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I've got a lab/golden retriever mix that is super food obsessed - shocking I know
From this post I think it will be obvious that I don't know a ton about dog behaviour/training. I also want to preface it with the fact that we adopted him (Luca) just about 2 years ago at the age of 6. He had spent his entire life, from 8-week old puppy until then with one family and then they decided they didn't want him anymore. So we do not know his training history at all or how he was treated/handled as a puppy.
There are two main issues we are having with him. One is the food stealing. Anything within Luca's reach his fair game to him (or even if it's out of reach, he will figure out how to reach it if left alone for long enough; he's very resourceful). I understand that this is 100% normal dog behaviour and anytime he does thieve something, I know that it's our fault for making it available to him. We do attempt to use a baby gate to separate him from food, but we have a 1.5 year old toddler so sometimes we might not have enough time to put up the gate in the kitchen before running to prevent the kid from doing something suicidal. However, he will still jump up on the counter/table even if I am right there in the same room and just happen to shift my focus for 1.5 seconds. And if he sees an opening, and I say, "Luca, no!" he will actually just run faster instead of backing off to get even just one bite of food before I can get to him. Is it normal for a dog to be so absolutely bold and brazen? Like, it's super infuriating. And any sort of negative repercussions have zero effect on him of course, as he's already rewarded himself with the food.
Second is when he manages to grab something off the counter/table or if he finds something delicious when we're out for a walk. When we feed him his meals or give him treats, he sits like a perfectly well-mannered and obedient dog (other than the out of control salivating) and he knows to wait until I tell him, "take it", even if he has to wait for an hour. If he is then eating from his bowl, or even chewing a bone I have given him, I can with 100% confidence take the food/bone/whatever right from his mouth with no reaction. However, if it's something he has found himself or stolen, he clamps his jaws so tight and absolutely will not drop it. And if it's something he absolutely should not eat (i.e. chicken carcass, rotting roadkill squirrel corpse ) and you try to get it away from him you literally have to pry his jaws apart and he does get defensive about it. He's never bitten one of us or anything but he does bare his teeth for about 1 second and has snapped before and then immediately turns back into his normal starving happy lab self.
I tried that training method of "leave it" where you have the handful of food and make the dog leave it and treat him when he stops searching your hand, and then drop food on the floor, etc. He was basically 100% perfect at it the first time. It seems like he's too smart to train that way - he's clearly smarter than me! He knows exactly when he has to obey a command in order to get a treat and when it's actually in his own best interest to ignore me and move at lightning speed to get at the food before I can get to him.
Anyway, just curious if anyone has any tips for me? My husband gets so mad at him and if I didn't absolutely forbid it, I think he would consider more extreme measures such as a shock collar or something. I also obviously want to avoid ever having a situation where I didn't feel like my daughter was safe around him. So anything at all that might make our home a little more harmonious would be much appreciated!
Honestly your best bet is to absolutely not allow him access to anything you don't want him to have. I'm speaking from personal experience with a professional counter-surfer/food thief. So long as he keeps having success he will keep doing it. If he NEVER gets anything, for like 6 months or a year, maybe he will lose interest/give up. But it's possible he will always try (he is a lab).
Don't leave any food within reach. Ever. Put food up on the counters at the far back. If he can reach there, put it away completely in a cabinet. If you're eating and need to get up for some reason, take your plate with you. Use the baby gate (get a couple more if necessary).
Continue to work on "leave it" and start creating distance so eventually he will leave it even if you're not right there beside him. Teach him a solid "drop it" command using treats/trading, and work your way up to more valuable things for him to drop.
My dog is now 6 and is pretty good with not stealing/counter surfing anymore (we've been working on it since she was old enough to reach the countertops). However, if I do leave something out that's too valuable to resist, and she gets it, she will go back into the bad habit of counter surfing for about 6 months before finally realizing she's not having success anymore and she gives up. Now even if I have something in a Tupperware container (like cookies for example) on the counter, I put them away in the cabinet before leaving for work otherwise it's possible Pepper will have the whole thing on the floor and open (and empty) when I get home. Been there, done that, learned my lesson (though sometimes I get sloppy and she gets the jackpot).
That's exactly right. Every dog values different things so use something your dog values more (if possible) than what he has. Some dogs like tug toys, some dogs like hot dogs, our dogs love cheese. Use steak, chicken, peanut butter, whatever it takes to get him to trade you for what he has.
