Step AWAY from the Feeder!

Step AWAY from the Feeder!

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

When you are first introducing your dog to the Pet Tutor you have an opportunity to instill the idea that maintaining a physical distance from the Feeder is a good thing.  I know this sounds counterintuitive. Wouldn’t you want your dog to think that being close to the feeder is good? Actually, that can become an issue.

Here’s Star sticking her nose up into the feeder.

A dog who is too focused on the feeder is likely to become obsessed with it.  Many dogs are used to interacting with all types of puzzle toys in order to get them to release food.  It would be an honest mistake for them to think that the Pet Tutor is just another puzzle that needs to be solved by physical manipulation.  Instead, we want the feeder to simply be a food delivery device that is activated after the desired behavior. The best way to accomplish this is to introduce the feeder so that your dog has no need to make direct contact with it.  

I like to start by elevating the feeder and setting it up so that the treats fall directly out onto the ground rather than into the bowl.  Dogs will very naturally gravitate to the source of the food, so if the source is the ground rather than the feeder, then we have a good start at introducing a little separation between the feeder and the treat location.  

But what if your dog already has a strong desire to directly interact with the Pet Tutor?  Star has a history of practically sticking her nose up into the machine. During her grooming sessions, she would climb inside it if she could! This is the first time in quite a long time that I’ve changed up the picture for her so that the feeder itself isn’t easily accessible.  In addition, I’m looking for her to do something that is difficult for her; back away from the feeder slightly. Moving AWAY from the source of food isn’t simple once your dog has learned that interacting with it leads to cookies. It is, however, a very valuable lesson.

I have to admit that I am quite impressed with Star’s ability to catch the treats in mid-air!

I want my dog to understand that even with the feeder present, her behavior is what leads to reinforcement, not her interaction with the device.  Once I have established moving away from the feeder I am likely to introduce going to a station, such as a bed or a mat, that is a short distance from the device.  This further reinforces the lesson that doing something away from the feeder leads to reinforcement.

To summarize:

1. Begin with your Pet Tutor turned so that the treats fall directly onto the floor rather than into the bowl.

2. Elevate your feeder so that your dog cannot easily interact with it.

3. Start by releasing treats onto the floor.  Show your dog where they fall if she needs help.

4. Watch for your dog to move even slightly AWAY from the feeder, then release treats.

5. Continue to reinforce your dog for backing away from the feeder.  

6. Once your dog is hanging out just a bit away from the Pet Tutor it’s time to add a bed or mat.

7. Position the mat away from the feeder and reinforce your dog for moving towards it and stepping on it.

8. Eventually, reinforce your dog for going to and laying on the mat at a distance from the feeder.  

9. Now you’ve taught your dog that doing things away from the feeder pay off!  

These exercises can really help to establish an understanding that the smart training feeder itself is simply the delivery system and not the focus during training sessions.  Now you are ready to use your Pet Tutor in a variety of training situations!


Deborah Jones, Ph.D. is a retired psychology professor who now trains animals full-time. She has been training for 25+ years and focuses on positive reinforcement based methods. Deb has written 12 books on dog training and has helped develop several DVD series.  She has also trained and shown multiple breeds to high-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience. She is currently teaching online training classes and webinars at  Visit her website at for more information.  

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