Hunter guards his food and he guards his food bowl.
(Too often when someone calls me about a problem with their Cocker Spaniel, it’s to do with resource guarding).
The thirteen-month-old Working Cocker’s resource guarding problems are almost certainly genetic, possibly made worse by all the sibling puppies competing over the same bowl of food (I’m only guessing).
At nine weeks old he was growling at anyone who came too close while he ate. The lady worked at this and all was okay for a while.
Over the past few weeks Hunter’s resource guarding problems have been getting worse.
She reached down to retrieve something from him…
A few days ago he leapt up and bit the lady’s mother on the chest. He had nicked a poo bag and, without thinking, she reached to get it out of his mouth. This was the worst bite so far and he broke the skin. She recoiled. Angry, he followed her and flew at her again.
Most times the problems occur shortly after Hunter has finished a meal.
He saves his worst behaviour for the teenage girl. She makes an excited fuss of him whenever she comes into the house and she panders to all his demands for attention.
She can be sitting on the sofa and Hunter will have deposited his food bowl somewhere nearby – deliberately. It’s like he is setting her up. Although it may be out of sight somewhere, he guards his food bowl.
He then sits between her legs, staring at her. As soon as she gives him eye contact, he goes for her.
If she moves or gets up he goes for her. So far he’s not broken skin, but it’s sudden and scary.
He guards his food bowl
The behaviour is always after he has finished his meal. He parades and guards his food bowl. The girl is his victim.
Possessiveness is a sign of insecurity, isn’t it – fear of losing something. The same with bullying and the need to control people. Hunter picks on the people he considers weakest – the ones that fuss him most and pander to him.
The girl must fuss him less. When she comes home, instead of wildly exciting greetings, she will play it cool. As soon as he sits between her legs, looking into her face – setting her up – she should immediately cross her arms and look away. ‘I’m not playing your game’.
Without that food bowl, Hunter is unlikely to display this behaviour.
The worst approach is for anyone to be to be confrontational because he will almost certainly be defiant and more aggressive in return. They will do their best not to pander to all his demands for attention. This means being consistent and rewarding good behaviour. Despite two hours of walks a day, he needs more for his working-dog brain to do.
Keeping him as calm as possible reduces the probability of future explosions. The girl in particular should be much calmer and more aloof with him. The family should help her – calling him away (kindly) when he is between her legs and staring, particularly if she wants to get up.
Addressing the problem
The resource guarding behaviour in general needs to be addressed head-on. They will take nothing off Hunter unless it’s a willing exchange. If the item isn’t going to kill him, they must leave it. (It will mean sacrificing underwear if they don’t keep it out of reach!).
Meanwhile, they will work on exchange games. They should always give more than they take away. They should be seen as givers and not takers.
Here is a great video from Chirag Patel showing the patience needed to teach the dog to drop.
Ditch the bowl.
For a dog that guards his food bowl, the solution is simple. Ditch the bowl.
Weather allowing, they will sprinkle his kibble all over the grass so he can live up to his name and hunt for it.
If it’s wet, they can do the same thing all over the floor of the ‘side room’ where they feed him. At present, when he’s finished, he carries the bowl out of the room. I suggest, with the food over the floor, they shut the door and leave him alone until he’s finished.
Then, when he comes out they should shut the door again – just in case the dog that guards his food bowl now redirects onto guarding the room instead.
They have a little granddaughter who ‘he’s fine with’. She even gets in his bed with him and she takes his toys from him.
I fear this is a time-bomb. They urgently need to do something as, even in the same room, they don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. They tried a high dog gate, but Hunter immediately leapt it. If they can’t get an even higher gate they should muzzle him around the child.
Disaster can happen too easily: My dog bit my child today
Finally , they will change his diet. Despite the fancy pack, the food is very low in nutritional value. Food can have a big impact on behaviour. Poor quality protein can interfere with a dog’s ability to make use of the serotonin that occurs naturally in his system. Serotonin helps regulate mood. Foods containing high-quality protein can contribute to the dog’s behavioural health.