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Aggression with Food - Help!

January 31st, 2011, 12:10 PM
Hi There,
We just recently adopted a 1.5 year old female black lab mix from the SPCA. She is turning out to be a great dog, very respectful of us humans and does not pay a lot of attention to our existing 2 cats. They have been introduced and as to be expected, the cats were timid at first and batting at the dog if they felt she was too close. The dog will avoid the cats if she needs to go down the hall past them or up the stairs. Se seems really good except when there is food involved. We have the cats dishes in a seperate room that the dog cannot access with us letting her in. Well one day the dog didnt eat all her food and there was some on the floor. One of the cats went to the food to sniff and the dog lunged at him growling and snapping. Then, this morning, I was putting food in the cats dishes and the dog was behin d me and the dishes but when the cats walked in the room - the dog again lunged at them snapping and showing a lot of aggression. I cannot find anywhere online howw to correct this isuue - only find if the dog is aggressive to humans which she is not. Please help!

January 31st, 2011, 12:30 PM
I know this won't be of much help, but I used to put our cat's food on a low table whee the dog couldn't reach it....Sable would never be agressive with the cat but eat her a heartbeat!
At one time I had a large carrier that I didn't bolt the door on, and put the cat food in there and she could open the door and go in and out and it was far too small for the dog to get at the food. For some reason the dog loved cat food!

January 31st, 2011, 12:48 PM
This is resource guarding. It is very common behavior, especially in rescues :)
I would recommend switching a large portion of your dog's daily food servings to hand feeding and working up slowly to having the cats get closer and closer to your dog while eating.

Here's a great book if you want to go a little deeper

Good luck :)

January 31st, 2011, 02:13 PM
Dogs do what works and if snapping at the cats works then she will do it more.

Best to take things in hand right away, so let's teach her that the food is not hers to protect and the cats are as much of the family as she is - they can share.

I would practice the leave it drill with the dog - start with a low value items and work your way up to a higher value items. When she shows that she understands (which should take minutes not hours or days) then it is time to introduce the cats. Be sure that she is listening to your words and you are not relying on the leash or a device to impress her. Then she is ready.

Make sure the dog is on the leash so you can stop any indication of attitude. Have the dog further from the bowl than the cats are and use 'leave it' if you need to remind her. Remember that catching the thought before it becomes an action is very important. Much easier to stop a dog who is just thinking about bad behavior then to stop them when they are already acting out.

Let the cats approach the food (could be canned cat food to lure them), and if she gets upset remind her to 'leave it' and use the leash to stop her if you have to. Do not hold her back with the leash because then you are doing the work and she is not learning to hold herself back. The leash simply stops her and then goes loose again. If she gets crazed then back her out of the room, remind her about the ‘leave it’ and reenter the room. When we correct a dog for making a bad choice we have to go right back to the situation and help them learn how to make a better choice – otherwise you end on failure and that doesn’t help anyone. You might have to repeat it a few times but always return to loose leash so she can think about what she is doing. You might choose to stomp a foot at the same time you say 'leave it' to help empower your word.

She needs to get the message that all things belong to you and YOU choose who to share them with. Food is not hers to protect. As she gets the message you can move her closer to the food as the cats eat. Your leash is short but loose so you can still stop her if she forgets her manners.

When she can handle being 2 feet from the cats at her bowl then move on to the next step.

Take the food bowl with you to the couch. Invite the cats to come along – you might want a helper for this. Have the cats on one side of you and the dog (on a short loose leash) on the other side. While the dog is in a ‘sit position’ offer her a taste of the food from your hand. If she is gentle and good then praise her warmly. If not then help her calm down before she is permitted to take any food. Then ask her to ‘stay’ and direct you attention to the cats. Offer them a taste of food. While you are doing this you need to keep subtle focus on the dog. If she shows any sign of becoming agitated then you give her a reminder to ‘leave it’. The leash is there as an emergency brake if you need it. If she advances to the cats you could also stand up quickly and walk quickly towards her backing her out of your space. This is your dinner party and rude guests don’t get to stay. You can calmly invite her back and start over. She needs to learn that her assertive behavior doesn’t work and calmness does. Eventually you should be able to share food with the cats, parrots and the dogs like we do every morning.
*Note - the white spot in my hair is a downy cockatoo feather not poop!

