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Have you been feeding the cat in the same way you always have done, with exactly the same food, yet somehow she seems to be losing weight? To make matters worse, at the same time your dog is steadily piling on the pounds even though he isn’t being fed any extra! You, like many thousands of others, are probably housing a dog that has discovered he can sneak in an extra meal or two if he thieves from the cat.
This might seem humorous at first, but apart from the price of double the cat food, it’s unhealthy for both your dog to be eating too much and your cat not to be eating enough. Fortunately, training him not to eat your cat's food can alleviate these problems and may even reduce your cat's resentment of the dog!
"No!" is probably a word you have shouted far too many times when you’ve caught the dog deep in the cat's food bowl. Training him not to do that will require obedience commands and steps to reduce his access to your cat's food. Cat food is richer in protein and fats than dog food, making it rather appealing. But that protein and fat can quickly lead to weight gain, so if you want a healthy weighted dog and cat, it’s important you get this training right. Overweight dogs can quickly develop a range of health conditions, including arthritis.
It will always be easier to train a puppy not to eat the cat's food because they are more receptive than older dogs, who may be stuck in their bad habits. Fortunately, the training itself is relatively straightforward and within just a couple of weeks, you may be back to only feeding your cat the once.
Before you get going with your training you will need to get your hands on a few things. You will need clearly distinguishable food bowls for both your dog and cat. You will also need a quiet space in the home, free from distractions.
You will also need some treats for your dog or his favorite food broken into small chunks. An optimistic attitude and a significant amount of patience will also be required. Apart from that, you will just need 10 minutes a day to invest in daily training.
Once you are fully equipped with these items, your work can begin!
The ‘Leave It’ Method
Lure him in with a treat. Teaching him to leave it will not only assert your pack leader position and make it easier to teach him other commands, but it will also stop him in his tracks when he goes for the cat food. So take a small treat in your hand and ensure he know it’s there. Secretly hold another tastier and bigger treat in the other hand.
Firmly issue the command ‘leave it’. Don't shout at him, you don’t want to scare him, you just want to ensure he heard you and that he knows you mean business.
Then hold out the hand with the first treat in, let him lick, sniff and try and get to it. Eventually he will realize the treat isn’t accessible and will give up.
Reward him with the other treat and praise him. Ensure that within 3 seconds of giving up on your hand, he gets the treat in your other hand. This will show him that if he does leave it, he will get a better and tastier treat as a reward. Practice this for 10 minutes each day for a week.
Introduce the cat food
Put the cat food in its normal bowl, stand by it and then wait for him to come around sniffing. As soon as he does, instruct him to ‘leave it’ and reward him quickly with a treat when he does. If he does try and go for the food, increase the distance between him and the food, then try again. After a number of successful 'leave it' commands, slowly start to reduce the frequency of treats until no food reward is required.
The Break The Habit Method
Elevate the cat food
These steps are designed to make the cat food virtually inaccessible. Doing this will break the habit and eventually cat food will drift from his mind permanently. Simply putting the cat food on a table or on a shelf should prevent him getting to it.
Move the cat food
Move the cat food to a different room and shut the door. Alternatively, you can try putting the cat food in a room where you can keep the door shut, but leave a window or gap open so the cat can still get in and feast.
Don’t leave cat food out
Try and get your cat into the habit of eating at specific times. To do that, simply take the left over cat food away when they have finished eating. Your cat will quickly learn if it wants to eat today, it needs to eat now. Doing this will ensure no cat food is round for your dog to pinch. No temptation, no problems!
Use a baby gate
These quick and easy-to-fit gates can be placed on your kitchen doorway or in any room you feed the cat. Your agile cat will still be able to get around it, but your dog will be unable to access the cat food room.
Be consistent and quickly take the cat food away if you do catch your dog eating it. If by some miracle he gets past all the above precautions, be quick to snatch the food out of his reach. This will reinforce that cat food is a strict 'NO!' After weeks of following these steps, his cat food habit will soon fade away and he’ll stop seeking it out. You can then slowly reduce the number of steps taken above.
The Entice & Deter Method
Change up his food
Does he leave his food and eat the cat food instead, or does he go for the cat food before he goes to eat his own? If so, he may dislike the current food he’s being given. Canned dog food and kibble is cooked at such a high temperature that a lot of the flavor is lost. So try changing his food and see if that appeals to him more. Alternatively, throw in some fresh fruit and veg or some raw, lean meats to his meals.
Feed both your cat and dog at the same time. With his new food, consisting of some tasty extras, he should be more interested in his own food than the cat's for a change.
Act as a physical barrier between your dog and the cat food while they eat. So they have both got their meals at the same time, but the dog finishes early and heads for your cat's bowl. Stand so he can’t access the food and firmly say "NO". You don’t want to scare him, you just want him to know you’re discouraging this sort of behavior.
If you have had to say ‘NO’, he will be able to tell from your tone of voice and emotions that you aren’t happy and will probably look to vacate the area. Once he has left the room and settled somewhere else, praise him and play with him to show him walking away was the right thing to do. This positive reinforcement will speed up the learning process.
Stop acting as a physical barrier and just use the ‘NO’ command. Once he realizes you’re always going to guard the cat food he will quickly give up on the extra meal. You can then slowly reduce the frequency you stand guarding it. Instead rely on the ‘NO' command if you even see him heading to the room at the cat's meal time. Eventually, you won’t need to stand guard at all or use the ‘NO’ command.
By James Barra
Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021