One of the exercises in Ringsport is food refusal. This was fun to teach! We’re not done yet, but here’s our current progress with small slices of hot dog – next up will be bigger chunks:
Here are the steps:
1. A solid down stay.
2. Cue “leave it” and throw a non-food item on the floor a few feet from the dog. Your dog will probably glance and look back at you (remember, you have a solid down-stay). Reinforce HEAVILY with a high-value food or toy from your hand, pick up the object and repeat.
Stay at this step until you can throw the item at or near your dog – including hitting them, and your dog ignores it completely – staring at you in expectation of the high-value reinforcer. Obviously, use an item that is harmless, and don’t hit your dog with anything if they find it scary. It’s a gentle toss, followed up by a party.
3. Repeat as above, but now substitute in a toy. Reinforce from your hand with a super high-value toy and make it quite the party. If your dog breaks the stay to grab the toy, work on your down-stay with distractions before going any further.
4. When your dog can not only hold the stay but also ignore the toy in preparation for the awesome one that you have, slowly throw it closer to your dog so that you can actually hit your dog with the toy. Eventually, you’ll throw right at the dog’s face and he should not grab the toy. If he does – no big deal as long as he holds his down stay. Simply take it and make the next toss easier and always follow up with a first-class party.
If your dog has no interest in toys, then you will do steps 3 and 4 with the most boring food you can come up with. But don’t throw at the dog’s face, just around the dog.
5. Dog actively ignoring a toy thrown right at them? Ignores low-value food in preparation for the really good stuff from you? Super!
6. Now we throw food – at first low value and then higher value, around the dog. Over time, you will work those food items closer to the dog but make sure that you always reward with something much better. If your dog fails and grabs a piece of food, don’t get all worked up. Just quietly put the dog back and repeat at a better distance. If the dog actually breaks the down stay to grab the food then it’s not a food refusal issue, it’s a down-stay issue. Focus there.
7. The final step is to repeat the above sequence (goes fast this time) but delay your reinforcer until you return to heel position, and then the same thing again but this time the reinforcer doesn’t come until you’ve heeled away. If you get this far, then you’re good to go. Move on to your next exercise and train as normal, but I’d suggest for the life of the dog keeping the rate of reinforcement high for success.
On another note, I’m teaching two webinars at FDSA on April 1st; Staged to Engage (Pre-engagement work for puppies and dogs destined for dog sports) and Engagement 2.0. I’d love to see you there!
I’ll also be doing a presentation on raising a high drive puppy for The Lemonade Conference (TLC). There are 50+ presenters with a mix of both dog sports and behavior/training presentations – a pretty amazing event! Early bird registration ends on March 20th. Right now the price is only $179 and the presentation materials go into your FDSA library (which will be created for you if you don’t have one) for at least a year. This is truly a spectacular deal – get registered now if you haven’t already done so! The conference runs from May 7th through 9th with three tracks operating simultaneously. But don’t worry, with your library to store the materials you don’t need to be in all the places all of the time.