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The "Dinner Dish Method" for Rehearsing "Eye Contact"

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

In May, Chris guided us through the appropriate steps for teaching our dogs to sit calmly at the door. This month Chris discusses her “Dinner Dish Method” for rehearsing eye contact.

Where to Begin

  1. Pup must want his dinner more than anything else in the environment!
  2. The entire family must be committed to requiring eye contact AT ALL TIMES in order for Pup to get his dinner.
  3. It is a good idea to divvy Pup’s meal into two or three bowls so that each meal provides two or three rehearsals instead of just one.
  4. Another alternative is hold onto the bowl. This should get Pup excited and attentive because past experience has taught him “bowl” equals “food”. Play the EYE CONTACT GAME using the CHOICE METHOD and reinforcing with food from the bowl.

How to Use Pup’s Dinner Time to Teach the Eye Contact Game

  1. Pup’s dinner is prepared, preferably in three separate bowls or servings.
  2. Stand in front of Pup with his dinner dish held out at arm’s length so he cannot look at the dish and your face at the same time.
  3. Wait silently for puppy to look away from the dinner dish. At the precise moment Pup looks away from the dish, I/R (Indicate/Reinforce) by putting the dish on the floor and letting him eat its contents.
  4. As soon as he polishes off the portion of “porridge”, grab another dish and repeat the above sequence.
  5. By the third portion, Pup should know to look away from the food dish in order to get it. If not, try one of these two options:
  • Option #1: Wait until the next mealtime to get to the “look away” approximation.
  • Option #2: Use a few extra pieces of Pup’s diet and try the CHOICE METHOD to get the “look away” approximation. Once that is accomplished, try for the “eye contact” approximation using the FOOD CHOICE METHOD if he is still enthusiastic about the Game!

Once Pup Knows to Look Away to Get His Food Dish

  1. If you are able to successfully use the CHOICE METHOD or any other METHOD to get Pup to make eye contact, before his next mealtime, try requiring eye contact before the food dish is placed on the floor. Again, it is wise to have the meal in three portions to facilitate rehearsal.
  2. Pup has not learned eye contact, begin at the “look away” approximation and reinforce with a piece of food from the bowl.
  3. Do this a few times and then try to get eye contact.

Once Pup Knows to Make Eye Contact to Get His Food Dish

  1. Once Pup knows to make eye contact to get dinner, always require eye contact for it to happen. Always “indicate” the moment the puppy commits to eye contact. However, now the reinforcement can be a piece of food from the bowl, enthusiastic and sincere praise, or a scratch on the chest. The indicator should not always be followed with putting the food dish down and allowing Pup to eat.
  2.  Now require Pup to maintain eye contact for varying amounts of time (working towards one minute, but never going below the count of 10) and use the word “OK” or “FREE” as the cue that the dinner dish will be made available and Pup can eat.
  3. This will prepare Pup for future lessons that will include remaining sitting even though you have left the room and until you return and release him!
  4. Once Pup knows to make eye contact to get dinner, start using the other METHODS to rehearse as often as possible.

Have fun, and don’t forget to smile whenever you’re training your dog!

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.