Imagine for a moment that you are at a restaurant and you are eating your favorite dinner after a long day at work. You’ve just had a chance to take a few bites of the main entree and your two side dishes, when suddenly, the waitress returns and snatches the plate out right from under your fork. She doesn’t say anything, simply swoops in and picks up the plate, stares at you for a moment, maybe even turns around briefly, then randomly puts your plate down and walks away. Confused, you look to your dinner-mates and they are just as perplexed. You continue eating your dinner when the waitress returns again. Not wanting to lose your plate again, you say, “Excuse me! I’m not finished!” Yet the waitress ignores your words and takes your plate away for a few moments before placing it back down again. Now, your blood is starting to boil, this is more than just a confused waitress… she’s deliberately ignoring your words and being incredibly rude. Shortly before you finish your amazing dinner you see the waitress approach, this time you cling to the rim of your plate and shout at her, “I AM NOT FINISHED, DO NOT TAKE MY PLATE!” She jumps away and looks almost offended by your reaction.
So now I ask you this… what do you think of that waitress? Do you think your response was reasonable given her actions?
This is what happens every time owners insist on picking up their dog’s bowl mid-meal. People often say “I want my dog to know I can pick up his bowl anytime.” This is extremely flawed thinking. By practicing this, owners are actually creating a reason for the dog to guard his/her food. It has been my experience that many owner accidentally create food aggressive dogs by doing things like this. Even dogs who do not have any resource guarding or food aggression issues can start having issues if owners repeatedly pick up the bowl.
It’s my theory that once my dogs have earned their dinner (with a sit stay or a down stay or other trick) that it is their dinner to have. They have no reason to guard their food because I am no threat to take it away. I very rarely take my dogs’ dinner away and if I do, I actually trade-up for it by offering an even better food (or something equally as yummy).
Shayne came to me a pretty serious resource guarder. When I adopted her I had to sign a waiver acknowledging I was aware of her issue and that I had been given a protocol to follow. After about 3 months of working, her food aggression all but disappeared. While I rarely did, I knew I could pet her while she ate and I could put my hand her bowl without any problems. But I don’t. I don’t particularly want someone giving me a massage or playing with my hair while I’m trying to eat nor do I want someone playing with my food while I eat…so I don’t do it to Shayne. She has learned that I’m the giver of food, not the taker away of food.
What I do think people should do is teach their dogs that people walking passed the food bowl or standing near is a good thing. Instead of petting the dog or putting your hand in the bowl, people should walk passed and drop extra special food near the bowl or stand near while the dog eats and toss food–eventually working toward dropping food near the bowl from a closer distance (but be careful not to be staring or looming, just casually being around).
Instead of either initiating or reinforcing the fear that people will take the food away, people should focus on reinforcing the idea that people near them while they eat means food will rain from the sky and hands going toward the bowl are simply delivering more food.