Sacrosanct Meal Times

I often get the question of what kind of “training” once needs to do when feeding a puppy. Some trainers recommend taking away a puppies food to teach a puppy not to guard. I believe that taking a food away from a dog actually teaches the dog to guard food. Turid Rugaas, International Behaviourist and President of PDTE puts it quite articulately:

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A streetie dog sporting a TYD reflective collar and enjoying a meal. Everyone deserves to enjoy peace during meal times

What we see is that at about the age of 4 – 6 weeks, puppies learn to respect teach other. In fact, they learn this so well that it
sticks with them for the rest of their lives if we do not disrupt it. That’s when we will see the mother leaves food for the puppy to take and she will never claim it back. That means that by the time you get your new puppy, he has already learnt that when he’s got food, nobody will take it from him. Now you know why they get so scared and frustrated when people start grabbing their food. Never, ever, take a puppy’s food away – or an adult dog’s for that matter – because that is how you teach them to be food aggressive.

When Tigger came home she had severe resource guarding – food guarding being one of them. When she was eating if any of us so much as looked in her direction, she growled visciously. We let her keep her food and stayed as far away as possible. We watched how Nishi dealt with her. Nishi did the same. She figured out the distance that Tigger was comfortable with and stayed at that distance at all times. As the days passed, this distance gradually reduced. Tigger tolerated more and more proximity. Nishi gradually approached, always mindful of respecting Tigger’s need for space. Today the food guarding has disappeared. She no more sees the need to guard her food from Nishi or from us.
Often I hear clients say this to me. Many complain that their dogs are fussy eaters and take forever to finish their meal. But the fussiest of eaters polish off their meal when in the the company of other dogs. Why is that? Because the presence of another dog often poses a threat to the food. I have seen one thing common among all shelter dogs – they polish off their meal in a jiffy. No fussy dog whatsoever. So, what’s going on here? The dog is stressed out and gobbles up the meal in an attempt to consume what she perceives to be her share.

The insecurity around food is the worst form of insecurity, is it not? I often wonder how it must feel for one to fear loss of food. Sounds terrible. And to inflict fear of such nature on another sounds barbaric, to say the least. I once read an article that rightly posed this question “Is it really too much for a dog to ask for some personal space and time each day to eat his meal in peace, away from other dogs, away from children, away from guests – in his own private corner?”.

So, I ask you this. Why not make that a little ritual. One little corner and a tiny slice of time dedicated for our companion’s meal. I am sure it’s not impossible to dedicate a spot on the balcony or kitchen or even an unused bathroom where a dog can go in, enjoy his meal and not have people or dogs walking around him and for us to guarantee that he will NOT be disturbed as long as he is eating. Of course, if my dogs chose to walk out, without finishing their meal, then I clear the food up, so that there are no literal bones of contention lying around. But as long as they are chowing down, I consider their meal time as sacrosanct as mine. I don’t like to be disturbed and I don’t like my plate to be taken away from me while I am eating. I am sure they don’t like it. And I see no wisdom in doing it. Watching Nishi with Tigger told me that dogs don’t believe in such rude behaviour either. So…how is meal time going to be?

Thanks to the members of Bombat Dawgz for the generous contribution of images. 

Image credits

  • Anusha J Karnad for image of boy sporting a TYD collar
  • Sohamjita Roy for the image of the lovely dog being a bunny for a day
  • Tejaswi Poorva for the image for the squirrel. Hey EVERYONE deserves some privacy no?
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