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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Funny Or Fearsome?

Mary asks this question...

I saw this video, and while it's funny to watch, does this dog's food aggression make him a danger to his family? What should a family do for a dog like this?

This is actually a pretty well-known video, and I believe it even won on America's Funniest Home Videos.  At first glance it's funny, watching the dog attack its own foot because its worried that the foot might somehow steal its food.  However, there is actually a real danger here.

This dog has an obviously serious problem with food protectiveness and aggression.  So much so that it doesn't even recognize its own foot as part of its body and not another animal.  If a human or even another pet in the family came close to it while eating, there is a very high risk of someone being injured.  This dog is so protective of its food that it can't properly recognize threat from non-threat.  Something like this shouldn't be taken lightly.

First, if someone has a dog like this I would strongly recommend finding a vet who is skilled in behavioral therapy or even a board-certified behavioral specialist.  A problem like this is best handled by someone who knows how to deal with complicated behavioral issues.  The risk of injury is simply too great not to find an expert in these matters.

As you wait to see the vet, be sure to avoid any competition with this dog.  Avoid any situation where it might be protective of something, and then avoid taking away a possession. Do not give a dog like this any treats that will take a while to chew.  Keep the treats limited to something small that it immediately eats and cannot protect.  Second, this dog shouldn't be allowed on the furniture.  Being on beds, couches, chairs, etc. is a sign of social dominance to a dog with these kinds of behaviors, and such positions should be reserved only for the humans in the family.  Third, this dog should be part of a "nothing for free" program. What this means is that this dog is not allowed to have or do anything at all without having to obey a command.  Need to go outside?  Obey a command.  Needs its food?  Obey a command.  And so on.  The commands can be as simple as sit, lay down, or anything the dog can do.  Using this technique helps reinforce the authority of the humans as the sole source of the dog's needs.

There is a good chance that a dog like this may need to be on behavioral medication, and this can only be done properly by someone who has had training in this area.  Pharmaceutical therapy should never be done as the only method of behavioral correction, and you need to know what to expect of the medications.  Make sure your vet works with you on correction methods other than simply giving pills.

Thanks for bringing this up, Mary! It's interesting to take a second look at situations like this.