Riddle’s mascot enjoys her varied diet
Article by Andy Barnham
Ever since Gypsy became part of the family, my wife and I have tried hard to ensure she is not food motivated nor food aggressive. As a large breed if she ever bit anyone her jaws could do damage and it was important to safeguard against this.
From the start she wasn’t given treats on walks on the Common. My wife insisted that we reward Gypsy with affection as opposed to other canine owners would use treats to tempt their puppies back to them. Hitherto I had seen doggie treats as just that, as treats, and not as a reward for (merely) recall. Surely all dogs instinctively return to their owner? Boy, has my canine education progressed since then. That said, how is rewarding a dog with affection that different from rewarding them with a treat? Both are re-enforcing positive actions to establish a behavioral norm.
There have been times when I think the use of a treat would make life easier; after a year we still struggle with putting her on a lead at the end of a walk. It was suggested in training that we should use the lead mid- walk to ensure she doesn’t associate the lead with coming home. This has failed utterly, as it transpires that she doesn’t mind the lead mid- walk. Indeed she doesn’t associate the lead with returning home at all; rather it is the entrance and exit to the Common that is ingrained and she knows exactly when it is time to come home due to geographical location. Despite hearing the words of command to sit, she will saunter away in blatant disobedience. When she does finally allow the lead back on, it is on her terms, not ours. I would get annoyed apart from the fact I find her willfulness so funny.
Either way, whilst our own opinion and use of treats has meant that we don’t offer them to her on walks she has definitely had her food moments good and bad; for example when she grabbed the left overs of a Sunday roast from the kitchen counter (no roast beef sandwiches for us on Monday for lunch) or when she literally took food from a child’s hands. Luckily for us the child’s parents marveled at how precise Gypsy was in taking the food and not touching the child at all and by the third time it happened were scolding their young boy for not taking proper care of his food. Fortunately this is the only time she has taken food from a child and indeed she is normally very well behaved. Given ice cream on the Common whilst still a young puppy, Gypsy will now sit expectedly at any ice cream van she spies. She will happily wait in line between parents and children walking past her with cones and tubs brimmed to the top waiting her turn, and more often than not the ice cream man will give her a little something for her persistent conduct.
When it comes to food at home Gypsy will sit and look at it until given permission to eat. Early on we instigated a routine of ‘high five’ and ‘paw’ before allowing her to tuck into her meals. However if she is fed at the same time that cooking is happening or we are eating our own meals, she will not touch hers, as she prefers to wait and see what leftovers we give her. She has stopped pestering me as she knows I finish my plate. However the closer she sits to my wife and the more Gypsy looks at her, the more distracted my wife becomes and the less she eats, which equates to more leftovers. It’s a pretty clever ploy and there is a clear food winner in this gambit. In the early days my wife would try feeding Gypsy spicy food to deter this begging. As a result we now know Gypsy has a wide and varied palate including raw chilly and wasabi, while cauliflower and carrots just don’t make the grade.
So what is the conclusion? On the one hand she will sit patiently in front of her own bowl, while on the other she is an opportunist if something is within her reach and her dexterity and speed mean that food can be gone within an instant. Personally I prefer to think that, like a lot of us, she knows what she wants and has moments when she is simply greedy.