Growling if petted while eating
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    Growling if petted while eating

    Hello all. Thanks for reading my post. My dog is a rescue animal, german shepherd/cane corso mix. He's 2 years old and is relatively intelligent, definately an alpha type personality. He is very easy to train and understands well all of the basic commands along with some advanced ones like going downstairs when I tell him. He understands most things I say but there is one behavior I haven't been able to stop in the year that I've had him.

    Occasionally someone in the family will give him some table scraps. If anyone pets him more than a passing hand on the back while he's eating he will stop eating, tense up ever so slightly and emit a low growl. It seems that approaching him with your body turned towards him and reaching down to pet his back while he's eating is what triggers the behavior. If you walk by and give him a quick pet he doesn't do anything.

    Even after he growls we can stick our hands in the food, move it around, feed him by hand, the aggression does not escalate. It's as though he's not guarding the food itself but just uncomfortable with being petted while eating.

    A few months ago I started feeding him scraps by hand again, crouching next to his dish, picking pieces up out of it and feeding him myself to try to get him to relax. I've tried walking up and dropping something better in his dish to get him to want humans around him while he eats. I've tried many of the things from books that are everywhere, all in combination. The end result is that now he does not want to come to eat at all when we get done and call his name. He just sits there, looking uncomfortable. When I coax him to come get it, giving him plenty of reassurance along the way, he will start eating. But the minute I pet him he will stop eating and growl.

    Does anyone know how to solve this? I'm well aware that a dog should not be growling at humans, ever. I don't know how to get him to relax. Thanks in advance.

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    Senior Member LazyGRanch713's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Quote Originally Posted by Knowledge8069 View Post
    Hello all. Thanks for reading my post. My dog is a rescue animal, german shepherd/cane corso mix. He's 2 years old and is relatively intelligent, definately an alpha type personality. He is very easy to train and understands well all of the basic commands along with some advanced ones like going downstairs when I tell him. He understands most things I say but there is one behavior I haven't been able to stop in the year that I've had him.

    Occasionally someone in the family will give him some table scraps. If anyone pets him more than a passing hand on the back while he's eating he will stop eating, tense up ever so slightly and emit a low growl. It seems that approaching him with your body turned towards him and reaching down to pet his back while he's eating is what triggers the behavior. If you walk by and give him a quick pet he doesn't do anything.

    Even after he growls we can stick our hands in the food, move it around, feed him by hand, the aggression does not escalate. It's as though he's not guarding the food itself but just uncomfortable with being petted while eating.

    A few months ago I started feeding him scraps by hand again, crouching next to his dish, picking pieces up out of it and feeding him myself to try to get him to relax. I've tried walking up and dropping something better in his dish to get him to want humans around him while he eats. I've tried many of the things from books that are everywhere, all in combination. The end result is that now he does not want to come to eat at all when we get done and call his name. He just sits there, looking uncomfortable. When I coax him to come get it, giving him plenty of reassurance along the way, he will start eating. But the minute I pet him he will stop eating and growl.

    Does anyone know how to solve this? I'm well aware that a dog should not be growling at humans, ever. I don't know how to get him to relax. Thanks in advance.
    I wish I could be more help, and I'm anxious to see what others who have had experience with this type of problem have to say. Where did you aquire him, and do you have any background information on why he was given up by his previous owners? What all have you tried "in combination" that led him to sitting there, looking uncomfortable, when you offer him food?
    What does he do if/when you put scraps on the floor/in his dish, and then proceed to ignore him? (Meaning, you don't call him over, don't reassure him as he's walking towards you, and don't pet him while he's eating?) I have yet to meet a dog who seems to "like" being pet while eating. My dogs tolerate it because I conditioned them to tolerate it, but I never asked them to like it. I find it interesting (and encouraging) that your dog allows you to put your hand in his food bowl. How often do you attempt to pet him while he's eating? If it's very often (several times a week), do you think it's possible that making a "big deal" out of being pet while eating is actually making the situation more uncomfortable for him?

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    Senior Member TooneyDogs's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    You're trying to change two different behaviors/two problems at the same time. That's rarely successful even in professional hands. The first is the Resource Guarding which you are doing correctly but, the underlying issue is not being comfortable with petting in the first place which I think you recognize.

    You'll need to start with the petting part....making petting a good thing. Use T-Touch, massage, butt scratches, light/gentle grooming, stroke the chest, ears, feet (avoid the head and back if you any tension)...do anything that he will accept easilly. Don't rush this, take it slowwith lots of praise....this may take weeks or months. Continue to work on the Resource Guarding but, without the petting until the comfort level is there.
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    Senior Member qingcong's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Why do you have to pet him while he eats? If someone was rubbing me down while I was eating, I would probably be pretty pissed too. He simply doesn't like it, and the fact that you insist on doing it will only intensify his behavior. He hasn't started biting yet, but the growl is a warning. If you keep it up, he may have no other choice than to bite because you're not listening to his warning.

