I was at an event recently where I was approached by a lovely lady who told me that her elderly dog had taken to barking while she was preparing her evening meal every day, he would continue to bark while her family ate and while she prepared his meal until he was fed.
Now of course, this wasn’t a one to one situation and any time I had for advice was brief, but after warning her of the possibility of an underlying medical problem (as it’s a new problem), I asked if there was any particular reason the dog had to eat after her.
She had been told a popular myth that she must be the pack leader and to assert herself in that role, she must have access to all resources first – and must eat first.
So what’s wrong with this? First off, pack theory was debunked many years ago by the very behaviourists and scientists who championed it in the first place. It was flawed research that compared ‘artificial’ wolf packs to our domesticated pet dogs. Naturally occurring wild wolf packs are family groups, these studies were based on captive wolf packs that had been placed together by people and had no choice but to live together – this affected the way they interacted in comparison to their natural behaviour in a wild pack. Furthermore, these packs were groups of wolves, whereas the ‘packs’ we belong to are made up of a dog/a couple of dogs, and human beings! We aren’t dogs, or wolves and our dogs know it. Our dogs aren’t wolves either, they have evolved since then and so has their behaviour, their brain structure – everything.
If you do still want to follow the pack leader theory (not something I recommend but many do) and feel the need to be your dog’s ‘boss’ or ‘leader’ (I prefer the term ‘guide’ or ‘guardian’ or even ‘parent’!), eating first still isn’t necessary! According to the research this theory was based on, leaders have first access to all resources – you already do! Your dog doesn’t pour their own kibble into a bowl or take themselves for a walk. We already control pretty much every aspect of our dogs’ lives, eating after our dogs is going to make very little difference there.
So back to the lady at the event, I suggested she feed her dog first so that he’s fed and full before she starts cooking. When he’s not hungry, there’s no need to bark while she’s preparing food and eating. I assured her that it would not cause any problems in the relationship between them and may well improve things if it means she isn’t getting stressed out by his behaviour and getting cross with him.
No training involved, and problem solved. Of course you could spend a lot of time and energy rewarding quiet and gradually building it up until he’s quiet the whole time, but he’ll still be hungry whilst waiting and why work against the dog when it’s so much more simple to work with your dog?