter? Regardless of whether you are dog or person, we all tend to pay way more attention to the person in our life that doles out the rewards, paychecks or praise. Unfortunately, the opposite can be said for those who punish, write up or take things away (we avoid them like the plague) So by simply looking at the relationship between you and your dog, and determining who controls the resources, you can put yourself right at the top of Fido’s list of people he/she needs to survive in this big old world!
I hope as you are reading this article you are starting to inventory all the resources that your pooch has and how you can use them in training. I do want to share with you a very critical distinction and mistake many people make when trying to control resources with a dog; that control has to be in some way negative. Think of it this way…spoiling a dog or child is thought to be a bad thing; but what if the spoiling only occurs when the dog or child has earned it? The ultimate goal is to be necessary in their life, not control that life! So get out there and hand feed your pooch and see the differences it will make!
PS we do have a book on How to Get Started and Hand Feeding in more detail… Click Here for Link to Book
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