Canis lupus familiaris, Food Related Aggression

BulldogMany people are aware that some pet dogs will guard food.

Food guarding is not uncommon when it occurs between dogs. If that is the only problem, it can usually be controlled by managing the environment. Feed the dogs in different areas; remove the empty bowls, avoid feeding rawhides, crate the dogs during dinner, during pizza parties, et cetera.  Some people accept food guarding between dogs as normal, and are not too upset about it.

When dogs snarl, growl, snap, or bite humans, it becomes a true problem. I usually discuss food and foraging habits with my clients, especially those with aggressive dogs.

Clients tell me, “I can safely reach my hand in the dog’s food bowl, while she’s eating”.

I ask the client if it’s dry food or canned, wet food. The usual answer is “dry kibble”.

I reply, “don’t feed your dog for 4 days, toss some sushi on the kitchen floor, and then try to take the fish away from your starving dog. If she does not snarl, growl, snap, or bite, then I’ll be impressed”.

Don’t sell your beloved companion, Canis lupus familiaris, short. If the dog is hungry and / or the food is high value, she may protest when you approach, or when you try to take the food away.

Just how hungry does your dog need to be, before she will guard food? What food items will trigger the behavior? How will she protest? That depends on the individual.

I’ve met some really naughty girls who will “rip you up” if you approach the territory where their bowls “used to be”. Yikes, these ladies need my help! Food related aggression is not limited to bitches. Dogs are just as likely to guard food. Heck, young puppies, male and female, jockey for food while nursing. The puppies that are better at pushing their way to the teat bar, get fatter, quicker!

Treating dogs who exhibit food related aggression can be simple or complex. Again, it depends on the individual case and the individual dog. If your dog is naughty around food, contact a trainer with experience in canine behavior modification. In the meantime, I can offer these tips.

Do not take your dog’s food in an attempt to “teach him or her who is alpha”. That’s just ignorant. Your dog is already worried that you may steal the food. Don’t confirm his or her misconception!

Instead, place your dog’s empty bowl on the floor. Walk up to the bowl and drop a very high value, small treat. Lunch meat ham or turkey will do. Repeat many times. Once you have done this on several occasions, do the same thing when your dog is eating. Approach the bowl as your dog is eating, drop a piece of yummy food into the bowl and walk away. Repeat.

The idea is to teach your dog that you are NOT going to steal food, you are going to ADD food.

This will change the dog’s perception, a much more suitable outcome than convincing your dog that you are strong and can steal his food!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – How’s Bentley – Memphis TN