A game to prevent counter surfing, food stealing, and scavenging. I developed this game with my dogs, based on the principles that learning must be fun and comfortable. Another force behind developing this exercise has also been that classic “leave it” exercises usually come with a lot of frustration for the dogs, which makes the game far less entertaining.
Start with a handful of food. For comfort, it makes sense to sit on the floor with the dog lying in front of you, but whatever floats your boat works.
Place 3 pieces one at a time with your dog, that she may eat, and then one piece with you. When you place the 1 piece with you, immediately place 1 with the dog and then 2 more with her before placing one with you again.
Repeat this pattern about 10 times. Remember to place your pile far enough away from the dog to make it an effort to get them, compared to taking those offered. If this means behind your leg, in the beginning, that’s fine too.
After repeating this about 10 times, your dog should begin to get the picture. If you’re not sure your dog fully understands that concept, you can repeat this step a few more times. You can now place 2 pieces one at a time with you and 3 with your dog for her to eat. Repeat this pattern about 10 times, or more if your dog needs it.
You have probably guessed the next step from here, but we’ll go through it anyway. Place 3 pieces of food with you for every 3 pieces you place with the dog. Repeat about 10 times
Now it’s time for you to get more than your dog, so we change to place 3 pieces with you for every 2 you place with the dog. if your dog struggles, you need to go back to the previous step and repeat that a few more times. Otherwise, repeat this step about 10 times.
In the next step, we’ll be building up patience for your dog. We’ll be building the opposite way as we did in the beginning, placing less with the dog, and more with us. For this step, place 3 pieces with you for every 1 piece you place with the dog. Repeat about 10 times. If your dog struggles, go back to the previous step.
After playing this game a few times, you can start randomizing how many pieces you place with your dog and how many pieces you place with you but make sure to keep it easy on the dog. If she starts paying attention to your pile, you’re placing too many with you and too few with her.
A fun variation is to randomly take pieces from your pile and place them with the dog instead of serving from the master pile in your hand. You can see an example of this variation in the video below:
When your dog is consistent in chilling and waiting for you to serve, you can slowly decrease the distance your pile is away from the dog and add a cue to the pieces you place with your dog. “Yours” could be an option for the cue. You add the cue by simply saying it when you place a treat for your dog.
Remember that If your dog starts paying too much attention to your pile, you’ve moved too close too fast.
Repeat this step until the dog understands that “yours” followed by a snack means take it and just a snack on the floor with no cue is too much trouble to hassle with. If your dog goes for the pieces not cued, you need to step back in the process, move your pile a bit further away and repeat the cue step until the dog understands.
I’ve added a section for troubleshooting in my instruction video, but I’d like to talk a little about it here too, because what do you do if your dog surges for your pile?
I like to take a treat right to their nose and guide them back in place with it with one hand and if necessary move my pile a bit further away with my other hand. You can see the process in the video.
This might sound like rewarding the dog for going for your pile, but it is merely redirecting their attention to something they can have. Simply moving the forbidden pile away will increase frustration and make the game less fun, so we really want to avoid that.
Another trick for troubleshooting is to simply deliver the treat the dog can have, further away as you see in the video below. Enough to move her attention from my pile and allow me to move it, but not enough to cause her to need to get up. Notice how neatly her new position makes my pile less accessible to her and allows me some wriggle room to create an easier setup for her.
We have a few seconds left for a hot tip too: With all games of self-control, using little helpers like mat work to support your dog, is an awesome idea for setting them up for success. Ready for the video? Check it out below with Nikuya as the rock star!