How to feed a dog protective of its food
Our dog, Tinkerbell, is normally so sweet and friendly. Lately, she's become very protective of her food. What could be going on?
Answer: Most of us discount how important the process of eating is for our pets. Just as it is with family members, meal time should be a calm, bonding experience.
The instinct to guard food (or toys) from other animals is normal canine behavior. Not enough food, failure to receive food on a predictable schedule and poor socialization are common causes of food guarding. Genetics is another cause.
The worst thing you can do is to punish her, because this only confirms her growing suspicion that you're a threat to something she holds dear. Instead, use the opportunity to build trust and strengthen your relationship as leader and provider.
Q: What can I do to help her?
A: Try hand-feeding her for a while. Instead of putting her bowl down and letting her eat quickly, give her a couple of pieces of kibble at a time from your hand. Have her sit, hold out your hand -- backside first to keep her from snapping. If she attempts to take the food too quickly, close your hand and only open it again when she is waiting calmly.
Hold the food in the flat of your hand, not your fingertips. Place extra bits of treats -- food that is soft and smells good -- into her bowl as she eats. Treats can vary, so discuss what might be best with your veterinarian. She will soon learn that a good thing happens when a person approaches the dish.
After feeding her by hand for a week or so, return to bowl feeding. Place a small amount in her bowl and add a few bits every minute or so. Your dog will begin to realize your presence near her bowl is a good thing. Continue the training for a couple of weeks until she welcomes you near the bowl.
Remove the bowl after your dog finishes eating. Letting her eat any time she pleases can foster possessiveness. If this seems overcontrolling, keep in mind that dogs are task-oriented and hard-wired to work for their food.
The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Indicate "Pet Ohana" in the subject line. Or, write "Pet Ohana," Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Waialae Ave., Honolulu 96826.