Is This a Bad Idea?

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I have written about Tucker before.  He’s a keeper.  But he has this little secret.  He wags his tail and he’s about perfected the puppy dog eyes.  But there is something that lurks in his darkness.  Meal time.  He completely turns into a different dog!  He turns from the short, fat, lazy, happy dog into a potential killer.  He seriously shows his fangs, his hair stands up, and he growls like a mad dog when there is food around.

Tucker’s background:  We rescued him at 2 months old.  So, we assume that he was fighting for his food (or having it stolen from him) before he was found and then rescued by us.  We have had him now for over two and a half years.

We have tried EVERYTHING!  I mean everything.  But, as soon as I put down a bowl of food, he snaps and becomes the beast.

BUT, it is different if I am feeding him a snack out of my hand.  I have started feeding him his dinner out of my hands.  He happily eats.  Never growls.  And walks away with a “thank you” attitude. SO, HERE IS THE QUESTION:  Is this helping or making it worse?  Will he learn to separate food and aggression?  Or am I spoiling him?

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85 thoughts on “Is This a Bad Idea?

  1. He’s probably aggressive once you set down his bowl because he thinks you will take it from him. I think you should continue feeding him by hand. Plus, he’ll eat in moderation too that way.

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  2. First off, I am so happy you rescued him before a shelter saw that he was aggressive at mealtime or he may not have made it!

    Now, this aggressive behavior is most likely learned from past stress. Like you said having to fight for food or having his food being taken away.

    That being said, it’s a good sign that he doesn’t snap food out of your hands in my opinion. When you feed him in a bowl, you can always try standing next to him and talking to him calmly, try that for a few weeks and see if it helps change his demeanor. Show him that you are not threatening his meal time and that he is safe.

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  3. Put down an empty bowl, and then feed him by putting a handful at a time into the bowl. That way he’ll see your hand close to the bowl as “giving” and not “taking”. Occasionally drop an extra special treat into the bowl. As puppies I always trained my dogs that hands close to the bowl means adding something cool.

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  4. I totally get why you are doing this BUT it will not help in the long run and you are not solving the problem. What happens when you can’t be there some day to feed the dog for example? If you’ve truly tried everything, then you probably used a trainer. Find another one and keep looking for a solution and keep your vet in the loop on progress or set backs with behavior. Feeding the dog by hand is a huge mistake. You may have tried this but avoidance is often a good route to take. It takes at least four weeks if not longer in tough cases to work though. Feed the dog behind a closed secure door. When the dog is done eating and out of the vicinity take the food bowl away. This teaches the dog that he is safe while he eats and eating is no big deal. Feeding him by hand is teaching him the opposite. He will not learn to separate food from aggression the way you are doing it now.

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    • Thank you so much for comments! We have his bowl in the laundry room. We tried that for about a year. Letting him go in and eat by himself. He started sitting by the door and growling at anyone that even got close to the laundry room door, claiming that as his space. Wish i could know what was going through his little doggie brain. Our vet suggested putting down one bite at a time and calling him to it. We are still trying that but he still growls as anyone gets close to him and his one bite of food. Wish you could see him to give tips, i know that makes it hard

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      • I know it’s hard and it’s wonderful that you not only rescued him but that you won’t give up in trying to ease his stress around food. Keep at it and maybe the goal should first be to lessen anxiety before entirely getting rid of it. Small victories are important when training in a difficult situation. It takes some dogs a very very long time to get over this particular problem. Keep at it. The little guy is blessed to have found you! He’s adorable!

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  5. I applaud you for rescuing him in the first place. I’m no dog trainer – but the idea of feeding him a little handfuls in the bowl makes sense. You can eventually work this up to one big bowl of food. good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello, I asked a friend who is a pet behavior specialist and his advice aligns with @sarcoidosissoldier above. He said it was environment not when or quantity or the container. He strongly suggests a trainer as well, I apologize if you have written to this already, I am still rather new to wordpress. He offered this website to look for a trainer should you need to. apdt.com
    Good luck~I really hope you and your doggie companion find a solution.
    ❤ Paris

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  7. I think you’re doing exactly the right thing. The experts say to stick you hands in their food bowl. But since you probably wouldn’t have fingers when you brought your hand back, yours sounds like a good solution. He is a cutey!

