Food and Friends

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My friend Leonora owns my dog Woody’s best friend, tiny Samson. Woody and Samson are the exact same age, and both are “foster fails” – Leonora and I were raising foster litters for our local shelter at exactly the same time, and we both kept one pup from the litters we were raising. As it happened, I kept the largest of the nine Lab/Pit-mix pups I was fostering, and Leonora kept the smallest of the six Chihuahua-mix pups she fostered. Our two dogs grew up playing together and we even took them to puppy kindergarten and “first grade” classes together. Five and a half years later, they are still best buds, even with the 65-pound difference between them.

But there is one little wrinkle in their friendship: their very different relationships with food.

Food and Friends
Woody at 8 weeks, when I decided I had to keep him.

Pardon me for saying it so bluntly, Woody, but my dog is a bottomless pit. He will eat anything at any time anywhere. He’s never too anxious to eat and never too full to turn down food. I usually soak his food or feed him in a snuffle mat or slow-feeding bowl, because otherwise he eats way too fast. My husband and I often amuse ourselves by offering him strange things to eat – asparagus, cherries, plums, lettuce, ice cubes, you name it – and I don’t think that we’ve ever found anything that Woody will turn down.

In contrast, Samson is a fussy little grazer. Leonora gives him food in the morning, and if she’s home (whether on a weekend or during the work-from-home COVID period), he will pick up a kibble every once in a while, but he doesn’t really eat more than a couple at a time. And when she works at her usual work site, he doesn’t eat all day! When she gets home from work, he will greet her at the door, and then run to his food dish, and eat a couple of kibbles. Over the next few hours of the evening, he will eat a few more. Even when she leaves him with a tiny Kong toy filled with peanut butter and treats, he doesn’t touch it until she gets home. Then he will rush to enjoy it.

I interpret this as low-level anxiety with her absence, given that many dogs who display symptoms of separation anxiety often don’t eat when they are left alone.

Leonora often gives Samson carrots to nibble and chew, and the first thing he does is stash them under his blankets in one of his several beds around Leonora’s house. Same if she gives him a Milk Bone-type cookie. He eats them when he’s ready, often when Leonora is relaxing in the evening while reading or watching TV.

Food and Friends
Samson at about 8 weeks, when Leonora decided she had to keep him!

Leonora also often dog-sits Woody for me; when I travel anywhere, that’s where Woody stays. He’s as comfortable at her house as he is at mine – but he’s learned all of his little buddy’s food-caching tricks. So much so that now, when we go over to Leonora’s house, Woody will first excitedly greet Leonora, and then rush around raiding all of little Samson’s stashes. Then, he’ll empty Samson’s tiny food dish (Samson’s total daily diet is but an appetizer for Woody).

But don’t feel sorry for Samson! He will usually choose one cache to guard – the best thing he’s hiding – and go after the much-larger dog with the ferocity of a weasel if Woody tries to get it. Though Leonora and I both are ready to intervene if needed, so far, Woody hasn’t ever seemed to mind being attacked by his little friend. It’s almost as if he doesn’t even notice! His tail keeps wagging and he just lifts his big head out of Samson’s reach; he knows that Samson will get distracted and he’ll go for the food when Samson isn’t paying attention.

Food and Friends
Woody and Samson snuggling when they were about year old.

Samson doesn’t seem to hold it against Woody; they are still friends and enjoy each other. When it’s cold, Samson curls up into Woody’s tummy, or climbs on top of Woody’s big sleeping body to try to stay warm. Woody “self-handicaps” when playing with his little friend, by laying down and keeping his movements gentle. When they play bitey-face, Samson is usually the one who gets too rough, going “full weasel” and biting Woody all over his face while snarling hysterically. To defend himself, Woody often just opens his huge jaws and lifts his head out of the way – when Samson gets carried away, he somehow often ends up with his whole head in Woody’s mouth! Yet the only way that Woody has ever accidentally hurt his buddy is by squashing him with a big paw, which he uses only in a last-ditch effort to control Samson’s occasional bout of outsized ferocity.

Do your dogs have different attitudes about food? Do you have an indiscriminate chow hound, a selective foodie, or a dog who always has something cached for a rainy day?

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