I have a one year old Irish Setter. We also have a 4 month old German Shepherd since my wife wanted a guard dog and our setter has NO guard qualities or instincts. Our hope with the Shepherd is simply that it will bark when a stranger comes. Recently there have been a lot of changes for our Setter. We brought home a new baby, we moved a guest house onto our yard for my parents, and we have had to put her in a pen during the days because she went through her first heat and more recently because I needed them penned so they wouldn't bother those working on the guest house.)
The last few days I have noticed our setter snapping at the German Shepherd. I didn't think much of this and actually thought it might be a good sign that the Setter was putting the Shepherd in place. (When we brought the Shepherd home as a tiny pup our Setter's first reaction to it was to show submission and has let the shepherd have dominance until recently.)
Anyway this morning I fed them before I went to work. When I came home for lunch I was ready to feed them again when I noticed that very little food had been eaten. Again when I came back this evening the food from the morning was still there.
The Shepherd was clearly hungry but the setter wasn't letting her eat or even come out from the area of the pen where they relieve themselves.
This is very strange behavior for our setter. Tonight when they had free range of our yard again the setter guarded the food and the Shepherd wouldn't eat until I penned the Setter and comforted her while she ate (because she clearly knew the Setter was watching and wasn't happy).
With me the Setter behaves normally. We played fetch for a long while. She swam with my in our pond with me a few days ago. She listened to my commands at least as good as normal if not better.
Is this just a post heat problem? Could it be that the problem is that I have shown the Setter preference over the Shepherd and that finally went to its head? Is it the result of them being penned up when they haven't been used to it?
Sounds like your Setter has a food guarding behavioural issue. I would separate your dogs for feeding time to prevent any fighting. Make sure the Setter can't see the GSD eating, so as to allow your GSD time to eat her meal in peace. Then, you'll have to address the food guarding problem.
There could be many reasons why she is behaving like this. She has been through a few changes recently, as well as her first heat, and could be trying to assert herself. What she needs to understand is that YOU are the pack leader, not her, and she does not have the right to guard food from anyone - because all food belongs to you. There are several things you could do to help her understand this.
I personally like Jan Fennell's method of behavioural training, as it is not harsh on the dogs, and uses practical ideas to teach the dog who is boss. You can find out more about her method using our good friend, Google!
It sounds as if you feed them out of the same bowl...?
If that is correct this will create a problem.
Especially in combination with there not being a bigger agegap between the two dogs!
I would (just as Melinda said) at this stage definatly seperate them at feeding time.
Neither would I ever just put the food down and then walk away - leaving the two dogs to sort things out.
That also is asking for problems.
So a little more controll from your side (showing who is in charge) should stop the problem before it gets worse.
I had a simillar problem with Pitanga 6 months ago. I had two cockers at the time, aged 12 and 6, and then i had 1 year old Pitanga. One day, she simply decided food was hers, period. I have other dogs, but they were and still are not fed in the same room or at the same time as theses 3 were. I kept them eating in the same place, but i started to watch them while feeding. I allowed each one of them to guard their one bowl, but never allowed them to guard it from me, or to try and go to the other dogs bowls. After two weeks of strong control, things just got back to normal, and they accepted the new rules just fine. we had a new pup living with us a few weeks before my old cocker died, and a first she reacted to the pup as well, but it was a mater of getting her and the pup used to the rule again.
I do not know if my problem is as serious as yours, as Pitanga only does that exactly at feeding time, and hapilly plays with all the others for the rest of the day, but watching and controlling the eating time surely helped.
Watch The Dog Whisperer is my advice - it's amazing, always consistent and will probabaly show you that it's something about you that has changed. Probably, the setter no longer regards you as the pack leader and is taking the role over from you. Retake the position by calm, assertive behaviour and show both dogs that the food is yours and that you are actually sharing it with them. Don't comfort the shepherd - your weak energy just feeds her confusion, It's all there in The Dog Whisperer!
Good luck - Jo