Some dogs become territorial when having food or treats, and they can turn hostile even to their owners while attempting to guard their food. When a dog becomes possessive of food, there is a risk that those around it can get bitten.
If you are worried about how to stop a dog from being possessive of food, don’t lose heart. You can manage and even prevent this defensive behavior.
According to a study, signs of food possessiveness or food aggression are present among 20% of all dogs.
This aggressive behavior is passed down through evolution when dogs had to protect their meals or resources.
Dogs guard resources they consider to be valuable, and food usually tops the list.
Desirable objects can include food in its bowl, food falling on the floor during mealtimes, or even bits of food in the garbage.
Resource guarding behavior in dogs can be risky to young children as they may not understand the aggressive attitude of the dog. If they disregard the signals and move forward, the dog may snarl or bite them.
Even adults can get attacked if they ignore the warnings of food possessive or food aggressive dogs.
There are several causes for food aggression in dogs, including:
1. Early learning
Puppies can pick up food aggression if they had to compete over limited resources while growing up in a shelter.
A litter of puppies fed out of one bowl can learn food aggression while competing for food and other resources.
2. Neglect or abuse
Food aggression can also be picked up later in life if the dog loses its caretaker, suffers abuse or neglect, spends time in a shelter, has to fight with another dog, suffers natural disasters, etc. Then, they can become protective over their limited resources, such as food.
Due to their genetic make-up, some dogs may show food aggression.
4. Medical conditions
Medical conditions can also cause dogs to become aggressive near food. For example, a dog suffering tooth pain or arthritis can growl due to the pain of eating from the food bowl.
In addition, a bigger appetite or thirst due to medical reasons can also cause a dog to be food possessive. Hence, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is not showing food aggression due to a medical reason.
Signs of Aggression
Aggression due to food possessiveness can be mild, moderate, or severe.
1. Mild aggression
A dog shows mild aggression when it growls at anyone approaching its food bowl. The dog may also show its teeth as a sign of warning and raise the hair along its spine.
2. Moderate aggression
In moderate food aggression, the dog snaps or lunges at a person or another dog going near its food bowl or other resources it considers valuable.
3. Severe aggression
A dog showing severe food aggression is dangerous and can bite or chase anyone coming near its food bowl.
What not to do
If your dog shows signs of food possessiveness, don’t punish him or take the food bowl away as it can make the dog anxious, fearful and aggressive.
You might also like:
- How to stop my dog from biting when excited?
- How to stop my dog from peeing on my bed?
- How to stop a dog from being possessive of food? 9 tips to fix the aggression
- How to keep fleas off dogs? Proven methods for success
- How to stop my dog from excessive barking?
How to stop your dog’s food aggression
The first step is to see if this possessiveness is only towards food or extends to other resources such as toys, people, dog beds, etc.
If the possessiveness is not just towards food, the dog is displaying a generic resource guarding behavior. It would help if you used the resource triggering the aggression to train the dog out of the behavior, whether it’s food or something else.
Here are tips to help your dog overcome its food possessiveness:
Tip 1: Follow a 7-step training process
1 – Your dog should get used to having you near
Stand a couple of feet away when your dog is eating from his bowl during mealtime. Your dog should feel comfortable with your presence while he is eating. It would help if you aimed to have the dog eat more than ten successive meals while you are present nearby.
2 – Provide a treat
Once you have crossed the milestone of more than ten meals in a row and notice that your dog is comfortable with your presence, you can try adding a treat to the bowl. However, remember to step back immediately to your original spot after putting the treat in the bowl.
Don’t attempt this if your dog growls or snaps when you approach. It’s best to seek the help of a professional trainer.
If all goes well, your aim should be to repeat this process of adding the treat more than ten times in a row.
3 – Start talking
Once your dog is comfortable with your presence and accepts the treats without any aggression, you should move closer, talk to the dog and give him the treat. Next, you should walk away after giving your dog the treat; keep repeating this multiple times while your dog has his meal. The aim is to have the dog stay calm for more than ten meals in succession.
4 – Eating from your hand
In this phase of the training, you need to approach your dog while he is eating from the bowl. Talk in a conversational tone and hold out your hand with a special treat while standing near the bowl. This time instead of dropping the treat in the bowl, have the dog take it from your hand. Once the dog accepts the treat, you should walk away to your original spot to give the dog the confidence that you are not out to get his food.
Hold the treat closer to the bowl every day until the dog can take the treat comfortably from your hand, even when it’s next to the bowl. Again aim to do this over ten meals in a row. If all goes well, you should proceed to the next stage.
5 – Time to touch
In this phase of the training, you need to do everything in point 4 above. The only additional step is to hold the treat in one hand close to the dog and touch the bowl with the other hand. However, do not take any food from it.
