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Canine Behavior/Food aggression in older dog


Hi, Thanks for reading this.  We have a 7 year old 85lb chow mix that has been a great and friendly dog his whole life.  We raised him with an open food bowl (always food and could eat whenever he wanted) and this has just been the way our house was ran.  He was raised with other dogs in the house who have passed on at this point, only leaving him.  All the dogs would actually eat out of the same bowl without any issues or guarding problems.  

We had a few  new experiences (some awful) in the last year and half.  He was lost with our other dog over Christmas in 2011 for 2 weeks when visiting family.  We luckily recovered him, but our other dog never was.  We have since fostered for a rescue a few times, which he did fine with.  He has also been put on a diet for being 15lbs over weight. With age I guess his metabolism isn't as it used to be so we had to start measuring his food and switch to a weight control mix (which most of the time he does not eat all of in a 24 hr period except for the following reasons)

It seems to be the last 6 months or so that he is gradually becoming food/toy aggressive.  I noticed it first with our cats, if they were to go up to his food bowl or even pass by it he would whimper and then guard it (no growling just lay his head over it (or eat constantly until it was all gone) and whimper until the cat went away).  Then with a recent foster I noticed him snarl if the other dog came near him while eating (warning growl).  So I started keeping his food and the other dogs food in separate rooms.  BUT he is also doing that same growling over toys or bones.  If he is playing with a toy and the other dog wants to play too, he will growl at them.  Now if he is uninterested and the other dog is chewing a bone, he does nothing, only if it is in his possession.

We have never had any issues like this with him before, he was always a really easy going dog.   I would just like to find the cause/nip this in the bud before it becomes a serious issue and not just warnings.  Any advice would be appreciated.  We understand if changes need to be made (like keeping toys picked up, food separated, but would also like to try to figure out why the sudden change)

Your dog is demonstrating an active and growing anxiety over too many changes in your household, too rapidly, and too much inconsistency in his social hierarchy.  Introducing foster dogs (multiple) into a home where there was a "closed" social hierarchy (only your own dogs who then disappeared or died) needs to be done expertly.  One cannot just bring another dog into a home and the more often one does this, the greater the stress on the resident dog.

Putting a dog who was free fed on a restricted diet creates problems.  First, you must be absolutely certain that the food he is now being fed meets his nutritional requirements.  Many commercial dog foods low in "calories" and intended for weight loss DO NOT, so the dog is constantly hungry (not good).  Such a dog will develop aggression over what "little" food he can get if there are other dogs around and then will generalize to any other animals and even people (young children, first). This will then generalize to trophying behavior (guarding toys, for example).

This dog is not a candidate for foster dogs in the home.  Ask your veterinarian what sort of food is best after explaining the developing situation/problem (food aggression and now trophying behavior).  Further deprivation (picking up toys, withdrawing tiny treats, confining him by himself to eat a small portion of food that does not satisfy his nutritional requirements, etc.) is unfair.  I'd rather see a happy, overweight dog than a dog filled with anxiety in an environment where he was once free of same and felt "safe" (not that he ISN'T safe, just that he doesn't feel that way).

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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