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Territorialism and Food Bowls

By: Lisa Klassen - Updated: 5 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Pets Animals Dogs Food Guarding Food

It may come as a surprise when your mild mannered pet suddenly starts exhibiting ferocious behaviour around the dining area but it’s not at all uncommon. After all, food equals life in the wild and is simply survival instinct coming to the forefront when your pet gets a little huffy about the food bowl.

Each to Their Own

One of the easiest ways to avoid territorialism issues is to give each pet their own food bowl. No animal likes to share food with another animal if they can possibly help it. If your pets are pocket pets or birds and are caged together, put the bowls as far apart from each other as possible. Make sure you feed the animals at the same time, the same amount. With cats, food territorialism may be a question of hierarchy and dominance among multiple cats in the household. In that case, there isn’t much you can do as this is the social structure of the cat world, any attempts to interfere will make the dominant cat distrust you and take its displeasure out on your other pets. Although we may not like it, cats have their own way of doing things.

Food Territorialism Against Humans

This habit must be broken for the safety of your kids, who may get bitten by walking too close to a food dish. Dogs are particularly prone to food guarding due to strong possessive instincts so don’t take this tendency to heart; it’s not a case of biting the hand that feeds you. Canines have deep-seated instincts in this matter and this is purely based on a feeling of insecurity around their food source, which you are about to train them out of.

Mild Food Guarding Tendencies

This is when your dog stops eating when you are around, stares at you, begins to gulp food as you approach or gives the occasional throat growl when you walk too near. In this case, you need to remind your pet that humans are the ones providing the food and there is no need to get touchy. Command your dog to sit and have him watch as you put a little food in the bowl. Instead of putting the bowl down, hold it and have the dog eat out of bowl. When he’s finished, put a little more food in and repeat the process. At the end, give him a treat, fuss and praise. Do this for 2-3 days.

Next, fill the bowl full but still hold it. Have a treat ready and pull the bowl away while your dog is eating. If he tries to follow the bowl, tell him ‘no!’, get him to sit and then give him a treat. Place a treat on top of the food bowl, then give it back. Repeat this process for a few more days. Finally, on about the 5th day, place your hand on your dog’s back while he’s eating, praising and reassuring him the whole time. Give a treat when he’s done dinner. A few nights of this and your problem should be solved.

Heavy Food Guarding Tendencies

This process will be a little lengthier and takes more patience. This is for dogs that snarl or growl deep in their bodies when you get close, bite the air, attempt to chase you away or bite when they are eating. These dogs need a strong show of dominance to learn you are the alpha and you’ll need to be more cautious so you don’t get bitten. Command your dog to sit, then put down an empty bowl. Let your dog look at it for a minute so the message sinks in, then put a small amount of food in the bowl. After he’s finished eating, make the dog wait for a minute or two before putting more in. Use a wooden spoon with a long handle for feeding or drop bits of dry food from above to keep your arm safe from bites.

If your dog growls at you at all during this time, say ‘NO’ in a commanding and calm manner, then make an active point of putting the food away and walking out of the room without looking at him. Come back in half an hour to an hour and try again. Any growls or shows of aggression, walk away. He’ll quickly get the message. After a few days of spoon feeding, gradually get closer to the dish, watching his body language. If there are no growls, eventually switch over to the mild food guarding method. However, if his behaviour persists it’s time to bring in a professional trainer.

Neutering or spaying your pets greatly reduces territorialism and other dominance issues, so this could also provide a solution for acts of territorialism in your pet.

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