Stray Dog Syndrome?

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.

26 thoughts on “Stray Dog Syndrome?

  1. As you know I have similar issues with Delilah.

    When Hubby takes out the trash Sampson runs to the door because he knows they will be going outside. Delilah runs to the can to see if there is anything she can snarf before you take it away. I like to blame her previous life too since we have nothing about her background. Just that she came from Lake Charles, Louisiana and her birthday falls around the time that Hurricane Rita went through there. We train her constantly but it is a real challenge. Last week at agility really drove it home for me, she was all over the place looking for dropped treats. 😦

    I got nothing for you on this one.


  2. Oh, I don’t think you want my help in thinking up things to tell people when she ganks their dog’s treats! While funny (to me, anyway) I don’t think they’d actually smooth over the situation.

    Survival is about competition and drive. Shiva’s got that! How does she get her meals, out of a bowl, or do you use more “active feeding” techniques like a Kong? I know I frequently use a “food delivery” toy for Elka, for the effort and mental activity, but she wasn’t a stray. If you feed Shiva only from a bowl, might she learn that she doesn’t need to forage, because it will be there? Maybe not.

    I’m sure you’ve thought of it already, really. It’s just interesting to think about.


  3. Well, if it makes you feel better Mufaasa is just as bad, and I can’t blame it on him being a stray (though I often blame it on him having lazy first owners that put zero training into him). The other day a co-worker put a bagel on the top shelf in his cubicle before going to the bathroom for the express purpose keeping it out of Mufaasa’s reach (I love that I’ve trained my co-workers better than I’ve trained my dog). Undaunted, Mufaasa climbed on his chair so he could climb on the desk so he could reach the top shelf. He then knocked my co-worker’s coffee all over some paperwork on the way down for good measure. Yesterday he climbed up on another co-worker’s desk so he could lick the top of a bowl of Mentos. This is of course on top of his incessant garbage diving and run of the mill food steeling that happens when people are foolish enough to leave their carrot muffins too close to the edge of their desks.
    I don’t actually know how to fix this since he never, ever tries it with me. I can leave an open bag of popcorn on my desk and he doesn’t go for it. He sneaks into other people’s offices like a ninja and gets the job done.


  4. Haha, Pearl will ignore a treat from me to go snarf a clump of grass too! I wish I had some advice for you. If it makes you feel better, my sister’s dog consistently eats/tries to eat lots of random non-food items IN the house (reading glasses, plastic bags, paper…) and causes her tons of frustration and worry. Pearl might be eating grass and mud outside but aside from the occasional tissue which she mostly shreds rather than eats she pretty much leaves inedible stuff alone while inside. So that’s something!


  5. ohh yeah… piece of papers, treats that are in my pockets, stuff left on all counters, even my dinner plate… name a place where there is food or even a whiff of Possibiliity of having food… and Pluto will be digging through to reach it. You call, you hide, you try to teach….no matter what you try… you are bound to fail. And dont even get me started on appearances… ppl still thinks he’s skinny and underweight… its like he CANT put on flab on him, no matter what.

    So, I guess it has nothing to do with being a stray or anything… its just sheer luck… Its better you just stick to “she was a stray” rather than coming up with another excuse… and next time she swipes someone else’s food, just laugh along with “she was a stray” 😉


  6. I was never a stray, but I did live in a shelter for a month with very little attention. I’ve never been a huge food hound, except around my dad or my grandpaw Jack, because they always “drop” some of their meals for me – hehe! But, since I’ve been on steriods to fix my mystery disease, I’ve been STARVING! I’ve sniffed out every possible food source and even lowered myself to stealing a bagel from a 2 year old on Sunday…


  7. Maybe it’s her past. Or maybe it’s her personality. I don’t think we can train dogs in every behavior we want them to adopt. If we could, they wouldn’t be the fascinating creatures they are. They’d be automatons.

    No trash can was safe from Agatha. And I know I’ve told you how– at sixteen years old, arthritic, blind, and deaf–she managed to get a loaf of bread off the top of the refrigerator.

    But we adopted Agatha at 4 months old. And, as far as I know, she had never roamed the streets.

    Some dogs are just that driven by something. And some people too. I have to hide nuts and other treats around the house so my husband doesn’t inhale them in one setting (1800 calories!).

    So I’m not going to look down on you if you tell people she snarfed up their sandwich because she’s a rescue. 🙂


  8. None of my dogs have ever had to miss a meal and yet they continue to be scavengers. I agree that it is part of their genetic code. One never knows how much nutrition is in that tissue until one begins chewing it. I leave a high quality kibble in their bowls at all times, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to find tasty morsels in the rest of the world.


  9. Ha ha, Cali acts like she never gets fed. If we are at the dog park, she sticks her nose in people’s pockets and sits in front of them begging for treats. Once she snarfed something off of the ground and my hubby thought it was chocolate and tried to grab it out of her mouth. Turned out to be poop! YUCK!! I think they are wired to snarf 🙂


  10. Since we’ve had Hurley since a pup, I can’t blame his food manic ways on the life of a stray. Instead, I tell people he was the runt and had to fight his bigger siblings for nipple access. So I make up stories to make his behavior not sound so bad too!

