Your dog’s Pot of Value
We start every day with a pot of value in our hands, ready and waiting to be put into action in training our dogs. And if you live a reinforcement rich life with training baked into your daily activities (as opposed to something that happens in a once a day or week session) as Gamechangers do then you need every bit of that value.
But what do we typically do with it? What do we do with all that value, all that goodness, all that potential? We put it on the floor. In a bowl. We just leave it there for our dogs. And they just eat it without thinking much about it, without doing anything for it, without getting anything from it but calories.
What a waste!
Learn to Earn
It is time to break that habit of throwing away sizeable portions of your dog’s daily pot of value. It is time to claim back that lost opportunity. It is time to Ditch the Bowl!
We Gamechangers are always training. Every interaction, every event, every occurrence, every moment is an opportunity for your dog to learn. Gamechangers recognise this and embrace the multitude of opportunities that everyday life throws our way to help our dogs to learn, grow and live effectively.
Dogs love to work for their food. We call it Learn to Earn. It is a practical and psychological act that really dials into their natural instincts. They had to hunt for their own food back in the wild days, and in the days of domestication have only ever sought to be as useful to their human family as possible. Giving your dog the chance to work for their food taps into this. It gives them the chance to do something for themselves and to show you what they can do. It engages their brain. It gets them moving physically. It grows their confidence. It is massively reinforcing. You don’t get that from a bowl!
“I can’t possibly ditch the bowl!”
One of the most common oppositions to ditching the bowl comes from a very common malady that afflicts far too many of us in the modern world: lack of time. Feeding from a bowl, at a set time, is easy. It fits nicely into our busy human lives. And what if your dog is raw fed? Doesn’t that open up a whole other world of difficulty?
In a word, no.
Ditching the bowl is accessible to everyone: the time poor, the raw feeders, those whose dogs require medication in their food, those with puppies, those with senior dogs. With a little bit of prior thought and planning, there is no reason why ditching the bowl should be difficult. There is always a way. And as ever in the Gamechanger Life, the way involves a whole heap of fun.
If the thought of throwing your dog’s bowl in the bin immediately is a little overwhelming, do not fear! Start small, in ways that are easy for you to implement. You will quickly see how much your dog enjoys it and you’ll soon be looking for any opportunity to bond with your dog over food.
It really is quite easy to incorporate ditching the bowl into your day. Here are four key areas to get you started.
1. The Breakfast of Champions
Morning can be a super stressful time in the household. Everyone is busy, everyone is rushing, everyone has somewhere to be. When it is all you can do to remember to feed your dog, never mind contemplate ditching their bowl, why on earth would we start ditching here?
Because…this is where one of the simplest, easiest, most effective, and most fun games in the Gamechanger Toolkit comes into play: scatter feeding.
Scatter feeding is so simple that it can be easy to overlook it, yet this game is a powerhouse. Scatter feeding works your dog’s body and brain. It gets them using their nose which is massively reinforcing and super calming. It gets your dog in a great headspace. And when they find a piece of food and then another and then another, the reinforcement bulbs in their brain just keep lighting up. Add in a boost to their frustration tolerance and grit as they hunt down every last morsel, building their ability to cope with novelty and turbocharging their confidence, and you have a Gamechanging game you can play in less than five minutes and gives you a world of results.
Ready? Let’s scatter feed.
Pick an environment where it will be safe for your dog to hunt for pieces of food. The grass in your back garden is perfect. Take a portion of your dog’s daily food allowance and scatter it in the area. The wider it goes, the longer your dog will take to find it and the harder they will have to hunt for it so start off with a small area at first to let them get the idea. They will soon build up to happily searching over a wider area when they realise what fun the game is!
If outside isn’t an option, you can play this game in the house. Snuffling in carpet works, or you can really make it fun by filling a box with coloured ball-swamp balls or plastic bottles and letting your dog hunt for their food in the box.
Ball-swamp breakfasts rock. Fact.
