The Grazing Game

The Grazing Game Can Change Behavior and Emotions.The easiest, scientifically endorsed methods to train and socialize your dog involve food. If we couldn’t go to the grocery store and bring home bags of groceries, we would be asking, “Who’s got the food? What can I do for the people who have the food!”

Use your dog's ration of food calories to train basic skills and to help your dog overcome socialization difficulties. Food can be used as a reward, to enhance emotional connections and dispel fear. It can effectively focus, redirect, distract, and calm a hyperactive, fearful, or noise-phobic dog, and to safely treat all types of aggression.

Dogs are born scavengers. Setting up grazing opportunities gives your dog a dog-job he likes that keeps him out of trouble. Grazing Games are naturally occurring species-specific activities your dog is designed to enjoy. They're both mentally and physically stimulating for your dog. All dogs including geriatric, grieving and and dogs recovering from injuries find grazing fun.

"Rocco" Busy at work doing his dog-job. Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

"Rocco" Busy at work doing his dog-job. Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

Here’re some of my favorite Grazing Games:

  • Scatter Breakfast and/or Dinner. No need to feed from a bowl. That’s something humans, not dogs, like to do. Your dog will find every last piece of premium-quality kibble you’ve thrown out on the patio, walkways, or lawn while you read the newspaper and have your coffee.
  • Use Food to Change Emotions. Desensitize fear of the yard, car, location, noise, person, or other dog, by scattering high-value food paired with a low intensity version of the feared stimulus.
  • Separation Anxiety/Housetraining. Pet parents often mistake a separation anxiety issue for a housetraining problem. If you suspect your dog may be afraid to go outside without you, scatter kibble for grazing in the yard – just not on the elimination area.
  • Housetraining Accidents. Scatter treats over thoroughly cleaned urination and defection areas. Dogs don’t like to eliminate where they eat.
  • Crate training. Scatter food over the floor of the crate to diffuse fearfulness.
  • Environmental Enhancement. Grazing makes almost any environment feel safer and interesting.

Animal behavior icons from B.F. Skinner to Pavlov and progressive zoos worldwide, control very large and potentially dangerous animals by using the power of food judiciously and wisely. Your dog is easy by comparison!

Linda Michaels, MA, Del Mar’s “dog psychologist” and Victoria Stilwell-licensed trainer, canine behavioral consultant and speaker, may be reached at or 858.259.9663.

Orginally published for the UT San Diego newspaper. Chris Ross, Editor. All rights reserved.






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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


5 thoughts on “The Grazing Game

  1. Eileen

    Hi Victoria,
    My husband and I are recently retired. We are in the process of getting a female Havanese puppy. She will be with us in late July or early August. We presently have a 16 year old shepherd /terrier mix. We have had several dogs through the years that lived from 12 to 15 years.
    We did have a miniature wire haired Dashund that had serious back issues and we had to put her down a few months ago due to her pain level. Her name was Annabelle and Murfee our older dog misses her so much. Murfee is in good health considering his age, a few arthritis issues and his sight is poor. Although he has these problems he gets along fine.
    Any suggestions on introducing them together?
    I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful videos and advice.
    I love the idea of having an open place for Lilys inside bed an a potty area.
    I wish you had videos to view online to buy in addition to the books!
    Thanks again, so glad we found you!!
    I was not keen on squirting my puppy in the face with water as several well know trainers suggest if she barks.
    We thought that was abuse.....thanks Victoria!!

  2. Melissa Fitzgerald

    I would love more information on how to use the food to desensitize my puppy to other animals. She is overly affectionate and playful with other dogs and our cats. She gets so excited when she sees other pets, and wants to play, but she overwhelms them and they run away. I try holding her still so she can see that if she is calm they will come over, but she will lunge and bark to try to reach them. She has had only one positive play experience while in a waiting room at the vet. An older golden retriever played with her, he laid down and let her play, and would put his paw on her to calm her down. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see how happy my puppy was to have play time.

  3. kari

    Do you have any training advice for the owner of a dog who sometimes digs when he is bored?

  4. Evelyn Haskins

    You don't worry about mould and other nasties on food that had not been found immediately?

    Or teaching your dog that it's alright to scroung food from the environment/ Like dead fish with hooks still in them, or poison baits?

    I am much more at pains to teach my dogs that "You don't lpick up food and eat it without my permission!"'' Having list my Heart Dog to a strychnine bait.

    People who've lost dogs to eating unsavoury things from th environment (stones, plastic bags, string, etc) might agree with me.

  5. Niki

    I have a 11 year old Pom that has been intermittently urinating on the couch or our bed. It may be an incontenance issue but I am interested in trying scattering some food on the couch and bed to see if that helps. Thanks for the grazing article. It gives me thoughts on differing our pooches routine on the weekends and evenings.

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