Food Guarding is a BIG Problem
The guarding of food is a very common problem and one that trainers and behaviourists are called out to deal with regularly. Dogs can get very animated when they guard their food – growling, snarling and doing just about all they can to hang on to it. Many dogs will bite if pushed far enough.
I dug up some old statistics for this blog and in ONE year Battersea Dogs Home euthanized 1931 dogs due to behaviour. It took in 7866 dogs that year. That’s 24.5% of all of the dogs it took in, euthanized for behaviour. Almost one in four!
I’m not saying all of those dogs euthanized will have been food guarders, but I bet it was a good percentage of them. With that in mind, we need to do all we can to prevent this problem occurring.
How Some Breeders Are Unintentionally Failing Dogs
Unfortunately some breeders are getting it wrong right from the start. They feed the whole litter from just one or two bowls.
Puppies are at the end of the day animals and like all animals they’re hard wired to survive. In the big bad world surviving means competing. By providing them with a finite, but valuable resource (food) in a single bowl they’re hardwired to compete to eat more of it than their siblings. If they eat more of it they will have a better chance of surviving.
The puppy doesn’t know you’ve got a freezer full of dog food. The puppy doesn’t know it’s getting another meal at 5pm. All of the puppy’s instincts are geared towards making it to adulthood so it can reproduce. If pushing, growling at or moving the other puppies out of the way increases it’s intake of food. It’s going to do it.
Practise Makes Perfect… Kind Of?
Now by the time the puppy is sold to it’s new owner it’s spent eight, twelve maybe even sixteen weeks practising that guarding behaviour. That’s it’s whole life. It’s been guarding food from the moment it was born.
I want to show you some video. This is two puppies competing for the same food. At the moment the behaviour is restricted to pushing each other. This can become more intense with repetition before eventually becoming what we recognise as guarding – snarling, growling etc.
The Transition from Puppies to People
This is what saves a lot of dogs. They never make the transition. They never take that guarding behaviour they learnt and apply it to people. Lucky buggers.
Here’s what happens to the unlucky ones…
They get taken to their new home. Their lovely new owners give their pup a bone to celebrate their new arrival. Puppy is overjoyed, this is the best thing he’s ever had. He wouldn’t give it up for all the breeder’s kibble in the world. So of course, when the new owner’s eight year old child tries to take the bone from him naturally he does what he’s always done. He pushes and shoves and does his best to keep the bone… but the child is too strong. It doesn’t take the puppy losing this battle of strength too many times before he realises he has to up the ante.
Fast forwards six months and that little puppies behavioural repertoire has expanded. No longer is he just growling but if pushed he’ll bite or snarl. This will earn him a quick trip to the pound. If he’s not lucky enough to go to a rescue with the facilities, knowledge and motivation to try to rehabilitate him (few and far between unfortunately) then pup’s a goner.
How Do We Prevent This?
Simple. A bowl per puppy, supervision and/or physical barriers to prevent food guarding. This will prevent this potential cause of resource guarding. That’s not to say a puppy fed in it’s own bowl can’t develop resource guarding but it’s a measure we can take to aid in prevention.
Battersea Dogs Home statistic: