After years of pestering by our children we finally gave in a brought home a new puppy. Monty is a Cavoodle who is five months old now, the other day I gave him a big bone to chew and when I tried to pat him he growled at me, showing his teeth. I was so shocked because he is such a sweet little fellow and I have always been able to take his food away from him and there has never been a problem. I’m really worried now though that he might bite one of the children if there happens to be some food around. How do I get him to stop growling at me around his bone?
Hi Ange, thanks for your question, Monty sounds like a great pup, along the way you will come across little ‘glitches’ like this. Given his age, and the way you describe him as a ‘sweet little fellow’ I’m sure we can get this under control for you.
Firstly, lets see the growling for what it was, a way of Monty asking you to leave him alone. Growling is an important behaviour in a dogs vocabulary, while it can be sad and scary for dogs to growl, you never want Monty to be worried about doing it. Before he growled at you I’m sure there would have been other signs he was sending your way to tell you he wasn’t happy. When these are not responded to appropriately (by backing off) it escalates to growling, when growling isn’t enough you may be on the receiving end of a bite.
Never chastise a dog for growling, otherwise they will just skip the growl and go straight to the bite. This is what often happens when people describe a dog bite coming out of the blue. Bites never, ever come ‘out of the blue’, there was always some warning at some stage in the past.
You should become familiar with some basic canine body language before embarking on the following behaviour change tips. That way you will be able to ‘read’ Monty better so he will not be put in a position where he feels he needs to growl or bite.
A bone is a very high value item in Monty’s mind, he probably has never growled at you for his ‘normal’ food because it is not as valuable to him. Also, taking food from him in the past may have contributed to the current growling. For years people have been told that you must practice taking food/bones/toys etc away from your dog so that they become used to it, and don’t develop aggression issues. There is something better you can do to prevent resource guarding.
Instead of taking food away from Monty I want you to start offering something even better (cheese, ham, sausage, roast lamb) when he is eating. If you continue to take, that’s what he will expect, because that’s what the hand does, it takes things away. This doesn’t build a positive picture of your presence around food. When you start to give food then your hand becomes this wonderful thing that adds to the pleasure of eating.
Do this with his normal food each day. I don’t want you to pat Monty, just drop the food in his bowl, and walk away. Do this until you feel comfortable with him, and he seems comfortable with you. You can even work up to him taking the food from your hand as he is eating. Once this is happening nicely, it may take a few weeks, then you can move on to the bones.
Casually walk past Monty, don’t hang around, and drop or throw the ‘better’ food near him. Even if he growls, it will stop soon. Over time you should be able to get to the point of offering it directly to him and then walking away. The key to this is to maintain a relaxed attitude at all times. Don’t bother him, just give.
You may say this is all well and good but what happens when the children are around? Always give Monty a quiet place to eat his bone, never leave them laying around the yard, and educate your children about never, ever going near a dog that is eating.
Yes, accidents happen, and all of the above training is your insurance policy against a dog bite should a child touch Monty accidentally while he is eating. He should not react because he has not reacted for months, hopefully years, the behaviour of growling around food will become extinct, the training is your safe guard for accidents only.
So much of dog training is about training for real life scenarios. We train and train so that our dogs will be able to perform when it really matters. Keep practicing with Monty so that when the real situation hits he will be prepared.