bolt is a wonderful dog!

but, like all dogs and humans, he has his own unique personality and quirks. we think that he may have been the dominant puppy in his litter and/or was very used to fighting his siblings for food when he was little.

growing up, i helped raise 4 puppies over the years (you know, the way that all kids help out with puppy chores), but none of those 4 dogs ever had any dog food aggression issues.

we didn’t notice that bolt had anything going on with him for the first few days that we had him, probably because we just didn’t happen to touch him while he was eating. we touched the bowl, moved it or picked it up, but never touched him. when we touched his bowl he never responded, since (as we learned later) some dogs are only bothered if they are touched when eating.

the first time we realized he had some dog food aggression issues was about a week after we got him. we fed him in his usual bowl and we were watching him eat. jason noticed that he was eating super fast (not unusual for a puppy) and got a little nervous that he might choke. so, he put his hand on him and tried to pull him back a little bit from the food. as soon as he touched him, bolt started making a gurgling sound in his throat, which jason thought was choking. so, he picked him up and tired to look to him. during this time, after hearing him make the noise without the food in his mouth, i knew he was growling.

just as i was saying “he’s not choking, he’s growling at you,” bolt started freaking out (still in jason’s arms) and growling, showing his teeth, and getting so worked up that he was spitting and struggling. he was amazingly intense and seemed like a possessed demon dog!

jason put him on the ground and had to work a little bit to get him onto his back. he held him down for a little bit until bolt relented (which took a little while).

at the time, we thought that being the alpha in the pack would mean that we would need to show him his place during times like this by asserting our position over him. maybe this would have worked for a different dog after just one time being bluffed down, but it didn’t work for bolt. he did this to us a few more times and we continued to bluff him down. still, we didn’t feel like it was working, and only making him more anxious during eating time. after a few weeks we decided to look into other methods for teaching him that it was okay for us to touch him when he was eating and to let him know that we were, in fact, the top dogs.

i had heard all about cesar millan before, but had never seen any of his videos or read any of his writings. we decided to look into his website and check out his videos online. they helped a great deal!!!!

here is the run down of what we learned about how to deal with dog food aggression in the safest and least stressful way (for both you and your dog).

depending on the severity of their dog food aggression, this is what we think could work:

  • start by feeding your dog and simply walking by him while he is eating. if he acts aggressive as you walk by, be sure to have a scrap of something more delicious his dog food in your hand, and toss it in/near his bowl. this teaches him that human presence near him when eating is not a threat. in fact, it is a benefit… he might just get a treat!
  • each day, or every few days, you can walk closer to him while eating (always with that extra bit of something yummy), and eventually stop and stand near him.
  • in our case, since bolt only cared if we touched him, we started by getting close to him and putting the treat in the bowl (watch body language and don’t push any boundaries!). after a while, we would pet him a little while he ate.

we also decided that we weren’t too concerned about him wanting his own space while eating, but we wanted to be sure that any future kids wouldn’t have trouble if they bumped into him while he was eating. we thought (after watching a cesar millan video) that one of the best ways to remind him that we were in charge was to have him sit and wait before we was allowed to eat. we also decided to train him to sit part of the way through eating and wait again, while we added treats to his bowl. this has been super successful, and he knows that he must sit and wait (even if he is salivating and the bowl is right in front of him) until we say “go!” he’ll even listen to his “stay” command before eating if we are in the next room.

ever since implementing these tactics, we have had no trouble with bolt’s food aggression. we still have to make him “sit” and “let go” of any bone he might be chewing on, because he is sensitive about the bones, but we’ve found that offering him a piece of meat in exchange for the bone works nicely.

ultimately, you have to decide what sort of relationship you want to have with your dog, taking into account his own personality (and yours). bolt is a great listener in all other aspects and we are happy with the way we’ve approached his training, especially since i can now give him a “good dog” pat while he eats without fearing that he’ll growl at me!