Three year old Black Labrador Alfie is in nearly every respect a good natured and biddable dog. However, in one respect, his behaviour has been worsening over the past year or so. They can’t pinpoint when it started.
He behaves aggressively around his food and they are no longer able to give him bones or chews.
All the time he’s eating he is growling and snarling, and he’s gulping like he’s expecting his bowl to be removed at any moment. This has never happened, and I’m assured his food has never been interfered with while he’s eating. They certainly wouldn’t dare go near now!
The very first time he did it his humans’ response will have, unintentionally, made it worse. If they had known how to react back then, the behaviour would never have developed, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
In response to the growling, instead of feeding him by himself in the utility room as they used to, they have moved his bowl into the kitchen, near to where they may be moving about. Before the bowl is put down, Alfie is sent the other side of the room and told to sit and wait. The bowl goes down. He still must sit and wait until the man walks away from the bowl and says he can GO. Alfie will then charge to his bowl, growling ferociously and gobble up his food, snarling all the time. It seemed to me that he feels he’s waiting on a starting block, and there may be a race as to who gets the food first once the starter pistol goes off.
Where is the logic, in a dog’s mind, to being told to sit, wait, and so on before being allowed to eat his food once it’s been put down? Humans do it as a sort of ritual. I prefer to do things in such a way that they have some meaning to the dog. I prefer for the dog to be calm before the food goes down, and to work it out for himself without commands.
While I was there it was Alfie’s dinner time, and we tried something different. The bowl was put down in the large kitchen, but well away from us all. Alfie was ignored – there was no telling him to go away, to sit or to wait. I suggested the man stood and held the bowl for a few seconds before putting it down. Alfie was standing quietly and politely beside him. I wanted Alfie to realise that the food, before it was down, belonged to the man – but once down it was all his. I wanted him to use his brains.
The food went down, Alfie moved straight in, the man came away and sat down with us and we ignored Alfie. There was one initial very short growl, out of habit, but that was all! He didn’t even bolt his food.
The food itself needs to be changed to something better. We will be following up with further strategies until Alfie is relaxed while people are moving around near him while he eats.