Dog on the couch

2015-11-12 06:00

Hi Susan, I am concerned about my four-month-old puppy which growls when approached when eating. Is this cause for concern? How should I handle this?

Thanks, Beverly

There are two sides to this. Just as we naturally would be inclined to react defensively if we perceived that our food or favourite drink or some other valuable possession was being threatened, so it is a natural reaction for a dog to show distance-increasing signals such as a lip-lift or a growl to defend his or her meal. But, even though this is natural, understandable behaviour, it may develop into an unacceptable, dangerous habit that could result in an accident. Another good reason to nip this in the bud is the likelihood that at some point it may become necessary to remove food from the dog’s mouth (such as, for example, poisonous cycad seeds, raisons, or human pills that the dog may have got hold of), and so the dog needs to be taught to accept the removal of the food or object safely. At the same time the dog deserves to have a safe and peaceful area to eat, where he won’t be disturbed.

Start this training by asking the puppy to sit at his empty dish, and then add his food a little at a time. In this way he will learn that your close proximity results in food being put into his bowl. Allow all suitably competent or carefully supervised family members to take turns feeding the dog in this way. Once the dog is content with this approach, pick up the empty dish, place a special, tasty treat in the bowl and return it to the puppy. I would suggest feeding one of his meals a day in this way until you are confident with him, and then sporadically repeat the exercise to reinforce the learning.

All the best with your new family member.

- Susan Henderson
(accredited animal

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