Copper is a 9 month old Cavalier KC Spaniel. If you don't know, Cavs are especially sweet, gentle, and loving. We've had him since he was 10 weeks old and have always handled him and his food while he was eating. Until recently, the only time he has tried to keep us from taking something away from him is when it's something especially tasty, like an egg roll he stole off a plate, or the bones from a chicken wing (which he swallowed whole to keep me from taking it!).
I understand why he guards his food from our cats. Two of them really were not happy Copper invaded their home. We set up a water fountain and Copper's food in the room he stayed in the most. The 2 cats would growl and hiss at him on their way to the fountain. But then we moved and everything was different for everyone and the cats now tolerate Copper and stay away from his food dish. But if one is in the room while he has his food dish, he will growl a bit and chase them away ,even if they're across the room, and then run back to his dish and gulp it down. When there is no cat in sight, he will lay down near his dish and wait. If no cat comes into sight, the food remains uneaten and he remains at his post.
Per his puppy class trainer, I started leaving Copper's food down for about 20 minutes and then picking up the uneaten food. He gets fed 2x a day, although not on a "normal" puppy schedule (my family tends to stay up late). Picking up his food dish with food left in it has seemed to make Copper guard his food EVEN MORE, to the point he now "chases off" my husband and kids (teenagers), and will lay down to watch his dish and only eat after he has successfully "chased" someone away. I use quotes because he only takes a couple steps, growls a bit, and runs back to his dish to gulp a few bites. It's not scary aggressive chasing...yet.
Last week, I decided to make a concerted effort to feed Copper on a schedule hoping it would stop the guarding. It's not much different than before, I'm just being more consistent on the times. Throughout most of the week, he ate maybe 1 full meal. I knew he was hungry because he kept trying to get at food on the table, the counter, and scrounging for crumbs on the floor between meals. But whenever I put his food dish down he just lay nearby, and then watched it mournfully when I picked it up later. Finally on Sunday he ate both morning and evening meals, and then drove me crazy looking for food until I gave him a little more before bed. Now today he is back to guarding his food and barely eating.
The problem is, Copper seems to be getting MORE anxious about his food and growls at everyone but me while he has his food dish. Earlier tonight he heard a cat meow from a different room and Copper ran to the doorway ready to chase off the cat...who wasn't even in sight! I was hoping the routine and the time limit would help but it seems to be getting worse.
So I guess my question is, Is this a "it'll get worse before it gets better' situation and I just keep doing what I'm doing? Or is something else going on?