February 1st, 2011, 03:10 AM
I saw a lot of dog whisperer and Cesar will get the dog lying down calm submissive state. Then he brings the other animal but facing away from the dog and he lets the dog sniff the butt. Then still keeping the dog in a submissive state, I would put a bowl of dog food next to you and the dog and put the cat down to sniff the food and then let the cat take its time and leave. If you can do all that and keep the dog on its back relaxed then it should get better.

Most of the time I think its dogs and dogs but I saw him do it with a bunny and a dog who would eat small animals and it worked.

You can even go as far as the dog ignoring the cat while it sniffed or ate from the dog food bowl.

For the cat food room, I would set a 'invisible wall' boundary further than the door so you are able to go in without the dog. Invisible wall can be done by standing tall and face your dog but no eye contact or talking. and maybe hold out your hand to the side as if to motion blocking and wait for the dog to sit down. If he runs away, there may be bigger issues, you'd have to walk after him. Eventually he'll stop because there's not much place to go and repeat the above steps of standing tall facing the dog. All this done without saying anything or physical contact or fast movements.

Hope this helps.

February 1st, 2011, 06:13 AM
Thank You all for your help - here is an update. At Dinner time last night, I fed Lucy (my dog) and afterwards I put the cat's food in their dish and as they were eating, I brought Lucy into the room with a few treats in hand. She immeadiately started to get aggressive when she saw the cats eating so I jerked the leash and put her into a "sit" position. As she continued to raise her lip in agression I found the only thing that would bring her out of it was a snap of the fingers in front of her face. Eventually (within less than a minute) she layed down and was rewarded with a treat. She then became totally submissve, lying on her back while having her belly rubbed and focusing her attention on me. We were about 2 feet away from cats and dish. This morning I fed Lucy and then brought her to where the cats were eating and she just went to a "down" position and appeared to care less that the cats were eating. Unfortunately, the cats are "once bitten, twice shy" and leave their dishes when Lucy comes into the room. I will try the canned food though as my most timid cat (Jasper) goes wild for it.
I definately think we are on the right path!

February 1st, 2011, 08:10 AM
Here's my take.

Lucy is an incredibly GOOD DOG. Yes, she growled, snapped, lunged at the cats. But she could have bitten them. Lucy is warning. In my books this is not aggression. Aggression is a bite which to my mind Lucy is clearing avoiding. If the cats don't get the message though, Lucy might have to escalate to a bite in order to get her message across. For me it would be the escalation that needs to be prevented.

How long have you had Lucy? A dog introduced to a new household needs time to settle in. Existing pets also need time to realize what may have been acceptable with a previous dog might not be with a new dog. Personally I would not expect this period to be less than several months.

What I would (did and do) do. The cats were there first so they get fed first. Lucy has to wait, away from the cats, till they finish before she gets fed. The cats have their own feeding place and if they leave their dishes with bits of food left in, as cats often like to do, then the dishes are put up out of Lucy's reach.

Then Lucy gets fed, in a separate space away from the cats. I'd put her food down, watch from a short distance away while she eats in peace (if she's part Lab this will take, oh, about 2 seconds, LOL) and then remove her dish too. I would use NILIF with Lucy. Always. Short easy cammonds to start with, working up to sitting on her mat somewhere for as much as minute. Nosy cats would be shushed away by me. Both cats and dog deserve to eat their meal in peace.

