by Sam Mazzotta
DEAR PAW’S CORNER: We have two dogs: a German shepherd, Brutus, whom we’ve had since he was a puppy, and a Belgian shepherd, Sheeba, whom we adopted from a shelter. Both dogs have their own set of dishes for water and food. The problem is that Sheeba guards both food dishes and won’t let Brutus eat. We have to call Brutus over, and even then, it looks like he is sneaking to eat his own food.
We know Sheeba came from a breeder who had many dogs, which is why she probably had to hoard her own food. I think that habit was brought over, but I don’t know how to break it. Any advice? — Irena H.
DEAR IRENA: Your hunch about Sheeba may be right. In an environment where she had to compete with many dogs, she intimidated other dogs in order to get her share. She’s clearly taken the dominant role over Brutus in the household.
It also sounds like she does obey your commands to come away from the food. This is a good thing, because you can work with Sheeba to train her that guarding the food is not a desirable action.
Many experts recommend that you start this training by feeding Sheeba separately from Brutus — either at a different time, or in a different place. Keep the training positive — the goal is to help her relax and see the feeding area as a safe place.
The first few times, place her empty food dish in front of her. After she’s investigated it, approach the dish (from Sheeba’s side, not directly at her) with a scoop of food. Speak soothingly and encouragingly the entire time. Whenever Sheeba demonstrates a desirable action — staying relaxed, not getting tense or guarding food from you — place a small treat in the food dish.
When she is completely comfortable eating with humans nearby, gradually bring Brutus back into the mix, with the same scenario: positive reinforcement only, treats only when she stays relaxed. This may take awhile, so be patient and careful, especially when reintroducing your second dog.