Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Many dogs won't share with other dogs and this can be upsetting to dog owners who would love to see their dogs share and love each other as many humans do.
Is sharing something impossible in the world of dogs? Would it be asking too much to have two dogs eat together, and possibly, even munch on a bone together, maybe taking turns?
Firstly, it's important to make a clarification. Not all dogs won't share with other dogs. There are videos and reports of dogs who are willing to share food, toys, and even bones with other dogs.
As endearing as this can get, consider though that things may change at some point. Close supervision for alterations is always a must.
Unfortunately, though, this is more the exception than the rule. In most cases, dogs won't share with other dogs. To better understand this behavior, it helps to take a look back into a dog's past history.
A Look Back in History
"Humans may prefer sharing food widely, but this is not the case among canines," points out Adam Miklosi in the book Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition.
From an ethological point of view, the protection of food is typical behavior that has been observed among a dog's ancestors, the wolf.
David Mech who studied wolves during the summers of 1986 to 1998 on Ellesmere Island, Canada, described an ‘ownership zone’ around the wolves' mouth, or within lunging distance, which was respected by others.
Sure dogs aren't wolves, indeed there are many differences between dogs and wolves, but dogs still retain some potentially adaptive traits such as resource guarding.
While it's true that, with domestication, breeders and then owners mostly control access to food distribution, dog owners often struggle with their dogs fighting over resources such as toys, food, and bones.
Some dog owners may become intolerant of one dog repeatedly taking things from the other. He or she may reprimand one dog for guarding stuff against the other and for dogs refusing to share. Such unrealistic expectations though can risk making things much worse.
"The expectation that dogs should inhibit this behaviour is either anthropomorphic or it assumes that this behaviour has been selected against during domestication. However, even in the latter case, many dogs need to be trained to show temperance," points out Miklosi.
Guarding food, coveted objects, mates, and physical space are highly adaptive traits in a natural environment. If dogs had to fend for themselves tomorrow, guarders would have the survival and reproductive edge over non-guarders.
— Jean Donaldson, The Dog Trainer's Resource, APDT Chronicle of the Dog Collection
Sharing as Puppies
Many breeders or puppy owners feel compelled to feed their puppies from one single bowl with the belief that this teaches them to "share." However, by doing this they may accomplish quite the opposite: competition.
Sure, with tiny puppies who fit very well inside a bowl, they may really seem not to mind, but as they grow and eventually push into each other's space, we create fertile grounds for potential future conflicts.
"As an adult dog, this dog will be constantly getting into unnecessary conflicts-either because he pushes into the other's dog's space and meets resistance, or because he's paranoid the other dog will, and lashes out in advance," explains Alexandra Semyonova, in the book, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs.
Providing puppies with more food bowls than the number of puppies can help prevent early issues and it also paves the path to the opportunity for the breeder to teach the pups polite eating habits. These habits will certainly come in handy the day the pups are sent to new homes and need to eat from their own bowls.
More is therefore better when it comes to resources such as food bowls. When supply is limited and there is overcrowding, it triggers a competitive mood causing puppies to eat fast, pushing other pups out of the way, stealing, and stress in pups who don't get their share.
Sharing as Adults
When puppies are introduced into a home with adult dogs, the adult dogs may sometimes act in what we may perceive as "bullying" behaviors—taking stuff away from the puppy and not allowing the puppy to get close when they are in possession of a resource. Pups soon learn to respect the adult dog's "personal zone."
Of course, not all adult dogs act this way, but several do. Alexandra Semyonova explains that this may not be really bullying behavior, although it may seem like it. It can be more of a parenting process, where the adult dogs perhaps aim to teach the puppy the ABCs of how to avoid conflict.
However, things may start to change as the puppy matures and becomes an adolescent (around 5 to 6 months of age). At this point, the pup may rebel and no longer tolerate certain things. He or she may stand for himself/herself and may emit a growl asking for distance.
Puppy owners at this point are often concerned about the change in behavior and wonder whether their sweet puppy is becoming aggressive. However, the adult dogs understand this and from this time on, may come to learn to respect the pup's need for space when in possession of a resource.
Socially skilled adult dogs don't normally take things from each other by force. If it's in your zone it's yours until you relinquish it. These rules are not instinctive or innate. Dogs have to learn them.
— Alexandra Semyonova
What Studies Reveal
Interestingly, a recent study has revealed that dogs can be generous with other dogs in certain circumstances; however, this generosity is restricted mostly to canine friends already known to them, rather than unfamiliar dogs.
In one study, using a bar-pulling task, dogs were more likely to deliver treats to familiar dogs than when the dog was a stranger. In another study, using a more complex task set-up, dogs continued to show a preference for familiar dogs when it came to treat delivery.
Sure, the dogs in these experiments were not literally sharing the food out of their food bowls, but it was certainly nice to see this unexpected aspect of generosity from our canine companions!
Tips for Dogs Who Won't Share With Other Dogs
As we've seen, sharing among dogs is not a very popular trend as it is among humans. It would be an unrealistic expectation to wish that dogs could share in the same way humans do. With this in mind, please follow these tips for safety.
- Avoid punishing a dog for refusing to share. Consider that dogs who guard food, toys, and bones against other dogs are doing so out of insecurity. These dogs are concerned about losing access to certain resources and cannot relax so they'll try to defend resources overzealously. Punishing the dog will only exacerbate things.
- Provide food, treats, toys, bones, or anything your dog seems to fight over in separate areas. This means using crates, doors, exercise pens, extendable gates, and baby gates. Feed dogs at distance so to prevent the dogs from eating too fast. When dogs eat too fast it can lead to many problems.
- Clean up as much as possible. Remove empty food bowls, pieces of bones, and stuffing from toys, and crumbs as much as possible.
- Train obedience cues fluently. Train all your dogs to respond promptly to leave it, to go to your mat, lie down and come. Use these to redirect your dogs away from each other as needed so to avoid conflict.
- Hire a professional. Most importantly, consider enlisting the help of a dog behavior professional for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification. Treating resource guarding among dogs who share the same home requires skill, careful observation, and safety measures.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 28, 2021:
Good point in that we feel our tendency to share should be one that our dogs have, too. Nope. But training so it doesn't get out of control and escalate into aggression is critical.
Thanks for sharing your insight and tips, as always. Have a great week!
James C Moore from Joliet, IL on March 28, 2021:
In my experience with and in seeing others that have two or more dogs that all ate out of separate bowls in their own little domains, this seems to work. It's funny that dogs who are social would be so anti social in this regard whereas cats who aren't thought of as pack oriented in my observation aren't fussy when it comes to sharing food.
Drew Agravante from Philippines on March 27, 2021:
Now I know why my past canine pets snarl at every dog it coming inside our house, especially around its food territory. Gotta used those interesting tips soon.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 27, 2021:
We never had a problem with our dogs, and they always had their own bowls. When we would visit my mother-in-law and have our dogs with us when it came to feeding time, her dog would gulp down the food as if she was afraid it would be taken from her by one of our dogs. So she definitely had that defense mode instilled in her.