Till Lucy has been with you for much, much longer I would not even try treating them while all together. I'm sorry but I definitely would NOT do what you did last night. To me it is unfair to feed the newcomer first, as I said above. It is unfair to taunt the dog by having her near the cat's food and unfair to the cats to have them threatened by the dog. It is unfair to correct the dog because at this point I don't think you can be sure the dog knows the order of things and this is a harsh way to treat her. I'm not against a well place positive correction but in this case what I'd use is a negative punishment of simply being withheld from the room while the cats eat. It's the same difference to you time wise.

Also consider this. Feeding cats first, Lucy removed, then feeding Lucy is a clear indication and positive reward to Lucy for allowing the cats to eat first. CAts finished, YAY, now Lucy gets her reward, her supper. Low key though the YAY is only in your mind, no excitable exclamations.

I've rambled a bit. If my ideas interest you and are not clear please feel free to ask. I have to admit, none of this worked with one new dog. It worked with all the others but one rescue we had to always keep separated at feeding time. You never know what's been in a recue's past. It's my belief that some things just aren't worth the effort and for us, with Whisper, separation was the easiest on all of us. Now, with my current dog well established, I can feed and treat all at the same time.

February 1st, 2011, 10:41 AM
It sounds like you are on the right track. You had a faster response from Lucy the second time around and it will only get better. Now that she sees that you will stop her from aggressing on the cats she understands that you have an opinion about her behavior and she will start to think about her manners before acting out.
The snap or your fingers should be sufficient from now on - it is a startle that catches her thought before it becomes an action and she reminded that she needs to rethink her attitude to the cats and the food
You are taking charge and teaching her what is permitted and what is not. The sooner you set boundaries and rules the faster she will settle in and be clear on what is expected of her.
Imagine moving into a new family as a child, would you rather the parents left you alone to figure things out or would you feel better if they took the time teach you the rules of the house and how to get along.
I don't care who eats first just so long as they eat with good manners.

February 1st, 2011, 10:53 AM

Till Lucy has been with you for much, much longer I would not even try treating them while all together. I'm sorry but I definitely would NOT do what you did last night. To me it is unfair to feed the newcomer first, as I said above. It is unfair to taunt the dog by having her near the cat's food and unfair to the cats to have them threatened by the dog. It is unfair to correct the dog because at this point I don't think you can be sure the dog knows the order of things and this is a harsh way to treat her. I'm not against a well place positive correction but in this case what I'd use is a negative punishment of simply being withheld from the room while the cats eat. It's the same difference to you time wise.

Also consider this. Feeding cats first, Lucy removed, then feeding Lucy is a clear indication and positive reward to Lucy for allowing the cats to eat first. CAts finished, YAY, now Lucy gets her reward, her supper. Low key though the YAY is only in your mind, no excitable exclamations.

The reason I fed Lucy first is because I have read that she is less likely to become aggressive over food if she is not hungry. The cats are not in the same room as Lucy when I feed her so they do not know that they are being fed "second". I do agree that it may seem unfair to the cats to be subject to having the dog in the room when they eat but they will learn to be ok with it - just as they have learned to be ok with having a new dog in the house.

February 1st, 2011, 11:17 AM
Good for you Driver.
You were trying to think this through, but your new dog should be good no matter how hungry. Manners are manners no matter the circumstances. Your dog just like your child should have good manners no matter the circumstances. Your dog is well fed (not starving) so you are not being unfair by asking him to have self control.

February 2nd, 2011, 06:34 AM
So Last night I fed the cats first, Lucy came with me hungry and I had the same result - she went to a "down" position and within seconds, rolled over on her back and basically ignored the cats eating, just focused on me. No agression. She looked over at them a few times but all was good. I know that she is not totally "cured" but definately feel very proud of her. She is a good girl, she just needs to know what is expected of her.
Thank You Tenderfoot!

February 2nd, 2011, 09:46 AM

So, now it seems she is being hyper submissive to the situation (better then being aggressive!), and we need to get her back to balance.

Next feeding, I want you to have her on the leash for control, but I want you to have a happy, light energy around her meal time. You are ready to respond if needed but I really think she has the message and things should smooth out a lot.

