Updated: Oct 30
This series of videos shows many of the steps of Katie's training of this calm eating behavior.
Here are some of the keys to Katie's success. The dogs are fed in the same place every day, in the same order. Katie stays with each dog until the dog is actually eating. This is important because it helps to anchor the dog to the spot and makes it very clear to the dog what she wants him/her to do. Remember, she has taught this behavior to each dog separately before attempting to feed all three dogs at once.
Notice that Katie uses her body, not her voice, to move Cedar to her bowl. Verbal cues are the least reliable of all the ways to cue a dog. Dogs understand body language very well so Katie has a high likelihood of success in moving this dog because she uses a form of communication that makes the most sense to the dog. She gives her verbal cue to go eat after the dog is already moving to her bowl. Again, the timing of this is very important.
She feeds her "easy" pup first. She places her problem child pup right in the middle so that it is easy for Katie to step in front of the pup to redirect her back to her bowl no matter which direction she chooses to go. She feeds Aspen last because he has had the most training; he has enough patience and trust in Katie to wait for his bowl.
The dogs have been eating for several minutes. Notice what Aspen does towards the end of this video. He raises his head and looks right into Katie's eyes; he never moves his feet. He is asking her to reinforce his good behavior and he trusts that she will do so. The communication and trust between these two are beautiful to see; of course Katie will reinforce him!
At this point, Aspen has a mostly empty bowl and prior to Katie's shaping training, this is when he would move off to intrude on the other dogs. Katie has been watching him. She walks over and drops one tiny treat into his bowl and walks back to her station. She waits about thirty seconds and does this again, and once more. This is called duration training and it can be difficult for dogs. In early training of this behavior, it is important not to ask too much of the dog. She reinforces Aspen frequently, making it easy for him to succeed.
Watch how Katie reinforces each dog for their good behavior including Cedar! She just gets redirected back to her bowl and then reinforced there, where she belongs.
Katie does something here that is pretty ingenious. She has purposefully not given Aspen his full amount of food when she gave him his bowl. Instead, she adds to it several times to reinforce him for staying with his bowl. I have asked her not to steal from one of the other dogs to do this so she keeps this extra stash of food elsewhere.
This video clip shows Katie beautifully redirecting Cedar back to her bowl and reinforcing the other dogs for their continued success. MANY people see only behaviors they want to change when they look at their dogs. Positive reinforcement training teaches humans to watch for things that go right and to reinforce the dogs for those times.
This part is so respectful and beautiful! It is my favorite of all these video clips. It is incredibly important to ask a dog for permission to pick up a resource. If a dog knows you will do this, and that the resources he needs are plentiful, he will feel great security in allowing a human to pick up the resource, in this case the bowls.
Katie is so wise here. She gives Aspen just a little more food when she picks up his bowl to make him feel even more special and confident.
Here is part of why the dogs are happy to let Katie have the bowls - snuggle time!
It is an absolute promise to the dogs that if they eat when they are finished they will get a lot of praise and attention. Feeding dogs is not the time for social interactions with humans. I seldom talk to my dogs when they are eating except to verbally reinforce their good behavior, but when they are finished I shower attention on them.
Katie giving Aspen just a little more food gives her time to snuggle just the two pups, and reinforce them. When she sees Aspen start to join her she goes to him first, giving him tons of praise. This helps to make it very clear to Aspen when coming towards where the pups were eating is OK.
Aspen is still just a little unsure of himself in this changed situation so he actually needs more support than the young pups. This is because his old behavior was so well established. For the pups, this is just one more piece of new training. They have been being taught new skills since they were three weeks old, so this is just one more day in the life. Easy.
So, are you thinking that this looks great but that you don't have time to train this way? If so, here are a couple of truths. It took Katie a total time of 9.27 minutes from the time she set the bowls down to the time she left her dogs. It takes far longer to retrain a dog than it does to do it correctly in the first place. Think about how much effort and planning on Katie's part is is taking to retrain Aspen.
Here's another big reason to feed dogs this way. Food is a primary resource for dogs; they need it for their survival so it is valuable to them. As a human, if you can connect yourself to the dog's happy experience of eating you become part of his experience. Protecting a dog from intrusion from anything while he is eating teaches the dog he can trust you. As I think of it, I have his back!
This positive association and trust shows up in many other places in everyday life for the dog. In training terminology, the learned associations become generalized to many other situations.