Most dogs are “food obsessed” in some form. I don’t even really like using the term obsessed as it implies abnormal behaviour. It believe it is very normal for a dog to seek out food at every opportunity. Nutrition is essential for survival. Being natural scavengers dogs are genetically pre-disposed to eat as much as they can when they can. A dog not interested in food is not a dog who will live on his own for very long.
Shiva takes all of this to a new level. She is a scavenger with a capital S-C-A-V-E-N-G and even an E. Nothing gets between her an a possible edible. Even if that edible turns out to be a boring piece of paper. If she thinks it might – possibly – in another world – be food, she is going for it. And how.
As much as I dislike the practice of blaming a dog’s past for current behavioural issues, I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t at least part of case here. We don’t know how long Shiva lived as a stray mutt, roaming a bad part of town. It could have been days or weeks or months. All we know is where she was found and how she arrived at the shelter. The thing that most stands out to me is when we took her home after her brief stay at the shelter, Shiva weighed about 38 pounds. Three years later with a very consistent, very healthy diet, she weighs 40. She only gained two pounds in her solid home life versus her life on the streets of Spryfield.
This dog is a survivor.
Am I assuming too much? Perhaps. It’s very tempting to make excuses for her wild food-related behaviours instead of working hard to train them out of her. I am aware that many dogs live as strays and then go on to be adopted into homes without jumping on every counter and lunging into every bag they see. Some of Shiva’s behaviour was definitely learned and I take responsibility for that. However, she also has a lot of natural drive. More than most dogs – at least I am guessing more than most. (If not I have no idea why so many people have dogs as pets! Cr-a-a-a-zy.)
Could not this insano energy combine with her stray dog mentality to create a dog who will do anything to get to the birdseed located in a neighbour’s feeder? Or the treats that might be in a bag on the other side of the classroom? Or the chicken bone in the bottom of the garbage can? Or the bloody Tim Horton’s cup underneath the bench?
Maybe I am just trying to make myself feel better. I’d rather think there are forces beyond my control at play, than feel like a jerk who can’t train a simple “leave it”. Yes, my dog can do hand stands (almost) but no, I can’t stop her from eating your lunch. Love me, love my dog stealing all your food.
It doesn’t matter what I have in my hand either. I could wave bacon around, throw chicken pieces in the air like confetti. Shiva’s motto is that old adage: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. She knows with me she has to earn her treats. Why work for a piece of steak when there is perfectly good grass just over there?
Yes, she will turn down steak for grass. And mud. And seeds. And old shoelaces. And whatever else she can find that doesn’t require her to pay attention to me.
I am not being completely fair. This behaviour has gotten a lot better. She does focus a lot more and we do manage to actually make our way around an agility course every now and then. She isn’t always a maniac these days. Just most of the time.
I suppose even if Shiva’s past does contribute to this very annoying scavenging activity of hers, the results are still the same. It just gives me a weak excuse to toss out when she eats some other dog’s very expensive liver treats in one gulp.
“Sorry about that. She was a stray.”
Maybe I should start telling people she has an incurable disease. It’s a lie but it might prevent all the other dog owners from glaring at us. Just look how thin she is, it’s totally believable. Pity is much easier to handle.