Dear Miss Behavior: A former neighbor told me she didn’t have time for her Westie puppy so she gave her to me. She let me have her papers and everything. I love her so much, but Princess doesn’t like me; she even growls when I go near her food dish. What can I do?
I’m glad you love Princess, but you need to remember she doesn’t know you very well. She’ll need a little time to adjust to you and your rules. Speaking of rules, as much as I prefer to be in charge, we all need rules. Princess sounds like she’s gotten a little too much freedom, too soon. Now is the time to make sure she knows all of your rules so there’s no confusion later on. You need to start training Princess, not only does she need to know how to sit, lie down, stay and walk on a loose lead, she also needs to know how to come when called. Training will also help the bigger issue of growling at you over her food dish.
Princess has learned that if she growls, she gets her way. We–I mean, Dogs are very protective over their possessions unless taught that it’s okay to share. To teach her to not growl when you approach her dish, let’s teach her that you+her dish=good things.
Use her meal times as training times. Put her empty dish on the floor. Walk towards her with another dish full of her food. Drop a piece of kibble in or near her dish, pause long enough for her to eat it and walk away. Repeat this until her food is gone or she’s eagerly waiting for you to approach with her food. Next step is to make sure you always drop the piece of food in her dish without bending over and repeat, until soon you’ll be able to bend over to drop food into the dish.
When she’s comfortable with this, start hand-feeding Princess. Keep her dish in your one hand and feed her with your other hand. Go just a piece or two of kibble at a time until her food is all gone. Once she’s very comfortable taking food from your hand, then start holding the dish while she eats out of it.
If she growls at you, don’t panic and don’t punish her. Just go back to the last training step you had success. Most likely you moved too fast for her comfort.
What doesn’t work? Punishing her for growling. Don’t snatch her food away either. All this does is increase the chances she’ll bite. We need to teach her that you are the bearer of all good things and she can trust you not to take away something you’ve given her. Eventually, you’ll start teaching her to trade for items; this will be helpful if she gets her mouth on something she’s not supposed to have.
You should also consider going to a trainer. The Greater Lincoln Obedience Club has many trainers who can help you to select a good class for Princess as well as help you with her other issues.
Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.
After Marcy adopted her first dog in 1988, she began to research about dog care. Research took the form of checking out books and videos to learn how to train Lady. Eventually, Marcy and her sister began taking their dogs to the dog run and taking formal dog classes. For about six years, Marcy volunteered for the Capital Humane Society, where she performed a variety of jobs, and took time to watch the dogs and learn about their behaviors. Currently, she’s an obedience instructor at GLOC. “I think the most important is to keep up to date on what’s going on in the field. I try to read articles, blogs and new books that come out, and watch any DVDs that are available.”