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Food Guarding in Dogs

Stage Five

  • While your dog eats dry kibble from a bowl on the floor, approach him saying “What have you got there?” in a conversational tone. Stand next to your dog, bend down and touch his bowl with one hand while offering him a special treat with your other hand.
  • Continue to do this every few seconds until your dog has finished the food in his bowl. When your dog eats relaxed for 10 meals in a row, you can move to the next stage.

Stage Six

  • While your dog eats dry kibble from a bowl on the floor, approach him saying “What have you got there?” in a conversational tone. Stand next to your dog, bend and pick up his bowl with one hand. Raise it only six inches off the floor and drop a special treat in the bowl. Then immediately return the bowl to the floor so that your dog can eat from it.
  • Continue to do this every few seconds until your dog has finished all the food in his bowl. As you repeat the sequence, raise the bowl slightly higher off the floor each time until you can lift it all the way up to your waist and stand upright.
  • Repeat the sequence, but when you pick up your dog’s bowl, walk over to a table or counter with it. Then put a special treat into the bowl, walk back to your dog and return the bowl to the same place on the floor.

Stage Seven: Making It Work for Everyone

The last stage is to have all adult family members go through stages one through six. Each person needs to start at the beginning and progress through the steps the same way, always making sure that your dog continues to look relaxed and comfortable during exercises. Don’t assume that because your dog is okay with one person approaching his bowl, he’ll automatically be comfortable with another person doing the same thing. He has to learn that the rules work the same way with everyone.

The entire treatment program above is gradual enough to help your dog relax and anticipate the special treats rather than feel threatened and become aggressive when people approach him while he’s eating. Through the exercises, your dog will learn that people approaching his food bowl bring even tastier food—they’re not coming to take his food away from him.

Treatment Troubleshooting and Tips

  • If you can’t feed your dog kibble for some reason, just make sure that the treats you offer by hand during exercises are more desirable to your dog than the food in his bowl.
  • If you can feed your dog kibble but prefer he eat something else instead—such as a raw diet, homemade food or canned food—do all the exercises with kibble first but then go through the steps again using the more exciting food in your dog’s bowl. Again, just make sure what you offer by hand during exercises is still better than what your dog already has in his bowl.
  • If your dog eats so quickly that you have few opportunities to offer better food during treatment exercises, buy a commercially available dish designed to slow down his eating. For example, try using the Brake-Fast® Bowl, the DogPause® Dog Bowl or the Eat Better™ Dog Bowl.
  • Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson (2002), published by Kinship Communications/SFSPCA, is an excellent short book that offers more information about food guarding. You can find it online at www.dogwise.com or www.amazon.com.

 

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

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