How important is it to you that your dog gets all or most of his calories out of a bowl once or twice a day? How important is it to him?
I understand some people’s reluctance to train with food. They are concerned that the dog may become dependent upon the owner having food in hand at all times in order to perform. They are worried that the dog may become overweight, fat, obese and all the attendant health problems that go with that, but then I ask, why bowl feed?
Dogs do indeed get used to being fed at certain times of the day, in a certain way, just like you and I do. They come to expect and even look forward to that bowl at 8:30 am and again at 6 pm. But how important is it? Is it more important that you and your dog enjoying a walk together, side by side, rather than him choking on his collar as he drags you down the street? Is it more important than a really solid recall?
Dogs don’t understand that the food in the bowl could serve as payment for all the good he did during the day. They just can’t hold a thought in their head like that. But let’s put it another way… if you woke up every morning and found €100 in your letterbox without having to go to work or do much of anything, you’d have a pretty good living, right? Maybe not great, no holidays and not a big house, but enough to get by on. Food, shelter, a little amusement. Great. Now, you don’t need to go to work. You don’t need to earn a living, because it’s presented to you, every day, without fail, without any effort on your part except getting out of bed, opening the front door and going down to the letterbox. This is essentially how most owners treat their dogs’ meals. They may ask the dog to sit, even wait, before placing the bowl down. That’s reinforcement for one or two behaviors for the dog’s entire day’s salary.
So, what if, instead of putting 200 bits of food int he dog’s bowl, we put it in our pocket. Maybe not even all of it, lets say 1/2. That gives you 100 training opportunities (maybe 120 if you cut up some chicken and throw it in as well just to make it interesting). So, you can “pay” your dog for paying attention, being calm, returning to you when you call, walking nicely by your side. The other 100 bits of food can go into his bowl if it is really important to you or the dog that he eats from the bowl.
Try it for a day or two. Use it for stuff the dog already knows in a new environment or to teach him something new. You should see a massive improvement in a very short time. I think you’ll find the bowl is less important every day, to each of you.