February 2nd, 2011, 10:25 AM
Oh, and when she goes into the down position that's fine, but if she starts to roll over then you need encourage her to stay in the down position or back to a relaxed sit. Let her know that she is being good girl and help her feel relaxed.

February 3rd, 2011, 07:13 AM
So yesterday was Lucy's first day home by herself (We got her about 8 days ago). My wife and I work and kids are in school. Kids left the house in the am around 8:00 and I went home about 11:30 to check on Lucy (and the state of my house!) and let her out for a quick bathroom break - what an angel! She had full run of the house and she didnt chew anything and she didnt use the washroom. Kids came home at about 3:00 and took her for a quick walk. At dinner time, I brought Lucy to the room that I feed the cats and she went to the down position as I scooped the food into the dishes for the cats. Unfortunately, one of the cats came into the room behind Lucy and Lucy went after him - So I need to work on that scenario. I will have my son scoop the food while I stay with Lucy on her leash and call the cats into the room.
Lucy has such a great foundation but she needs improvement in many areas - as does my family.
- She does come when called most times but she does ignore at times
- She does drop a ball when we say "off" most times but give her a bone and she is very protect of it - she wont drop it and threatens to be agressive when I try to take it out of her mouth
- she pulls on her leash
- she struggles with the "wait" command ( I do this when putting food down for her)
- she jumps up when greeting (she is quick to calm down though).

We as a family need to be consistent in our training methods. I almost feel like we need to almost start all over with her. I have never really had a dog that would "come" everytime and I dont know how to do it. I do reward with treats when she comes but like I said she is sometimes selective when she comes.

I am thinking we all would benefit from and obedience class.
Thoughts? suggestions?

February 3rd, 2011, 08:19 AM
but give her a bone and she is very protect of it - she wont drop it and threatens to be agressive when I try to take it out of her mouth
- she pulls on her leash
- she struggles with the "wait" command ( I do this when putting food down for her)
- she jumps up when greeting (she is quick to calm down though).

I'm not an expert but here are my thoughts on what I pulled out.

Don't give her a bone as right now you are hesitating about taking it away. That's not a criticism but after only 8 days you need to keep working on the other areas before you give her such a high value item and then can't get it back.

Pulls on leash... have you tried a gentle leader?

Jumps when greeting, Jumps when greeting you or other folks? If it is you then as she jumps, turn around so back is to her and your arms are folded over the your chest. Do not pay any attention at all, walk away if possible and keep repeating this until she gets that jumping up means no attention whatsover. If it's with visitors or other family members at a disadvantage then keep a leash on her and give her a correction gently when she goes to jump up and put her in a sit. If she then approaches politely, let her visit and then have her come back to the sit and reward.

The wait command........ if she doesn't wait, she doesn't get the food, you pick it back up and put it away, wait 2 minutes and start again. She will learn quickly that polite approach to food means I get fed, rush it and it's taken away.

There may be others with more experience that wish to comment which would be great. This is just some of the things I do when I have a rescue come in to organize everyone.

February 3rd, 2011, 11:18 AM
You are still in the honeymoon period of this relationship and she is behaving in a manner that has worked for her in her past relationships. The faster you become clear leaders in the house the faster her behavior will mellow out and things will become harmonious.
A good training class for your family would be great, and we are totally happy to help talk you through some of your current issues as well. Please feel free to call 9am to 9 pm 7 days a week (Colorado time). 303.444.7780

February 3rd, 2011, 12:36 PM
Back to basics :thumbs up
Come - this is going to be repetition work, start inside or in a very low distraction environment. Work with someone else in the family and bounce her back and forth between the two of you like this, gradually increase the distance
begin to work outside and build up to increasing distractions

