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How To Stop Dog Food Aggression

Published: 20 Apr 2024
Ashley Marlton
Ashley Marlton
Dr. Marlton spent her first two years in practice working as a veterinary assistant at a 24-hour emergency care animal hospital in Michigan prior to moving to Miami. Following graduation, Dr. Marlton attended Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biochemical Sciences in Fort Collins while participating in volunteer spay neuter trips.
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Our articles are meticulously composed and vetted by veterinary professionals, guaranteeing precision and pertinence by consulting credible sources, chiefly scientific journals and veterinary manuals. Prior to publication and major revisions, we thoroughly validate the factual correctness, providing well-researched content rooted in veterinary science.

Dogs demonstrating protective behavior over objects towards humans and other animals are showing natural inclinations. However, when this tendency intensifies into extreme guarding of possessions, it becomes a danger not only to people in the household but also in different settings and places.

In most cases, resource guarding in dogs can be a nonproblematic behavior like growling at one person approaching or running away with an item. But some problematic aggression may lead to biting or chasing away people. It is when professional help is greatly needed.

What Is Food Aggression?

Food aggression involves hostile behavior from your dog, in response to any perceived threat for their food. It is a territorial reaction whenever they eating their food or nibbling a treat. This type of aggression is a form of resource guarding which is passed from one generation to the next, tracing back to the dogs’ wild pack ancestors.

But it’s not just food, a resource guarding dog usually guards almost all of its possessions like its toys. But, there is a slight difference between resource guarding and food aggression as resource guarding extends beyond foods.

Contrary to most people’s perception, food aggression is quite prevalent in dogs as some research suggests that approximately 20 percent of canines show mild to severe symptoms of food aggression. [1]

Naturally, dogs guard the things that they consider valuable. This means that the things that a dog guards greatly vary with other dog breeds. Typically, valuable things may include your dog’s food bowl, toys, leftovers from the table, or scraps from the garbage.

Essentially, dogs having food aggression behaviors can be very dangerous especially when there are children in the household. This is because kids may find it hard to recognize signs of aggression or disregard them entirely. This causes a child to be vulnerable since a severely aggressive dog bites whoever comes close to the thing they are guarding.

All My Dogs Are Nice But This One Is Not

Why Do Dogs Suddenly Become Food Aggressive?

A dog can suddenly become food aggressive because of many possible reasons, not limited to the listed reasons that follow.

Changes In The Environment

Food aggressive dogs may have learned the behavior from a sudden change in environment. For instance, if you have a new pet in the household, the older dog may display food guarding behavior through growling at the newcomer. Some dog snaps out of the need to scare away the animal or the person that causes the aggression. If the dog’s aggression continues, it may embed food aggression in its system and perceive any animal or person approaching the food bowl as a threat.

Learned In Puppyhood

A food aggressive dog can be a product of an owner’s malpractice. Puppies may develop food aggression either by accidental practices or by the necessity to compete with other dogs in a multi-dog household or in a shelter environment.

Owner negligence can be a great contributor to the development of a food aggressive dog. For instance, an adopted dog that was severely neglected by its previous owner is more likely to guard the food and later on develop aggression whenever someone goes beyond the safe distance.

Aggressive guarding behavior can that are learned since puppyhood can be hard to revert as it has become embedded in its system This may also require you to contact a certified applied animal behaviorist to help you with your problem.

Evolving Behavior

Naturally, animals protect their own resources when they are in the wild. Considering the idea that dogs came from the same ancestors as the wolves, it is most likely that dogs will develop a food guarding behavior. For some instances, dogs can be subtle and would not display any aggression. However, for many dogs that are not properly trained, aggressive behavior may develop.

Genetically Predisposed

Genetically speaking, some dogs are born to display dominance as well as aggressive tendencies. Due to a pack-leader-like mentality and guarding instincts, dogs like German Shepherds, English Springer Spaniels, or Dobermans may develop food aggression behavior.

Underlying Medical Condition

Dogs can be very good at suppressing their own feelings. As your dog develops pent-up emotions, it may add to the manifestation of aggressiveness in your dog. Underlying medical issues that may heighten the aggression include dental issues, arthritis & other joint problems, loss of vision and hearing.

My Pup Wants To Eat Outside But Suddenly Snapped When I Approached Him

How To Recognize Food Aggression

There are different identifying signs of food aggression in dogs which can be categorized into three degrees: mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild Degree

Dogs that have a mild degree of food aggression tend to be showing aggression through verbal signals. Your dog growls whenever other animals s approach their food or near them while it’s not finished eating. Other signs also include raising its hackles or baring its teeth as a form of warning.

Moderate degree

A dog snapping and jumping whenever a person or other pets approaches them while they are still eating may be a strong sign of having a moderate degree of food aggression.