If he has something he doesn't value greatly it might work to use regular treats to "trade" him. If he has something valuable, you might have to break out the steaks :-)
We do attempt to use a baby gate to separate him from food, but we have a 1.5 year old toddler so sometimes we might not have enough time to put up the gate in the kitchen before running to prevent the kid from doing something suicidal.
This is a really small thing, but it sounds like you are using a removable baby gate. We used to do that too but it did not prove to be an effective solution because we constantly found ourselves having to install it and remove it.
And it is awesome. You just leave it there and you open and close it as needed or you can leave it propped open if necessary. You can even let it swing shut behind you and it automatically closes and locks.
For training purposes, the trade has to be higher value. But, after you train the cue, some dogs will trade for any hand-fed treat. After you're sure he is solid with the cue, it is worth a try to occasionally something like cheese or a dog biscuit, rather than always needing liver, chicken, or steak for the everyday trade. If he doesn't trade, you can always elevate the trade.
The nice thing about the Leave It and Drop It cues, is that once trained, the dog should listen when trying to steal food from a person. Then, with practice, you may be able to enforce the choice in the house, and later outside of the house.
Another behavior is to teach a "look at me" distraction cue. Click your tongue and give him a treat if he looks at you. When he gets the idea and looks at you 100% of the time when you click your tongue, increase the value of the treat a little. After a week increase to a piece of cheese or chicken. When you are sure you can get his attention, switch rewards to praise and the treat from the previous week. The next week praise and offer a piece of kibble, when he looks at you for the tongue click. Finally, just use praise.
Basically (having this behavior or mindset) these are the kind of dogs that would be robbing garbage cans if running loose. These are true scavengers, which is one of the most basic of all canine instincts. I agree with the advice below, food will always have to be safeguarded, not left out or unattended. And maybe you can divide his mealtimes into smaller portions 3 times a day. You can try raw feeding too, which might be more satisfying, nutritionally speaking because he may be craving something. In retrospect, I think my dog may have had a low thyroid condition, which I should've had tested at the time.
But I can speak to this frustrating situation from very personal experience. Unlike a Lab I have a breed that is known for being very picky. In a reply to someone else’s inquiry, I wrote how our (re-homed) 7mo. old puppy stole a pizza right off the dinning room table, meaning standing up on TOP of the table, while eating it right out of the box! And when he was verbally corrected and sent to a time-out (isolated from the family) he was actually annoyed, rather than contrite or apologetic. If he stole something, it was like death to remove it from his mouth.
He actually had a routine, luring people out of the kitchen and to the backdoor (where he pretended that he needed to go outside) but then doubling back to the kitchen where nobody was watching the food out on the kitchen table. And then eating the sandwiches. We met one of his relatives once, and their dog did exactly the same behavior! Too funny!
And from that attitude, he never changed a day in his life, including on his last day (due to old age). I call this kind of a behavior in a dog (being a survivalist). And because dogs don’t share in our human rationale, they (technically, or rather .... instinctively) have no idea where their next meal is coming from. It's possible they don't have that sense of a biological (internal) timing that reminds a dog to eat every 12hrs. or 24hrs. So they are obsessive in terms of their hunt for it.
The family who didn’t want him anymore, may have crossed this “food obsession” issue as it was becoming just too problematic. Whether it was being food possessive, or a risk to kids as in stealing whatever it was they were eating, it sounds like they just couldn’t handle the problem anymore. I wonder if they had done “free feeding” with that dog from a young age, if they could’ve avoided the problem. But then, if the dog was gaining too much weight, they’d have to portion control the meals. I tried letting my dog eat as much as he wanted, and he did, until he couldn’t hold any more. Unfortunately so much food to be digested at once just gave him IBS.
The only thing I can think to do is set a psychological trap. Put some food out that looks enticing, where he’d be likely to “steal” it. But stuff it with some noxious potion (of course, not harmful) just annoying, like Hot Mongolian Fire Oil. So he’d learn that “loose” food is troublesome, and trusted food only comes from you, at meal time.
But if the dog does becomes dangerous about the behavior when it comes to your children, you may have to consider an e-collar or not keep the dog.
Last edited by Pacificsun; 05-15-2019 at 11:13 PM.