THE FEEDING RITUAL

INTRODUCTION

The feeding ritual is an essential intervention for behavioral rehabilitation. It is also a very important component of any general training program and is an essential part of Service Dog Training.  

 

TEACHING THE FEEDING RITUAL

 

  1. Become familiar with the theory behind the ritual. Review the following key concepts from the Dillender book studied in class (either From Shelter to Service Dog or PTSD and Service Dogs will do ): A) Level of Excitement Scale (LOE),  and B) the relationship between canine behavior and level of excitement.

  2. Understand that the way that food is received by the dog (the when and how) both intensifies and reinforces a dog's behavior and LOE at the moment that the food is received. This will also influence canine behavior and LOE throughout the day. 

  3. Understand that the feeding ritual and the reunion ritual are interventions designed to teach the dog impulse control and control of LOE. The feeding ritual helps to set a dog's idle speedthis is the default LOE that the dog has throughout the day. For Service Dogs, we want the idle speed set to a "2" on the LOE scale. 

  4. Review the pages of your Dillender book that describe a sample feeding ritual. As an instructor, you don't have to assign the ritual exactly the way the Dillenders describe it, but you should assign a ritual that: A) is individualized to the client's needs, and B) keeps the essential elements of the Dillender ritual.

  5. Know the essential elements of the feeding ritual intervention as described by the Dillenders: A) the dog must be placed before the food is prepared, B) the dog shouldn't be able to pace around during the ritual, C) the dog must calm him- or herself down to a prescribed level before receiving the food (this is not the time for general obedience cues such as "sit," "down" and "stay," C) the dog must demonstrate calm by first sitting down and then laying down and staying there without help from obedience cues; D) the dog must demonstrate calm by waiting in the down position without vocalizing, fussing or moving about for a prescribed amount of time before receiving the food. Clients should work up to having the waiting period (once the dog has reached the prescribed level of calm on the LOE scale) be 5-10 minutes in length.

  6. Adapt the essential elements of the Dillender ritual to prescribe a feeding ritual individualized to the learner and his or her situation. You may choose to continue to adapt the prescribed feeding ritual during subsequent sessions as the client makes progress (this usually means adding more time to the waiting period--for example, if you start with a 30 second waiting requirement), but make sure that the essential elements are conserved. The client should continue with the feeding ritual even when things get better and even when you are no longer training together. The feeding ritual helps to maintain training taught and to prevent problems from reoccurring or developing. It is like pressing a "reset button" on LOE twice per day. (Feeding should occur twice per day for adult dogs without medical issues). 

  7. Refer to the feeding ritual video in the PHD General Training and Behavioral Rehab Portal. Clients have access to this video, too: show them where to find it, since  it helps with homework. I highly recommend the crate variation of the ritual as the easiest and fastest for many dogs to learn, especially young dogs (it is explained in the video). The tether variation (also shown in the video and described in the Dillender book) is my second favorite variation and works best with adult dogs who already have some LOE control. With time and consistent practice, a dog will likely not need the tether (unless there are multiple dogs in the household that are being fed at the same time. 

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