Don’t leave after the dog takes the treat. Instead, continue to talk to your dog so that he gets used to having you near during mealtime. If your dog is calm as you repeat this over ten meals in a row, you can move to the next step.
6 – Going for the bowl
This stage is the ultimate test of the trust you would have hopefully established through the steps mentioned above.
In this step, speak to your dog in a calm voice, lift the bowl a few inches (5 to 10 inches only), put the treat into the bowl, and keep it back so that your dog can continue eating.
Your aim should be to raise the bowl a bit higher every day until you can take the bowl, place it on a table and add the treat.
Continue this process until you can take the bowl, walk a short distance, and return the bowl to where your dog was eating earlier.
If all goes well, your dog should now be comfortable eating in your presence and even having you interrupt his meal.
7 – Get other family members involved
You can have other family members follow the steps mentioned above until your dog is comfortable having anyone present while having his food. Once there is trust between your dog and other members of your household, food guarding behavior and aggression will disappear.
Tip 2: Spay or neuter
You might want to spay or neuter your dog to stop aggression due to raging hormones.
Tip 3: Professional training
You can also enroll your dog in a training program focused on dealing with possessive behavior if you find doing it yourself hard work.
Tip 4: Consistent meal time
Focus on being consistent. Feeding the dog at the same time every day will help to overcome his anxiety about the next meal.
Your dog follows an internal clock that tells him when it’s time for his daily walk, the time that his humans are supposed to return home, and of course when it’s time to eat. Ensure that you stick to a fixed feeding time to address any anxiety over food.
Tip 5: Watch out for anxiety
Be on the lookout for signs of anxiety in your dog, especially when around resources such as food, toys, resting area, etc. For example, a growl or baring of teeth indicates aggression, and be wary of other body language such as ears pointing back, licking lips, body stiffness, etc.
Even with a puppy, you need to watch out for signs of resource possessiveness or food guarding. For example, if your puppy is paying too much attention to the other dog in your home, especially during mealtime, it is an indication that he is anxious.
If you notice resource guarding behavior in your puppy or sign of anxiety near food and other resources, make sure to take corrective action early to prevent the behavior from growing worse.
Sometimes removing the precious toy or putting each dog in a closed room during mealtime can solve the problem.
Don’t punish your puppy or dog for his possessive behavior; try to use treats to encourage the correct behavior.
Dropping a tasty treat into your puppy’s bowl during mealtime tells her that something good is bound to happen when you approach her bowl, and there is no reason to be anxious. The dog will learn to be calm and relaxed about having people present during mealtime.
Tip 6: Make him earn his food
Feed your dog only after returning from a walk; this helps create the feeling of eating after a hunt. In addition, your dog will feel like he has earned his food after the walk.
Tip 7: Teach him to wait
Before getting your dog’s food: Make him sit down outside of the room that you feed him in. Train your dog to wait even after you have placed the food bowl. Stand close to the bowl and give the okay to eat and only move away after he begins to eat.
However, this is not something you can try immediately with an aggressive dog. Instead, this is a behavior that you can teach your dog through early training.
Tip 8: Family eats first
Ensure to feed your dog only after you and your family have finished eating. In dog packs, the leader eats first, and the dog needs to see you as the pack leader.
Tip 9: Use treats
Approach your resource-aggressive dog with valuable treats when he is eating out of his bowl. You want him to stop eating and go for the yummy treats in your hand.
As a result, your dog will understand that people approaching during mealtime can lead to good things. He will also learn that looking away from the bowl doesn’t necessarily lead to the food getting stolen.
Focus on prevention
Start training early: Suppose you have recently got yourself a puppy or an adult dog, which doesn’t show signs of possessiveness. In that case, you must follow a few simple steps to prevent the development of resource guarding behavior.
Hand feed: Once your dog arrives home, start hand feeding multiple times. You can sit with your dog and feed him his dry kibble one by one while talking to him in a conversational tone.
While hand-feeding, you can speak to your dog and also pet him with the other hand. If your dog shows any discomfort, you must follow the steps outlined above or consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. If there is a chance that the dog may bite, then don’t try to correct the behavior on your own; consult a professional for help.
Feed from your lap: However, if your dog stays calm and relaxed during hand feeding, keep the food bowl in your lap and allow your dog to eat from it while talking and petting him.
After he eats a few meals from the bowl on your lap, have the dog eat from the bowl placed on the floor; occasionally drop in a treat by getting your hand close to the bowl.
If you keep doing this for the initial few months, it will help your dog to feel relaxed when you or other family members are in the same room during mealtime.
Everything about keeping a dog should be an enjoyable experience, including mealtime. However, having a food aggressive dog can lead to a lot of stress during mealtime and even affect the bond that you have with your pet.
But the good news is that you can train your dog to be calm and relaxed at mealtime. You should watch your dog’s body language, and if you sense a danger to yourself or other members of your household, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a professional dog trainer.