    I'm confused, what exactly do the table scraps have to do with the growling? Does he not do it with regular kibble? Are you feeding the scraps from the table or are you mixing it in with his normal food?

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    LazyGRanch713:

    We don't know anything about any previous owners of his. He was found running wild on his own and given to the MARS rescue service when he was 8 months old. We've had a few dogs that we got as little puppies that have turned out to be model dogs. This is the first rescue dog we've gotten.

    A few months ago I noticed this behavior, before that nobody had really tried petting him much while eating so it was never noticed. When we found he was doing this, we stopped throwing scraps in his bowl and I started feeding him scraps only by hand.

    Then I started putting the food in his dish and having him sit there while I took the food from the dish and fed it to him by hand.

    After that I would drop a bit at a time into the dish while kneeling right next to it, and started petting him just a little bit. There was no growling.

    Then I started putting all of the scraps in his dish and standing next to it and petting him right when he got there. The growling started right away again. I would tell him "no growling," which he does understand in other circumstances, but he just wouldn't budge. When he did this I would pick up the food and feed him by hand. I can do anything I want with the food, he is not ever agressive about the food specifically (it seems).

    Now he is very unwilling to come get the food, even though he comes upstairs immediately whenever someone is in the kitchen. He'll wait for it, but it seems he wants us to walk away before he'll approach. Then he will eat normally.

    It's obvious to me that making it into an issue is making it uncomfortable for him. At the same time I need to know that the dog is safe in his behavior. I want to be sure that the growling will not escalate when someone who is not a primary caretaker of his gets close while he's eating.

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    TooneyDogs:

    He is an absolute attention hound, he runs between legs as soon as you get home and asks for butt scratches, which he gets. When he runs around the house to find us when we're home, we'll pet him and he'll lay down and roll over to get his chest scratched. He will lay upside down on the couch next to us while we cradle his head in our laps and scratch his chin. He accepts easily every type of petting you could give him and asks for more. He has no problems with petting or scratching normally, he is perfectly comfortable with it until there is food involved.

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    qingcong:

    The reason that I am adressing this issue is because it may be indicative of a mindset that it is ok to show agression towards his owners and other humans.

    I don't know if the dog growls with kibble, he has access to it 24/7 and usually eats when he wants. It's only when I put down scraps that I interact with him while he's eating. He gets fed after the rest of the family and it is dropped in his dish or on a plate if there is sauce or something he likes.

    Although I don't think this was your intention, thank you for pointing out why the behavior is unacceptable. Your deductions are sound in that it could lead to biting. Your solution to ignore the behavior, however, is irresponsible and could lead to some very serious circumstances, such as when a small child runs up to it while it's eating and gets mauled. Then the dog gets put down. The dog would be punished, but the cause would be the owner's stupidity in not teaching the dog how to live in a human world. But at least it could eat in peace, right?

    Reading any good literature on aggression and resource guarding will tell you to curb that sort of behavior as soon as possible since it can escalate to dangerous levels. Once the dog realizes it can get its way by being aggressive, it reinforces the behavior. You might end up with a dog who uses aggression at other times, such as growling on the couch, over its toys, over bones you give it, out in the yard, etc.

    Showing aggression towards alphas (humans) should not be tolerated under any normal circumstances. Can you find a source that says growling towards humans is acceptable? I have not seen that anywhere, but I would be willing to read about that theory. Dogs can have boundaries, but showing that sort of aggression towards humans is not acceptable unless it is in extreme circumstances such as a threat to itself or its owner's well-being.
    Last edited by Knowledge8069; 04-28-2010 at 11:09 PM.

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    Senior Member qingcong's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Yes you're absolutely right that dogs with resource guarding issues need to be taught that people do not pose a threat. I certainly agree with you on the safety issue and I understand that you can reinforce aggression by backing away.

    My personal take, and feel free to disagree with me, is that it's really not necessary to teach the dog to accept petting while eating. I mean, I never pet my dog while he eats and I don't see why anyone needs to. If this is a ritual your family takes part in and it is necessary to teach him to accept it, then a slow desensitization is your answer.

    As for resource guarding, it doesn't seem like there is much of an issue yet. It sounds like he only growls when you pet him and not when you are just close to him. Now, by petting him and confirming his fears, you could cause him to escalate his growling to when you simply get near him. You're doing the right thing by tossing in something he likes so that he understands people approaching means good things, but I think you are taking it too quickly by petting him.

