Dog Eating
Bring out the food bowls and your dogs know that a meal is on its way. But how can you ensure that feeding time doesn’t erupt into a battle over chow in the bowls?

“Because food is such an essential part of survival for dogs, people can sometimes unintentionally create stress and even trigger fights in a multidog household by their actions,” declares Dr. Debra Horwitz, a certified veterinary behaviorist who operates Veterinary Behavior Consultations in St. Louis.

She shares these six ways to keep the peace among your dogs at mealtimes:

  1. Assess the emotional pulse of your dogs around food. Does your dog prance around and yip in excited anticipation of your putting down the bowl, or does he sit calmly and wait? If you have one or more dogs who get emotionally aroused at mealtime, Dr. Horwitz advises that you usher these dogs out of sight, sound and smell before preparing the meal to tone down the stress levels. If you have two calm dogs, space out the bowls in the kitchen.
  2. Tone down a possessive eater. If you notice that your dog stiffens his body or hunches over his food bowl, he is conveying a need to protect his chow. Dr. Horwitz suggests you prepare the food in different rooms and vary where you serve his meal in your home to reduce his territorial tendencies.
  3. Set a time limit for meal consumption. Allow your dogs five to 10 minutes to finish eating, and then pick up the bowls. “After cleaning the bowls, I recommend you store them out of sight rather than leave empty bowls on the floor, especially if you have a dog who tends to resource guard,” Dr. Horwitz says.
  4. Portion control and provide two or three meals a day. Strive to stick to a feeding schedule so that your dogs will feel more assured that they will not go hungry.
  5. Avoid becoming too excited or using mealtime as a training session. “You want mealtime to be a controlled, calm time and not an excited time because added stress can cause digestive upset and food guarding,” Dr. Horwitz says. “And I’m opposed to using mealtime as a training session. Why control this necessary thing in a dog’s life? Making your dog do certain behaviors before getting their food could backfire and make their resource-guarding tendencies worse because you are making the food more valuable to them.”
  6. Feed them in separate rooms. If you have a dog who gobbles down his food and another dog who prefers to nibble, place them in rooms inaccessible to each other at mealtime. “You shouldn’t have to stand in the kitchen while your dogs are eating with the mindset that you are there to keep the peace and break up a fight,” Dr. Horwitz says. “For the dog who eats fast, consider playing with him in your backyard after he eats for five minutes or so to distract his attention. This will also give your dog a little more time to eat calmly and safely and without the presence of the other dog hovering over him.”

Dr. Horwitz’s take-home message: “You need to create order at mealtime and do not want to make eating emotionally upsetting or punitive.”