This particular subject always reminds of a Mini Fox Terrier that I helped with many years ago and yes some of them really do stay with you. It was a friend of a friend and their little Foxy was very sweet, affectionate and very social with everyone. He had a lot of spunk as most Terriers do. But when it came to his food bowl he would turn into a crazed lunatic. His people were very frightened by this behaviour and yet I laughed when I saw it. They were completely shocked by my reaction but it’s all relative as I am use to far bigger dogs with proper aggression issues. Yet, all the same, this was a real issue for them, especially the owner's wife was extremely intimidated by this little terrorist.
An all too common issue and as far as I can see it will always be an issue but the upside is there are a number of ways to prevent it. And yes if you’re having these issues there is something that can be done about it.
Dogs learn many behaviours as a pup with their littermates. In most cases, this is where the issue begins, especially in bigger litters. As with everything it’s about the environment and how the dog learns. From my experience, a pup will be quite passive when feeding on their mother with the rest of the litter. It’s not until the pup starts to receive meat does this behaviour start to manifest itself.
Many moons ago I met and worked with a trainer, breeder that would individually separate the pups when they would eat. Once finished he would immediately bring the pups back together, hence not allowing the pups to learn that they need to be aggressive over their food. At that point in time I didn’t think a lot of it nor did I think to question him about it. Yet as with a lot of things the clouds soon part and it all now makes perfect sense.
When I bring a pup into my home one of my priorities is to be sure that my dog has no issue in eating around me and btw all of my dogs eats separately for their entire lives. Afterall I will not create a behaviour that can threaten be well being of my dogs. Beyond that, a dog should be able to eat in peace as we can.
One of the great things of multiple feeds a day it gives you and me the ability to very quickly shape and teach the dog/ pup that there is no need to be aggressive or to feel threatened over his food.
So here I am going to give you a real life experience I had earlier this year of a so-called dog trainer attempting to curb this exact issue. Let me paint the picture for you. I was interstate training with some friends and acquaintances, we were all staying at the one house. As you could imagine we had dogs everywhere. Dogs in crates in the garage, dog trailers, crates in cars as well my hosts had purpose built kennels and exercise yards. We could easily rotate dogs and beyond that, the dogs were out everyday being trained, walked etc.
One of the guys there had a dog that was showing a lot of aggression while eating. We all discussed to what would be the best way of dealing with it and we all put forward our opinions. Yet what followed was a complete Hachette job. The crate the dog was sleeping and eating in was one of those collapsible crates so the dog could see everything. He was also sleeping in the garage with some of the other dogs. He was a young dog around 12 months old and the ‘theory’ that this person came up with was to obviously feed the dog and then have the owner plus two others which included this ‘trainer’ to stand over the dog the entire time he was eating. Once the dog had finished eating they would all walk away. So they did as discussed and I wanted no part of this and I am about to break down why, but I am guessing you have already figured it out.
The dog growled the entire time, eating tentatively while watching the three people loom over him and once the dog had finished eating they walked away.
Ok so the dog was in an environment he wasn’t completely comfortable with as I could see in him as each night when he brought the dog into the garage. His demeanor was not one of confidence at all. So the dog is already stressed and not mention they did in fact not only continue to create the aggression but they also rewarded it. After this night I did not engage in any real dog training conversations with this few as I cannot do stupid. And really at the end of the day I just felt bad for the dog as he was a really nice dog with minimal issues but with these types of so-called behavioural modification techniques, this dog is in some serious trouble.
There is a huge difference between teaching a dog a new behaviour and counter-conditioning other behaviours, yet without a basic understanding of how dogs learn and adapt it can make life for you and your dog a lot harder than it needs to be.
As I have said in previous blogs, break it down into small steps and give the dog guidance and reinforcement at the appropriate times. Always be aware of your immediate environment and pay close attention to what your dog is telling you. Do not expect miracles as all dogs learn at different rates. If you have an older dog try multiple feeds per day to increase the opportunity for learning.
There are many sayings in dog training but this one like a lot and use often ‘KISS’ keep it simple stupid.