    Meanwhile, Sadie & Maggie would never dream of getting into trash, eating off the sidewalk or counter surfing. The worst they do is help me clean the kitchen floor as I’m cooking.

    At least all 3 aren’t that food crazy, right? I don’t know what I’d do if I had to deal with another Hurley monster around food.


  11. Also…I am fascinated watching my dogs empty their Kongs and enjoying the “treats” that are exactly the same ones that are sitting in the bowls. I think they enjoy working for food more than just eating it.


  12. Funny! My Blueberry doesn’t eat a lot of “other” objects. But she does go nuts for treats and any other food I offer. And other people that have treats for their dogs – she tries to get in on that action. One time I was hiking with her (on leash of course) and an elderly couple had stopped at a bench along the trail to eat their lunch – well Blueberry who only weighs about 45 pounds, refused to move from the area and her little nose was working overtime. She definitely thought they should share – until the old lady shooed her off with a wave of her hand. Then she grudgingly walked beside me. She’s pretty shameless. The reason she loves Petsmart and the vet office is because there are always stray treats on the floor and she zeroes in on them like a treat-seeking missile. I am glad though that she’ll give up a patch of grass for whatever food I am offering her – even if she does have to do tricks for it.


  13. My mom’s dog is this way, and he has never wanted for food a day in his life (came from a very good breeder at 9 weeks old). So I think in some sense it is just the dog as individual rather than the dog as former stray/former possibly starving dog, etc. etc. Not that those things don’t sometimes play a part. But you would think that my mom’s dog had been living on the street for years with the way he is so obsessed at getting to or into anything edible, even AFTER an emergency surgery to remove 32 chocolate covered almonds from his intestines (they weren’t passing) … chocolate covered almonds that, I might add, were in a closed and sealed container on a very high counter.


  14. My brother and I have really good noses and I bet Shiva does too. We sniff everything, even treats before we gulp them down. The shelties don’t care, they’ll eat any type of food. Jetta even ate a brick of organic butter. Yup, that’s the stain on the carpet. But my mom and dad are really careful and watch us closely in case we snag something outdoor that we’re not supposed to have like chicken bones or the odd drummette that someone carelessly discarded.


  15. I think it’s as good an excuse as any! I think some dogs are just a lot more food oriented than others, whether they’ve been strays or not. Morgan could care less about food, but Kuster would jump through rings of fire for a dog treat! My guess is that Shiva would have been a highly trainable dog for food rewards whether she’d been a stray or not, but having to scavenge for food probably took it up a notch as far as how much value it has for her. We had a dog who never had to worry about a meal in his life, and he’d still have stolen Grandma’s dinner off her plate if he could have!


  16. Haha!! Normally I don’t like when neighbors don’t keep up their lawn. But a few houses down is covered in yellow dandelion blooms every morning and I just love it!


  17. It’s funny because Buster was a stray, but Ty is more of a food hound. There was one time though, shortly after we found Buster, that he swiped something off the street. Rod was walking him by a pizza place where a guy had just sat down on the front step holding a soft pretzel between two fingers on each hand. As Buster pranced by, he turned his head and snarfed the guy’s pretzel in one gulp. When Rod looked the guy was sitting there with his hands in the same position – minus the pretzel. Rod just started laughing … he didn’t even think to throw out the “he was a stray” explanation!


  18. It’s funny, Sherman and Leroy are both food hounds but in different ways. Sherman is a begger and is always right there waiting for any tiny morsel to drop on the floor, while Leroy is hardly ever found begging. Sherman has been known to get into the garbage can and take out whatever he chooses but has never counter surfed. Leroy has never taken anything out of the garbage but has taken many things off of the counter. Leroy eats rocks, Sherman does not. Leroy can find anything laying on the ground when we go for a walk, Sherman could walk right over a cheeseburger and not touch it. So weird!


  19. I do love to share it with my friends, we are a stuff of loving pet dogs and this post is absolutely perfect for me… 😀


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  22. I am way behind (obviously…lol). I do not think you are making excuses for Shiva’s behavior. Many dogs have high drive, but they also possess an “off” switch, which is the thing that makes them highly trainable and good pets. It may be that Shiva is missing the off switch. I have seen some crazy driven field dogs who do not have that off switch and they can also be very difficult to live with and to train. Training a high drive dog can be done (as you have proven), but it is a challenge. I think the fact that you have gotten so far with Shiva shows what a competent trainer you are.


  23. Emmett struggles with the same thing… or, I should say, we struggle with the same thing with him! Anything that’s even somewhat food-like, he gobbles. Most recently, it was a box of my nephew’s scented Crayons. I’ve always thought it had to do with his feast-or-famine start. He was picked up as an emaciated stray. His foster mama overfed him. The shelter put him on a strict diet. Before we got him, he went from 40 to 80 to 65 pounds in the span of 11 months. We’ve never been able to keep him from eating everything that might possibly be food. We’ve become obsessively clean in our house just to keep stuff off the counters, but we mess up occasionally or he eats something that doesn’t even seem like food to us (Crayons, for instance!), and we always blame his bad decisions on his experience as a stray.


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