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Behavior Department: Food for Thought

Modifying food guarding behavior in the shelter environment

  • Cooper, a 1-year-old pointer mix, was enrolled in the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s behavior modification program to work on his food-guarding issues. Cooper’s face shows the pleasant, anticipatory response staff members look for when working with dogs. Courtney Taylor/Humane Society of Boulder Valley

Charlie, a social, wiggly, young miniature poodle mix, was the highlight of my days at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) for a 10-day stretch last spring.

He was a joy of a dog, actively greeting and entertaining visitors, his little white body almost humming with exuberance, his open mouth panting the joys of puppyhood and painting unsuspecting faces with enthusiastic licks. When greeting a dog playmate, Charlie became a bouncy, bounding, white streak of play!

To the casual observer, Charlie appeared to be a fun and enthusiastic dog, a lovely match for many an adopter. However, when approached while enjoying a hearty meal, Charlie guarded his food bowl with intensity, a behavior problem that had rendered him unadoptable at his previous shelter. Charlie displayed the full complement of warning signals when a person drew near his food bowl. Whenever I approached, he commenced gulping large mouthfuls of food and then progressed to freezing over the bowl, growling, and finally exhibiting an inhibited bite.

Dogs like Charlie are the very reason we developed our behavior modification program at HSBV. Recognizing that behavior problems are the most common reason for relinquishment in our community, we made the strategic decision to build a comprehensive training and behavior modification program to address the needs of the animals coming through our front doors. Our program focuses on rehabilitating dogs who would otherwise be unavailable for adoption due to a specific behavior problem in one of the following categories: food guarding, body handling sensitivity, dog-dog incompatibility, fearful behavior, or separation anxiety.

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