I was at a Home Dog Training revisit lesson in Snellville last week with a client and his Welsh Corgi, Neville. The initial issues of nipping and not paying attention had been solved and we were ready to move on to the “next problem on the list”. My client said that he could forgive Neville for many of his eccentricities, but he had a food problem that was very annoying to the entire family. Whenever they put food down for Neville, he would guard it and lash out and nip anyone who came within ten feet of his food bowl. Nobody could go in the breakfast nook (where his food bowl was placed) until all the food was gone and Neville had left the area.
Food aggression (or I prefer a softer term, “food manners”) is an issue that haunts many dog owners. Since it normally only occurs for the short time when their dog is eating, the owners normally decide just to “live with it”. The problem is that food manners can be part of a larger issue that might grow over time.
First, let’s look at the root of “food manners”. In a properly balanced environment, your dog would look at you as his leader and whatever you do will be respected by him and everyone else in your group. When you give food to your dog, it is clear that it belongs to him and that everyone else will respect that. That means that if anyone approaches him or even puts their hands in his bowl, the food is still his and that it won’t be taken away.
“Food manners” issues normally occurs when the group is improperly balanced. Your dog does not see you as the leader of the group and your actions are not respected. When you give him food, there still is the possibility of another animal coming by and deciding to take his food. He will need to be on guard with what he now possesses. He will lash out at anyone approaching because, in his eyes, he is the only one who will protect his food.
So, the bottom line is that you need to assure Neville that you are the respected leader and what you give him belongs to him. The rest of the group naturally confirms that since you gave the food to Neville, it is his. Neville can eat in peace.
How do you do this? Here is an exercise that will help:
- Put Neville on a leash before you make his dinner. Make his dinner and then have a family member have him sit about 10 feet away as you lower the food bowl to the ground. Do it slowly while you are constantly facing Neville.
- If Neville starts to lunge or move towards you and the bowl, have the family member correct him and place him back in a sit.
- Once the food is on the ground, stand up. Walk back to the family member and take the leash in your hand.
- Begin to walk Neville closer to the bowl, but not in a direct line. If he begins to pull or bark, stop and have him sit until he is calm.
- Continue to move closer to the bowl until you have circled it once. Correct and have him sit, if needed.
- Stand about five feet back and allow him to eat for about thirty seconds. Now, move back to the length of the leash and call him back to you. You may need to use the leash to give him a slight tug for direction and focus.
- Have him sit for about ten seconds. Now, calmly walk him back to the food and let him continue to eat.
- Repeat the “eat and call back process” several more times during the meal. Progressively stay closer to him while you are allowing him to eat.
- Repeat the above steps for about a week or until he is giving you complete focus during the meal and you are standing right next to him.
- Now, follow the above process, but when he is eating, use a stick or any object that can keep your hand at a safe distance to slightly stir his food.
- Continue the “stirring process” on future sessions. Slowly use objects that will allow your hand to be closer to the bowl. You may want to get a thick work glove from Home Depot or Loews just in case he nips.
- You finally want to be able to put your hand in the bowl while he is eating and he doesn’t care.
- We are going to repeat this entire process one more time with one more variation.
- Have people walk past him while he is eating. They should stay about four or five feet back just so that they don’t startle him.
- As the people walk past, stir the food and slowly repeat your “closer and closer” process until you can be there with your hand in the bowl while he is eating and people are walking past.
- You now have a dog with proper food manners.
The one thing that I really want to stress is to spend time on every step and keep the pace slow. This will allow you a far better opportunity to judge Neville’s temperament and ability to learn. Gaining Neville’s respect and building the appropriate bond is not a race.
Having good food manners is something that really shouldn’t be a big deal with your dog. It becomes a big deal because we let it get out of hand. Once your dog accepts and understands his position in your relationship, things will be fine.
We hope you will contact us at (770) 718-7704 if you have any dog training issues. There are more dog training articles at Best Dog Trainers Snelleville Georgia. You can get all of our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Snelleville Georgia.