The Old Trainer: Taking food and walking away an ancient instinct

August 31, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: Every time I feed Rico, my year-old Corgi/beagle mix, he does the same thing. He takes a big bite, walks about 10 feet away and swallows it, then comes back for more. Do all dogs do this?

— Erin, Bakersfield

A: No, not all dogs do it, but don't worry about Rico. He is hearing the call of the wild, heeding the pack psychology buried deep in his brain.

When wolves make a kill, the lower ranked members of the pack drag their food away so the leader or a dominant pack member won't take it. Rico doesn't have competition for his food, but, like all young dogs, retains the ancient survival instincts.

This habit is usually found in dogs that were the runt of the litter so Rico is just proving how smart he is. He learned a lesson when the other puppies pushed him aside, and he remembers it.

It does no harm and dogs almost always outgrow it, but if it bothers you try feeding him in a more secluded place. If there is another dog in the house make sure Rico is separated and has privacy for dinner.

Dear Old Trainer: I loved your column on how your dog empathizes with you when you feel sad. Walter, my 3-year-old Weimaraner, does the same thing. If I am sick or sad, he is very gentle and tries to make me feel better. I thought it was just him, but is this common among dogs?

— Karen, Merced

A: Yes. It is one of the traits we love about our dogs, Karen. And it is not just their own human that triggers the empathy of a dog. They show compassion and concern for a complete stranger if they sense the person is in distress.

Dog owners know how sensitive their dogs are and don't need proof, but researchers at the University of London recently subjected the idea to scientific rigor. Each dog had four separate encounters, three with strangers, one with their owner. The dogs nuzzled and licked even the strangers in an attempt to comfort them.

Any dog owner can replicate that experiment at home. Go out in the yard, and laugh and sing, and tell your dog how good you feel. Your dog will run and bark, and have fun right along with you.

Then go inside and act like you're crying. Your dog will become concerned and try every trick he knows to comfort you.

Same thing happens when you are sick. Your dog perceives the slightest change in emotions or body language. Whether you are confined in bed or merely under the weather your dog knows and tries to make you feel better.

Dogs are so loyal and loving they cannot be happy until they are sure their human is happy. Any problem they perceive in the ones they love immediately becomes a concern for them.

Dogs are noble animals. This is one of the ways they prove it.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.

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