This is not going to be an easy problem to fix I’m afraid. Central to the problem is that Coco is a Beagle. I am yet to see a Beagle in practice that doesn’t have at least some degree of food obsession. Stealing food is a common complaint as is picking up food on walks, etc. Beagles are a very resourceful breed and will often work out how to open doors and get around obstacles to get to food.
So what is my advice? Much of what I say may seem quite basic, but that’s the way it is. I guess there are two ways to tackle this. First is physical prevention. That may seem obvious but it’s quite important as each time Coco manages to get to the food she is rewarded (by the food itself). So if we can prevent her access then in time she will be less inclined to seek out the food. If she is able to open doors, including the fridge then you will need to fix “dog proof” catches of some sort. Be careful in that Beagles will often use their front feet to scratch at obstacles and can do a lot of damage to doors. Keeping her out of the kitchen is the first step you must take and that must be a permanent and total rule…there has to be no exceptions if it is to dissuade her in the future. You can also muzzle her using one of the light weight plastic muzzles available at pet supply outlets. Many of these will still allow a dog to drink but are effective at stopping food from being picked up.
Now we can also look at her obsession from a psychological point of view. Sometimes this problem in dogs is a genuine obsession which may even be related to an anxiety problem. In particular this may be the case if the food stealing occurs mainly when the dog is left alone. It can be a part of separation anxiety. It’s important to differentiate this from “just being naughty”. Dogs suffering in this way will often respond well to anti-anxiety medication and I have had some success with the medication clomipramine (Clomicalm). You would need to see your vet for this but it may be worthwhile trying, in particular if Coco exhibits any other signs of separation anxiety. Distraction therapy can also be quite valuable for such dogs. This means providing her with an alternative food source (dog food of course) but making her work for it. There are dog toys made for this purpose. Usually they take the form of a large hollow plastic ball with holes in it. You fill the ball with the appropriate sized kibble and it can take several hours for the dog to release the kibble by rolling the ball. Therapeutic but also fun.
Now just be aware that sometimes the obsession with food is driven by true hunger and that may be caused by a medical problem. If Coco is losing weight, excessively thirsty or suffers from diarrhoea then you need to have her assessed by your veterinarian.
So I have no magic answer with this I’m afraid but this is the advice I generally give to my clients and it’s incredible how often this will be a Beagle. I hope I’ve helped in some way. Please feel free to contact me back if you feel I could assist further.
Good luck, kindest regards, Peter
IDear XXXXX, Ihope you are still there. I appredciate your help. coco seems very healthy and always gets a clean bill o health from the vet. Anxiety is a thought we will consider, but truly she behaves this way both when people are around and when they are not. We can be outside playing and she will sneak into the house to try to find access to food and she is relentless. She is also very strong. Do you have any suggestions on how to prevent her access to the kitchen. The house has an open floor plan and she can easily jump any child's gate of some such thing. Any other plan would mean installling a wall with a door which is also very expensive but would be unslightly. Are there other ways to prevent access on a permanent basis. I also kind of doubt that any of those sprays used to keep animals off furniture would deter her from the kitchen. We have tried the balls with holes in it and it is a distraction, but is just so much easier to just go open the frig and eat everything. We have already installed some of the things you have suggested like locks and such and also keeping food and trash out of reach. The muzzle may have to be tried as well as talking to the vet about an anti-anxiety medication. Do they ever grow out of this or does it improve with age? Thank you so much for your thoughful answer. We love this dog, but this one issue is truly driving us all crazy. Sincerely, jan
Hi again Jan
Yes…I’m still here.
I suspected that “Beagle syndrome” was the main issue with Coco. But even though her desire for food is there regardless of whether she is alone or not, there may still be an obsessive part to the problem (as in obsessive compulsive disorder). This is we’ll documented in humans too. And anxiety plays a role. Separation anxiety is only one form of anxiety in dogs. There is more to anxiety than simply feeling anxious!
I mentioned the muzzle mainly as an aid to stop the loss of your food rather than to fix her problem…it’s not the answer, just a stopgap measure. The two main ways to tackle this problem are as I described….stopping the access and working on her “mind”.
Barrier? Nothing beats a door but I understand that incurs costs and may not be practical! If she’s not a destructive dog then a section of garden lattice could be cut to fit the entranceway. It wouldn’t look so good but it’s a matter of weighing things up…costs of making a door, the look of the barrier and a Beagle getting fatter. A mobile piece of lattice (or similar) can at least be removed at important times.
Sprays are totally useless as is laying baits with a nasty taste added. A Beagle’s nose can differentiate between a host of smells even when all presented together.
She won’t “grow” out of it…in fact obsession with food is something seen commonly in dogs with dementia. But of course if there’s an anxiety component and that is addressed then we may see some improve in time.
I would still persist with the activity balls and make sure she gets a good walk each day and plenty of quality play time with family members. This provides her with “the hunt” that carnivores need. Many anxiety issues stem from an inactive lifestyle. Do you see the correlation with humans? But her breed is most definitely the biggest stumbling block….if only we could magically alter that! But on the other hand Beagles are such loving creatures, would we want to?
So you must do your best to prevent the access to food. As I said in my last post…the food is the reward for the hunt (the stealing). The reward must be removed. And we must consider the risks of her overeating, particularly if she gets into potentially damaging food….fats, garbage, etc. pancreatitis is common in Beagles!
Press on and let me know how you go. I always appreciate follow up.