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How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Other Dogs' Food

How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Other Dogs' Food
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-4 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

If you have more than one dog, you may have come across the problem of one dog eating the other’s food. This can occur because one dog has less of an appetite than the other and leaves his food for your other dog to clean up, or one of your dogs may be dominant over the other and takes the more submissive dog's food. This results in one dog getting too much food and one dog not getting enough. Not only is this unfair, but it can have long-term health consequences, with one dog becoming overweight, while the other may not get all the nutrients he or she needs.

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Defining Tasks

Dogs have hierarchical social structures, with some dogs being leaders and other followers. In a pack situation in the wild, lead dogs would eat first, followed by more subordinate dogs. This would be natural and would protect the integrity of the pack, which would need its leaders to be well fed to lead the pack. So if you have multiple dogs, it is not uncommon for a more dominant dog to exert that dominance by eating the other dog’s food. Another issue can occur when you have a dog that is particularly food motivated, and one that is not, and your food motivated dog gets the lion's share of the food due to the apathy or inattention on the part of the other. If this problem develops, you will need to intervene to teach your dogs to respect each other's food and only take the food that is portioned for them individually. This is not a pack of wolves, after all!

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Getting Started

You will need treats to teach a 'leave it' command. Also, you will need to commit your time to supervise feeding and implement commands, to ensure both dogs get to eat their food. You may need a way of separating dogs from each other's food area while training is ongoing. A separate room, large crate, pen, or area cordoned off with baby gates or other barriers may suffice.

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The Claim and Control Method

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1

Fill both bowls

Ensure that you are present to supervise when your dogs are eating. Fill both dog food bowls, but remove the dog that is getting his food stolen from the room temporarily.

2

Claim submissive dog's bowl

Let your food-stealing dog eat from his own bowl. When he approaches the other dog's bowl, push him away, by placing your body between the dog and the extra bowl.

3

Be verbal

Firmly say “leave it” or “off".

4

Reinforce surrender

When your dominant dog backs off, you can reward him with attention. Remove him from the situation and allow your other dog to eat from his bowl. Repeat at each feeding over a period of weeks.

5

Introduce eating together

Now allow both dogs to eat together. If your dominant dog attempts to push the other dog away from her bowl, insert yourself, and give the 'leave it' or 'off' command. Allow your other dog to complete his meal. Repeat over several days as required. Your dog will eventually learn that while your submissive dog may not claim his food, you will claim it on his behalf.

The Leave It Method

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1

Present closed hand

Hold a treat in your closed fist and present it to your dog. When he sniffs your hand, say “leave it”.

2

Reward 'leave it'

Wait until your dog stops investigating your hand and trying to reach the treat. When he retreats from your closed hand, say “yes” and open your hand to offer the treat. Sometimes give the treat without saying “leave it”, to establish that your dog only needs to leave the treat alone when you instruct him to.

3

Challenge

Place a low value treat, such as dry kibble, on the floor and give the 'leave it' command. When your dog obeys, reward him with a high-value treat, like a piece of meat or cheese.

4

Provide distractions

Move the game to new locations and try leaving a treat in a chosen spot. Command your dog to 'leave it' when he finds the planted treat and reward him when he obeys.

5

Apply to other dog's food

Once well established over a period of weeks, use the 'leave it' command when your dog approaches your other dog's food dish.

The Take Turns Method

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Create schedule

Your dogs do not have to eat at the same time, or even the same time of day. You can train your dogs to each take their turn, eating at separate times, either one after another or with a time interval. Have a designated area for eating, setup with bowls for food and water. Your dogs should always have water available. You may need a way of keeping the other dog separated, such as using gates a door or a pen.

2

Create seperation of time and space

Starting with the more dominant dog, or the dog who is taking more food, feed that dog the appropriate amount in the designated area, while keeping your other dog or dogs from the area.

3

Feed dominant dog

Give the dog several minutes to finish his food, then remove him from the area and bring in the next dog. Fill their dish with the appropriate amount and give him an adequate amount of time to finish eating.

4

Feed other dog

If the dog is not finished after a certain amount of time, say 5 minutes, take the dish away and move on to the next dog.

5

Establish schedule and time

Eventually, your dogs will learn to eat their food in the time allotted, and because the other dogs are separated, the dog that is eating will not experience distractions or the other dog stealing their food. While the other dog is waiting for their turn, give them a chew toy or have them wait, performing a 'sit-stay' or 'down-stay' activity.

Written by Laurie Haggart

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Berta

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Unknown

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Eight Years

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Question

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We are fostering a 4 year old male boxer mix. He became very ill and lost a significant amount of weight. He gets small bland meals throughout the day but grazes. Our lab mix is about 8 years old and a big girl that has no problem eating. She keeps sneaking into his crate and eating his food. We leave food for him to eat when he feels well enough to. We have tried separating them when we are not home but he will jump over (or through) gates to get to where she is and she uses that as an invitation to help herself to his food. Separation and supervision can’t be had 24/7. What can we do?

Sept. 6, 2023

Berta's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would teach the Out command and practice with your lab on a long leash around the crate to first set the boundary, for pup to learn with positive reinforcement to avoid that crate area. Once they understand that that's a boundary they should respect and avoid, and is simply not respecting it, then I would look into a pet barrier device, which is a device where you can set up a radius out from. The dog wears a collar that gives a correction if the dog wearing the collar goes inside of that radius you have set. In this case, you would make that radius just the area immediately around the other dog's crate, to keep them from approaching that area even when you aren't present. Teach this using a long training leash and treats first though. How to Teach Out section from the below article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 4, 2023

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Bert

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Border Terrier

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Two Years

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Question

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Hello. I have two dogs, one called Bert the other Otto. Bert has not eaten any of his meals of dog food lately, since Otto is the dominant dog and in charge. Even when we separate them and put Bert in a separate room so he can eat, he still does not and runs away from the food whenever you place it near to him. We have also tried feeding it to him on a fork, which has worked in the past - but now it does not work and he runs away from it. We are not sure what to do now. This has always been difficult as Otto is very dominant, but never to this extent.

June 19, 2023

Bert's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would try taking him to another environment that's neutral territory for both dogs and not somewhere that Otta has ever been before, that's calm and he feels safe, without Otto present also, and see if he is willing to eat in that environment. If he is, I would hire a professional trainer to work with you on establishing you as a fair leader amongst both dogs in your home rather than Otto, so both dogs learn to take cues from you instead of Otto being able to make the rules - like who gets to eat. This process usually involves things like obedience command practice, requiring the dogs to work for what they want by obeying a command before you do things like feed, walk, toss a toy, or pet, and consistently enforcing commands and home boundaries when you give them, making offenders leave the room if pushy or bullying the other dog, or using a drag leash so you can enforce commands like off and come calmly and carefully, and getting any dog who is displaying aggression toward you used to wearing a basket muzzle using treats and patience so that you can calmly train and be consistent without a bite risk if needed. If there is any aggression between them, and especially toward you, I would even more highly recommend hiring a private training to help guide the process and set up safe ways to train. If Bert still refuses to eat in the calm environment that Otto isn't in currently and has never been in before, then I recommend a trip to your vet to consider a possible food allergy, digestion issue, infection, parasite, or other ailment that's causing his food drive to decrease even more. I am not a vet so do not have the expertise to advice on anything medically related. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 21, 2023


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