Today we are going to enjoy a tasty treat with our dogs. Choose a food that both you and your dog enjoys. Please educate yourself on all of the dog-safe human foods before beginning this exercise. I prefer a stick of string cheese, something that’s yummy, can last a while, and is safe for Link to eat.
Before diving into this activity, please educate yourself on dog-friendly foods so you don’t accidentally poison your best friend.
Start by sitting in a quiet location with your dog, again without distractions such as your phone or children. Begin slowly enjoying your treat. If we stick with the string cheese example, begin by removing the wrapper. Do this slowly and with intent. Pay attention to what you are doing, but also pay attention to what your dog is doing. As you unwrap the food is your dog at attention by your feet? Or are they still in their own world, ignoring you until they know the snack will be shared? Link can tell the difference between a string cheese wrapper and any other piece of plastic on this earth.
As you observe them, take note of how your fingers feel as you unwrap your treat. What do you smell? Then, ever so slowly, take a small bite of the food. As you do, note what sensations come up in your body. The taste, the texture, the smell. Continue noting as you slowly chew, and swallow. With your next bite, observe your dog. Are they watching you? Are they ignoring you? With your third bite, hand a small piece to your pup and observe them. Do they swallow without chewing? Do they savor it? Do they spit it out?
On the next bite, offer them a small piece but hold it in your hand as they attempt to take it. Feel their tongue on your skin, perhaps a tiny bit of tooth on your skin (if your dog is biting your skin, do not give them the treat as you will be rewarding them for biting you- instead wait until they have stopped mouthing you and reward them once they are no longer chewing on you). Watch their expressions: their eyes, ears, mouths, noses, and tails will all tell you something about how your dog feels about this exercise.
You can repeat this exercise with other snacks. You can also do this exercise with your dog’s normal food, just be sure to feed yourself something comparable in size & texture so you are having a shared experience. This activity could help you learn what snacks your pup loves most, and which they just eat simply because it’s available. This can help you build a hierarchy of treats, and know which ones your dog deems high value for those tougher training activities.
I don’t know about you, but when I eat I am often just shoveling food into my mouth without any consideration of how it tastes or what it does for my body. This exercise helps me slow down and actually pay attention to the sensations of eating. It’s night and day. Doing this exercise with Link slows me down even more, and eventually slows him down too. We are both able to savor our food more, and enjoy some quiet time together.