Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way she can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.
FOOD BOWL EXERCISE: Dog’s butt stays on the ground, food bowl moves towards or stays on the ground. Dog’s butt comes off the ground, food bowl is raised off the ground.
Purpose: To teach your dog to be calm and relaxed around a valuable resource like food.
◆ Before starting this exercise, the SIT W/EYE CONTACT should already be a default behavior for your dog. If it is not, practice the SIT W/EYE CONTACT for a day or two before starting this exercise.
◆ This exercise makes it black and white to your dog that only calm, polite behavior earns her dinner. It really helps your dog to understand the concept behind the SPONTANEOUS BEHAVIOR PROTOCOL and teaches her very good self control. The only thing your dog will be hearing is the MARKER and light praise, followed by a release signal (e.g. “free!”) to go eat her food. Resist the temptation to use a No Reward Marker or reprimand (e.g. No, Uh Uh, nope, oops, phooey, etc.) of any kind, as that is you telling your dog she did it wrong, rather than her figuring out for herself did it wrong.
Some dogs may choose to lay down during this exercise, which is completely fine. Old dogs with arthritis or younger dogs with any kind of joint problems may find it difficult to sit. If that is the case, this exercise can be done from a stand as well, the same rules apply no matter what position your dog is in.
◆ For this exercise, use your verbal MARKER (YEA or YEP are my favorites). I don’t recommend using the clicker here because you will have your hands full with the bowl in one hand and a treat in the other.
◆ Keep practice sessions short. Dogs learn best in short training sessions. About 3 minutes is perfect. Get as far as you can in 3 minutes and release your dog to eat her food. At each meal, and during training sessions between meals, work towards completing the whole exercise.
◆ This exercise will be easiest for your dog if she has a rug or mat to wait on. It gives her a place holder or boundary which makes it easier for her to grasp the concept of voluntarily sitting and waiting in one spot to get her food. Also, it’s hard for some dogs to maintain a sit on a slippery floor; sitting on a rug or mat fixes that problem.
◆ Wait for the sit, MARK (YEA or YEP) and REINFORCE. Stand sideways, so you are not leaning and looming toward or over the dog. Hold the bowl in the hand farthest away from the dog.
Lower the bowl 6″. If the dog remains in a sit, MARK and REINFORCE. The key here is to lower the bowl first, wait for the dog to have only one second of self control. If she can do that, MARK and REINFORCE. Do NOT keep food in your hand. The treats/food should be taken out of the bowl after the dog has shown self control. If you have food in your hand, the dog knows that and the treat in your hand sort of “glues” the dog in place, making it easier for her to maintain the sit. I want her self-control to hold her in place, not the treat in your hand. Keep lowering the bowl 6″ at a time, reinforcing with a piece of kibble or a treat each time you lower the bowl as long as your dog maintains the sit.
If at any point the dog gets up or even leans forward like she’s thinking about getting up, simply remove the bowl and stand up. Don’t say anything. Try again, making your steps easier. If the dog gets up, you made it too hard.
After the dog has made a mistake and gotten up. Simply stand there and wait for her to sit again. Don’t tell her to do anything, although you can talk sweetly to your dog to keep her attention. When she does sit, MARK but use only praise as her reinforcement, no treats!!! Once she re-sits herself, begin the process again.
Once the bowl is on the ground, immediately MARK and REINFORCE. Before you stand up remove a few pieces of food/treats from the bowl and hold in the hand farthest away from the dog. Stand up 1/4 of the way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up half way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up 3/4 of the way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up all the way. At this point your dog will probably be sitting but looking at the food. Give the dog very light and quiet praise. The praise will cause the dog to look up. When she gives you eye contact, MARK and release your dog with a RELEASE CUE to eat the food.
The dog may initially get “stuck” there in the sit. This is common. Just walk away after you release the dog and encourage her with your body language to get up. She will then know it’s OK to eat the food.
◆ Here is a video of my dog Cassie (R.I.P.) demonstrating the exercise: http://youtu.be/9XATROu6WF8
◆ Each time you do this exercise it should require 1-2 fewer pieces of food until no extra food is needed. Your dog will be getting a whole bowl of food as her reinforcement at the end of the exercise.
☛ RELEASE CUE
All static exercises should have a beginning and an end. You get to decide when that is. Choose a word, FREE, FREE DOG, BREAK, AT EASE, etc. and begin to use it each time you want to release your dog from a sit stay, down stay, stand stay, or even sustained eye contact. I recommend you stay away from OK which is too commonly used. You can accidentally release your dog from a position without meaning to.
Say your word, we’ll assume it is FREE. Wait one second. If your dog does not release, use your body language and pat your leg to encourage her to come. Initially praise, pet or treat your dog for getting up.
We want your dog to learn that only the release word frees her from the exercise you were working on.
◆ If your dog gets up during the exercise, pick up the bowl and use the bowl to lure your dog back to her original spot (on her mat, or a couple feet away from the bowl if you’re not using a mat).
◆ Make this exercise harder by working towards having your dog do a SPONTANEOUS SIT or DOWN for the entire meal preparation process. If she gets up at any point, simply stop all food prep, walk over to the spot where you would like her to sit, and then wait for a SPONTANEOUS SIT again before continuing food prep. The following video is of my girls doing the advanced version of this exercise: http://youtu.be/J1FUkFVwcNk.