After a very long and controversial, yep controversial conversation yesterday about food bowl guarding and how to best fix it I got my inspiration for today's blog. Even though food bowl guarding is very unwanted and can be a dangerous behavior, it is amazingly common. Dogs don't share; let me just get that out there first. Oh yes there are those who don't give a hoot about anything; anyone can take anything from them and they don't care. I'm not talking about those guys. Even the most meek dog who has very little confidence will try guarding once in a while.
But to guard; one must possess desire.
Desire: to wish or long for; crave; want.
Occasionally a guarding behavior will become habitual; meaning that even if a dog doesn't really want a certain item, guarding has become the go to behavior for everything. Nipping a guarding behavior in the bud is essential; but it takes smarts, human smarts. Many people just take the item away; perhaps they smack or yell at the dog and then take it away. Sometimes people do an alpha roll or scruff a dog when they guard their food bowl. All of these mentioned reactions are not great ideas; in fact they will often make the problem worse. What is going on in a dog's head when they food bowl growl is that they want to make sure that no one is going to take their stuff. So if you take it away from them everytime they growl...........................yep; you give them cause to guard their food. Ponder on that for a bit.
Even if you have never touched their stuff; your dog may think that you want it. And in your dog's eyes it may be a very valuable commodity. Essentially what you have to do is change the way your dog feels about you or others around their bowl. Through association you are going to recondition their automatic response. So what would the best association be when someone approaches your bowl? Probably that they are bringing some delicious food to you!!!!!!! Bingo. Depending on the degree of food bowl guarding will be where you start and how quickly you progress. It begins with hand feeding which is extremely important. Get rid of the bowl and take control of the food allotment.
Once you have a dog that is comfortable with being hand fed their meal; you can re-introduce the bowl but don't feed in it yet, just have it hang around near the hand feeding. Then you start dropping piece at a time into the bowl and leave your hand in there occasionally adding really yummy stuff like cheese, chicken or liver. Something obviously different from whatever they are eating. Then you add more food at a time and drop the yummy stuff in while you sit and hold the bowl. You work up to feeding a whole meal and dropping yummy stuff into the bowl.
I suggest dropping good food into all dog bowls while they are eating. Even if they do not have an issue with guarding their bowl; this makes a humans presence around the bowl a great thing. As well as picking the bowl up mid meal every once in a while. Add some delicious tidbits, stir it around and give it back better than when you took it away. Don't take it for long, just a couple of seconds. Do not take the bowl until your dogs is looking at you with excitement when you approach the bowl.
I still push my hand into my dog's bowl and drop in something yummy. Elsa was a frantic eater so it was very important to implement this strategy immediately. She's never flinches now at my approach, she still eats fast but isn't a guarder. It keeps even the slightest idea that someone is going to "take it" completely away. If you have a new puppy, start this right away and you won't ever run into "food bowl guarding."