What's with the box?!
If you've had a look around any of my social media or my website, I'm sure you have seen many dogs with their head in a box. I'm guessing you probably also said to yourself, "Is she training dogs to be Ostriches?!" The answer is...maybe!
Check out Rip enjoying his box work training!
Dubbed the Dopamine Box by Bart & Michael Bellon (creators of Nepopo®), the box is an incredible training tool used for multiple different aspects of training. The objective is to create an understanding for the dog that pressure creates reward and that they can withstand any pressure they experience (make them think they are SUPER TOUGH!). To name a few things one might consider using the box for:
Teaching Commitment to Behavior
Creating Mental Toughness
In reality, you are truly only limited to your imagination with this tool! Personally, I LOVE this for puppies! The box allows them to be exposed to so many different environmental distractions and improves concentration!
Box Feeding Basics
The Dopamine Box relies on the dog already having an established marker system (I use a terminal marker) and an existential food system (meaning all their food comes through training).
You will need:
An opaque box. Specific dimensions are not super important, but it should be big enough for your dogs entire head to fit in it! Mine is 12X12X12 (it is a hair tall for my small dogs). My Dopamine Box is made of wood and is coated in polyurethane. I have also had clients get creative with what they use...cardboard boxes, fabric boxes. plastic storage tubs. etc!
Your dog's daily food.
Your dog's terminal marker (I use a double click on the clicker). This lets your dog know that they can come out of the box for a reward from you! This should be done while your dog is still committed to having their head in the box!
Determination and patience!
Optional an article (generally for tracking, but can be used to let your dog know that rewards are now possible. The article can also help some dogs concentrate on something a little more specific than just sticking their head in the box.
I start by allowing my dog to eat their entire meal out of the box and slowly decreasing the amount of food in the box at the start until my dog will place their head in without any food present. If my dog disengages with the box, I simply pick up the box and place it out of sight and out of mind. The box is the only place my dog has the opportunity to eat until I start seeing that they are committed to the box. DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion! Do as you feel comfortable and always speak directly with your veterinarian before starting exestential feeding to make sure your dog is in good health and is able to fast. Once I see that happening, I begin dropping food in as the dog keep their head in the box (this is done in my "aquarium" with as few distractions as possible). Once the dog will keep their head in the box to 3-5 seconds without food present, I start to add my distractions (pressure). Generally, I start with a little leash pressure (trying to convince the dog to come out of the box). I add a very small amount of leash pressure, release the pressure and then immediately drop food (usually I drop a "jackpot" the first few time I am exposing them to pressure and also when I am adding in new distractions). When I am ready for my dog to be done with the Dopamine Box, I simply give their terminal marker that lets them know its time to come get a reward from me! I do not give this unless they are engaged with the box!
In this video, you can see me adding pressure with the clatter stick (a common distraction in the dog sport we compete in) to Sam and then dropping food in the box. I sped up most of the clatter stick work, but left it at normal speed when I give a little leash pressure. He is doing this on a BOSU ball for extra difficulty.
Don't start with your dog's biggest distraction, start with something way less distracting to them and work your way up to that big distraction/pressure! Once this looks good in your "aquarium" then take it outside of your aquarium (literally and figuratively)! You want them to feel super confident and this behavior will take some time to build! Rome wasn't built in one day, and neither will your box feeding!
Benefits of the Box
There are several benefits of the box including teaching the dog commitment to a behavior, giving the dog a space to "meditate", building confidence around environmental stressors, exposing dogs to triggers (eliminates visual stimulation, allowing the dog to have more reps before they get over stimulated), builds tracking and scent work behaviors, can change the emotional state for resource guarding (instead of taking away, you are giving), etc. You can be incredibly creative with this behavior without worrying about destroying your other stable behaviors (sit/down/place).
If you are interested in starting this behavior for your dog, please let me know and I would be happy to help get started! I hope this makes it a little more clear as to why I maybe teach dogs to be more like ostriches! 😂