I have two Chows. One, whom I recently adopted, is a year old. My other Chow is three. They seem to get along great , until snacks are brought into the picture. The younger one drops hers and goes for his almost instantly. She also likes to block him from food. This ends up in a brutal display of teeth and hair. They are both free feeders; I keep kibble out for both of them at all times. Is this just a matter of seperating the food in different rooms, and giving them snacks seperately?
S. Brooks, Worcester MA
Your young female Chow is asserting her dominance over the male. One way in which dogs sort out the pecking order of any pack is by who eats first. The dominant dog always eats first. So, to be dominant in a new pack, your female is taking food from your other dog and keeping him away from the food.
I would definitely not feed them free-choice. This is not the most natural way for dogs to eat. They are predators who — in their natural state — hunt and feed, then don’t eat for a while. So two feedings a day, 12 hours apart, should help both their digestion and the food aggression problem. There are a couple of things you can do to minimize the competition for food.
First, watch how Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, deals with food aggression. He asserts himself as the alpha dog by claiming the food. He puts down a dish of food, then stands over it, keeping the dogs from getting to it until they accept that they cannot get to it, at which point they usually lie down or sit calmly. Your female might be dominant over the male, but she must not be dominant over you. She must give way when you want to claim the food. This is a good thing to practice at every mealtime and snacktime.
If you have a helper, you can put both dogs on leashes at mealtimes, tell them to sit, put the food on the floor, then make them wait for your command before they eat. Keep them on leash while they eat, and leave them alone as long as everything’s going well. If the female begins to look at the male’s food, give her a firm correction on the leash and a vocal reprimand (one word or sound). Do this at the first sign that she’s thinking about going after the male. After a while, you can remove the leashes and maintain control with your voice.
If you don’t havea helper, you can also feed them in crates to minimize squabbling. But this does not teach the dogs to behave. It’s like putting the cookie jar out of reach of a child rather than teaching the child not to get into it. Your dogs may be boarded together some day, and have to eat side-by-side. So it’s always better to teach them good manners than put up physical barriers. Either way, this behavior should not be tolerated. If you do nothing, it’s the same — in your dog’s eyes — as approving of the behavior.