Feed time is an extremely important part of dingo society. Food defines dingo social hierarchy, informs their mating rituals and regularly brings individual dingoes together to hunt for large prey. Catching and consuming food is the basis of every dingo's day-to-day existence, and is therefore their greatest behavioural drive.
Understanding the significance of food in a dingo’s world provides dingo carers with daily bonding opportunities. Furthermore, when rehabilitating a dingo in need of special care and attention, this understanding enables unique engagement and critical affirmation leverage.
For an active dingo, the rule of thumb when feeding is a simple: feed until full. As a high-energy and playful canid, dingoes will burn a lot of kilojoules when in the company of other dingoes or dogs through hours of extended play. For the first two years of life, 'feed until full' ensures your dingo has all that it needs to develop soundly. At two years of age, a starve day once a week can be introduced to help regulate and rest the digestive system.
Dingoes do not naturally carry excess weight, nor do they overeat when happy on a day-to-day basis. Dingoes think about tomorrow, and when they are full they will bury their food to ensure it is not taken by scavengers or competitors such as birds or other carnivores. Allow your dingo to practice this natural behaviour, and allow them to self-feed when they desire by digging up the food they have buried.
Some foods, such as kibble or mince, are difficult for dingoes to carry and bury. Often, a dingo will nose its bowl in a sweeping motion as an attempt to cover the contents of the bowl. When hand-feeding, dingoes may push the food in-hand back toward the human as a means of saying 'thanks, but no thanks'. When either of these two behaviours occur, consider your dingo to be full. Your dingo may begin to whine and try to eat more food if the food is not removed- your dingo is not doing this because it's hungry- rather, it is gorging to protect competitors from eating it. You should empty the contents of the bowl or stop hand-feeding and store the remainder of the food for the next feed.
Feeding until full requires observation. Learn your dingo's eating requirements and accommodate accordingly.
SCHEDULING & BEHAVIOUR
Should you feed in the morning? At night? Or both? This depends on age, activity and lifestyle choices. Younger dingoes require multiple feeds per day. Just like human children, they are developing and need lots of small meals to keep those hungry bodies growing. Three or four small feeds a day for dingoes less than four months of age is common. As a dingo reaches six months of age, multiple feeds can be reduced to one or two a day.
Dingoes naturally hunt most at dawn and dusk, when their prey is most active. Your choice of regular meal times will depend on your dingo's behaviour and when you would prefer them most or least active. If your dingo is restless at night and you would rather them sleep, then feeding in the evening is a good option. If you would rather your dingo to sleep during the day and be more active at night, then feeding in the morning may suit this lifestyle choice.
BONDING & TRAINING
As food is a key pillar of dingo society. One of the most practical and effective ways to bond with your dingo is through hand-feeding. The intimate sharing of food between a dingo and its carer can create mutual trust, respect and an understanding of one another’s needs. When a dingo's carer participates in its feeding routine beyond just pouring food into a bowl and walking away, a number of relational connections can be made and built upon.
Affirmation – Dingoes naturally eat communally, with several individuals gathered together around a fresh kill or decaying carcass. Disputes are common at meal time, with alpha members eating first and subordinate members eating last if any food is leftover.
When a human carer shares food with a dingo through hand-feeding, an exchange takes place beyond physical consumption. Permission to eat alongside the alpha (the carer) provides a subordinate dingo with affirmation, as its social position is respected and its social credibility is increased. This promotes a sense of belonging and confidence for the dingo, which as a highly social animal, is very important. Sitting with your dingo at ground level and providing it with portions of food is a great way to show approval of your dingo, build its self-confidence, and develop a special bond.
Trust – Hand-feeding develops trust. The act of tangibly providing food bite by bite demonstrates to a dingo that you are its provider, and also its caretaker. An alpha dingo can provide food by making a kill, but it may not necessarily share the food without a fight. When a human provides the food as well as sits with the dingo, sharing it by hand, the dingo learns that the human is not competition for food. Trust can be quickly developed in this way, and may be the only way to earn the trust of dingoes who have experienced human-inflicted trauma.
Physical and verbal affection after the meal is done is a great way to praise your dingo for trusting you with its meal, communicate that feed time is now over, and it reinforces that the two of you are a unified team.
Etiquette – A level of resource guarding behaviour around food is a natural trait amongst all canids, as is snapping and gulping to quickly eat a meal. These behaviours may be acceptable in the wild, but it can be dangerous around people- especially when first introducing hand-feeding to an adult dingo.
Dingoes have larger and sharper teeth than dogs of the same size, as well as bigger mouths and greater jaw pressure. This means that if a dingo nips or snaps, it can inflict more damage than your average Kelpie or a Border Collie. For this reason, it is important to train your dingo to have excellent food etiquette for both its long-term wellbeing and the safety of others.
Hand-feeding from a young age teaches dingoes patience around mealtimes and they learn to work gently around the hands and fingers holding the food. Requesting your dingo to sit before meal time and having them wait until you instruct them to eat develops self-control and calmness when food is offered. Snatching, gulping and general forms of resource guarding should not be accepted or encouraged with people. Basic forms of verbal and physical praise/correction can aid in the right behaviours being developed, and the wrong behaviours being reduced.
If a dingo is exhibiting excessive resource guarding behaviour, a dog trainer specialising in dingo care should be consulted before attempting any training yourself.
In summary, tucker time with your dingo should be something that is looked upon as an opportunity to share love, affection and care. Enjoy this important time with your dingo and be sure to reward them for behaving well.
Hand-feeding promotes bonding between carers and dingoes, while encouraging dingoes to eat calmly even while in the company of other dingoes or dogs.