Prevent It; Don’t Punish It

Question:
I have a 3 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He has been getting aggressive towards my other two dogs, Malteses, about his food. He won’t let the 2 year old near it and attacks him, causing a fight. We have punished him. I don’t know how to stop it besides keeping them apart. They all get along except when it comes to food. My 2 year old pup is getting scared of him now.

Dr. Nichol:
Food-related aggression is not only common among dogs it’s actually normal. Protecting an essential resource is fundamental to their survival. I’m surprised food fights don’t occur more often. I’m part dog. I hate it when people try to eat from my plate.

Dogs have successfully scratched out their existence for millennia in the unforgiving wilds partly because they are genetically programmed for a life of scarcity. Almost everything is a coveted resource; food being the most essential. Our pet dogs are a domesticated species but they retain their survival skills.

Your King Charles, like most dogs, believes that a famine will start in about 20 minute. Never mind that dog food is abundant at your house. This boy is protecting his future when he threatens other dogs who come near his food.

Forget about punishing this natural canine behavior. Focus on the risks instead. The threats and epithets your King Charles hurls at your other dogs can extend beyond food to other contexts. They could start to squabble over favored resting areas, access to furniture, or proximity to you. Dog fights could turn nasty and dangerous.

Feed your dogs at the same time but in separate rooms. When they are together there should never be food of any kind or anything remotely resembling food. Store their food bowls out of sight. Don’t eat or even watch the Food Channel when they’re with you. Finally, dogs innately understand that we are their superiors. Taking their food away while they’re eating is not good leadership; it is actually setting a confused creature up to fail. Everybody has a right to chow down in peace.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.