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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?
 

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This is not a this will get worse before it gets better scenario. This is escalation.

There's a how to find a trainer section in the training forum and I suggest you use that to find a second opinion. Taking his food away is confirming the people=removal of food association. While an eventual goal might be being able to remove food, for now the emotional association needs to be modified. A trainer on a one on one consult will be able to evaluate his behavior and develop a plan to suit you both.
 

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Definitely get a trainer or behaviorist. He shouldn't ever be allowed to chase cats or people. That's only reinforcing aggressive behavior which could turn very dangerous if not stopped.

I don't understand the need to control mealtimes. I leave dry food out all day for dogs and cats. I give more or less if needed for what I think should be their daily ration for a healthy weight. They're all thin and healthy weight, no struggle no anxiety or fighting. Canned food is eaten immediately dry is picked at as needed. My last dog maintained a healthy weight his whole 11 years. Current dog is thin I want him to eat more so I never take food away. My 2 remaining cats are thin. Had fat cats before but they were older with health issues.
 

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I understand why you don't want to leave the food out, if he's acting possessive towards the cats when it's around.

However, I agree that taking the food away is going to make him more possessive towards whoever is taking it away. Dogs resource guard BECAUSE they're scared that the resource is going to be taken from them. I'm sure you wouldn't like it if someone took your dinner away if you hadn't quite finished.

A compromise that I can think of is hand feeding the dog. This way, you won't need to take food away, he'll associate people with giving food, and it won't be left out for him to guard from the cats. There are a few good videos and articles online about resource guarding but I'm out of state and on my phone right now so I'll try to post them tonight when I get home.
 

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I agree, the picking up food is not helping his association with people/cats coming and taking his food, reinforcing his need to guard it. I agree that hand feeding would be the best. There is a ton of research about hand feeding on this forum and on the internet. Also something I would ask a professional about as well (although maybe not that trainer).

1st step would be to sit down in a room with just you and Cooper with the door shut. Sit with his bowl in front of you and his food in a cup with you. Throw a few peices of kibble into the bowl and praise him when he eats it. Keep doing that as long as he is standing with you attentive to what you are doing. If he goes off searching stop feeding and wait til he comes back and checks on you. As long as he is paying attention to you keep the food coming, a couple of kibbles at a time. No more then what he can eat in a bite or 2. Therefore nothing for him to guard. Have everyone in the family do this with the door closed one on one. Eventually when you are able to feed him continuously without him looking to guard then open the door and start from the beginning, he only gets food when he is attentive and paying attention to you. He needs to associate that his food is not going to be taken and that he does not need to protect it.
 

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Until you talk to a +R behaviorist, only hand feed him and only do it on walks so there's nowhere in the house that will trigger the memory of feeding time. Read the book "Mine! A practical guide to resource guarding"
 

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Discussion Starter #8
It is so nice to hear all of you saying the same thing. When I researched how to stop his guarding, I kept reading the standard advice (with a few exceptions saying what you all are), but it seemed to me that it wasn't working for Copper. It's good to know I'm reading him right. He will eat from our hands, but I didn't know if we should encourage it with every mealtime. Now I know it's Ok until he's comfortable with his food again. Thank you!
 
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