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to bite or not to bite

October 23rd, 2008, 01:58 PM
My dog is a year and half old mutt. She is part Rhodesian Ridgeback, beagle, border collie, plus ?. She is 92 pounds and her head comes up to my waist. She gets along with my cats and the old dog of the house. In all aspects she is a good dog, except….(wait for it)… she has an issue around her food.
When she is eating she will growl at any one who walks by her. We have tried a couple of things. Most times my wife will walk by and ignore her. My kids due to her size are afraid of her.
We have tried the flip her on her back and hold her by her cheeks till she relaxes. This dominace play has come close to getting me bit a couple of times. I also find the more aggressive I get with her the more aggressive she gets with me.
We have tried the holding her dish and feeding her by hand. She accepts this with out a problem.
We have tried taking her dish away when she growls.
As you can tell by the weight of my dog she is not going hungry and she gets a lot of attention from me when I am home.
She is not a stupid dog and learns most things quickly.
She lays down when she eats. Today she growled at me as I went by her dish. I stood over her and bent over slightly to tell her no and she snapped at me. I continued to stand over her and once she had settled a little and I scratched her ears till she relaxed and rolled on her side in a submissive position. This seems to work with her but I am afraid this is like rewarding bad behaviour.
I am at a lost of what is the right thing to do or how to fix this issue.

October 23rd, 2008, 02:30 PM
I am probably one of the only people who feel this way BUT... I don't understand why people feel the need to bother a dog while it's eating. I don't like being bothered while I am eating, I don't want your hands in my plate, why would I put them in my dogs???

NOW that being said, your dog should give up something while out and about or a bone yes, not it's food that it's perfectly allowed to eat. I believe dogs should eat in peace. That being said, all my dogs have to sit quietly before I give them their meal and I walk away and let them enjoy their meal, heck if I ate once a day I wouldn't want anyone to bother me as really what do dogs have to live for? Giving her food and taking away is teasing to me and not nice.

Please don't roll your dog as it's proving to NOT work by her getting more aggressive. That will only make things worse. Better to make her WORK for food than have you fight for it.

October 23rd, 2008, 02:48 PM
I hear what you're saying MIA, but personally I like bomb-proof dogs who won't react if a visitor (human or animal) happens to stray near a food bowl...

What I would do is keep feeding time to two or three regularly scheduled free feeding. Keep excitement at feeding time to a minimum. Wait until the dog is calm before presenting the bowl. Put the food down on the floor and then claim it as yours by standing over it/in front of it with you between the dog and the food. DON'T BEND DOWN AT THE DOG to tell her no, stand tall, otherwise you're inviting a bite. Tell the dog to sit/down whatever and wait until she's signs of aggression at all and relaxed. Then permit him to eat. I would then (maybe halfway through the meal or near the end) move the dog away from the bowl, not with my hands but with my body, moving my SIDE (hip) between the dog and the food. Be calm but firm about it, without moving too quickly. I wouldn't even talk to her, just move her. When the dog releases the food and returns to non-aggressive behaviour, reward by letting him finish the meal. I'd practice this often, and then work up to putting my hands near the food. you may want to try these with a helper, with the dog on the leash, so he can be corrected immediately if he tries to snap. I think overall your approach is ok, and you're not rewarding bad behaviour if the dog is being calm and submissive at the moment you're petting. Our oldest dog used to be a really aggressive resource-guarder, but we worked on it dilligently for many months and now, years later, she's a bomb-proof with food as it gets.

October 23rd, 2008, 03:06 PM
Is this dog a rescue? Food aggression is very common and IMO by taking away the food when she growls, you are proving to her that she is justified in guarding it. If she has been subject to having to fight for her food, or going hungry, those kinds of associations take a long time to replace with more positive associations. I agree that doing an alpha roll on your dog is not likely to produce the result you are looking for. IMO that is like punching someone to calm them down - it's not likely to make the person calmer, but it is likely to escalate their anger.

I normally don't mess with the dogs while they are eating, although I can take their bowls away at any point with no complaints from them other than the very sad puppy eyes. Your dog should view you messing with her food as a good thing. You could start by dropping little bits of a high value treat, like chunks of cooked chicken or something, into the food bowl while the dog is eating. This will create an association of good things happening when you are standing close to her food (treats falling from the sky). As she becomes more comfortable with you standing there, you can decrease the distance between yourself and the bowl, making sure to place high value treats in her bowl each time. When she gets comfortable with you being right next to the bowl, you can try actually reaching your hand into the bowl - again leaving a couple of high value treats when you pull your hand away. She will associate you putting your hand into her bowl as a good thing. Then you could move on to taking her bowl of food, putting something in it and give it right back. IMO right now she is associating you standing anywhere close to her food as dangerous - she will either have the food taken away or she'll be subjected to a more physical correction. By reinforcing her fears, you run the risk of making the food aggression worse.

October 23rd, 2008, 03:10 PM
I have had tons of food aggressive dogs in rescue over the years and by not bothering them they do learn to trust, again it's just the one thing I refuse to fuss over if the dog is not lashing out and just wants to eat in peace let it. It usually gets better but so far this dog has no reason to think it won't be teased, bothered or threatened during it's meal. If a dog growls at me while eating, I say shush and walk away. I am guessing this dog is at it's limit with what she's been through already. She doesn't trust her owner not to take away one of the few things she lives for.

October 23rd, 2008, 03:35 PM
IMO it's not a bad thing to be able to take your dogs food away without getting bit, I just don't make a habit of doing it. My little dog's food bowl is close to the stove, and my husband is not always the neatest cook. He has dropped pieces of things that the dogs cannot have (onions for example) into his bowl on accident, and if I were hesitant about snatching the bowl, he would quickly eat whatever had fallen.

October 23rd, 2008, 03:48 PM
I agree with everything tht has been said so far. One thing in particular is that you should not bend over as Bendyfoot stated you are inviting a bite when your dog is in that state of mind.

Pick whichever you think will work on your dog and work on it repeatedly, things will not change overnight. But you will see improvement in a short time. :D

October 23rd, 2008, 06:38 PM
The best source for help on resource guarding issues that I know of is a book called 'Mine' by respected author Jean Donaldson. Here's more on the book:

October 23rd, 2008, 07:28 PM
Ok. Stop egging on the bad behaviour and start looking for good.

Next time you are at the store, buy a package of cheap hot dogs. Take them home, cut them into small pieces and put the pieces in a plastic bag. When you put the food dish down for the dog, grab a couple of pieces of hot dog.

Walk past your dog's dish and, without saying a work or acknowledging the dog in any way, drop a piece of hot dog in the dish. Keep moving. Do this two or three times a feeding. Remember, don't talk to the dog, touch the dog or touch the dish. If you do this for a couple of weeks, your dog should get to the point where you can bend over and put the piece of hot dog directly in the dish.

The point is to make the dog feel that his food is safe and will not disappear, for starters. And "mommy" (or daddy) bending over and even touching the dish is not a bad thing but a good thing.

And please, stop trying to dominate your dog. While it is important that you and your family are seen as the dominant members of the family - there is no reason that your dog can't be a well loved partner without being submissive.