Is your Dog Food Aggressive? - Dog Training Tips

dog eating

Speaking of not sharing, one common instance of this we often see as dog trainers is called food aggression. Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog becomes very territorial when eating. A dog may growl and bare its teeth, lunge, and in extreme cases, even bite.

You must first understand why a dog is food aggressive before you can address and manage the behaviour. Don't assume food aggression is a form of dominance. In pack behaviour, the alpha male does eat first. However, your dog may be exhibiting food behaviour because of anxiety or fear.

Causes of Food Aggression:

  • Food aggression can begin as a puppy if in a large litter your puppy had to fight for a place to nurse. Additionally, some breeders feed the litter from one bowl making it a free for all!
  • Strays or neglected dogs know what it is like to live with limited food resources. If they had to scavenge for food or fight other strays for a meal, they may see other dogs as competition for food.
  • If the dog has been starved for food or led a nutritionally deficient diet, his malnourished body may send signals to his brain to go into survival mode. He may become overly obsessed with food and even start hoarding.

If your dog's body is stiff while he is eating and doesn't lift his head he might be protecting his food. He may hold his ears back, or the hair on his back may appear to be standing.

Managing:

  • The first question to ask yourself is: does your dog's protection apply only to food or extend to toys, or even people?
  • Is your dog getting the vitamins and minerals he needs? Talk to your vet about his weight and the most nutritious diet for your dog.
  • Make mealtime a calm time. Never bother the dog while he is eating.
  • Feed your dog in an open area where he won't feel threatened or trapped.
  • Feed your dog away from the rest of the family where there is commotion or activity. Ignore your dog if he "asks" for supper.
  • Never feed your dog scraps while you are sitting at the dinner table or you will have a "begging" dog for the rest of your life!
  • Consider scatter feeding your dog. Naturally dogs like to forage for food. It may reduce his stress if the food is not contained in a limited resource - such as a bowl. Scatter a variety of foods -- bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble, and other food that won't attract wasps -- around the yard. Try hiding a few treats so your dog spends extra time looking for them.
  • If you have more than one dog, feed them far apart from each other until they are re-trained.
  • If you need your dog to move away from food or another item, call him away from the item rather than approach him.

You know your dog better than anyone else. If he is the dominant type, you will need to establish yourself as the pack leader. If he is shy, you may need to build up his self-confidence so he knows it is safe to eat around humans.

Whether your dog displays food aggression or not, there should always be a routine around meal time. Feed your dog at approximately the same time every day. Dogs have a keen internal clock and quickly realize when it's time to go for a walk, time to nap or time to play. Meal time should be no different.

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