Does your dog guard his food?
According to Sally Andersen of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, this is very common, especially because many pet shops that sell dogs advise owners to feed very little, to keep the dogs small.
I’d be cranky and guard my food if I’m only getting a % of what my body needs too!
Obviously it’s more complicated than that…but food guarding is a serious issue.
So what can you do?
When I first adopted Blackspot, I did a lot of research. One of the things I read was that to get around potential food issues, I should hand feed my new dog.
So for a week I sat with Blackspot and handfed her one dry food morsel at a time, quickly moving to a handful, then to just giving her the bowl. With Blackspot, it was quite clear from the start that she has no guarding issues. To cement that, we also asked her to sit as we put the bowl down, and wait until we gave her the “okay” command. We would also randomly pick up her bowl, without drama, and put it back down, with the “wait” and “okay” sequence. I would not suggest this if your dog still has any aggression around food. This is more a reminder, in the beginning, to make sure your dog really gets it.
I also read that you should start with a half empty bowl, and add more to it. So you can start with 1/4 of the meal. Put it down (“wait”/”okay” sequence). Walk away to do something, like wash dishes. Come back and put more in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be yummier food like real meat but it can be. The idea is to let your dog know good things come from you, including food, praise, and fun. Actually, all things come from you.
Just remember you are dealing with a dog, not a cat. When you give food and affection to a dog, he will think you are god but when you give the same to a cat, he’ll think he is god. I thought this little comparison I read something was very funny but quite true.
And yes! Absolutely praise your dog. A lot!
I can’t remember if it was the SPCA staff or the trainer we brought in but very early on, someone told us one of the most important commands to teach a dog is “leave it”. This is for their safety as well. When your dog picks up something potentially dangerous (like chicken bones that seem to be everywhere), you need your dog to respond to your command and leave it. To be honest, as well trained as Blackspot is, chicken bone is sometimes too tempting and I do have to wrestle it from her. But because she knows what’s expected of her and she has no food issues, she lets me go into her mouth and grab whatever. A dog with food guarding issues could mean trouble for your fingers.
There are definitely things you can do to help resolve the food guarding issue. But in my humble opinion, I believe it’s part of an overall training program. A dog must be trained, both for your sake and theirs. Most dogs do not say in the home that adopted/purchased/inherited them their entire lives and it’s pretty obvious that a well-trained dog is better received, and hence more easily adoptable. I think we owe it to our dogs to give them the best chance, just in case life takes a different turn than expected.
If you think it’s too much for you (not experienced or it’s too serious an issue), don’t hesitate to call a trainer or a behaviourist. Please just make sure it is a positive-reinforcement method they use. The worse we can do is to instill more fear and train by force. Always ask how they plan to resolve the issues. If they mention electric shock collars or anything that will cause pain or even discomfort to your dog, move on and talk to someone else!