by Nicole Etolen
Have you ever met a dog that, with just one look, you knew was meant to be yours? Your eyes lock through the bars of the shelter kennel and you know without a doubt you’ve found the furry friend of your dreams. That’s how it was when I met Cooper.
It was just under 11 years ago. We had two other six-year-old dogs at home, but we decided to get a third closer to my son’s age (two at the time) so they could grow up together. We spent months searching rescues and poring over our hypoallergenic dog list for just the right dog. As someone who wants to give every dog on the planet a loving home, it was hard for me to keep turning down dogs that just didn’t mesh well with my son.
Then we met Cooper, completely by accident. We went to an animal shelter about an hour from our home to look at another dog that, as fate would have it, was truly meant for another family. The shelter worker took us to look at another female dog, but Coop was in the same kennel. When we stopped in front of it, he quietly moved in front of the other dog and looked up at me as if to say, “Please pick me.”
One look. That’s all it took to know he was my dog. An hour later, we were on our way home with the mystery mix formerly known as Louie (a name the shelter gave him just days before, so it was easy to change).
Cooper was about six months old when he came home with us. He had spent the better part of those first six months locked in a tiny cage with 10 other pups before the no-kill shelter where we found him rescued him from a high-kill shelter.
After such a rough start to life, you would think that Coop would have some behavioral issues, but he didn’t. At least not that we noticed at first. He didn’t like people touching his tail or feet, and it took him a few days to really come out of his shell, but other than that, he was a good, sweet boy.
Then the food thieving began. Cooper was a master thief. If the Ocean’s Eleven characters were replaced with dogs, Coop would play Clooney’s role. I also noticed that we were going through food a lot faster than we should have been.
See, my other dogs were grazers and had food available all day in one of those food dispensers that constantly refills the bowl. Turns out, Coop was a wolfer and would eat through it all as fast as he could. Welcome to the world of food insecurities.
How we dealt with Cooper’s food insecurities
When we realized that Cooper would eat literally anything even remotely edible in sight, I talked to my vet about it. He confirmed my suspicion that Cooper had a food insecurity. Basically, since food was so sparse during his formative months, Cooper would forever be convinced that he needed to grab it while he could. It didn’t help that Cooper also had certain dog food allergies and needed to be on a semi-restricted diet.
Dealing with food insecurities in dogs can be frustrating at times, like when you watch your dog make off with your entire dinner because you turned your back for just a second, but there are things you can do to help both your pooch and your sanity. These are the things that worked with Cooper.
Keep calm: As frustrating as it is to turn around and find your entire chicken dinner gone, you cannot yell at a food-insecure dog. They’re not doing it to be bad, they’re doing it because they are afraid that the food will vanish, and they will starve to death. We gently corrected Cooper by taking his stolen goods and replacing them with something that belonged to him (a bone, for example).
Consistent feeding times: A dog with food insecurity is scared that food will suddenly stop existing. Every meal is potentially their last. Consistent feeding times are a must to help them overcome that fear.
Remove temptation: We were careful not to leave food out on the counter or within easy reach. We also didn’t leave meals or snacks unattended.
Use a slow-feeder bowl: Cooper wolfed down food like crazy, so we put a tennis ball in his food bowl to slow him down. You can also use a special slow-feeder bowl.
Be patient: I’d like to tell you that Coop completely outgrew his food insecurities, but he was an opportunistic thief throughout his entire life. He did, however, mellow out quite a bit over time. He stopped stealing from the counter and learned that my dinner wasn’t up for grabs just because I happened to blink.
Sadly, we lost Cooper last year to congestive heart failure. He was with us for just under 10 years. I miss my boy every day, but I am so grateful that he stepped out in front of that other dog at the kennel and said, “Pick me please.” I’m even more grateful that I listened.