Case Study – Domino
Breed: Canaan Dog mix
Domino, a young mixed breed from Kyle, had a problem. Whenever anyone got too close to his food, he would begin to get possessive. If it was one of his owners (including the family’s 5-year-old child), he would growl at them. If it was the family’s other dog, he would occasionally lash out and nip. In every other situation, Domino got along great with everyone, however the family was worried that the situation might escalate.
It was very good that they gave us a call, because escalation is very possible in situations such as these! Especially since there was a young child who might be at risk, it was extremely important that the problem be addressed sooner rather than later.
Domino, who was 10 months old at that time, had been adopted from a local animal shelter a couple of months beforehand. His previous life situation was unknown, he had been found as a stray. As far as anyone knew he had not displayed this behavior in the shelter, but in his new home, this had been going on for about a month.
We started with some counterconditioning. At “mealtime”, only his trainer was in the immediate vicinity. The two adults watched from about ten feet away, but otherwise did not interfere. The child was not in the room whatsoever, neither was the other dog. This was both for safety reasons, as well as decreasing all stress factors for Domino. Furthermore, Domino was put on a leash, and asked to do a sit-stay before the bowl was even presented. When Domino was calm, the bowl was put down on the floor near the trainer. Reading his body language in order to stay safe, she would pick up a single kibble from the bowl and feed it to him, one at a time. He soon realized that the food was only going to come from a person, and not from the bowl itself. Furthermore, he would only get a kibble if he was calm and polite.
This “mealtime” was not his entire meal, but consisted of about one-forth of his normal ration. In this way, we were able to give Domino several food training sessions in the first lesson, interspersed with other activities meant to teach him self-control. By the last food training session, we enlisted one of the adult owners to take over this strategy. Once everyone had the hang of it, the owners were given homework. All meals for the next week would be given in this way.
Within the week, Domino was much calmer and now understood that he had no need to guard his food. We could now back off of this training and begin to feed him in more of a normal way. However, we did implement some changes and added much more structure to the feeding process. We put his feeding time on a regulated schedule, only giving him fifteen minutes to finish each meal before the bowl would be taken up. He was never given his bowl if he was acting rude or jumping up, instead he had to sit before his meal would be given to him. Furthermore, we kept him on a leash so there was still some control. Gradually he became more trustworthy and the leash was taken away.
By slowly adding distractions, while at the same time keeping an eye on his stress level so as to not push him too far too fast, Domino eventually became a perfect gentleman with his food. No more growling or other worrying behavior. His owners also kept up with his obedience training, utilizing several exercises designed to help him respect the humans in the household. Not only did they practice these skills in their home, but also in several low-key parks in Kyle. With these new skills under his belt, Domino now behaves great around his food!