Don't Eat My Food!

My dogs don't have a ton of house manner rules.  They can jump on me.  They're allowed on furniture of course.  The Corgi often leads obnoxious barking bouts at what are clearly grave threats to the household.  They charge out the door when opened.  And they are all very good supervisors of our food.  SUPERVISORS is the key word in my mind.  The main rule in my house is you can watch the food, even snuggle up close while I eat, but do not even think about eating it.  I often set my food down and even leave the room and only have to fear the cat who seemingly springs out from nowhere.  But never the dogs.

Zumi's station every time I eat is to place her head in my lap.  She doesn't even look at the food and if I accidently drop a piece she doesn't even lift her head.


But apparently she's acting out since Netta has come home.  Or more likely her lower exercise and mental stimulation the last several months has gotten to her.  Because Zumi has broken my main rule more than once now.

So now we will go back to basics and revisit training and management.  I admit that this skill that all my dogs and long term fosters have had is not one I explicitly teach them.  It just kinda comes with our everyday life and gradually pushing their understanding of rules.

First I will review her automatic leave it in training mode.  Is the dog truly able to resist a distraction without any clue from you?  If you're having to give a verbal cue, or even just a small stop in your motion then the dog isn't quite there yet.  And keep in mind that it's the first rep that really counts, not the ones after the dog knows it's a proof.  This with Zumi I'm certain is solid.  But a dog's ability to ignore distractions and concentrate on work is not even close to the skill level needed to ignore distractions when not working.  Zumi may still have some work to go with automatically ignoring things but overall she gets the game pretty well,

Outside of training sessions is where most of our work will take place,  I will do all of it without giving Zumi any cue to leave it or stay as I want it to be automatic.  If she was a different dog who really struggled I would consider using boundary training or place training to provide structure but Zumi doesn't need that.
First duration.  This is easy for me to practice because I'm lazy,  I'll just eat my meal, usually on the couch, and leave my plate sitting next to me.  In easy reach so I am a part of the picture still.  Duration will also naturally work on another variable such as my focus waning in and out.  Zumi still has this stage down pat.

I think it's important to note that I don't ever reward from my plate when doing this training as I don't want Zumi thinking about when she is going to be able to eat it. I want her to completely ignore the food altogether, knowing that it's not going to be hers.  Actually in this training at home I don't even like using food rewards at all, just calm praise.  Unlike in her sport training where I want her to leave a reward and focus on me, in this every day life moment I ideally want Zumi to not focus on what I'm doing at all.  Go chew a bone, take a nap, wrestle with the cat, I don't care.  Of course since supervision doesn't bother me either I also don't mind if she does choose to lay her head in my lap and closely watch either!  And I have fed my dogs directly from my plate quite often, but I will be suspending that with Zumi until she is back on track.

My movement and distance will be another variable.   She has already proved she can leave food without my focus on her so now would be seeing if she can leave it while I stand up from the couch.  Then whether I can pick up something in my hand, or bend down to touch my toes, etc.  Can I move to the kitchen with direct eye contact?  Move away without the eye contact reminder?

Next the dog's movement if she hasn't done that on her own already,  I want to see that she has no problem walking away from food.  I will reward any cues given to come but then dismiss her again and go back to pretending the food isn't there.  I don't want her in training mode. And a release is not a free for all,  I want to see Zumi relaxing and not thinking about running back to my food.  A hard step for many!

And finally the big one, going out of sight again.  This will be done only after she doesn't need my eye contact as a clue that I'm paying attention and isn't glued to its location.  Quick around the corner and back.  Not drawing too much attention to anything.  Low key praise as needed, but overall me being gone as no big deal.  The food doesn't exist.

Of course management is going to be equally important.  No leaving food unguarded again for quite awhile.  If your dog struggles with this training management will be far more important than any training,  Keep training steps easy so that you don't have to body block or verbally cue your dog. The more you have to help your dog the less your dog is practicing impulse control.  Actually progressing to quickly can mean your dog is learning more about how long your arms are and how fast you can run than anything else.  It's amazing the calculus a dog can do to figure out whether they can beat you to the food before you even see what's happening!

I am also reminded to always keep in my mind my dog's personality to have realistic expectations.  The Corgi humbles me often in this department.  As long as a body, a conscious body, is in the house he wouldn't dream of tearing into any food and raiding any desks/tables in search.  I;m willing to be that he would leave a hamburger on the floor untouched for hours.  But if nobody is home or everyone is sleeping then he is on a mission in an instant.  He is going to be 10 in a few months and still can't be trusted outside of his crate or being closed in the bedroom when left alone.

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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

Email: lkwaudby (at) gmail.com

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