By HAIRY POPPINS, Jun 28 2020 02:32PM
Should dogs share their food?
If we have one dog that growls & snaps at another dog over food / a bone / a treat / a toy then should we be telling him off for that?
Let's look at that a bit closer ……
Firstly, no dog should EVER be told off for communicating …. And that's what a growl is - communication.
Dogs don't use human words to speak. They have their very own unique, amazing language that doesn't involve "words" but it involves lots of body language & some vocalisation.
In your dogs head, a growl just means "Hey, I'm a bit uncomfortable with whats happening right now so could you please stop" ….. Its a very polite, clear, request that something is wrong. Its not rude. Or nasty. And it certainly doesn't need "telling off"
In an ideal world the second dog would understand this communication & politely back off but sometimes, for various reasons the other dog just doesn't get it - maybe the "treasure" is too magnificent & worth fighting for …. Maybe the other dog just doesn't read canine body language very well and just keeps going back in despite the growls (So its actually THIS dog which needs the training!)
If you tell a dog off for communicating that he is uncomfortable with something then you risk teaching him that there is no point in growling because no one listens & he just gets told off for it anyway…… So, what happens instead? The dog still has those exact same feelings. Hes still uncomfortable & he still doesn't like the other dog being near his food but now hes learnt to "hold it in" until one day he finally snaps and goes for a full on bite / attack "out of the blue" ….. Only its not "out of the blue" at all. He tried telling you days / weeks / months earlier that he was unhappy but no one listened. In fact, he was told off for it. So now, you don't get that beautiful little warning growl …. You don't get that polite communication ….. You get one dog attacking another dog and an owner scratching their head saying to the Vet "but hes been fine around food, we've not had any issues for weeks and now this …"
Secondly, give me one valid reason why you would ever want your dogs to experience stress / anxiety / uncertainty around their food? For what purpose & for what reason would you ever want to make mealtimes stressful? Why would you not want your dogs to enjoy their meals in peace? Why should your dogs not be allowed to enjoy the experience of eating a meal without fear of another dog coming over to him and stealing it?
Perhaps you think its easier for you? Perhaps you'd rather your dogs just got along at all times - even around food? Perhaps you think they should just share? Perhaps you think it means that your dogs are untrained if they dare to communicate to you?? I mean really, do you know how ridiculous that sounds …?!!
I'm sure the waiter in the Restaurant would find it much easier to just serve one or two plates of food and let everyone share but if anyone dared to take my food I'd be growling too ….. That doesn't mean I'm rude or untrained …..
So, what are your options?
1) Stand by the dogs and supervise meal times - this is OK but it doesn't really change the emotional response that the dogs are feeling. Sure, it keeps them apart and it keeps them safe if you watch them closely but mealtimes will still likely feel a bit stressful to the dog wondering if the other one might sneak over. Your dog probably can't totally relax and eat the meal in peace / at his leisure / enjoying it to the full.
2) Tell your dog off for communicating. You'll think you've "trained" your dog to be OK about sharing and then one day, out of the blue, when you're not expecting it the fight from Hell happens.
3) Feed in separate rooms / at different times - This is by far the easiest & quickest option. It eliminates any doubt. The pressure / stress / anxiety around food is immediately reduced.
Of course, some dogs are OK around food - or at least they appear to be to be OK around food and that's fine but there are many dogs who aren't and that's fine, too.
In this case, I always recommend Option 3 …… Because I can not find any valid reason not to …. I'll not tell a dog off for communicating and I'll not want my dogs to ever feel anxious at mealtimes. I love them far too much and I want them to enjoy the experience and make their lives as stress free as I possibly can.
How about you?