Fluent Eating by Marie Turner-Bailie
Have you heard of fluent eating? I know, me either. At the Clinical Animal Behavior Conference, Lindsay Wood Brown made an important point. Don’t move on till you have fluent eating.
What does that mean? Think about the time when you are training with your dog and they stop to cough up a treat they ate too fast, inhaled or just swallowed. When you are working with dogs that bark, lung and pull, then try treating them they may not be ingesting the food properly. Now as a trainer I have my work a-rounds for some quick tricks, but pausing to take some time on this is important.
For those of us with fast eaters at meal times we have used slow bowls, snuffle mats, sniffaries and many more. Eating slowly is just as important for dogs as it is for us. It can help control weight gain and proper digestion. Now let's circle back to our barking, lunging and pulling dogs .These dogs can benefit from us understanding the concept of fluent eating.
These dogs are fairly common, but this might not be your dog. You may even have a dog that has a different response outside, like they're afraid, cower or want to run back inside. It is a challenge on all fronts, these are all emotional issues. When you have a dog that has emotional responses like this, it's important to always consult with your trainer to make the best plan for common situations and troubleshooting. Your trainer may suggest adjustments like adding distance and shortening duration to the exercises that you've been working on. They are there to help you have the tools to best for you and your dog.
How does eating fit into this? Consider this, if your dog will not take treats and they're normally a fluent eater, they may not be comfortable eating in this environment. So they may not be ready for that specific challenge. You might also notice your dog taking real hard or just swallowing treats. This is not a dog that feels confident, safe and calm. Let's remember Lindsay's advice, 'Don't move until you have fluent eating.' so, how do we test this out?
Test out how the dog takes food! Hand feed them a meal when things are calm. Increase the intensity with low distractions, how are they doing? Do several tests with meals, with people they feel comfortable with, try different foods. Will treat value be a factor? If you are practicing your training check in to see how your dog is eating. It’s a good idea to test this before you add in the challenges you are trying to overcome. Is your dog ready for that walk? You can use fluent eating, once you know what it looks like from your dog, as a measuring stick to test if you and your dog are ready for a progression in your training.
Practice makes us better and helps our dogs to learn what we want to see more of when we take the time to set them up to succeed. Take time and find out what fluent eating looks like for your dog. Start with one of their meals and hand feed it to them. Next try it on a leash in the home at an open door. Do you feel or see a difference? Make sure they are taking food gently and eating. Help them build this skill and create a better bond between the two of you.