Of all the things dogs feel territorial about, food tops the list. While it is normal to behave in a protective fashion, it can become a serious issue if other animals or people in the house are perceived as threatening. Plus, if they become extra-possessive of their food, it’s only natural that they’ll begin to guard other things as well. Food aggression in dogs can be resolved through training, but it’s also worth a try to prevent it from developing in the first place.
Have You Seen It?
Food aggression in dogs can be characterized by hostile body language and behavior at mealtimes. It is a common problem among dogs that live together. While it often starts with the food, their aggressive guarding can extend to any object that they perceive as high value, including space, toys, and bedding.
Part of Their DNA
Dogs can’t always help this inherited trait to protect every possible resource. A part of their instinctual drive, food aggression in dogs is a familiar complaint among dog owners. This is particularly true for owners of certain herding breeds or dogs adopted from shelters.
Puppies learn to compete with their littermates, but older dogs can develop food aggression after experiencing trauma, neglect, or fighting.
Depending on the individual, food aggression may vary between mild, moderate, and severe. Beginning signs may include growling, but can also lead to baring teeth and raising their hackles to warn you (or another animal) away from their food.
Over time, lunging or snapping may occur. If left alone, severe food aggression in dogs can be dangerous to people and other pets.
Food Aggression in Dogs
Living with a dog with food aggression can be extremely dangerous for small children. They may not only disregard obvious signs of guarding or aggression, but they can also unwittingly get in between an aggressive dog and another pet. Separating bowls, meal locations, and times should help matters between animals.
Another way to prevent the development of food aggression in dogs to have them spayed or neutered. Hormones can certainly contribute to the tendency to guard.
Get With the Program
Dog owners can desensitize and counter-condition their dog’s behavior in the following ways:
- Get them used to your presence when they eat. Start by standing a few feet away from them.
- After they show that they are relaxed near you during mealtimes, add a treat to their bowl and then step back. Over time, you’ll be able to shorten the distance between you.
- While they eat, talk to them in a soothing fashion. Continue to offer treats to their bowl as they eat their food.
- Once they show acceptance of your company, put a treat in your hand instead of their bowl. You can put them at ease by talking to them,
- Demonstrate that you are not interested in their food by walking away after they take the treat.
- After 10 consistent meals of accepting the treat from your palm, offer them a treat from your hand as usual but stay next to them instead of walking away.
- Some time later, lift their bowl mid-meal to place their treat inside it. Once they develop trust in you, they’ll be able to watch and wait as you retrieve or prepare their treat.
- Try to include other household members in the process so your dog understands that their food is not under threat.