Defining Food Aggression
Food aggression (also known as resource guarding) should not be ignored as it can lead not only to your dog biting you but also your dog being possessive over everything in the household. The aggression can happen not only at mealtime but also when treats, toys or attention are being given. Aggression can be directed at other animals and humans. With a mild case of food aggression, the dog growls and may show his teeth. In moderate to severe cases dogs snap or lunge when approached and can bite.
Most people assume that all cases of food aggression are a show of dominance but that is true only if the dog is a pack leader or an “Alpha” dog. For dogs in a lower pack position, who are used to getting the “scraps”, aggressive behavior comes from a feeling of anxiety or fear. Instinctively, dogs never know where their next meal will be coming from so they want to eat while they can.
Signs of Food Aggression
Learn to recognize the signs of food aggression and assess your dog’s behavior during mealtime but also overall. The possessive behavior can extend to toys, beds and even other humans. In most cases some or all of these behaviors will be exhibited. The dog’s head will be lowered and the body will become stiff as he hovers over his bowl to protect his food from others. Sometimes the whites of the eyes will show, ears will go back, tail will go down and hackles rise. Finally, your dog may growl, lunge or even bite.
Training a Food Aggressive Dog
If you have an alpha-type dog who is confident, remind him in a calm but assertive way that you are the pack leader. If your dog is timid or fearful, teach him that his food is safe with humans or other pets in the vicinity. Feeding him the same times every day consistently will probably eliminate the anxiety and food aggression since they have great internal clocks and will know their food is coming at a specific time. You must be consistent for this to work!
6 Steps To Stop Food Aggression
1. Make your dog “sit” before you give him his food bowl.
2. You are the pack leader so you eat dinner first. This shows your dog that you are in control of the food. Don’t feed the dog while you are eating.
3. Stop leaving food down all the time as this takes away your control over the dog.
4. Feed twice a day so your dog does not get too hungry between meals. Some food aggression is caused by your dog not knowing when (or even if) his next meal will come along.
5. Your dog will do much better eating in a quiet and calm area rather than a busy kitchen. Leave your dog alone to eat then pick up the bowl when he has left the room.
6. Get your dog used to your presence. Step up just short of the point where he feels threatened; throw a special treat (like a piece of baked chicken breast) in the bowl and then walk away. Try this at each meal until he associates your approach to his food bowl with the handout of a special treat. In time, he will not mind you coming very close to her/his bowl.
Be Patient Because it Can Take a Long Time
Do not yell at your dog to make him stop. Do not remove his food bowl because your dog is growling. This will reinforce the aggressive behavior. Food aggression develops slowly so it can take a long time to break your dog of the habit. If your dog has severe food aggression that is not improving, consult a professional dog behaviorist. Take care of this problem before your dog bites someone.