5 Benefits of Hand Feeding Your Dog
Have you seen those dogs that are constantly focused on their owner, listening to commands with such intensity and reliably obeying every command?
Do those dogs make you envious?
I was as well, but once I started hand feeding my dog I realized I could get that same level of focus. The results have been nothing short of amazing.
Hand Feeding Your Dog Has Multiple Benefits
Hand feeding your dog is an easy way to get them to start focusing more on you, and all that extra focus will make any future training easier. It also has the benefit of creating some really great manners and impulse control.
But hand feeding your dog isn’t just great for training, it’s particularly useful for shy or fearful dogs because it provides socialization, confidence building and it helps build trust. It’s a great way to strengthen the bond with your dog — and it’s an easy way to get your dog to really start paying attention to you.
Why I Started Hand Feeding My Dog
My dog Laika demonstrated her severe resource guarding the very first day I bought her home. Since I’d never had a dog that guarded stuff before I was stumped. I started reading every book and article I could find on resource guarding to get a handle on it. And almost all of the articles had one principle in common: you start managing resource guarding by hand feeding your dog.
Now I’m not going to lie; it didn’t completely cure her resource guarding. We needed additional training for that. But it did build a really good foundation for us to work from. It strengthened our bond and it built trust. While it wasn’t the magical cure I was hoping for when it comes to resource guarding, it did provide additional benefits.
I recommend hand feeding any new dog or puppy you bring into your home. It’s a simple way to build trust, and it’s great for teaching good manners around food.
How To Hand Feed Your Dog
Hand feeding is having your dog eat meals out of your hand. The frequency is up to you. Some people choose to hand feed the majority of their meals, while others do it a couple times a week.
I didn’t stick to a strict ‘she has to eat every meal from my hand’ schedule. I just made sure a couple meals a week were hand fed.
By holding her food in my hand and only allowing her to eat when she was calm her manners started to improve. If she got too nippy or grabby I’d simply pull my hand away and ask her to ‘be gentle.’ As soon as she settled down again I’d offer more food from my hand.
How to hand feed your dog:
- Measure out your dogs meals and begin letting your dog eat from your hand
- Pull your hand away if they get too pushy
- Once they act calm again you can put your hand back down and let them eat
- If your dog refuses to eat from your hand let him go without and try again later
- If your dog doesn’t want to eat from your hand make him sit and see if he’ll take it as a reward
Some dogs take easier to hand feeding than others. If your dog doesn’t want to eat from your hand try again later (dogs won’t starve themselves). If you want to entice your dog to eat from your hand try asking them to sit first. Some dogs prefer earning treats more than having them handed out for free.
You can switch things up from time to time and put some kibble in his food bowl or a treat dispensing toy. As long as the majority of food is eaten from your hands during this period you’ve completed hand feeding training.
How Hand Feeding Can Help Your Dog
The more I hand fed my dog the more I began to question why I didn’t start earlier. Yes it’s a little messy from time to time, and yes it takes a bit longer than just letting your dog eat from her bowl. But the benefits far outweigh those two slight inconveniences.
It made our bond much stronger, and it was an easy way to teach her some good manners around food. And for fearful dogs it can boost confidence by building trust.
The benefits of hand feeding you dog are:
- Adds focus & impulse control
- Works for training bite inhibition
- Builds a strong bond
- Slows down quick eaters
- Builds trust in shy/fearful dogs
1. Hand Feeding Builds Up Your Dogs Focus
Hand feeding your dog is an easy way to get your dog to focus more on you. It’s not an answer to all behavioral issues but it will build trust in your relationship. If you have a brand new puppy hand feeding creates a quick, strong bond with your new companion.
If you’ve ever seen those dogs doing agility and were jealous of how much attention they were giving to their owners chances are some of them have definitely been hand fed. It’s a common training technique for dogs in obedience class, those practicing agility, and many service dogs in training.
Hand feeding is a great way to teach your dog to have manners around food and it helps them develop some basic impulse control.
2. Hand Feeding Helps Teach Puppies Not to Bite
If you’re struggling with bite inhibition it’s a perfect opportunity to teach him the commands “gentle” or “easy” in order to get more treats. Dogs that are hand fed will develop a trust and respect for the human hand.
You can practice the closed fist method to teach your dog self control while hand feeding. Put a handful of kibble in one hand and get your dogs attention. Once your dog is in front of you with his eyes on you slowly open your fist to where he could reach over and grab it. If your dog makes a move to snatch any food close your fist.
