The 4-year-old English Bull Terrier is only guarding food related items. He doesn’t guard toys or anything else.
He is an interesting character. Apart from guarding food he is affectionate and gentle. He can also be very demanding, especially in the evenings when he occupies himself with anything that he knows will get a reaction, whether it’s knocking over a flower vase, pushing over a full mug of tea, or fiddling around in a corner where there are cables.
It took a while for Reggie to stop trying to jump onto me, and he just checked again several times during the evening. Mostly he settled beside me – something very unusual with visitors. There was no reprimanding. I simply showed him by my response what I didn’t want and, more importantly, what I did want. He understood.
Strangely, although Reggie is happy to set off on a walk, he’s not gone far before he wants to come home again. He is a heavy dog, and if he goes on strike he’s very difficult to move.
He normally takes little notice of other dogs, though what prompted them to get in touch with me was the other day he attacked a smaller dog – something unprecedented and seemingly for no reason. The dog was on lead, Reggie wasn’t.
Reggie is a dog whose day revolves around his own wishes and much of that is food driven! I know his humans won’t mind my saying that he carries too much weight. He is given treats simply for looking at the cupboard and asking. They all share their food with him while they eat. He may even lunge to snatch something out of their hands like a bag of crisps.
I have created a ‘recipe’ for them to follow to resolve his obsessive behaviour around his food.
They have been tipping his food on the floor so there is no bowl to guard. He goes at it before it’s even hit the floor – like he’s afraid he will lose it. He wolfs it down but freezes and shows the whites of his eyes if anybody goes anywhere near.
The key is to convince Reggie that his humans are ‘givers’, not ‘takers’. We will first get him used to receiving food a bit at a time in an empty bowl.
To stop possible guarding of any one location, they will put the bowl in a different place each time. To avoid possible guarding of a particular vessel, they will use a variety of bowls and pans.
We also considered whether the marble floor which resulted in his bowl sliding around may have encouraged the pushing and guarding of the bowl itself, so bowls will now be placed on a mat.
After several weeks probably, they will move on to placing all the food into the empty bowl. Next they will fill the bowl before they put it down and gradually teach him some impulse control so he doesn’t dive in too fast. They will walk about and they will stand still – regularly dropping good stuff in. Instead of taking the bowl away from him, they will call him away and out of the room before lifting it. Ultimately they will be able to take up the bowl in return for something else – chicken maybe.
When Reggie knows that people near his food mean better stuff is always added and when access to all food will be under the control of his humans and not himself, he will stop all this I’m sure.
I believe that all dogs should be left to eat in peace, and that a lot of guarding behaviours have been triggered by humans ‘training’ their dogs to have their food taken away from them by interrupting the meal. It somewhat predictably often has the opposite effect.
Our ‘slowly slowly’ strategy is much the same with Reggie’s walks. He will start with many short sessions near home where he is happy, and only very gradually, a few yards at a time, will they take him further afield – always coming home before he’s had enough.
He has a life of too much fussing, too much food, and too little to occupy himself in terms of healthy stimulation. Change this, and most other things will fall into place.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good – most particularly where any aggressive behaviour is concerned. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).