Off/drop it - she is showing resource guarding
start with the ball (as you know she will give it up) get her to take it, then give it back to you and reward her for it and return the object (you want her to know that asking for something doesn't mean losing it). Gradually work up to higher value items. If she starts showing reluctance, step back to a lower value object until you can take anything away from her without a fuss. Also, consider a real life rewards (or NILF) policy for her privileges. Always ask her to do something and make a treasured object or activity her reward: i.e. make her sit for opening doors or putting down her food bowl. When dogs have to work for everything it gives them a sense of accomplishment and helps them learn that all good things come from you.
If it continues to be a problem look for a registered canine behaviorist or check out this book

Leash pulling -
One addendum I always have to leash walking is that a leashed walk is not really good exercise, as they are too slow for all but the smallest dogs to tire them out. They are really more for you :). Set your dog up to succeed by playing a game of fetch or do some training to tire them out first. A tired dog has a hard time pulling on leash.
If she is particularly high energy I would suggest a front pull harness or gentle leader.

Wait/Stay - (this is a pretty awesome one)

Jumping up -
Here you can also try a place command. By asking her to perform an incompatible behavior with jumping on visitors (i.e. go lie down on a mat in the other room) you will extinguish that response to people coming in the door.
Practice with your family. Once you have a reliable "go to your mat" with no distractions have them try knocking on the door, come inside wearing funny hats, bring a friend that the dog knows very well etc.

Happy training, she is lucky to have you :)

February 8th, 2011, 11:21 AM
Still working on the food aggression... She was doing really well - laying down about 2 feet from where the cats were eating and I graduated her to having her lay down while I fed the cats out of "her" dish and once she was good with that, I would give her a sample from another dish so all 3 could enjoy the canned food. Last night, I had her within inches of one of the cats eating out of "Lucy's" dish and she nipped the cat and scared her away. Not sure if I am approaching this the right way or not. Another thing I should mention - Lucy seems to not have a problem if I pull the dish away while she is eating (she wont stop eating on command) but last night I reached under her belly as if to pick her up and she started to growl - what is that?

I guess I need to work with her more on the leave it.

February 8th, 2011, 12:59 PM
The growling when you reached under her belly could be discomfort - how is she if you touch her belly when she is laying on her side? It could be that you leaned over her and crowded her space (many dogs do not like feeling trapped). It could be a general lack of trust and she did not trust your intentions to pick her up. Isn't she a large dog? Why did you need to pick her up?

You might have set her up for failure with the cats. It sounds like you have made great progress over all but we might have pushed the envelope a tad. Did she have a leash on at the time? This would stiil be crucial so you have the ability to correct any poor choices and as an emergency brake to stop her from making contact.

She needs more practice with the 'leave it' drill so that as you approach her bowl to take it away she steps back from bowl. If she keeps her face in the bowl when you reach for it means that she is trying to claim the bowl and it is a red flag that she still has issues with her food bowl - it's just more noticeable with the cats.

February 10th, 2011, 12:25 PM
My take is, YOU are ASKING for trouble. Not intentionnally of course. The messing with the food idea is an oft repeated internet bit of advice I vehemently disagree with. Here is a link to what Dr. Ed Bailey, an animal behaviourist, has to say on a food aggression problem similar enough to yours to warrant consideration: t+an+alpha+male.-a0207744606

The short form version is, Lucy and the cats deserve their own dishes; there is no need for them to share their dishes or their food. More space too, certainly more than two feet. And, let the poor creatures eat in peace. Reaching into bowls (as per the linked article) and under bellies is threatening and only serves to confirm to Lucy that she is right, you are a threat that might steal her food.

February 10th, 2011, 02:06 PM
We agree that the animals do not need to share bowls, but have to disagree with the remaining statement (providing I understood the intent).

When we bring fanged animals into our homes who are capable of doing very serious damage to the other members of our family it is VITAL that we take on the responsibility of training that animal to have good manners in all situations.

What if a chid unwittingly approached a dog at his bowl? That dog better be willing to step aside.

Your dog should never consider you reaching for their food bowl as a threat, because they trust you and you have taken the time to teach them them good manners.

Think about real life - if your dog got into a bag of dog food and you need to approach to take the food away the dog better not get possessive or snarky.