2. The Day-to-Day Cool Dude
Breakfast over, the work of the day begins. Perhaps you need your dog to chill out in their bed while you work at your desk, or maintain a boundary as you hoover, or not eat the Postie’s fingers as they deliver your mail: all of these moments provide opportunities for training using that pot of value.
Simply feed your dog when they make the great choice to maintain their boundary or they choose not to react whenever something happens that might otherwise have triggered a reaction from them. You can reward them for their calmness throughout the day and for all the great choices they make over the course of the day without having to worry about additional calories because you are just using up their daily allowance. Every moment becomes a chance to learn and with that you build a reinforcement rich life. It is a really cool way to live.
3. Fast Food: Feeding on Walks
Walking and being outside with your dog gives you endless opportunities to work on building those concepts in your dog’s brain that will lead to a calm, happy canine companion. Take that pot of value on tour!
Every interaction or event you encounter on your walk pays into your dog’s stress bucket, and we all know what happens when that bucket gets full! The great news is that you can use your dog’s daily pot of value to actively take charge of what is paying into your dog’s bucket and transform the occurrence from a potential negative to a positive. How awesome is that!
Distraction! Mark! Treat! or D.M.T. is a key game for letting your dog know that whatever happens, it really is all good. Dog appears in the distance? No problem. Man on bike? No sweat. Plastic bag stuck to a fence and fluttering wildly and noisily in the wind? No worries. D.M.T. takes care of it.
So how do we D.M.T.?
We begin with a little bit of prep work at home. Choose a calm marker (such as nice, good, clever) – say the word, then give your dog some food. Your dog will soon make the connection between the word and the delivery of some fabulous food.
Then add a positive distraction, something that isn’t massively challenging for your dog to ignore (for example, a toy being moved). As soon as the distraction appears, mark and treat. Repeat, marking the great decision of not interacting or reacting to the distraction. Change up the distraction, begin to increase the difficulty level to something that they find a bit more difficult to block out, but still keep it positive (for example, a ball being bounced).
Now it is time to take it on tour. This is where you really have to tune into what is going on in the environment. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that might prompt your dog to react. When that happens, mark and treat. Your dog will soon realise that anything happening is cause for calm, rather than concern.
A trip to the park with a pot of value in your pocket would not be complete without the original feel good game: Funder. Take all of that value and place it firmly into you by playing one of the coolest focus and relationship building games in the Gamechanger Toolkit.
How to play? It is very simple. Throw a piece of your dog’s food out, let them run to it and eat it. As they finish eating, call them to you. As they approach, throw another piece of food between your legs. They will go through your legs to get the food. Turn to face them as they run to the food, call them when they are finished eating and the game begins again.
So simple, such fun, so effective (this is amazing game if you want to work on recall!) and so much more rewarding than chomping down some kibble in the kitchen.
4. Evening Chill Time
After a reinforcement rich day full of fun and learning, it is time for we Gamechangers to chill out. Let’s use what’s left in our dog’s pot of value to create a chilled out evening for our dogs. K9 Calm Mat supper, anyone?
We love K9 Calm Mats here at absoluteDogs. They are amazing tools for prompting relaxation in your dog. A small amount of food spread over the K9 Calm Mat lasts ages (freezing it makes it last even longer) and the repetitive licking action is soothing for your pet.
In addition to being calming and helping our dogs to settle, K9 Calm Mats also help promote fresh breath by scraping off bacteria and undigested food particles from the tongue. It also stimulates saliva production which helps clean their tongue, teeth and gums, and aids digestion.
(Psyched for a chilled canine with shiny teeth and fresh breath? Check out our K9 Calm Mats here).
So ditch the bowl and go for a K9 Calm Mat supper in front of the television after a fun, reinforcement filled day. What could be better!
Ditching the Bowl
These are just some of the ways you can ditch the bowl and build your dog’s daily pot of value into a reinforcement rich life. The possibilities are endless. They say every day is a school day and that is so true: every moment has an opportunity for learning in it, and we miss so many of those moments and the opportunities they bring by putting our dog’s food into bowls. So ditch the bowl and embrace the reinforcement rich life! You and your dog will never look back.