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Poison Proofing Your Fila

Poison Proofing Your Dog
By Donna K. Lindsey
Educator/Trainer Castle Kennels, New Castle, VA

Poison proofing dogs can be a life-saving task to teach every canine companion. It can be especially important for guardian dogs like the fila brasileiro. If someone wants in your home or yard and they know you have a fila they also know they need some way to get through that dog. Poisoning is an easy way to achieve this since most dogs will eat just about anything on the ground.

There have been varying methods of poison proofing taught over the years. Many of them, when you think about it don't make a whole lot of sense. I will go through some of these briefly.

One method that used to be common was teaching the dog to only eat food fed by the owner. Okay. What happens when the owner gets in an accident and can't make it home for days or the owner decides to go on vacation and needs to board the dog? Not very practical. Another method was to only feed the dog from the left hand. The theory was that most people are right-handed and would offer Fido food from the wrong hand.

Well, I guess this is okay if there were never any left-handed burglars. The other most common method was to teach the dog to only eat from a certain bowl or type of bowl. This had its own flaws as well. If you teach Fido to only eat from one bowl you are in trouble if that bowl breaks or gets lost!  What if something happens and someone else needs to feed the dog and they don't have this bowl available? Once again, Fido will go hungry.

So what is a more practical way to achieve poison proofing? Though there is no totally flawless method, there is one that is much more practical and works well in most cases. This is what I have found to be the best over the years. This is teaching your dog not to eat, pickup or mouth ANYTHING on the ground. Another aspect is that the dog only eats when it is told it can eat. Giving a command like "Okay" is simple to remember and to teach.

Poison proofing takes a lot of time, consistency, and patience. It can take months for your dog to be totally poison proofed and reinforcement lessons should be given. So how do you start poison proofing your dog?

First, you need to start with basic obedience. You need to have a relationship with your canine companion. Basic obedience commands will give you a foundation to start.

Some basic rules to remember as you get started are:

  • Always feed your dog in the house or in his/her kennel. Don't feed him/her in the yard.

  • Always do poison proofing ON LEASH for the first few months.

  • Don't use treats as a reward when poison proofing. Use praise.

  • Don't EVER let the dog get the "bait" you put on the ground.

  • Remember to always put your "bait" away when you are done training. Don't leave it there for your furry friend to find later or you will have defeated the purpose of the lessons.

  • Be firm and consistent. Be patient.

Before starting to poison proof you need to teach your dog the "Okay" command. Whenever you feed your dog make him/her sit or stand quietly. I prefer "sit." Once Fido is sitting tell him/her "Okay" in a happy voice and put the food bowl down. No need to tease him/her and try to make this into a game of Simon Says. Just every time you feed your dog make him/her sit and then tell him/her "Okay." Also do this with treats. I always make my dogs work for any treats they get. This can be a simple "sit" and then say "Okay" and give the treat. Start this at least one week before starting your formal poison proofing lessons. Remember to do this every time you feed from here on out.

Now for the first lesson. Your dog should be slightly hungry when you work on this so that he/she is more apt to try to get the food. Put some of his/her regular food in a bowl and put it in the yard. For now we only want to use food in a bowl so that we are teaching Fido that the only place to eat is in the house or kennel. Even bowls are off limits if they are not in his/her normal eating area. Start by walking around the yard (on leash), but not near the bowl. Do some sits, some heeling, just meander around. Now, walk past the bowl. If your dog goes to sniff the bowl let him/her get a sniff, but don't let them even get a bite.

As soon as they have gotten a whiff of the food give a correction and tell him/her to "Leave It" in a firm calm voice while you keep walking. As they leave the bowl give verbal praise as you keep moving. The reason we don't want to correct as soon as they head toward the bowl without them even smelling it is that they need to learn that the smell of food doesn't mean they get to eat. We also want them to have a chance to learn to think about what they are doing. Repeat this a few times. Make sure to go off and do other things in between like sitting or heeling or walking on the other side of the yard.

Repeat this exercise for a few days until your dog is starting to ignore the bowl or at least move away quickly. Then start putting different food in the bowl. Use really yummy stuff like hotdogs, steak, cheese, etc. Leftovers are good to use also. You want to repeat the process with every food. After about a week I start adding more bowls with different things around the yard. Always make sure Fido gets to smell what he is leaving, but NEVER gets a bite. After a day or so of this I put the dog on a flexi-lead or long line and let him/her mill around and be further away from me when I correct and tell him/her to "leave it."

The next step is to take the bowls away and put food directly on the ground. Again, you repeat the exercise. Consistency is the key. After a few days of working your dog in your own yard with food on the ground take him/her to parks, parking lots, friends houses, etc and practice. I use an e-collar to proof this after my dog is consistently leaving the food alone on command on lead. If you are not familiar with using an e-collar I suggest using fishing line or light clothesline cord to correct to simulate being off lead.

Also at this point in training, which should have taken at least a month to progress to, I stop using the "leave it" command. If Fido now goes for the food don't say anything. Just give a collar correction.

To be done correctly poison proofing should take months and every few weeks set the dog up for a reminder lesson. Training is never "finished," but is ongoing throughout the dog's life.

While we are using the "Leave It" command let me say that this command can be useful for things other than food. For the socks lying on the floor, the baby's toy, a bottle in a field, just about anything you don't want your dog to pick up or put his mouth on. I also use the "Leave It" command for teaching my dogs to not chase cats, not eat dead things they come across, to leave snakes and other dangers alone.

Just remember. This may take many months to teach to your dog, but it could save his life!

Copyright Donna K. Lindsey 2005


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