I have a rescue dog who is three years old. She is relatively well trained but has a real obsession with food that I have never really been able to train away. The obsession is understandable, as she spent the first six months of her life on the street and, I suppose, not knowing when or how she will get her next meal at this young age. My theory is that she learnt to beg for food (she looks very cute), and often when there are triggers that she associates with food (such as the sound of opening the food box, etc.), she will start to squeak/whine a lot, shake, and generally try to look like something someone should pity her (to get more food).
She is well fed and well looked after (not malnourished), and reliably will get the food she needs to maintain a healthy weight. What I want are ways to make this less stressful for us both. I would like to eliminate the behaviour of whining, squeaking, and shaking, and I am careful to make sure she only is allowed to eat when she is behaving well. Often the following will happen: I will start to get her food out, she will start to whine, I will put it in her bowl and then tell her to go back in her basket or close the door to the room where the food is. I will then try and ignore her, so as not to encourage the squeaking and hope she connects that it isn't the squeaking that gets her food. When I see that she relaxes, I will then let her go to her bowl and eat the food.
I have tried a lot of things with her: I've worked with several trainers (who didn't help too much tbh), we do dummy training, and currently I am trying to carry all her food around in a bag and just give her portions of it when I see her relax (behaviour I want to encourage).
I don't know how to communicate better with her so that she doesn't have such stress and worry around feeding. It seems like she just gets overwhelmed as soon as there is the thought in her head that she might get food and all her cognitive ability goes out the window. She wont be able to follow a command like "sit" or "lay down," and will mix them up and just start trying random actions whatever command she is given to try and get the food. She is quite excitable and, regardless of whether she eats from the bowl or the dummy, the process even of interacting with the box where the food is kept is enough to induce this sort of panicked behaviour. Even the possibility that the door to the kitchen is closed (where the food is) can cause her to think that food is there for her (even when it isn't). I have tried a lot of searching but I have never really found much on dogs that behave like this and don't know what I am currently doing wrong that I could be doing better.
Edit: Added additional information based on an answer below
Yes I agree, something I am doing is not helping or even contributing to the issue. We have had success with basically every other facet of training apart from this one. Which seems to just have ups and downs but never significant meaningful progress. I like your suggestion of disruption and have tried some similar things in the past.
In general I keep her in the room furthest away from the kitchen with all the doors shut in between but somehow she still hears it. I set up a camera to test this, while she was in the lounge (where she typically likes to be), sleeping, I can see on the video that as soon as I interact with the box where her food bag is she wakes up hears it or smells it and is instantly tense. I know her senses are much more attuned than mine but really I set this up to be as quiet as is possible and somehow she is still aware of it.
The bowl really could be one of her triggers and I will change this, as she does almost always squeak (even if she had remained quiet up to this point) as soon as she hears her food hit the surface of the bowl.
I have tried sporadically to move her bowl into a different locations but this didn't have an observable change in her reaction.
The main acoustic cue for her is the food pellets knokcing each other as they are scooped out with the cup. Unfortunately changing her food is not possible as she has several food allergies and seems to only not react to one or two brands of dried horse food, almost everything else she can't eat - so the acoustic cues are hard to change. I thought about preparing all her portions for the week in advance so I could eliminate this by just dropping splitting a small bag and having the food fall out, instead of this big bag rustling multiple times a day.
She needs to see and hear the new cues of her feeding routine multiple times a day, at completely random times, without getting food. If you have a certain measuring cup to measure her food, take it up and put it back down without feeding her. If you have a certain spoon, move it around on the counter, just to make a sound. If her food is stored in a certain room, enter and leave the room without doing anything in there. If her food is in a big bag or sack, touch it just to make it rustle. And all that at least 10 times a day, every day.
This is really helpful and I will start doing this with her current food bag, maybe she can become desensitzed to it.
I currenlty feed her twice a day (after the morning walk and then after her evening walk), at lunchtime she normally gets some treats depending on how well her lunchtime walk goes. I can try and increase this to 3-4 times a day - I haven't tried that before.
Always feed her at the same time every day. That makes feeding more predictable.
I had been told before this should be something to avoid (I have no source), as it can mean she will start to always expect something at particular times and the time itself can then also become a trigger. Generally the feeding time is beginning at the same times each day, but can be variable depending on how long getting her to calm down takes. Is this a subjective opinion or is it proven fact? I must confess I do not know much in general about how one studies or learns this.
As a general addition; I know she is capable of behaving well in this scenario and there are days when she remains perfectly well behaved and quiet and gets her food without problem - some days she can't. I feel that she tries to manipulate me into giving her the food / what she wants with this kind of behaviour, and I can really observe in front of others this kind of "pity me" "poor sad dog eyes" act really gets her a lot of attention from friends, co-workers etc. and this results in the attention / food she wants. So definitely there is something (many things) that I need to work on, and these suggestions have given me some new things to try for sure.