Our dogs are expected to eat out of their own bowls and not to try to steal from each other, nor should they feel the right to go after another dog who is trying to steal from him. A little bit of polite 'this is my food not yours' attitude is every dogs right, but not to the level of becoming aggressive towards another animal and absolutely never with the human.

Ultimately the food belongs to the human and the dog is permitted to have it because they have good manners. I would never permit a dog to claim his food and back me off. This is a recipe for disaster on all levels. Good food manners is essential to our relationship.

February 10th, 2011, 06:08 PM
Elizabeth, I was directing my comments to the OP and did not mean to debate with you. I recognize that you are the one with the training business here, but since you have addressed my view directly ......

I agree with your viewpoint with two exceptions. Once the food has been given to the dog it no longer belongs to the human. Toys belong to the human, also blankets, leashes, etc. Life sustaining food, once given to the dog belongs to the dog and should not be rescinded, or messed with. I agree with Dr. Bailey on this point.

In the case of a child around a dog's food bowl I believe it is the parents' responsibility to teach the child to let the dog eat in peace. My view is that parents who teach the dog to allow the child's presence are abandonning their parental duty to keep their child safe to the dog. In a backwards sort of way this actually gives more control of the food to the dog, not less. I agree that the food messing idea does work in some, if not many, cases. But when it doesn't work, as in the Dr. Bailey article, it can go very, very bad.

Please understand, my only disagreement is with the messing with food, putting hands in the food bowl, taking it away, allowing a child too close to the bowl. Methods where yummy bits are dropped in as parent or old-enough child walk by I practise myself.

Above is a link to another article dismissing the food messing theory. I think many are already aware of this award winning program and the associated game.

February 10th, 2011, 08:41 PM
Let us agree to disagree. ;)

March 30th, 2012, 01:05 PM
I guess it has been a little over a year since I posted about Lucy. A lots happened and changed over the year. I hired a trainer and he showed me some of his techniques. His method was to be very hands on and using physical touches to become the alpha as it appeared that she saw herself as the leader of our pack. While some of his techniques had some succes; it made me uncomfortable to treat Lucy that way. She would obey - but it was more from fear than respect. I guess one thing i learned from this is that Lucy requires firm action in order to have her comply.

I was taking her to the dog park but she became aggressive toward the other dogs - so I would only bring her into the park if no one was there. We also have a nice walking trail behind our house where people often bring their dogs as they could take them off leash. One day when were on the trail, a man and his black lab were coming towards us. I put Lucy on her leash and the other dog came up to her, they sniffed each other and then the man and his continued on in the opposite direction. I took Lucy off her leash and thre her ball in the opposite direction. She retrieved the ball and as she was coming back to me, she ran past me and went for the other dog. A scuffle began and once i got to her, the man and dog were running down the path, around the corner and out of site. As I turned the corner I found blood all over the path. I didnt know if it was from the other dog but I assumed it was. Unfortunately, i didn't know who they were or where they lived.
About 2 weeks later I came home from work and found a letter in the mailbox. The letter asked if my dog had got into an atrcation with another a few weeks ago. Their dog had a piece of his ear torn and went to vet for emergency attention _ $800.00 I felt ill.
So I called the number and told them that it was in fact my dog. I offered to pay half the bill - they lived right behind us.
Anyway, it was not good. We have been taking her to a kennel and we have not had anything happen, which makes me think that maybe she was "protecting me". I have purchased a muzzle to reduce risk when another dog is near.
Since all this, Lucy has accepted me as the leader. she would curl her lip if anyone came near her while she had a bone. We spent time doing scenarios that corrected the behavior.
She has overcome her issue with food. Her and the cats eat in the same room. When I set her bowl down and a cat walks up to it, she just goes to the dish and starts to eat and the cats move. She will not bother the cats when they are eating and she even doesn't try to eat their leftover food.
She obeys all of my commands now. She has become a very well behaved dog.