Writing about dogs that growl over food reminded me of breaking our great champion of this habit. Mato was NOT a "normal" dog by any means and I doubt this "technique" would work on any other dog.
Mato came to us from a puppy mill. My brother-in-law had been raising Shepherds and didn't like how much inbreeding was going on in the late '80s - early '90s. So he got this puppy rottweiler. I met her during a hurricane and decided I would hate her...She wasn't the Shepherd I loved and she was apparently too dumb to get out of a hurricane. No, smart girl stood in the driving wind and rain until we brought her inside. She came in and I fell in love - not only with her but with the most affectionate dog breed I'd ever encountered.
Mato had a rather illustrious career as a show dog and went on to be ranked #3 in the U.S. After she got her championship points, she simply refused to be called by her name. If you called her "Mato," she would tilt her head upwards in the air and not look at you. We would call her again; she would look in another direction, acknowledging our voice but not us. Finally, we called her "Champion Mato," and she came running. This went on for two weeks until her ego deflated a bit!
Mato had a horrible time having puppies. Each delivery would make her scream like I've never heard any mammal scream. And each pregnancy yeilded many dead puppies and one living female. After two of these, Mato "retired" and went to live down the street with her Granny, my mom. And a glorious retirement it was.
Mother had a much larger yard and within that she built a smaller run for Mato should she need to secure the girl for any reason. This run was the size of maybe 8 kennels and had a huge shade tree and a dog house. But mostly, Mato had full access to both the yard and run and loved sleeping in my Mom's utility room.
One Christmas, I was home. I brought speical Christmas dog cookies for Mato to have during the holidays. As usual, when I woke, I went outside to get a Christmas cookie and have a little wake up time with my favorite girl. She was in the smaller run, gate open, watching a squirrel. I handed her a cookie and she was so excited to see me, she left it on the ground.
Within minutes, Mother decided we needed to run some errands and she wanted them to be over with quickly to avoid Baton Rouge traffic. I locked Mato in the run to make it easier for us to get in and out of the bigger yard with the car. And, as usual, I got her a cookie before I left.
Mato's butt was to the back of the kennel gate and she was now chewing on the first cookie when I tossed in the second. Then I squatted down to scritch her heiny and tell her we wouldn't be gone long. Suddenly, I had a snarling rottweiler inches from my hand! I had known Mato since she was a pup and this behavior was not cool.
I poked her butt hard and yelled, "NO!" And Mato snarled again. With each poke, she got closer to my hand while at the same time, covering those cookies with her paw. My mother finally yelled at me to leave her alone. I left feeling hurt and dejected.
I decided I would simply ignore Mato. We got home and I went in the house and had Mother let Mato out of the run. I no longer went in the yard with her. I gave her no cookies. I spent no time petting her. This went on for days until I decided it was Christmas and I simply didn't want to spend it mad at the dog I loved.
Mato had alays been a dog I could talk to. She would look at me with those deep intense eyes of hers and I swore she understood every word. So one morning, Mother was gone to the grocery store and Mato was in the run. I went in there and sat on the concrete in front of her dog house. Mato hesitated until I motioned for her to sit in front of me. She sat down and looked me square in the eyes.
I started talking about how badly she hurt my feelings. I told her I bought those cookies for her and wouldn't dream of taking them away. I told her how my trust in her was shaken. I talked for over 10 minutes and finally asked her, "Can we be friends again?" She lifted her paw for me to shake.
We played and rough-housed for quite a while and I went in, got her a Christmas cookie and brought it out to her. I gave it to her by the gate and she dropped the cookie on the ground and watched me walk across the yard. Wanting to respect Mato's cookie eating space, I sat back down on the concrete, thinking she would eat it and we would resume playing.
Mato gingerly picked up that cookie, but she did not bite it. She walked over to me, turned around and sat down in my lap. Then, she ate the cookie. I'm certain it was her way of letting me know she trusted me to touch her while eating.
Mato lived to almost 15. She never growled at me again while eating...or anyone else in the family.