Severe degree

Dogs with severe food aggression can the very dangerous for pets and humans, especially to other members of the household. Dogs having this degree of food aggression will literally chase and bite any perceived threat that comes near.

Although it’s easy to believe that all cases of food aggression are a show of dominance, this isn’t necessarily the case. In a dog pack, the alpha dogs or pack leaders always eat first after a successful hunt, and then the other dogs get what is left based on their pack position. For an alpha dog or the pack leader, showing food aggression is a form of dominance, but for dogs with a lower pack position, it can be a sign of fearfulness or anxiety. Take note, in the wild, dogs never know when or where their next meal is.

I Want Him To Eat Instead He Wants To Play Tug

Methods & Training To Stop Food Aggression In Dogs

Treating your dog’s food aggression is not an easy feat. It requires patience, hard work, and understanding as to the owner yourself. The treatment that is used to stop your dog’s food aggression includes desensitization, together with counterconditioning which is both considered as an effective but extremely intricate method of behavior modification.

The above-mentioned treatment is described clearly and elaborately and is done in seven stages. Remember that after doing the following exercises in each stage, you may proceed to the next stage as long as your pet feels relaxed and does not exhibit aggression. Take note that the body language of your pet is not the same as other humans. Your dog’s body language is way more complex and it is hard to determine how he’ll feel at any given time. A simple trick to navigate through your dog’s body language and know when they are relaxed lies in your dog’s eyes, ears, and tail.

Other signs that your pup feels calm and contented include relaxed posture with relaxed muscles, normal breathing with little to no panting, eats at a normal pace, tail wagging, and wiggling.

A Perfect Picture Of Best Friends Taking Care Of Each Other

You’ll also want to look out for signs of aggression before going to the next stage. These signs include stiffly standing over the bowl, freezing or tensing, excessive gulping, staring, growling, snapping, biting, snarling, and chasing people off. If you have observed any of the signs mentioned, you may ask for some professional help from a veterinary behaviorist or a qualified certified professional dog trainer.

Before you begin training, prepare a number of special treats for your pooch. Your dog loves treats, so you will be needing it in any case you need to bribe your pet to have their behavior toned down. Instead of a high-value treat, you may also use chunks of beef, chicken hotdogs, or cheese as dog treats and convince your dog that it will have the special treat whenever you come nearer. You might also consider restraining your dog with something sturdy (like a heavy-duty leash) to prevent your dog from jumping. This may be your line of defense whenever you are quite unsure about the behavior of your dog.

Stage One

Stand close (few feet away) from your dog while your dog eats its food from a bowl. Do not move farther from where you are. Purposely ask questions to your dog like in a conversational tone, ” What do you have there?”. At the same time, try giving a treat, tossing it to the bowl from afar. Continue the act of giving more treats until your dog’s meal is finished.

Repeat giving a special treat a few meals until your dog takes your gestures unthreatening and eats in a relaxed manner for ten more meal-times in a row. If your puppy leaves the bowl and asks for the special treat, wait until he comes back to his bowl and eats again before you toss another tasty treat.

Stage Two

While your dog eats from a bowl on the floor, say the same words in a conversational tone, ” What do you have there?”. At the same time, move closer to the dog’s bowl and toss the treat towards the bowl while immediately stepping back to the same place- have this repeated until your dog eats the last kibble. Take one step closer to your dog’s bowl each time, before tossing the treat. Repeat this stage for several weeks/days or until you reached within the two feet radius from the bowl.

If you noticed that your dog(s) remain relaxed for ten consecutive feeding times as you repeatedly approach the bowl and stood for at least two feet away and give him a treat, you and your puppy are ready to proceed to the next exercise.

Stage three

As your dog eats from a bowl, like the usual, stand next to your dog’s bowl and drop a special treat into the bowl, and immediately walk away as nothing happened. Repeat the process until you notice that your dog is relaxed for ten consecutive meals. If your gestures are fine with your dog, you may proceed to the next stage.

Stage Four

Like in the three stages, while your dog eats from a bowl on the floor, approach it, saying the same words again, ” What do you have there?”. Stay next to your dog while holding the special dog treat. Bend slightly while holding the treat out with just an inch from your dog’s direction. The next thing that you should do is encourage your dog to stop eating the regular food in the bowl to take the treat. After you hand feed the treat to your dog, walk away from your dog as nothing happened. Repeat hand feeding your dog the treat until it is finished eating.

Bend a little more each day when your feed your dog a treat while your hand slowly moves an inch or two closer to the bowl. Continue what you are doing until you can already bend down and hold the treat right next to your dog’s food bowl. Repeat the process until your dog eats relaxed for ten consecutive meals while doing the approach of bending down and giving a treat next to the bowl, and you and your dog are ready to proceed to the next stage.

