Will work for food

Not one of my dogs is an actual working dog with a specific job like hunting or herding livestock. Like most people I know, my dogs are pets. They are a part of my family, but that doesn’t mean that my dogs don’t have a job.

I think we sometimes forget that our pet dogs do have a job. That would be the job of being a well behaved pet. Seems kind of obvious, but I find that many people don’t think about it this way. In addition, the job of being a good pet like most jobs, requires some education and training. The problem is that too often we forget that the educating and training part is our responsibility.

I often find myself reminding people that dogs are not born automatically trained. Even dogs who do have jobs like hunting, or drug detection, or herding, need to be taught how to do their job. Of course it helps that they’ve been bred to have traits that make training them easier, but they still need formal training to help hone those traits into the work they are being asked to do.

When I’m out and about with one of my dogs it isn’t unusual for people to comment on how impressed they are with how well trained my dog is. Then ask me what kind of dog I have because they want to get a dog “just like” mine. My typical response is, “You realize that they don’t automatically come like this, right? I’ve put a LOT of time and hard work into training this dog.” I cannot get over how often people are actually surprised to hear this news. I am also amazed at how many times I have witnessed some idiot standing in front of a kennel in an animal shelter repeatedly yelling “SIT!” at some young, happy, silly completely uneducated dog. The dog jumps up, wags his tail, jumps up again, and is trying very hard to understand what exactly it is that the idiot wants him to do.

Of course this silly uneducated, untrained dog knows how to sit, ALL dogs know how to sit, but they have to be taught that the word “sit” means put your butt on the ground. That’s our job – the teaching part, and all too often we forget that. I feel it is also important to do it in a way that makes sense to the dog. After all we’re supposed to be the smarter species so we should be able to figure out how to communicate in a way that make sense to the dog, and not expect them to just understand because we want them to.


Nemo & Rex

I have found that one of the easiest ways to practice training is to incorporate it into my daily routine and use part of my dog’s daily ration of kibble as training treats. I do this now with some of my younger dogs and I plan on one day never putting food into a bowl for my dogs again.

I can’t do this quite yet because I currently have a large pack of dogs and the majority of them are with me due to special needs of one sort or another. Most of them came to me as adults and many of them have issues or are elderly, so I do feed them all a daily meal. It’s certainly easier in some ways but not when it comes time to do the dishes.


I’ve decided with my younger crew to take a different approach. They are all fed a very small amount in their bowl at mealtime. I keep the majority of their daily ration measured out in a container on the counter and use it throughout the day as “pay” for being a well behaved dog. Sometimes they are “paid” just a few pieces of kibble, sometimes they get a handful.

I pay my dogs for waiting at the door before going outside, for sitting when asked, for getting into their kennels when asked, for being still while I put on a leash, for coming inside when called, etc. Throughout the day I am training my dogs and they receive food as pay. Not special training treats, just their food. If I am teaching a new or rather difficult behavior or trick I may use special treats, but mostly I just use kibble.

For those of you who are thinking that I am one of those pansy treat trainers, and that dogs should obey just because we tell them to, I will ask the following… Do you do your job just because your boss wants you to? Or do you do it because you get paid? Would you be more likely to take on a difficult project at work if you were to get paid a bonus?

Do my dogs do what I ask of them to please me just because I ask them to? Of course they do. I often use praise or play as a reward instead of food but because food is a huge motivator for most dogs doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of that?

Another way to have your dog work for his food is to use food dispensing toys or puzzle toys with food inside. The dog still has to put some effort into getting his meal. It helps keep him busy and work his brain in order to get “paid”.

Over the years I have used a variety of puzzle and food dispensing toys. I always have some Kong or Tux toys full of food in my freezer.  Once again the dogs have to do a bit of work to get their meal, and it keeps them busy when I want to watch TV or mess around on the computer. They also come in handy when there are visitors or workers in the house and I want to keep the dogs occupied.


Yes, my dogs get paid to be good dogs, and they are paid quite well!! In turn I get the best payoff of all, happy well mannered dogs.



2 thoughts on “Will work for food

  1. Such an important concept, that an animal’s job as a pet is to be a well-mannered, trained pet! Please send this on to Bark magazine and other pet owner outlets for wider distribution of your sage advice.


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