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Cooper may be just a puppy but that doesn’t mean he isn't trouble already. In fact, he has a truly incredible appetite. You can feed him a meal and he will straightaway be charging around the house in search of more food. Or even worse, he heads for the cat’s bowl and steals food from there instead. Now, this may seem harmless and even somewhat entertaining, to begin with. But this can soon lead to serious problems.
Firstly, if your puppy is eating the cat food, your cat will be going hungry, which may lead to medical problems. You also may find it difficult to keep a handle on your puppy’s weight and eating habits. If they become overweight as a puppy, they may suffer conditions such as arthritis later on in life. Finally, your food bill is even higher if you have to pay for double the amount of cat food!
Training a puppy to not eat cat food is actually pretty straightforward. The challenge is being strict and consistent with training. So the first thing you need to do is introduce a number of a deterrence measures. Simply limiting their access to the cat’s food will reduce the temptation. You will also need to use obedience commands to assert your position as pack leader and seize back control. Finally, you will need to get them into a food routine with clear boundaries.
Because they are just a puppy, they are probably just testing the boundaries and should respond swiftly to clear rules. So you could see results in just a week or two. But if your pup has a serious soft spot for cat food then you may need a few weeks. If you stick to training you won’t need to worry your cat is getting skinny while your dog is getting overweight. It will also remove some tension between them and encourage a more friendly relationship.
Before you can start training, you need to stock up on a few bits. Baby gates and cat flaps will be needed for one of the methods. A deterrence collar and a water spray bottle will also be needed. You will also need a smell-proof container to store your cat food in.
While you don’t need to set aside specific time to train, try and be around as much as possible at meal times to react to any problems.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and pro-active attitude, then work can begin!
The Deterrence Method
One of the easiest things to do is simply move your cat's bowl to a higher platform. On top of a work surface or cupboard could well do the trick. If your puppy can’t get to the food, they will quickly give up.
Another option is to have a room where all your cat’s belongings and food are kept. You can then fit a baby gate to prevent the puppy getting access. Your cat will then be able to jump the gate and get their food in peace.
Don’t leave food out
If you can’t prevent your puppy getting access to the cat’s food you may want to consider just leaving the food down for a few minutes at a time. You can then stand and watch while your cat eats. Your cat will soon get into the habit of eating in one go as they know the food will be taken away.
If you do catch the pup eating the cat’s food, go over and give a quick spray of water near their face. If this happens every time, your puppy will soon start associating cat food with negative consequences.
If the water bottle doesn’t do the trick, you could upgrade to a deterrence collar. Simply stay vigilant and hit the remote button whenever you catch the puppy eating cat food. An unpleasant spray of citronella will be emitted and they will swiftly think twice before diving in next time.
The Routine Method
Make sure you feed your puppy at the same times each day. If they get into a consistent routine of only eating at certain times, then they will know when they are and are not allowed to eat.
Make sure your cat’s and dog’s bowls look different. If they are the same your dog may be forgiven for being tempted. But if they are different colors and shapes, then it’s easier to feed them from only their bowl. That way the pup will know if it isn’t in their bowl then it’s paws-off.
Keep your cat food in a smell-proof container. If your puppy can smell it then the temptation may prove too much. So help them out by keeping it shut away in an air-tight pack or container.
Whenever you catch your puppy eating the cat food, calmly take them by the collar and remove them from the room. If anyone laughs or leaves them to eat it while they take photos, for example, then the puppy will become confused and you will push back the end result.
Do not punish your puppy if you catch them eating cat food. This may only make them scared of you and potentially aggressive. Dogs do get aggressive over food and then you’ll have an even greater hurdle to overcome.
The ‘Leave It’ Method
Police your cat food. Simply stand there and issue a firm ‘leave it’ whenever the dog shows interest in it or heads towards it. This will get them thinking two things. Firstly, you will always be there to stop them. Secondly, the cat food isn’t worth the effort anymore.
When the puppy moves away from the cat food, hand over a tasty treat instead. This will get them associating staying away from the cat food with positive consequences. Positive reinforcement is often the most effective way to train puppies.
Now you simply need to be consistent. It may be time-consuming to start with, but it will be worth it in the long run. Simply give the 'leave it' command whenever you catch them heading for the cat food.
Lose the treats
Once the dog has the hang of it and stays away from the cat food, you can phase out the treats. You can then use the ‘leave it’ command to steer them away from other bad habits too.
Change your cat food
You may also want to consider changing your cat food. There are different types and flavors. So find an alternative your puppy may not be so drawn to. Who knows, you may be able to find one they don’t like at all!
By James Barra
Published: 04/10/2018, edited: 01/08/2021