Lie Down and be Calm for Meals
This behavior actually incorporates several tricks, and also requires the dog to exhibit a calm demeanor. This was relatively easy to achieve with Iggy, but a little challenging when working with Frankie. Frankie was slightly possessive of his food, generally more excitable than Iggy, and had a hard time focusing when he knew it was meal time. Both dogs were trained and guided for this behavior in the same way, but Iggy did not need some of the steps, so I will describe how it went with Frankie. The first day Frankie came to live with us, following a long, vigorous walk (exercise is critically important for achieving calmness), I fed him by hand. After mixing his dry food with half a teaspoon of canned pumpkin (helps regularity) and a teaspoon of wet food, I mashed together little bits of it and fed him off the palm of my hand. This prevents accidental nips on the end of one’s fingers, but still associates the person and the person’s hand with food: we become recognized as the provider of something good.
After a couple days of hand-feeding, I divided his meal into four portions and put one in his bowl, then as he finished that, I added more, making sure he was respectful of my hand near his food and mouth. This reinforces that people near his food bowl are the source of good things (more food), not bad things (taking away his food). In separate sessions, I also started teaching Frankie three specific tricks: sit, wait, and lie down. Training these will be the subject of a different post, but as in everything when teaching a dog, it is helpful to exercise them first, so they are more able to focus and relax.
As soon as Frankie was comfortable with the general concepts of “sit”, “wait”, and “lie down”, we began working them into meal time. He learned sit before wait, and wait before down, so the progression went like this: before setting down his bowl, Frankie would sit, and then receive his meal. After he learned the general concept of “wait”, he was asked to sit, and then asked to wait; his food was put down, but he was required to wait until released, or the process started over again. No correction or punishment was given: the reward was his meal and the consequence for not waiting properly was the delay of his meal.
Frankie was good at lying down and waiting when we practiced as part of our training routine, and he was good at sitting and waiting for his food, but he seemed unable to control himself enough to lie down and wait at mealtime. The problem turned out to be not the inability to resist the food, but the coldness of our tile floor. It was October when we were putting all these steps together and the kitchen floor was quite cold. Frankie has very little hair on his underside. A yoga mat was sacrificed, and Frankie became a very polite diner.