Case Study on Dog Food Aggression

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Cisco is a Great Dane approximately one year of age. The Millers adopted Cisco from their neighbors, who had to give up the Dane due to relocation. Cisco went from living in a one dog home to having to share his domain with two Golden Retrievers. At his previous home, Cisco showed no problems with any type of aggression; however, the Millers have noticed recent aggressive behavior involving food. All dogs are allowed access to food throughout the day without having a feeding schedule out of preference from the owner. Although each dog has an individual dish of food and eats the exact same diet, Cisco frequently stands guard over the food dishes and refuses to let the other dogs eat.

This behavior has also advanced to include aggressiveness over the water dish that the dogs share and any treats that are given to the three dogs in the home. When awarded a treat, Cisco will bully the retrievers into forfeiting their treat out of fear. The other two dogs are quickly becoming afraid of Cisco and are starting to develop nervous habits. Additionally, the dogs are reluctant to eat even when Cisco is separated from the group for fear the Dane will return and become aggressive. At this point, Cisco has not attacked the other dogs or the owners, but the situation is likely to escalate into an attack.

In order to curb this aggressive behavior, the Millers have stopped allowing access to the food throughout the day and have established special feeding times. Additionally, the Millers have separated the dogs during these feeding times. Furthermore, the Millers have stationed several water dishes throughout the home and the yard so that Cisco cannot stand guard over the sole water dish. Additionally, the Millers have stopped giving their dogs treats unless they are separate from Cisco to prevent the associated behavior. These changes have worked well to eliminate the fear in the retrievers, but have done little to completely stop the aggressive behavior.

After these changes were instituted, the Millers sought the help from a veterinarian behaviorist. This professional provided advice on how to stop aggression, which started with the Millers establishing themselves as the "alpha male" of the group. If Cisco showed inappropriate behavior to the Millers at feeding time, the dish should remain empty until Cisco decided to act appropriately. Once Cisco equates good behavior with food, he will stop the aggressive behavior towards the Millers. In order to stop aggressive behavior with the other dogs regarding food, the behaviorist suggests the Millers use a physical barrier to prevent the dog from getting the food.

Due to Cisco's large size, the physical barrier method may be more difficult. Typically, a smaller dog can be completely barred from his dish by the owner's body. With Cisco, the behaviorist suggested using a box to cover the dish when Cisco showed aggressive behavior. When these inappropriate behaviors surfaced, the dish should be covered until the dog ceases. Once the behaviors stop, the dish should be uncovered and the dog should be allowed access.

Cisco now is able to eat with his companion dogs without signs of aggression. Furthermore, the Millers can take treat or food dish from Cisco without fear of being bitten or attacked. Cisco experienced excellent improvement from his food aggression and is once again the pleasant, loving dog he was at the previous owner's home.



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