“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”– Orhan Pamuk
This article is how I went about teaching my dog to eat slow. In November of 2018, I adopted a year old shelter dog and named him Clipper. From day one it was clear that Clipper had some eating stress. He would scarf his food in one second. This did not seem healthy and I started Googling ways to teach him to eat slower.
Just Let Him Eat How He Wants?
I honestly cannot recall how I learned about dogs eating fast causing stomach distress. However, I did learn it somewhere and thus knew that I had to help Clipper learn to enjoy his food by chewing and tasting it before swallowing. I have met one woman who admits her dog eats his food in 3 or so gulps. She said it was “fine for most dogs as long as they’re not barfers.” Except, eating fast can cause several problems for dogs. Some of which are life-threatening. You can read more about it on the AKC site.
What I Did To Help Clipper Eat Slower
First I want to say that teaching my dog to eat slowly was not a simple fix. I used multiple techniques. It took a solid five months until I could confidently set a dish of food in front of Clipper and trust him to not gulp it down. Your dog might get it in a day, or it might take it a year. Results will vary but the key is consistency and not giving up. If one technique doesn’t do the trick then try another. Try ten techniques and rotate them! Just don’t give up.
Just a Few Bites
At first, I would just put a few kibbles in his bowl, and he’d scarf it down. I would wait a few minutes or even longer before putting a few more kibbles down. And so on until his cup of food was gone. I’d show him the empty cup so he would stop begging for more.
Interactive Puzzle Feeder
In doing some article reading on helping fast readers, puzzle feeders were recommended. I decided on the Nina Ottoman Tornado. It has three tiers and four holes per tier to put dog food. The dog has to learn to spin the tiers to get the food. I would watch Clipper and offer positive praise for him to figure the dish out. At first, I would only put half his food throughout the tiers and then offer the other half in another way, such as a Kong Ball or by hand feeding.
Kong Ball Feeder
I picked out the Kong Stuff a Ball Dog Toy for a Kong feeder. Sometimes his whole meal would go into it and other times only half. The other half would be given in another way when I’d do half. This one you do need to watch your dog use. It might seem the simplest as you can just fill it and give it to him, but that is a good way for kibble pieces to get lost; I found myself often lifting the couch for him to grab that stray piece that flew under there. Plus, your dog might need encouragement during the first few times of use.
The “Find Your Food” Game or Laying a Trail
This game can give your dogs nose a workout! For Clipper, I would let him out in the yard to do his business and then grab his cup of food. If you don’t have a yard but have a kennel, put your pup in the kennel or lock him in another room.
I’d lay a few kibbles by the door entrance, and then throughout the house. Behind the couch, on a low bookshelf, in his food dish, by the bath towel rack, you name it. Tiny piles everywhere, or an actual line trail of kibble, one at a time, making a path from room to room. Then I’d open the door and say “Clipper, come find your food!” Note that this was another way to also get him to like coming inside when told to.
Our house is only around 850 square feet so it was hard to find new places after a while but if you have a larger house this can be a super fun game. Follow your pup through the trail you laid and offer encouragement and cheers as he finds food.
Hand Feeding Dog Food
Another way I would help Clipper eat slower was by having him do tricks for every single piece of kibble. Either the entire cup of it or half of it and then feed the other half in another way. This technique is a good way to work on tricks, eye contact, and relaxing.
This is possibly the most involved way to teach slow eating as you can do so much with it!
For sitting, I would hold a piece of food and look at Clipper. After he would sit, he’d get the food. He picked up on sit very fast this way. For eye contact, I would at first hold a piece of food up to my eyes and then give it to him. Gradually I moved my hand away from my face and would wait for him to look me in the eyes before giving it to him. To teach “come”, I would toss a piece of food away from me and wait until he ate it and then call him back to me for another piece.
Since I wanted to teach him not to be in the kitchen when we were cooking I would have his cup of food on the counter and ignore his cuteness. When he’d give up and go into the den then I’d walk into the den with a handful of food and praise him while he ate from my hand. At first, he’d follow me back to the kitchen but after a while of being ignored when we’re cooking, he learned to relax on the couch and wait for food.
Teaching My Dog To Eat Slow Fin
I can now safely put a bowl of Clipper’s food in front of him and know he won’t gulp it down. He often doesn’t eat it right away but in a few minutes. Or he’ll eat half and then eat the rest after a walk or after a visit to the dog park. He’ll chew a few mouthfuls and look around, then eat some more. He’ll eat some, jump up to get some water, then return and eat some more. Sometimes he will eat it all in one go but he thoroughly chews each mouthful. It just depends on how he is feeling I suppose.
I admit I feel proud knowing that my dedication to his well being allows him to feel so secure in his food now that he walks away from it sometimes before finishing and he knows I will make sure he gets his full meal.
There are so many articles I read in teaching my dog to eat slow. I can’t even begin to count them or recommend just one. Try some of the techniques that I picked out from them to use as described above. Modify them to your specific dog-human relationship. Google for yourself and read more on your own. If you’re really stuck and can afford it consider hiring a dog behavior specialist to help you. If your dog is a rescue, the shelter you got it from might have a behavior specialist already available to help you.