We have a 10-month-old shepherd mix, Gus. My husband has
been playing "take away" games with Gus during
feeding time for months, to make sure he is safe around
our 4-year-old. What started as a game of take away the
food bowl while Gus was eating, and then returning it
once he sat on command has turned ugly. Gus now grabs at
the food as if he hasnít eaten in days, and has
growled and urinated twice when my husband approached.
Yesterday he growled at my son! Can this dog be saved?
So glad you wrote in, Ashley. The short answer is yes,
this can be addressed, but first and foremost, make sure
your husband ceases all interaction with Gus during
mealtime! Iím assuming his intentions were good, but
your husband has systematically created a resource
guarder in Gus, and without proper desensitization work,
this can get dangerous.
I will note a basic approach to work out this issue, I
strongly recommend you schedule some time with a
qualified expert who has a strong background in canine
behavior rather than go forward on your own.
you can arrange that, Gus should be fed twice a day, and
should be placed in a room by himself with the food
bowl, and the door closed. Give him plenty of time to
eat his entire meal by himself, without the threat of
competition, and then let him out; pick up the food bowl
only when Gus is out of the room.
that indicate that your dog is feeling the need to guard
a resource ó and Iím sure you and your husband have
seen many of these ó include freezing over the food
bowl, staring up at you with hard, unblinking eyes,
accelerated food consumption, a growl, an air snap and a
bite that makes contact.
youíve described is a stress-filled, anxiety laden
event, in which Gus must work fast and get possessive
over his food, or risk losing it. The fact that he is
urinating and growling when your husband approaches is a
huge indicator of a serious problem ó Gus is stressed
and afraid during these mealtime situations.
is the opposite emotional response you want a dog to
have when he is eating and people are nearby. Your job
is to teach Gus that people around the food bowl only
equal better things for him.
order to teach Gus to be relaxed and welcoming of people
when food is around, a desensitization and
counter-conditioning process needs to be implemented.
The goal is to change Gusís emotional response to
people present around the food bowl, from stressed and
guarding, to relaxed and welcoming.
a professional showing you how to get started, Gus
should be fed on a tether. When the food is introduced
and while he is eating, your job will be to approach in
a non-confrontational manner and offer him something
better than he already has in the bowl, like some
high-in-value treats. Your distance from Gus will be
determined by Gusís behavior; you should remain far
enough away so as not to induce any stress.
goal is to repeatedly practice the above in such a way
that Gus does not feel any stress or threat by you.
Gradually, with repetition, Gus will come to associate
your presence around the food bowl with good things, you
will be able to work more closely with him, and he will
readily lift his head and happily accept treats from you
before going back to the food bowl.
have done your dog an injustice, but with the right
modification plan, it can be fixed. Be your dogís
parent, his advocate; be empathetic to his emotional
needs and above all, be his friend, not his competitor