What To Do When Your Dogs Fight Over Treats And Chews
Lindsay Pevny for DogTreatWeb
You love rewarding your good dogs with tasty treats and chews from Jones Natural Chews – but every once in a while, someone gets greedy.
Dog-to-dog food aggression and resource guarding are a scary problem in my household. It’s extra-scary because Matilda is a 4-pound chihuahua-minpin, and Cow is a 30-pound lab-heeler. While they both get greedy, Cow always has the upper paw because of her size – and could seriously injure her “little” sister in an instant.
As you’d expect, growling and attacking other dogs over food is an instinctual behavior that comes from times in which dogs were wild and food was scarce – not sold by the 30-pound bagful. Simply having plenty for everyone to eat doesn’t stop many dogs from feeling the need to go postal over noms – especially bones and chews.
Just because it’s a natural instinct, doesn’t mean you should allow your dogs to practice canine-to-canine resource guarding and food aggression in your home. Nor should you punish this behavior. Resource guarding comes from fear – the immediate fear of losing a yummy treat, and the deep-rooted instinctual fear of starving to death.
To prevent and manage food fights, you’ll need to encourage your guarder to feel secure in her food supply while encouraging better manners from your food stealer. Here’s how I do both to keep Matilda and Cow safe:
Prevention Always Comes First
Do your pups fight over a specific toy? Is every dinnertime a war, or are they best friends until the pig ear party starts?
Once you identify your dogs’ triggers, you need to prevent them from happening. Prevention isn’t always possible. Realistically, life happens. But you should never place your dogs in a situation that you know can trigger aggression.
Your dogs should never eat from the same bowl, even if they’re not mad about kibble. Give each dog a minimum of 4 feet of space between eating areas – the more, the better. Discourage dogs from eating from any other bowl than their own.
Your dog’s crate should be her own personal space. Feed bones and chews in locked crates with plenty of distance between them – or, better yet, keep your dogs in completely separate rooms while they chow down on long-lasting snacks.
If you don’t have crates, or you’ll find it difficult to keep your dogs separate, you might need to stop giving them long-lasting edible chews until they learn to get along.
Your dogs can still enjoy treats like lamb lung puffs – anything that can disappear in a few bites is appropriate. We’re been loving these puffs – they break up easily for training, and sometimes I soak them in hot water for a few minutes before training to make them soft and extra smelly. Yum!
Treat Quickly And Well
Giving multiple dogs treats at once can be risky. If you drop a treat between them, they might both go for it at the same time. I had this problem when Cow and Matilda first met. They didn’t yet understand the concept of taking turns.
Since Cow was more often the guarder, I taught her to wait for her treat until trying to snatch Matilda’s. I would treat Matilda first, then quickly, quickly deliver a treat to Cow’s mouth using my other hand. She picked up on this fast.
If you ever drop a treat between your dogs, quickly say, “good dog!” or any noise or word to prevent them from lunging for it at the same time. Swiftly offer another treat to whoever didn’t get the first.
These lessons in taking turns should be done carefully, by an adult, and only in mild cases. Testing your dogs could push them too far. It could make the behavior worse. Please be ever-so-careful any time you’re dealing with dog aggression, and go to a trainer or behaviorist if you’re not sure you can keep your dogs safe.
Never, Ever, Ever Punish A Growl
When your dog is being a jerk to your other dog, you might feel tempted to yell at her. After all, that’s no way to treat her sister.
It’s normal for housemates to occasionally growl when another gets too close for comfort. It’s a necessary warning signal – a polite way of saying, “Excuse me, but, mine!”
If you punish your dog for growling, showing her teeth or snapping at her housemates, you may just add to her fear, making her aggression worse. Instead, train your dogs to come when called and to “leave it,” then use these commands when your dogs get too close for comfort.
In mild situations, the dogs may work out their squabbles on their own. The food stealer might learn her lesson. However, with the risk of injury involved, it’s not wise to depend on your dogs to safely teach each other lessons. Calmly intervene and separate your dogs if they escalate to physical contact.
Encourage A Loving Bond Between Your Dogs
When you get a new dog, especially a puppy younger than your resident dog, there’s a strong chance you’ll see some food guarding.
As your dogs bond and begin to trust one another, they may not feel the need to protect their food as much. Gently encourage a loving bond without forcing a friendship.
Allow your dogs to play together, but supervise them carefully. It’s normal for dogs to bare their teeth and make lots of noise when they play. We call it the “Scissor Bitey Game,” and it’s always a hit.
At times, though, I notice Matilda getting extra defensive, possibly because she knows her size puts her at a disadvantage. Her body will stiffen, her tail will point straight up or tuck between her legs. That’s when I say, “okay, cool it,” and step towards them – that’s enough to end an overzealous game.
Dogs also bond during walks. Take them on a leashed walk in an area that’s new to both of them. New areas are interesting enough to keep them occupied while they spend time together, and the neutrality prevents territorial tension.
Remember to spend both solo and together time with your dogs. Aggression is almost always an expression of fear and insecurity. The more you encourage positive interactions and prevent negative ones, the better they’ll feel about sharing a home and humans with their doggy housemates.