Wednesday, January 5, 2011

National Train Your Dog Month

When the weather turns cold, and you and your dog are spending less time outside together, it's the perfect time to teach your dog new tricks and behaviors. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has selected January as National Train Your Dog Month.

Training your dog is a wonderful way to build the bond between you. We use clicker training to train our service dogs, and it's fun for us and the dogs. Our dogs love when the clickers and treat pouches appear.

Clicker training uses positive reinforcement. The click of the clicker marks a very specific behavior, and the dog immediately gets reinforced for it, usually with a piece of food. The dog will then repeat that behavior in the hopes of receiving another click and treat. Using this method, it's very easy to quickly shape a behavior that otherwise may take months.

Once a week in January, we will be posting a new training exercise for you and your dog to try. Although today's training tip is appearing on Wednesday, future tips will appear on Tuesday.

Dog Meal Time: Teaching Self Control

Most of the dogs we train are labs, and as you may know, labs are motivated by food. They love to eat almost anything they can get. At meal times, they have a tendency to dive head first into their food bowl, only coming up for air once the bowl has been licked clean.

One of the very first things we start teaching our puppies is self control, which may be the most important skill a service dog can have. We start teaching self control with the food bowl.

At meal times, all of our dogs must sit and stay (uncued) until the full food bowl is placed on the ground. They must then continue to sit and make eye contact with their handler until given the cue "okay, " which releases them to go eat.

Watch the video of SSD Thunder demonstrating self control around the food bowl. If you watch closely, you'll see his eyes flick upward toward his handler right before she gives him the "okay."

How to Train It

1. After you put food in your dog's bowl, stand and hold the food bowl in front of you. Without using any words, wait for your dog to sit. This may take a while, but your dog will sit eventually.

2. Slowly lower the food bowl to the ground, but be ready to pick it up again if your dog moves toward it. If your dog moves, simply pick up and hold the food bowl until he's sitting again.

3. Once the food bowl is on the ground and as soon as your dog pauses momentarily, say "okay" and let your dog eat.

4. Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog waits before you give him the "okay" to eat. Eventually wait for your dog to make eye contact before saying "okay."

If your dog manages to get to his food bowl before you give him the okay, do not punish him. Simply try again at the next meal and make sure you're faster at picking up the food bowl when he moves.

Be patient and don't try to push your dog too fast. This can be difficult for him, especially if he's used to diving right into his food bowl. It will probably become easier after about five days. If you're consistent and keep at it, you'll soon have a dog that will sit and stare at you while his food sits right in front of him.

Happy training! Let us know how your dog is doing in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting technique. I am sure it is important for service dog to be patient around the food. But very hard by nature. Thanks for your tips.