“Hi Sam, I attended one of you seminars in February of this year and found you very inspiring. I would like to ask you a question about a foster dog that I have.
I am fostering a 7 year-old beagle. He has some health problems but otherwise is a good dog, except for his OBSESSION with food. This dog came to me severely obese and he has lost about 15 pounds since I have had him (in about 5 months.) This has been achieved by cutting back on his food and by taking him on walks. He will eat his food like he has never eaten before and if you put your hand down he will scarf it all. He doesn't even breathe. I have placed a tray down with his food on it and I filled it with tennis balls so he has to eat around the tennis balls to get to his food, to try and slow him down.
The reason that I have the dog is because the owner had a child and the dog will go for the crackers or anything that is in her hand and if the child's hand is in the way, then oh well, “chomp!” It seems that he is so focused on the food. I would love the dog to be able to live back with his owner but she is scared that he is going to hurt her toddler, which I can tell you is a sure possibility. He is a great dog otherwise, it is just the food issue. I have heard people say that "Beagles are obsessed" with their food and that is just the way they are. I have to believe that there is some way to train them not to be that way. Is there anyway that you can help?”
- Foster Mom
Dear Foster Mom,
Thanks for your compliment on the inspiration part. I do have to ask one question; why is it that dog owners have this incessant need to control food or how fast a dog eats? In my books, the quicker a dog eats the better it is and the only thing we can control are the amounts he gets.
So your dog is an obsessive eater. But, your trying to control the dog’s intake or how he eats only makes the dog more obsessed. Recently this dog has lost weight, and with the cutting back on the food and with a still-enlarged stomach, this makes him appear hungrier. So, based on the quantities of food that he was eating, he will become obsessive only because he needs to fill that big pit. Time will change that and the stomach will shrink eventually on its own, dropping the hunger issue.
What is the concept of the tennis balls? To me it is absolutely ridiculous without sounding insulting. Based on my nature, if someone keeps putting something in my plate that wasn’t food amongst the food I was about to enjoy, I would only pick it out and eventually get frustrated having to do so. And with the balls rolling around, repeatedly touching the dog ‘s face while he’s eating, the eating routine must be even more irritating. The tennis balls to me are another sense of false desperation to control what? A dog’s natural drive to eat. This dog is motivated and determined, and the tennis balls will only increase that issue.
Take a food bowl, walk around with it, stop now and then and wait till the dog calms, sits and maintains focus without anxiety or obsession. When the dog is calm and sitting relaxed, place the bowl of food on the ground for him to eat. Once you give it to him, let him eat it and leave him alone (do not stick your hands in or around his bowl.) I know I don’t like to be bugged when I am eating so why should a dog tolerate that as well?
As for the former owner, there is nothing you can do to that dog to get the owner to accept him by you alone working with the dog. Address and educate the owner; we all know that how a dog behaves with one person does not necessarily mean the dog will behave the same way with the other.
Dogs can behave differently with different people.
This owner needs to be taught what dog leadership and management is. Failing to do that and you handing that dog back into that situation only breeds further trouble. I have seen it many, many times. If that dog is to respect the owner’s boundaries, it is up to the former owner to set those boundaries and understand that a dog is a long-term management and training process. Stop being afraid of what a dog will do and focus on helping the dog to do it right.
NOTE: Dogs that haven’t experience weight loss and are food obsessed are an end result of competition from other dogs and/or resulting from the owner making the dog sit and wait for the food at feeing time. Both of these acts produce food obsession. Read the blog titled “Food Resource Guarding” for more details.
Proper management of our own direction allows those who need direction to follow by our own self discipline.