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Sunday, Sep. 19th 2010

Dog Bowl Aggression, and the Wonderful Resource We Waste Everyday…Part 4!!!


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The Third Technique…Make your dog work for their food!

So now we’ve made it to the last (at least on this topic) technique! We are feeding our dog(s) everyday using toys. We are even using part of our dog’s daily food ration to feed them by hand! We are paying close attention to make sure that all associations during meal time are positive, as well as making sure our dogs realize that feeding time is a PARTY and an opportunity for everyone to have fun! So, what else does this crazy dog trainer want us to do? Simple…this final part of the dog bowl aggression series is to make sure that our dogs actually work or show behaviors we want during the eating process! At this point, we switch from Pavlov to Skinner and are now dealing in the world of operant conditioning, where we reward those behaviors we want to see continue and increase. In other words, I choose the behaviors I want to reinforce…ignore the bad & reward the good. This isn’t just during meal time; it includes treat time as well. For me, I find it easiest to use the command sit and use it most often (see the blog Sit…Say Please), but there is no limit to where we can take this principle! When we walk up to our dog with their frozen Kong, we need to ask for a sit or a down! We can even ask for a shake or roll over. The key is before we share the food with our dog they must work for it! If I have a child bring a piece of cheese to my dog during dinner, I always have them ask for a down or maybe a shake depending on the child’s size! But keep in mind, with some dogs, just allowing a child to approach them and being happy to receive the surprise, could be considered work as well. Dogs that are never asked to work for a resource tend to view the resource as theirs and possibly as something to guard…so make ‘em work!
This technique has an infinite number of possibilities…going through doors, being allowed on beds or couches, problem barking and being appropriate meal times. Let’s take getting on the couch as an example…Some people don’t want their dogs on the couch and that’s OK, YOU set the house rules. But, I do let mine on the couch (when my wife is not around since she is a no dogs on the furniture person!), so let me explain to you how I make them work for that privilege!

1. The couch is mine and I decide whether to share it with my dogs!
2. My dogs must say please to get permission to get on the couch! and finally
3. They must be invited up on the couch.

Ok, so how does this play out in my living room? Let’s say I’m watching a Jayhawks basketball game, crashing on the couch and Lexie decides she wants to join me! The following must happen…she has to say please (come up to me and sit) and I then have to decide whether I want her on the couch. If I do, I invite her up and we watch the Jayhawks dismantle another team (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!) If not, I simply instruct her to lie down and reward her for accepting my choice! Keep in mind, if you are going to tell the dog “NO” and you are expecting the dog to live by that rule, they need to have something of equal (or greater) value to enjoy in lieu of the couch…i.e. a dog bed. If you do not provide such an alternative…what do you think will happen when you leave them alone in the house…couch anyone!?!?! If you have crate trained your dog from the beginning, this will probably not be an issue when you are away. Remember, a problem prevented is a habit that never begins.
What if she just hops up on the couch without being asked? Well, she is immediately told “off” with a disapproving tone and sent to her space (bed or crate) and ignored for a couple of minutes to let her know the decision was inappropriate! An important distinction here is that an increase in volume is not necessary, but your tone or inflection of voice is critical. Over time she has learned the rules and has no real problems with them. Don’t be misled; dogs, like kids, will occasionally test their parents. To be honest, how you deal with their mistakes will have a huge impact on their future decisions!
Hopefully you now have some ideas to help create the dog you have always wanted!!! But a word of caution, while these techniques can work for a dog that is aggressive around the food bowl, I don’t recommend trying them alone. Aggression is a tricky and sticky situation and should be dealt with; but with the help of an experienced positive reinforcement trainer! This is not only for your safety, but for the safety of the dog as well. That being said, the earlier we start teaching good behaviors, the less likely you will ever have to deal with these problems. But know that if you do have these problems, help is only a phone call away! My suggestion is to go through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) to find a trainer in your area and remember to Keep it Simple Stupid, and don’t forget to have fun!

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