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    • I have tried different things. Just saying “no,” taking away his food and trying again later, I tried for a long time to just keep my hand on his back while he was eating and growling hoping that he would just get used to me being there, a while ago we had an electric fence to teach him the boundaries of our yard. worked like a charm. we got a hand held remote to try to use when he growled…..none of those things “cured him.”

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  8. Maybe this video will help?

    From the Dog Whisperer………. Good luck…… any idea how to get my dog to quit going to the bathroom inside…… all of a sudden she is apparently afraid to even go outside?

    Strange.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you thank you thank you for the video! i love the dog whisper! we often watch his shows! i don’t know how we missed this one! i was laughing when i was watching the second dog because it was just like tucker! i am definitely going to try what he did. i wish i could have seen him continue until the dog got to eat. i am going to write him a letter with a follow up question on that episode. i can get tucker to the point of calming down but if i touch him, the aggression continues or as soon as he has his food it is like he think he won the battle.

      your dog question. ehhh. sorry. that is not fun. sounds like she is mad about something. sorry! i don’t know. that is not an issue i ever hope i have to deal with. maybe write caesar?

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  9. We have a Bichon Frise. Her name is Chelsea. I read about her breed, and they still have some wild instincts, although they are precious pets. When I put down her plate, she may be very hungry, but she never begins eating until she has cautiously looked in every direction for competition, even though none has ever challenged her in her entire life. Perhaps instinctively your pet expects a challenge from an unseen competitor, but when you feed him with your own hand, he recognizes that you, his protector, have conquered all his foes and he has no fear. (Great illustration of Jesus in our lives, our hero and protector forever.) Just a theory. Ha! I had a cat that displayed aggression only at mealtime. He growled ferociously as he ate his food. Blessings to you, Caroline…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I suspect you are making it better. I’ve worked with animals, mostly cattle, horses and pigs, most of my life, and one solid rule is you don’t get between an animal and its food. You can modify that a bit with cattle and horses, to don’t get between the animal and its grain. You shouldn’t tease and animal with food and you shouldn’t try to work with them while they are eating.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. How about the “leave it” game? I make my dogs do something for me before they get to eat and it goes like this, “sit, down, leave it” and while they’re hearing “leave it”, I place their bowl within range. They’re not allowed to eat until I say, “eat”. We have zero aggression — I have a german shepherd and a pomeranian (I know, big difference!!) — they have nice manners when they eat. Good luck!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Love Cesar Millan – brilliant show. We do not have a dog – we have a cat (Troy)…and we occasionally scrap for pack leader position..but Troy is very old and clever… and sometimes lets us be pack leader. He has just tapped me on the shoulder because the computer is getting too much attention…must go! Good luck with this and would love to know how you get on.

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  13. Please stay away from Cesar Milan. His techniques are outdated and do not follow the most recent science as far as dog behavior goes. They could set you back as far as you relationship with your dog. They could get you hurt. There are many wonderful dog behaviorists around the country. You might check out Mary Hunter, Jen Digate, Sue Alexander and/or Catherine Comden Steinke. These women are all on Facebook and very, very approachable. Feel free to use my name. They will help you solve this problem safely and kindly. If feeding him from your hand works, go with that for now.

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  14. The most important thing is that he knows you love him and that he can trust you. If feeding from the hand is best for you both then it’s ok. He is not in need of “training” ….. He is a living being , not a toy. If a bowl doesn’t work then it doesn’t work. His happiness is what counts not your score as a trainer. You can’t spoil someone by being nice to them.

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  15. We had a dog that was very food aggressive as well. Normally sweet as can be but holy smokes, a different dog when it came to meal time. It wasn’t only stressful for us but it had to be for him too. He’d guard and growl and keep looking out of the corner of his eye the whole time he ate. No way he could enjoy his meal like that. So we finally got the idea to feed him in the bathroom by himself with the door shut. We figured he’d feel safer in there with no threat of other animals (2-legged OR 4-legged) and he could eat in peace. We never heard him growl in there and when we’d let him out after about 10 minutes, he was his calm, happy self. Might be worth trying for your Tucker. He’s a real cutie pie by the way! 🙂 – Diane

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  16. If that doesn’t work, might try talking to a dog trainer or “dog whisperer.” I saw one on TV a few months ago who would visit the dog’s home, try to figue out what was bugging the dog, and offer suggestions to the owners. Have no idea of the cost, but my husband always tells me asking is free.