She Just Wants To Eat But The Kids Kept Disturbing Her

Stage Five

If you have reached this point, you’re clearly right on track. Like the usual, approach your dog and say the statements your dog grew accustomed to – say it in a conversational manner. Stand right next to the bowl, bend down and touch the bowl with one hand, and hand-feeding your dog with a treat using the other. Repeat the gesture of touching the bowl and don’t forget to feed your pup with the treat. If this continues for ten consecutive meal sessions without your dog showing signs of aggression, you may proceed to the next stages.

Stage Six

During this stage, your dog may display lesser to no signs of aggression. Continue the stage by approaching your dog, bending down, and touching the bowl. This time, Lift the bowl with one hand, six inches off the floor putting a treat into the bowl. Immediately return the bowl with the food and the treat and let your dog eat from it. Repeat the sequence and raise the bowl higher on the floor until you can stand upright. Progress as you walk over to a table with the food bowl and place the treat as you give it back to your dog.

Stage Seven

The last stage is intended for other family members. In this stage, all family members must go through all the stages from one to six and make sure that it perceives everyone, not as a threat. Your dog must also look and feel relaxed with every family member doing the same routine – to ensure he’ll learn that rules apply to all people.

This training program is designed for your dog to have gradual increments of the activities. This will buy your dog some time to adjust to the changes that are happening. Through incremental exercises, your dog will feel more relaxed and anticipate more on the special treat being given rather than feel threatened and show aggression to people approaching while they are having a meal. These exercises will also help your dog to learn that people are not a threat that will take the food bowl away. Rather, your dog will associate anyone who approaches as someone going to feed them a treat.

Here are some points for treatment troubleshooting for you to remember.

  • Make sure that the treats you give by hand to your dog all throughout the training are much more desirable than the kibble that you feed them.
  • If your dog prefers to eat a raw diet, homemade food, or canned food you can give it to them but always make sure that the treat in your hand is far more superior than what’s in the bowl.
  • If you noticed that your dog eats too quickly, you may look for a commercially available slow feeder for dogs

Another technique that you may resort to is the trade-up. It is when your dog is eating with regular meal and you approach them with something better like meat or treat. The goal of this treatment is to allow your dog to stop eating their food and take the special treat from you. This method will teach your dog that no one is going to steal the food whenever it is not looking. This method also teaches the dog that when it removes its attention from its dog food, people that come around will give it a treat.

With regards to managing your dog’s behavior you have to make sure that aside from these treatment sessions, your dog must also avoid aggressive encounters. Never allow other dogs to go near yours while your dog is still in the process of changing its aggressive behavior. If your dog doesn’t guard food against you but possessively guards it against others, especially children, never attempt to involve children under 18 with the training program. Seek help from certified professionals like a certified applied Animal Behaviorist, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, or a certified professional dog trainer, who are knowledgeable with treating aggression in dogs.

When your dog becomes aggressive whenever a visitor comes over, confined them in a separate room. This is to ensure the safety of everyone. Be aware that some dogs become food aggressive even if food is intended for the people and not for them.

When Will This Dog Eat It Just Kept Staring At Me

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog aggressive towards other dogs?

Your dog becomes aggressive to other dog breeds mainly because of the idea that they feel threatened. Your dog’s aggressiveness is its way to defend itself against dogs that elicit fear from your dog and those that impose dominance over them. Other reasons include poor communication, territorial behavior, stress, unfamiliarity, or resource (food) guarding. If this is not addressed properly, it may result in life-threatening conditions for the dog and people alike.

Can you train food aggression out of a dog?

Yes, you can train food aggression out of dogs. You can have your dogs trained by either a professional or by yourself. Severely aggressive dogs are required to undergo professional treatment while mild and moderate aggression can be treated with desensitization and counterconditioning.

Can an aggressive dog be cured?

Yes, an aggressive dog can be cured. However, there is no guarantee that it can be completely cured. In many cases, the only solution is to manage the problem by limiting a dog’s exposure to the situations, people, or things that trigger the aggression. There will always be risks when dealing with aggressive dogs. As responsible pet parents, you should take precautions to ensure that no one’s harmed including you.

Conclusion

Having aggressive dogs may require you to devote yourself to revert them. Remember that punishing or intimidating your aggressive dog cannot do anything well. Recognize the fact that when a person approaches a food guarding, it will react as if the person wants to take the guarded food as dogs naturally fight for food.

Contrary to the popular belief, dominating over your dog and showing that you are stronger will not make them stop guarding their possession. Additionally, this act would be very dangerous for both the owner and the dog and may lead to more serious resource guarding. It will also ruin your relationship with your dog. So, instead of imposing dominance, you can just simply change how your dog feels whenever other people or animals approach him.

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