Using Mealtime to Raise a Happy and Confident Puppy

June 10, 2022

Have you recently added a new puppy to the family and want to make your puppy feel comfortable in their new home? The best and easiest way to do this is to utilize your puppy’s meals. You may be thinking “How does feeding my puppy their meals help them feel more comfortable?” Simple – feeding your puppy using tools that mentally stimulate them and in various locations inside and outside can really jumpstart your puppy’s overall success at a young age, which then transfers into adulthood. 

Before altering your puppy’s meal routine, please consult your Veterinarian for the amount and frequency your puppy should be eating their meals each day. 

How to feed your puppy

When you brought your puppy home, the first thing you probably did was go to the nearest pet store to purchase all of the necessary supplies you would need for your new puppy. If you’re lost and are not sure what to buy or where to start, check out our Puppy Supply List. A common item should be a food bowl. Choosing the right food bowl can be challenging, when you have to decide on the color, material, etc. A normal food bowl is the most traditional way to feed your puppy. But did you know other options are available as well? Feeding your puppy’s meals using Kong’s, snuffle mats, and puzzles makes feeding time rewarding, fun, mentally stimulating, and an opportunity for your puppy to burn energy! These fun and challenging options allow your puppy to work for their meals and tucker them out, instead of scarfing down their food in less than 5 minutes. 

feeding puppy in public settings

Where to feed your puppy

The short answer is: everywhere! Choosing multiple locations around your home and outside to feed your puppy can set them up for the most success! It is quite common for pet owners to choose one location for their puppy’s meal times. This is perfectly fine to do, but feeding your puppy in other locations around the home and outside can help address common, problematic puppy behaviors. Have you ever noticed if you drop a skillet on the floor, a loud garbage truck drives by, or a tall person walks by while you are taking your puppy on a walk, that your puppy is startled by the motion, noise, or person? Or your puppy whines or cries when you leave the house? These behaviors, which can be stressful and worrisome for new puppy owners, can be easily addressed by changing up when and where you feed your puppy. It’s also a great way to increase the value of their food so your puppy is more likely to work for it when it comes to introducing obedience training!

Think about when you were younger and had to go to the doctor to get a shot. Beforehand, you were probably nervous and anxious about getting the shot. After you received the shot, the nurse probably gave you a piece of candy or a cool Band-Aid. At first you were nervous about the visit, but after being treated with kindness and getting some yummy candy, you hardly felt the small pinch of the needle. So the next time you had to go, you remembered the end result of the visit, which was positive, more so than the shot itself. This is called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning creates a positive association with a specific stimulus using something enjoyable, which in your puppy’s case, is food. By using this method, you can create positive associations with many people, dogs, and situations to foster your puppy growing into a happy and confident dog no matter where you go!

When to feed your puppy

Puppies are extremely impressionable between the ages of 3 – 12 weeks of age. Our Founder Sean Savage CDBC, CPDT-KA goes into more detail in our vlog Bringing Puppy Home: Socialization, check it out! It is critical during this time frame to get them comfortable with noises, motions, people, dogs, and their surroundings. The easiest way to do this is by feeding your puppy when these situations arise. Who wouldn’t want to be given a yummy piece of kibble or a treat when they hear a loud noise, see a fast motion, or are introduced to new people? So the next time your puppy is startled around a noise, motion, person, dog, etc. reassure them that there is nothing to be scared, nervous, or afraid of by giving them a treat! This allows your puppy to generalize everyday occurrences and become more comfortable in this big world by simply feeding them to make everything as positive as possible. 

The most heart wrenching sound for new puppy owners is your puppy whining and/ or crying when you leave the house. Even though we want to create a lasting bond early on when bringing our new puppy home and spend as much time with them as possible, we also need to set boundaries for ourselves and our puppy. Feeding your puppy’s meals in their crate (directly on the floor or using stuffed Kong’s) when you leave the house capitalizes on classical conditioning by allowing your puppy to be calm and reassured in your absence. This helps your puppy build a strong sense of independence and confidence as you start leaving them home to go grocery shopping, work, school, etc.

If you notice that your puppy noticeably stiffens, growls, or even snaps at you when they have food, toys, bones, or are in a comfy sleeping area, notify your trainer and/or Veterinarian immediately. For more information and tips, or to schedule an in-person session, you can design and request your own consultation here!