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5 Ways To Turn Mealtimes Into Training Opportunities

Lots of us have set mealtimes for our dogs (breakfast at 8am, dinner at 6pm, for instance) where we fill up their bowl and hand it over, without asking for anything in return. 

But every time we do this, we miss a chance to teach or reinforce desired behaviours. Whichever way you choose to feed, whether you use kibble or raw, scatter-feed or bowl-only, feeding time is an opportunity to practice positive reinforcement training

That’s not to say you must use every ‘mealtime’ to teach a brand new or tricky behaviour. Every dog is different and here at Tug-E-Nuff, we’re big believers in seeing our pups as individuals, and following their lead. This approach could mean anything from asking for a sit and wait to hand-feeding a meal sitting on the floor with them (a massively bond-boosting experience in itself). 

We know this can be a mindset shift for us humans, so here are five ideas for turning mealtimes into training opportunities…

1. Hide and Seek

Fill The Clam with small handfuls of good quality food or treats before hiding it around the house and asking your dog to ‘find it’. At first, you may need to give your dog a helping hand but they will quickly learn to use their nose to sniff out the next hiding spot. This is a great way to practice scent-work and add interest to mealtimes. 

As a next step in this, use The Clam to build confidence by filling it with food and then hiding it. We’ve seen customers do this by hiding The Clam in cardboard boxes filled with scrunched up paper or old carrier bags with great success. 

2. Show Me...

Build up an impressive repertoire of tricks and behaviours by using mealtimes as training opportunities a couple of times a day. Before hand-feeding your dog, ask them to show you something. This could be a sit, down, turn around, sit pretty, play dead, or roll over. To add variation, try this in different spots inside and outside the house. Practice makes perfect! 

3. Food Bag Fun

If your dog is a foodie who values treats before toys, use mealtimes as a chance to build value into interactive training toys like our Food Bag Bungee. Fill it with treats and open it to reward your dog. Over time, encourage them to tug on the Food Bag (which cleverly doubles as a soft, fleecy bite area) with lots of praise and enthusiasm. Once they’ve got the hang of tugging, it becomes a fun game that’s a reward in itself and you can move on to other Bungee Tug Toys that will help boost bond and motivation - and ultimately get better results during training sessions. 

4. Loose Lead Walking

Does your dog pull on their lead? This is really common (and can be really frustrating). We firmly believe in training loose lead walking using only positive reinforcement methods. Punishment doesn’t work and should not be used. Instead, at mealtimes, try walking around at home and offering food when your dog walks calmly and closely at your side.

If you use a clicker, this can be done at the same time. Using mealtimes as a way to practice loose lead walking is a fun way to show your dog that walking nicely at your side gets rewarded. Over time, build this up so you can do it outside of the house. 

5. Recall Reinforcement

Does your dog come every time you call them? Can you trust them to recall even when they are distracted? A bulletproof recall is so important - not just for training purposes but for everyday safety.

Mealtimes are a good opportunity to practice recall, but we recommend using a foodie training toy, like The Clam or the Food Bag, so that you can later transfer the reward to a training toy that isn’t food-based. Start at home without any distractions and slowly work up to doing this while out and about. The key here is to make sure you are more interesting than your surroundings - it can take time, patience and practice!

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