    Your goal should not be to kill the growling, but to address the underlying fear. If you want to stop him from growling when being pet, then you take it in baby steps. For example, go up and touch him and immediately drop a delicious steak in his bowl. Repeat this a few times, then next time pet for 2 seconds and drop a steak. Then 5 seconds before dropping the steak. The idea is to never exceed his threshold. If he starts stiffening at 10 seconds, then you have to drop the steak before 10 seconds.

    Since he does not approach the food when you are around it, it sounds like he has negative associations with you and food. Probably some of the methods you tried might have been aversive to the dog.

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    qingcong:

    Yeah I know what you mean, it may just be that he doesn't like to be petted while eating, nothing more. Obviously dogs have some boundaries that they feel strongly about, and working with that is important. I just want to make sure it doesn't escalate or indicate other agressive mindsets he may have. It wouldn't matter to me at all about petting him while he's eating if I know that the growling is limited only to that. It was just something I noticed when I happened to pet him once at the food dish and it made me examine his behavior.

    I think he may be a little averse to food because of the training. I've gone back to being extremely gentle and he's coming around with approaching the food again. I will try the time idea you've provided and see if it helps. I suppose I can only try to get him used to it. If not then watching his other behavior for signs of aggression will be the best course of action. He is an awesome dog overall, and coming from the streets so young I'm pretty proud of how well he has integrated into the family.

    Thanks for your input everyone, I appreciate the thoughtful responses.

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    Super Moderator RonE's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    I'm well aware that a dog should not be growling at humans, ever.
    I disagree with that. It's how a dog expresses his displeasure without snapping at the source of the displeasure.

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    If he were mine I would feed him in his crate. Why should he feel he has to guard his food? I would also not have food available 24/7. I would feed 1 - 2 times a day in his crate and put food away after 15 - 20 min. I would not feed table scraps, but a nutritious raw diet. I would wipe out the crate after each meal with disinfectant wipes.

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    Senior Member Robrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Sounds like the approach you are using is sending mixed signals. Hes not getting what you are sending and instead is getting that its not OK to eat around you which could actually make things esculate. He is resource guarding although it be mildly and this intensifies with the value of the food. If he only does it with scraps problem is soved easily enough, dont give him scraps or remove them as soon as he displays unwanted behavoir. Ive always found that holding the food bowl in your hand, making them sit and taking the attention off of the food and putting on you completely before putting the food down works wonders. This gives you resource control and he who controls the resources is a higher member of the pack. Growling should not be discouraged as it is their way of letting you know they dont like something. Instead of concentrating on the growl itself try concentrating on the unwanted behavoir (growl while he eats).

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Where did you hear that dogs should never growl at people? Growling is a sign of displeasure, something like, "Do you mind? I am trying to eat my dinner here." I would much rather a dog growl than let the irritation build without warning.

    I rescued two strays that both guarded high-value resources. They would growl and snap at me. I broke them of that using a book by Jean Donaldson named Mine! Now they will let me take anything from them without complaint. The trick is not to teach them that growling is bad, but rather that letting me borrow things from them brings rewards. I thought it had paid off the other day when Dexter let me retrieve a mystery lump from literally the entrance to his gullet. It turned out to be only a square of cheddar cheese that had fallen from the fridge when I made a sandwich for myself. So I gave Dexter a bonus of a third of a hot dog before returning the cheese to him. If a dog can say, "You are really, really weird" with a look, he said it. Then he ate the cheese again.
    Last edited by JiveDadson; 05-02-2010 at 03:22 PM.

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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    As the others have said, removing the food when he growls is not good. Start with low-value items that he will let you take, not tasty food. Take it away, and reward him with a click or attaboy followed by a treat before returning the item to him. If he growls, you messed up. Return the item and try again later with something less valuable, or something that you have just handed to him. The idea is not to teach him not to growl when he's irritated, but to teach him not to be irritated when you take things from him.

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    Senior Member TxRider's Avatar
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Quote Originally Posted by RonE View Post
    I disagree with that. It's how a dog expresses his displeasure without snapping at the source of the displeasure.
    Being petted while eating should not be a source of displeasure.

    Personally I would likely feed the high value scraps by hand and pet the dog while doing so. Show the dog there's no threat being petted wile eating high value stuff. That high value stuff and petting go together.

    I might also work on sowing him guarding behavior is never successful, eliminating any perceived self reinforcement, to help extinguish the behavior, but not everyone is ready to do that type of thing, an extinction burst can be violent in that case.
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    Re: Growling if petted while eating

    Some very good suggestions.

    I agree with feeding the meals in the crate, I would approach the bowl only to add a high value treat so that the dog associates you coming towards the dish as a good thing.

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