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  17. So much advice, hopefully something works. We have three rescues ranging from a little 12 pound terrier mix who was abandoned and lived on grass for a while until he was rescued to a 45 pound chow mix who was also abandoned and abused. In the middle is a Shih Tzu whose owner passed away. First thing I had to do was teach them how to eat together. The little guy and the chow both had issues of not knowing when the next meal was coming, so both had food issues. The thing about dogs is they are pack animals. They need to know who is the alpha, and it cannot be them. In our house, it’s me, then my wife, then the terrier, then the Shih Tzu, then the Chow Chow. We taught them that by who got fed, in order. And if anyone growled – their dish got picked up immediately. It didn’t take long for them to learn. We’ve had the little ones for about 5 years now, the Chow for 3, and everyone gets along just great.

    Setting up the rules is important for both the dogs and visitors. It’s natural for them, so as long as there’s no hitting or anything like that, they learn respect and will show an unconditional love that I think comes closer to God’s love for us than many people show.

    Bless you for rescuing him.

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    • so sweet! i am immediately in love with the description of your doggies!

      sounds like such logical and great advice! take away the food bowl when he growls. will do! and just try again repeatedly? what if he never stops growling within the day?

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      • I don’t know how often you feed him. Ours get fed a little bit, 3 times a day. First thing in the morning, 10 at night, and once in the evening. Used to be that whoever got home first from work would feed them Now that I’m retired, it’s pretty much always at 5. They come & get me if I don’t realize the time! Anyway – when they growled before – whoever did it missed that meal, and had to sit there and watch until the others finished. That was the Terrier & the Chow. They learned pretty quick. My wife was afraid to do it with the Chow the first time. But since he growled at her, she had to take it from him. So I stood at the door and watched. Once they learned respect and that they’re safe – it’s a whole new relationship. Again – not unlike us and God.
        I have some stuff I’ve written before about that on my old site. Going to have bring it over here and repost.
        As much as you care – dogs can tell. I think you’ll do just fine. If you do still have problems, find a trainer who knows that most of the training isn’t for the dog – it’s for the owner. We did that with all of ours.
        Again – bless you for caring.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. I got nothing in terms of help, but we have a rescue dog who also has street cred, as we like to say. She had two litters of puppies on the street before she was rescued, so she doesn’t growl over her food, she hoards it. She will not eat all day long until we come home, at which point she concludes that we will probably feed her again, so she eats it all in two gulps. This after TEN YEARS of living in our home. That’s the power of the street, I think. If it scars dogs like this, think what it does to humans…good luck with Tucker!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My girlfriend’s dog had a similar issue (only it seems to be more about excitement than aggression). We made her sit and leave the food, just for a beat. If she doesn’t leave it, dinner gets pushed back by 10 minutes. Now she sits drooling until we tell her she can eat.
    If you try this, be careful. No one wants to be on the wing side of dog teeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Tucker is such a cutie! I wish you all the best with this issue, I know it’s so very hard–as I adopted a street dog who was severely malnourished and very aggressive when it came to food (she also once ate an entire pecan pie, tin holder and all!). I found that discipline and consistency were the best tools in the long run. As someone else mentioned, you have to be the alpha. The best method that worked for me was to make Stella sit until she was calm and then I would put the bowl down and make her wait until I said that it was okay to eat. If she moved before I said okay or lunged at the food or growled at anyone (including her labrador sister), her bowl would be picked up immediately. On this I was (and am still) non-negotiable, as it firmly establishes your status in the pack and enforces that you will not reward bad behavior. I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of challenges, but eventually we found a system that worked for us. I hope that you & Tucker will find something that will help him calm down at meal time. Good luck!! 🙂

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