Dogs With Food Aggression

Posted by Michael Shine

What is Food Aggression?

Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog becomes very defensive when eating, using threats to force others away. It can be directed towards other animals, humans, or both. The behavior can also extend to treats.

Food aggression happens when your dog becomes defensive during feeding time. Depending on the severity of food aggression, your dog can growl, show teeth, snap, lung, and bite others.

How Can I Recognize Food Aggression?

When a dog is eating, his body will stiffen, and he may keep his head down. He is using his body language to "hover" over the meal and protect it.

Other signs are that the whites of your dog's eyes may be visible, their ears are held back, their tail is lowered, or their hackles may rise. A dog may show any or all of these signs.

What Are The First Signs of Aggression?

What Are The First Signs of Aggression?
If your dog acts like he is hovering over a meal to protect it. You might have a food aggression issue later down the road. If you catch your dog showing signs of food aggression, train him early before the habit becomes more severe.

What Should I Do If My Dog Shows Aggression?

Is your dog only possessive over food, or does this habit extend to toys, beds, and people? If the behavior is not limited to food, the tactics below will help your dog become less aggressive.

Determine how aggressive your dog is. Depending on the severity, you may need to hire a professional trainer.

Assess your dog's overall behavior. Is your dog only showing possessiveness over food, or does the action extend to other things, like favorite toys, resting spots, or even people in the pack?

If the behavior isn't limited to food, then your dog is showing general resource guarding. You will need to use the techniques listed below as appropriate in all cases where your dog is showing aggression using the target object instead of food.
Dogs With Food Aggression Eating
Also, assess your dog's overall confidence and behavior. If your pet is naturally a dominant dog, then you will need to assert yourself as the Pack Leader calmly and assertively. On the other hand, if he is timid or fearful, you will need to build up his confidence and teach him that his food is safe with humans around.

Finally, determine whether your dog's food aggression is mild, moderate, or severe. For severe cases, start off by consulting a professional until you can get the dog down to a reasonable level.

What Are The Three Degrees Of Food Aggression?

Mild: the dog growls and may show its teeth.
Moderate: the dog snaps or lunges when approached.
Severe: the dog bites.

While it's easy to assume that all cases of food aggression are a show of dominance, this isn't necessarily the case. In a dog pack, the alpha dogs always eat first after a successful hunt, and then the other dogs get what's left according to their pack position.

Nothing is scarier than a dog snapping when you approach them eating. If this habit continues, it can lead to serious behavioral issues and danger to other pets or humans. If this habit is left, uncheck it can manifest to him becoming possessive with other objects.

Food aggression is a form of dominance, but it may also be caused by anxiety or fear. In the wild, dogs never know when the next meal will be, and instinctually they will fight for their food.

How Does Consistency Help?

If your dog is anxious, make sure you are consistently feeding him the same time every day. This will train your pet to understand that he will not go hungry and not worry about when the next meal will arrive.

Dogs have an exquisite internal clock, they will quickly adapt to the new feeding schedule.

Should I Make My Dog Work for Its Food?

Go on a walk before feeding your dog. The step will fulfill your pet's instinct to hunt for food. Your dog will feel like he earned his meal when you get home. Make sure you do not exercise your dog after feeding time. This will lead to bloating or other illnesses.

Making your dog sit patiently or lie down before eating is a great way to enforce your dominance and encourage your dog to earn its meal. Have your dog stay until the bowl is on the ground. Wait a few seconds before you give him the okay to start eating.

What Can I Do To Show Strength?

Leaders Eat First. The Alpha dog eats first. Establish your dominance and leadership by eating before feeding your dog.

Never feed your dog before or during the time you eat. Humans eat first, and then their K9 friends. This will strengthen your status as the pack leader.

How Do I Establish Dominance?

Common techniques being:

Hand-feeding your dog. Start by hand feeding your dog food and use your hands to scoop the rest of the food in the bowl. This will allow you to stick your hands near the dog bowl and stand next to them while they are eating.

Treats: Every time you approach your dog when he is feeding, have treats in your hand. This reinforces the idea that you are not trying to steal his food and allows you near the dog bowl.

When a dog shows aggression to protect his food, it can be a severe issue. Not only is there the danger of other dogs or humans in the house being bitten, but over time it can lead to the dog becoming possessive over everything.

For an alpha dog, showing food aggression is a form of dominance. Still, for dogs with a lower pack position, it can be a sign of anxiety or fearfulness. Remember, in the wild, dogs never know where or when their next meal will be. It's very instinctual for them to gobble up whatever food there is whenever they have it — and to protect it from anything that approaches.

Once you've completed these steps, you're ready to start changing the behavior.

What Are Some Of The Techniques To Use?

Be Consistent
If the source of your dog's aggression is fear or anxiety over when the next meal is coming, then be sure that you are feeding your dog at the same time every single day.

Dogs have an exquisite internal clock, and with consistency, they quickly learn how to tell when it's time to get up time to go for a walk or time for the people to come home. Mealtime should be no different. Be regular in feeding to take away the anxiety.

Must Work for Food
Before you even begin to prepare your dog's food, make her sit or lie down and stay, preferably just outside of the room, you feed her in. Train her to stay even after you've set the bowl down and, once the container is down, stand close to it as you release her from the stay, and she begins eating, at which point you can then move away.

Always feed your dog after the walk, never before. This fulfills your pet's instinct to hunt for food, so your dog feels like he has earned it when you come home. Also, exercising a dog after he eats can be dangerous, even leading to life-threatening conditions like bloat.

Pack Leaders Eat First
Remember, when a wild pack has a successful hunt, the alpha dogs eat first, before everyone else, and it should be no different in a human/dog pack.

Never feed your dog before or while the humans are eating. Humans eat first, and then, when they're finished, the dogs eat. This will reinforce your status as the Pack Leader.

"Win" the Bowl
Food aggression can actually be made worse if you back away from the bowl because that's what your dog wants. For every time that you do walk away when the dog is showing food aggression, the dog "wins." The reward is the food, and this just reinforces the attack.

Of course, you don't want to come in aggressively yourself, especially with moderate to severe food aggression, because that is an excellent way to get bitten. However, you can recondition the dog until she learns that she wins when she lets you come near her while eating.

What's Going On?

In rehabilitating an aggressive food dog, two things are happening. One is that you're desensitizing your dog to no longer become protective when anybody approaches while she's eating. The other is that you're counterconditioning your dog by teaching her to associate people approaching her bowl with good things.

There are many other techniques you can use to reduce food aggression or to prevent it from happening in the first place. The key, as always, is to be calm, assertive, and consistent.

The term "food aggression" can be misleading because people can easily interpret it as dominance, and it really is better to think of it as resource guarding. As humans, we need to establish our place as Pack Leader and teach our dogs that there's no reason to defend their food from us.

Have you established a feeding ritual for your dog?

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