Question from Cheryl:
We have a 1.5-year-old beagle who becomes very excited around feedings. We’ve been trying to only feed him when he is calm-submissive. He quickly becomes submissive, however I wouldn’t call him calm. He cries and shakes, unable to reach calmness. We have tried walking and running him to help burn energy, however this has little effect. Do you have any tips on how we can achieve calm submission?
Advice from Cheri Lucas:
You are on the right track with your beagle by attempting to get him into a calm state before you feed him. Any negative behavior a dog practices will only get worse if his conduct is “nurtured” with food. However, every dog is different, and some dogs require extra effort to break bad habits, especially those associated with anxiety.
Make sure your overall lifestyle and interactions with your dog encourage calmness and tranquility. Just like people, some dogs are naturally more “wired” than others. Activities like playing Frisbee, hanging out in dog parks, or wrestling tend to fire up most dogs. This is especially true for a dog that already lives in an excited state of mind naturally.
Try mixing up your dog’s routine to keep him from anticipating the feeding ritual. You might try feeding him at a different time of the day than usual, or even in a different room of the house.
Patience is the key to getting control of this behavior. Make sure you have plenty of time to wait it out before offering your dog his dinner. While staying calm and assertive, ask him to sit and be prepared to wait until you feel confident he’s calm.
Don’t be too hard on yourself – change takes time. If you feel you are getting 80% of what you want, take it and celebrate the fact that you’ve seen an improvement. Remember you can always ask for more the next day! Pack leaders know how to challenge subordinate pack members, but they are always fair! Keep up the good work!