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.






tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

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.


Positively Dog Training Episode 803

Aly and Victoria discuss how you can make your dog feel more comfortable during the holidays. Whether your dog is shy of people or...

Positively Dog Training Episode 802

In this podcast, Victoria and Aly share great ideas on how to provide enrichment for your dog when it’s cold outside. Aly shares...

Positively Dog Training Episode 801

Victoria is joined by Victoria Stilwell Academy's Curriculum Manager, Aly Lecznar, to talk about VSA's newly-launched Online Dog...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone