All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Food Aggression in Dogs

Dear Marie:
I have adopted a Tibetan Spaniel who is, for the most part, a very sweet dog.  Unfortunately, he gets very possessive around his food dish and shoves my other two dogs, a Shih Tzu and a Pomeranian, away from the food.  He’ll even steal their treats and is always ready to fight.  I would like for them to get along and not have to separate them at feeding or treat time.  What can I do?


Dear Rita:
There are a number of things you can try; but if there is a possibility that your other dogs can be injured during the time it takes to train him, it may be best to feed him in another room with the door closed or outside.  You can even feed your two mild-mannered dogs in a different room with the door closed.  As long as they have a separate location, it's all good.  Use your discretion in that regard.

In the wild, dogs have a definite hierarchy which determines who eats first and who gets the best of the meal.  The alpha dogs always eat first and will definitely bear teeth and bite any other dog that attempts to “dine” at the same time.  Your Tibetan Spaniel seems to think he is the “alpha” of your pack.  If you have not had him neutered, do so immediately.  That should make a big difference in his “top dog” attitude.

When you offer dog treats, put a leash on your aggressor.  If he tries to act out towards your other two, immediately walk him away from the other two dogs and give him a command to sit our lay down.  When he does, praise him and give him a treat.  You can also use the leash method when feeding the three of them together.  By redirecting his focus to the fact that you are the one in charge and that you only approve of good behavior, he will slowly begin to be more tolerant of the other dogs.

Additionally, you should take his food away each and every time he acts.  As soon as he settles down, you may give him back his food.  Of course, he does need to be on a leash or he will just go into the bowls of his housemates, so be sure to keep him away from their dishes. 

Some dogs need space to feel comfortable while eating. It's a good idea to have each dog's food bowl a reasonable distance away from the other bowls.  Furthermore, if he tries to steal treats from the other dogs, don’t reward him by giving him his own treat. 

Experiment with training.  Fill up his food bowl and have him sit and wait until you give him the command to have his meal.  To do this, put him in "down-stay" or "Sit-stay."  (If you haven't mastered these yet, please begin basic training as soon as possible.) Place the food bowl about three feet in front of him.  He will immediately go for it.  You will need to pick up the food bowl and put him back into his down-stay position.  Once he realizes he has to wait, and follows your voice command, then you can allow him to come eat.  By completing this type of training, you are taking away his food dominance and that is really important with food aggression.

The moment he shows improved behavior, lavish him with praise.  Give him the chance to be successful.  Any progress should be rewarded in one way or another.  It will take some time; but with consistency and repetition his behavior will turn around.

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