What you’re trying to do is modify his behavior so he doesn’t “mug” you for treats without permission. Eventually he should realize your hand opens up when he’s sitting calmly. Once he’s given you some good focus without snatching you can reward him with the food.
It’s so much easier with a video: here’s a puppy learning impulse control through hand feeding.
3. Hand Feeding Creates a Strong Bond With Your Dog
Hand feeding can help new dogs bond quickly with new owners. If you’ve recently added a new dog to your family doing some hand feeding is a great way to start building up your new relationship. (be sure to check out these other 9 tips for helping your dog adjust to his new home)
It’s a simple way to gain a dogs trust, especially for shy or fearful dogs.
4. Hand Feeding Helps Fast Eaters
It’s pretty obvious that being able to control how much food your dog can scarf down in one bite will slow him down. Eating too fast comes with health concerns for dogs. They’re less likely to chew up their food well. If they’re gobbling it down as fast as they can it can lead to choking hazards.
For some dogs, especially large, deep chested breeds, there’s the possibility of developing bloat if they eat too fast. There’s many theories of what causes stomach bloat and fast eating is one of the most common. Bloat is the term used when you get gas distension in the stomach. It can lead to a medical condition called Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, or gastric torsion (bloat).
The stomach becomes overstretched and rotated by excessive gas content. This leads to a decreased return of blood to the heart and loss of blood to the stomach. It’s a life threatening condition that must be treated immediately. Unfortunately it’s estimated that dogs weighing over 99 pounds have a 20% chance of developing it in their lifetime.
5. Hand Feeding Helps Shy & Fearful Dogs
Dogs that have been under socialized can benefit from the bond and trust that hand feeding gives. It might take a bit of work to have a fearful dog gain enough trust in humans to happily eat from the hand. Once you’ve gained that trust you can help them out by having other members of the family or friends offer them food as well. It’ll help boost their confidence when it comes to interacting with people.
Hand feeding builds trust in your dog when it comes to food. They’ll begin to relate a fistful of kibble with positive associations. If you have a fearful dog that’s been hand feeding you can make introductions with new people less stressful by having them offer some kibble by hand.
Hand Feeding Is Great, But It Won’t Cure Resource Guarding
For those who are dealing with a dog that gets possessive of food (resource guarding) you’ve likely been told that hand feeding can help cure it. While hand feeding certainly helps, it’s not a cure for resource guarding. (Here’s 5 methods for managing resource guarding around food)
Just as I was told to do in numerous articles regarding resource guarding I started feeding my dog Laika by hand. We did this for a month straight. It was the first step suggested by numerous resources so we went for it.
I fed her in every room of the house, and sometimes I’d make her do a trick or two for food. I started feeding her all of her meals by hand, and she loved me. She was definitely more attentive and likely to follow me around. I was the super interesting person with all the resources at my disposal (or a walking bag of kibble).
We were also practicing trades. She’d be eating a piece of kibble and I’d offer a carrot. She’d willingly drop the kibble for that carrot.
After a month I gave her a full meal in her very own food bowl. She immediately started growling as soon as the bowl was filled. I thought it might be time to try a nice trade. She wasn’t having any of it. I couldn’t get within 10 feet of her food bowl without her loudly protesting.
Feeding by hand might be part of the desensitization process but it doesn’t address any of the dog’s behaviors when they feel threatened. That food was hers, and she wasn’t going to let anyone else get to it. I no longer possessed the food, it was all hers.
So again I was a bit perplexed that all of this trust I had established with Laika over the past month got me seemingly nowhere when it came to resource guarding. Luckily we worked on counter conditioning next, which is where the real magic really happens.
I certainly don’t regret the hand feeding. Laika’s much more attentive and self controlled. It helped with bite inhibition and she’s even gentle when it comes to hand feeding.
If you’re dealing with a complex behavioral problem like resource guarding keep in mind there’s not a quick and simple fix. I was probably naive believing that my dog would be “cured” after a month of hand feeding. Resource guarding can be controlled, but not by hand feeding alone.
Hand feeding your dog is great, but it won’t cure resource guarding.
Check Out The Rest of Our Resource Guarding Series:
- Resource Guarding: The First Step is Understanding the Behavior
- 5 Harmful Myths About Resource Guarding
- 5 Ways to Reduce Resource Guarding Around Food