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Hand Feeding
What is hand feeding?

Hand Feeding is a 1-2 week behavior modification technique that accomplishes several goals:
  • The pet learns the owner is the only source of food
  • The pet learns to be calm and gentle or the food goes away
  • The pet learns to "earn" individual pieces of food by responding to commands
  • The pet learns the human hand coming near their food bowl is a good thing
  • The pet learns a closed hand might contain food (so perform commands for any closed hand)
  • The pet learns a new routine that builds trust and respect for human hands

What do I hand feed?
Temporarily, stop any treats, canned food or scraps, and feed only dry kibble. If the pet refuses to eat dry kibble, allow the pet to decide to fast, but offer dry kibble, one unit at time, anytime the pet seems hungry. Transition to twice daily meals, preferably from food puzzles. During this or any behavior modification strategy, do not allow more than a 10% loss in body weight, and medical issues trump behavioral strategies.

How do I hand feed?
Try to do at least one minute of hand feeding every meal. Put one kibble at a time into a closed hand, and gradually open it to reveal the food to teach the pet the closed hand might mean food. Feed as many pieces of kibble as you have time for, and then begin to drop pieces into the pet's food dish or put the rest in a puzzle.

Give the remainder of the daily ration following hand feeding. If any food is left uneaten, decrease the next meal by that amount.  The pet should lick the bottom of the bowl at least once daily if not being over-fed.

What if the pet "grabs" the food or bites at my hand?
Place the food piece in your closed hand. If the pet is gentle and then slowly open your hand and allow the pet to take the food. If the pet is unruly, rough or demanding, close your hand around the food, or if that doesn't work, pull your hand away, then slowly re-present. If the pet is still rough, turn away, stop the hand feeding session and try again in 5 minutes. The first goal for the pet is to learn that being gentle and respectful is what "works" to get food.

How does the pet "earn" food? (A = when the pet is working)
Once the pet is readily accepting kibbles one at a time, begin to make the pet "work" for each piece. This might mean asking for a Sit, Down or Wait before the pet can have the kibble.

If the pet has chosen to fast 3 days, or if 10% weight loss is reached, then it is okay to begin to hand feed items of higher taste stimulus, such as freeze dried liver, or pieces of chicken or hot pet. Continue to feed dry kibble twice daily.

Once the pet will quickly and happily do simple commands, move the operation to a different room of the house, or add new commands. This might be a good time to schedule a private in-home training visit, or enroll in a group training class if you find yourself using the same commands repeatedly.

When can I phase out hand feeding? (A =  passing a test)

  • Will the pet's nose follow a closed hand?

  • Will the pet take the food gently?

  • Will the pet wait before taking food when asked?

  • Will the pet readily perform any command requested?

...::::::: Copyright 2000-2007 Rolan Tripp, DVM :::::::...