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Why would you want to train your small dog to eat only from you? You teach your children not to take candy from strangers, why not your dog?
There are several good reasons to teach your dog only to eat from you. Small dogs can have sensitive stomachs, especially if they are only used to getting one type of dog food, or if they have allergies or other health conditions. A well-meaning outsider may think they are doing your little dog a favor by giving him the end of their hot dog or sharing their meal, but this could upset your small dog's stomach--and they won't be around when your dog gets sick all over your bedroom carpet!
Other health-endangering incidents can occur when your dog finds food out on walks. Food left out and about in the environment may be poisonous for your dog, such as candies containing artificial sweeteners, or foods that may be rotten or have been intentionally tampered with to harm dogs. Some neighborhoods have a problem with individuals poisoning dogs indiscriminately or by directly targeting dogs. Teaching your dog to only take food from you will prevent him getting sick from eating food accidentally that would upset his stomach or harm him by intentional poisoning; there are bad people out there!
You will need to determine whether you want to train your dog only to take food from you, or an alternative behavior, which is to only take food from a designated dish or in a designated spot. There is a catch, if you teach your dog only to take food from you, what happens when you go on vacation? If someone else is going to need to feed your dog on occasion you will need to consider this and adapt your training accordingly. If you teach your dog only to eat from a specific dish, be sure never to forget this dish when your travel with your dog, or worse, break the dish! It will be important to adapt your training so that your small dog learns to only eat from you but is flexible enough to adapt when he may be put in a different situation. Be careful when using negative reinforcement to teach your dog not to take food that is not provided by you, as this can create confusion in situations where you are not available to provide food.
Teaching your dog to 'leave it', which can be directed at your dog in a specific situation can be useful but requires you to be present to give the command. Teaching your dog to avoid taking any food not offered to him by you\ can protect your small dog when you are not available to supervise, but can present difficulties if you are away or you or your dog is ill and your dog requires care by others. Teaching your dog to eat from a specific bowl or type of bowl may help control his eating behavior and provides some flexibility. Be sure to pick the right behavior for your situation.
To teach your small dog to eat only from you, you may need to arrange for a few assistants to act out the part of strangers providing food. A deterrent, such as a foul tasting agent that will not harm your dog, may be employed to create a negative association with taking food from others, or a noisemaker may be employed. Teaching 'leave it' will require high value treats to contrast with lower value treats to establish that obeying the 'leave it' command is rewarding. A special food dish that is discernible from other types of dishes may be used to reinforce only taking food from you in your dog's specific dish.
The Leave It Method
Present a treat
Present a low value treat to your dog in an open hand. When your dog approaches to investigate it, close your hand and say “leave it”.
Reinforce 'leave it'
Your dog will sniff, paw and lick your hand to get to the treat, ignore him, and repeat “leave it”. When he g withdraws because he cannot get the treat, say “good” and provide a high value treat with your other hand. Repeat
Start presenting a low value treat on an open hand, and say “leave it” without closing your hand. If your dog withdraws immediately, provide a high value treat and say “good”. If your dog continues to approach the treat when he was told to leave it, close your hand and repeat previous steps.
Start leaving low value treats around the house, and then hidden in the yard. Supervise your dog. When he discovers a treat, practice the “leave it” command. Reward for compliance. Say "no", remove treats and go back to previous steps if your dog tries to take the treat.
Practice in various situations
Have an assistant present a treat to your dog say “leave it”. If your dog complies, provide a better treat. If your dog continues towards the assistant's treat, have your assistant close their hand and repeat “leave it”. Practice “leave it” when you come across food on walks or in other situations.
The Negative Association Method
Place a treat or food treated with a foul tasting substance that will not harm your dog. Bitter sprays are available commercially from pet supply stores.
Have an assistant come over and present the treated food to your dog.
When your dog takes the treat he will be presented with a bitter taste. Shout “no” and trigger a loud noise maker like a tin can full of rocks.
Use different people
Have various assistants approach your dog at home and when you are out on walks and offer treated bitter food to your dog. Follow up with “no” and loud noise deterrent when your dog takes the food.
Plant treated food in your yard or where you are going for a walk, make sure other animals do not have access, this may require an assistant to guard the planted food. When your dog investigates or tries to take food, he will get the bitter taste, and be startled by your “no” and a loud nose. Your dog will come to associate finding food or being offered food by strangers with negative consequences and start avoiding food you do not offer to him.
The Establish Bowl Method
Provide special bowl
Feed your dog regularly from a distinctive bowl. It should be a durable bowl made of metal or plastic that can easily be cleaned; you want it to last a long time and stand up to traveling.
Have an assistant come over and present a threat to your dog. When your dog approaches the assistant, say “no” and take your dog to his bowl for a treat you provide in his bowl. Repeat over time with several assistants.
Present several bowls
Put your dog's bowl in your yard or in the house with several other bowls present. Put different food in each. Put your dog on leash and allow him to investigate different bowls
Reinforce specific bowl
When your dog investigates a “strange bowl” say "no", or "leave it", and jerk on the leash, redirect your dog to his own bowl with a tasty treat in it. Repeat frequently.
Plant treats in a yard or when out on a walk, or have assistants approach your dog with a treat while you are out on a walk. When your dog investigates or sniffs at a treat, say “no” or “leave it” and produce your dog's bowl with a treat in it. Eventually, start replacing presenting the bowl on walks with praise for leaving food found or offered by others on walks.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 01/25/2018, edited: 01/08/2021