I got a great follow-up email from a client and wanted to share the results with you. Mainly because Samson (a young neutered male boxer) is a wonderful dog and his owners are dedicated, fantastic dog parents. They have kept up with all the training he has needed and it is really paying off!
Samson had been in puppy classes from a young age, and is a typical boxer; goofy, loves his food, and lacks impulse control. He did very well in classes and when he hit adolscence, his owners continued to work with him through the ups and downs. Their concerns came when Samson began growling at them when they approached his food bowl and he was eating. They had played the "exchange game" with him and he did fine, but this seemed to be getting worse, and with a young child in the house, this couldn't continue. We scheduled a home visit to see what could be going on.
When I arrived Samson greeted me with his usual goofy self, and after discussing some other areas that Samson still needed work on, including pushy behavior when the family watched T.V. at night, we began talking about the food bowl problem. I asked the family to show me where Samson was fed, with what bowl, and also asked them to get me out his food bag so I could show them the "food bowl game."
I placed Samson's dish on the ground - a ceramic dish, about 6 inches wide - and left it there empty. Samson looked at me like I was nuts. He was obviously very interested in when the food was going to arrive. I took a small handful of his dinner, that was measured out in a cup, walked over to the dish and dropped a few bits of kibble in. It was then I noticed an immediate problem.
Samson's dish was FAR too small for him. Because of his short, wide, and flat muzzle, getting any piece of food out of his small dish was torture, and he became extremely wound up trying to get the kibble out. It was fine when he was a puppy, but now as an adult it was too small, which also matched why the problem had seemingly suddenly appeared. Once he had finished the food, he looked at me with the "that's ALL I get" look, and I repeated the same exercise as before, going over and dropping a few bits of food in. I continued this game until he had eaten his whole meal. By the time I was on the last bit of food, when I walked over to his dish he was so pleased to see me you would have thought I was covered in peanut butter. His family was shocked. Usually when they placed all his kibble in at once he was tense and desperately trying to gulp down every morsel in one bite, and even if they walked by he got worried. This had slowed the process down for him and made me coming over to his dish a GOOD thing, not something to worry about. Me = more food! YEY!
I told them to continue this exercise for the next week and then move onto the next steps of the game as he got better and we continued to work together. I also advised they up his meals a little to make him not as ravenous when he ate. My biggest advice to them that day however was the CHANGE the food dish. Samson's muzzle and the dish's size was making eating very difficult, and so he was very stressed and tense about eating.
This is also a great example of how a HOME visit can make a huge difference in working on solving a dog's behavior problems. Being able to see the "dish" was very helpful.
I got an email from Samson's family only a few days later regarding his improvements already, and I am thrilled with his progress so far. We still have work to do, but with patience, consistency, and a bigger dish, I think we are on the right track! :)
Just wanted to touch base with you. Wow, what a difference a game and dog dish makes. We upped his intake a bit and we play the dish game every time we feed him. It is to the point now where he stops eating altogether and follows us if we leave the room. Or, when we approach him he looks up at us and actually goes into a sit position as we put the food in his bowl. So weird. He is like a docile kitten. He even leaves food in his dish now and he used to gobble it all up so fast. We will always continue to play this game as it makes me feel good that he is actually docile, and also because I want to be sure he doesnt forget where the food comes from. "
*PLEASE NOTE THAT IF YOUR DOG IS DISPLAYING ANY FORM OF RESOURCE GUARDING YOU SHOULD CONTACT A QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINER FOR HELP. EVERY DOG AND EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT AND THERE ARE MANY METHODS TO HELP MODIFY BEHAVIOR*