Food Guarding in Shelter Dogs
Important research conducted by ASPCA® experts provides a compelling argument against euthanizing dogs in shelters who display food guarding. The study shows that this behavior is easy to modify: An in-shelter protocol of free-feeding combined with post-adoption support helps keep food-guarding behavior from reoccurring in the home.
How It Began
Although more and more shelters are adopting out dogs who exhibit food guarding, many still place rigorous adoption restrictions that severely limit placement options.
In an effort to meet an ethical duty to place safe dogs into the community, many shelters are euthanizing young and healthy dogs who would otherwise be adoption candidates if not for their food guarding behavior.
The ASPCA undertook a study to learn what other options might be available. The result was “Preliminary Investigation of Food Guarding Behavior in Shelter Dogs in the United States” which was published in the August 2012 open-access journal Animals.
Here are some key findings:
- A survey given to U.S. animal shelters reported food bowl guarding as one of the most common reasons for euthanasia, and only 34% attempted to modify this guarding behavior.
- This study identified 96 dogs who guarded their food bowl during an assessment and then were placed into a home on a modification program. Six adopters reported at least one incident involving guarding in the first three weeks, of which only one was around the food bowl. By three months, those adopters reported no guarding behavior except one new occurrence of a dog guarding a rawhide was reported in the third month.
- For dogs identified with food guarding, the return rate to the shelter was 5%, while it was 9% for adult dogs not identified with guarding behavior.
As the study indicates, a large component of reducing food guarding is making food readily available. When food guarding is identified in a shelter dog, the dog should be given access to food at all times.
For shelters with some resources, structured behavior modification while in the shelter can also provide a lifesaving option.
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