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Optimism at Feed time exercise

Optimism at Feed time exercises

As described in this article, we want out dogs to feel optimistic (hopeful and confident about the future) when we approach them whilst easting. I breed very hard, high drive Belgian Malinois, I also develop high food drive in these dogs so I can teach and train various things with food.

Without some education the hard high drive dog with high food drive wil not be happy about you coming to his or her food bowl, and this can cause resource guarding, anxiety and aggression.

Simply hanging around whiulst your dog eats and or taking and giving back your dogs food will not work wiuth the higher drive dogs. This in most cases is not a dominant / rank behaviour and punishing any recativity around food will not ever make your dog feel optimistic about your approach.

Regardless of how well your dog behaves in the tests below, please run the exercises for at least 6 months if not longer. In fact if you kept these exercises up for the life of the dog, you can’t do this too much.

Test 1

Give your puppy some food in a bowl, move away so that possession takes place, into another room for a 5 seconds will do and then walk back.

Next, reach down and place your open hand underneath your pups chin, and lift slowly up on the pups chin, pulling the pups chin away from the food.

Pass is backing away from the bowl, lifting head out etc.

Fail is stiffening, rushing, growling, snapping at you.

If your dog doesn’t need any remedial work, let’s move to test 2, this will be done during another meal as we do not want to create a problem.

Test 2

Pup starts eating its meal and you leave and return again, this time as your pup passed the first test we will be ramping up the pressure, if you can call it that.

Approach from behind and place your open hand next to the side of the pups face, now push on the side of the pups face and look for the same results as before.

Pass is backing away from the bowl, lifting head out etc.

Fail is stiffening, rushing, growling, snapping at you.

If your pup passed complete test 3

Test 3

This time give pup a bone, such as a piece of brisket or chicken wing perhaps, something that is difficult/ frustrating to eat and will take some time.

Leave again but this time for longer, maybe 1 minute, now when you return, approach your pup from the front giving eye contact, reach out slowly and grasp the bone.

Pass is backing away from the bowl, lifting head out etc.

Fail is stiffening, rushing, growling, snapping at you.

Now we have completed our tests, all pups will do the same training, so why test you ask?

Testing the dog and finding a point where the pup will become aggressive toward you gives us a point to work from, if your pup did not become aggressive and passed all tests, we will set the same optimistic values but will be able to progress much quicker.


Point 1

Some would be experts would suggest that the tests I have asked you to complete will create a problem and that if you’re not seeing a problem leave it alone.

They are incorrect, the fact is that many dogs become aggressive around food through maturity because they never learned the right way to interact with you, starting this with a mature dog is dangerous as the dog may bite and hurt you.

Point 2

Someone who has raised a pup before and taught the pup they will take the food off the pup think this is the right thing to do to prevent problems, often they will kill the dogs desire for food around them which effects training or they have never owned a socially dominant dog that has challenged them back.

The goal is optimism.


Step 1

Start as we did in test 1 by starting the puppy eating, but this time I want you to have a treat pouch fitted and pouch all the way around the back.

It will be full of treats, and by treats I mean food the dog is eating already or better.

Walk up facing the pup and reach out offering more food, but move in very slowly.

In your mind do not get any closer than half a metre, just over a foot in the old money.

Your goal, is to lure away the puppy to eat the treat and then the pup can run right back.

When it does move a little closer and offer another treat.

So it is offer treat > pup leaves bowl of its own accord > you reward that choice classically. So no click, no verbal marker just hand it on over.

Repeat a number of times and leave your pup feeling like it is a “win / win”.

If you had a puppy that is still growling now, please let me know and we would add another layer.

This step is called “buying admission”, it gets you some credit with the pup.

Step 2

Small pups will have finished their meal now and that’s fine to repeat this in the next meal.

Approach your eating pup now but do not have your hand extended with the treat, instead just kneel down nearby, I’m hoping that your pup looks up at you.

When you see the pup look at you, reach out with a treat fast. It actually looks like your paying the pup like you did in Step 1, but this time the puppy had to initiate the interaction now.

Think about it, the pup has the meal, no need to look elsewhere, but it remembered step 1 and was hoping for an upgrade, optimism.

If not walk away and come right back, do not go back to step 1 this meal, wait until next meal if you approaching your pups bowl a number of times doesn’t initiate a look at you.

Note: It is important to resist calling your dog or chastising it in any way, we want the pup to offer the question “have you got more?“. Not you produce it or put it on cue.

When you approaching has your pup look up, “charge” a little moire now. Raise the criteria by waiting until the pup lifts its head and comes at you.

This is all “controlled shaping” and it is a fun way to train your pup, it has added side benefits in teaching the pup how to problem solve.

Step 3

Have puppy eating and walk up and grab side of bowl, once you grab the bowl move it just a small amount, maybe 1cm and then stop as if to say, “your move”.

We want to reach forward with a reward when the pup: –

Looks up

Looks at my hand for a treat

Interacts in any positive way with me

Stops eating

If all this is fine we can move forward now quite fast off the back of the success we have been developing.

Run step 3 in the following ways: –

Take the bowl away, look for optimism, reward with a hand full of treats and then give bowl back

Take the bowl off the ground and add more food to it, place it down again.

Take the bone from your pup, feed treats and give bone back.

Lift head out of bowl and when pup looks for more, give more.

Call pup away from meal, reward recall and release back to meal.

At any time things stop or pup wont recall from food for example, do not raise your voice, get angry or assertive in any way, the goal isn’t to get food back it is to create optimism.

Instead show puppy the treats and when it sees them walk off with them.

This is called Negative Punishment and it has real power.

I would run this exercise on puppies between the ages of 8 weeks and 6 months, I would stop at 6 months but periodically test and see the same values still are inside my dog.

An 8 week old puppy would see me running these steps 5 – 10 times a week, a 6 month old puppy twice a week if it was all going well all the way through to 18 months.