A dog showing aggression over his food is a very serious issue and should not be taken lightly. This kind of behavior can pose a threat of people around being bitten by the dog and the dog could even become very possessive of everything around it.
So what do we mean by food aggression?
Food aggression is a type of over protective behavior displayed by dogs over their food, up to the point of using threats to scare everyone else away. This aggressive behavior can be towards other animals, human beings or both.
Food aggression can be of three degrees:
- Mild: the dog makes hostile sounds and may even show its teeth.
- Moderate: the dog gnashes its teeth and charges forward when approached.
- Severe: the dog attacks with a bite.
Food aggression isn’t necessarily always a show of dominance, even though it may appear so. In a dog pack, it is usual for the alpha dog to eat first from a successful hunt before the other dogs join in the feast and that’s in the order of their position in the pack.
So showing food aggression as a form of dominance depends on the dog’s position in the pack. For an alpha, it is, but for dogs lower in the pack, it might be a show of anxiety or fear. Another thing to bear in mind is that in the wild, dogs don’t really know where or when the next meal is coming, so naturally, they tend to want take in all at once everything they’ve got whenever they’ve got it — and they protect it from whatever is coming.
How do I recognize food aggression?
Related:5 Foods You Should Never Give To Your Dog
A dog usually tries to protect its meal by “hovering” over it while eating. He does this by stiffening his body and keeping his head down whenever he eats
Other signs to look out for are the whites in your dog’s eyes, they may become visible, ears held back, tail lowered, or its hackles may rise. You dog may show all or any of these signs. Finally, for severe cases, they exhibit signs the signs mentioned earlier: growling, lunging, or biting.
What do I do about it?
Firstly, assess your dog’s general behavior. Is he showing possessive over just food, or is it same with other things, like toys, rest spots, or other people in the pack?
If it isn’t limited to just food, then he is being territorial, so you’ll need to the following techniques listed below especially in cases where aggressive behavior is displayed using the target object rather than food.
Likewise, assess the dog’s general confidence and behavior. If he is naturally the dominant type, it means you will have to assert yourself as the leader of the Pack but in a gentle and assertive way. However, if having people around whenever he is eating makes him timid or fearful, you’re going to have to build up his confidence and let him see that his food is safe with people around.
Lastly, you have to know if this behavior is mild, moderate, or severe. For severe cases, employ the services of a professional until you can get him to at least behave moderately.
Once you are done with these steps, it means you’re ready to start altering his behavior. Here are some techniques you can use.
For food aggression borne out of fear or anxiety over when the next meal will come, try feeding your dog at the same times every single day.
Dogs have an amazing internal check system, so once you are consistent, they quickly pick up routines like; time to get up, go for a walk, or when it’s time for you to come home. Time to eat should not be different. Ensure you are regular; this will help take the anxiety away.
Must work for food
Make your dog work for his food, not really work though but make him sit or lie down just outside of the room where you feed her. Make her stay even after you have put his bowl down and once its down, stand beside it as you release her to begin to eat from it, then you move away.
Try to always feed him after the walk, not before. This way, you can create the instinct in him to hunt for his food, that way; he will feel like he earned it. Also, don’t exercise a dog after he just finishes eating, this can be very dangerous and can lead to near death situations like bloat.
Pack leaders should eat first
Remember the alpha dogs eat first after a successful hunt. This should not be different in a human/dog pack.
Don’t feed your or while the humans are eating or even before. People should eat first, and then the dogs should eat. This will establish your status as the leader of the Pack.
“Win” the bowl
don’t walk away from the bowl whenever your dog begins to show aggressive behavior over food. This will only make things worse and you should know that this is what your dog wants. Whenever your dog begins to show this behavior you walk away from him, the dog “wins.” He gets rewarded with the food and this just makes him more aggressive.
You also do not want respond aggressively too; especially when the dog’s aggressive behavior is moderate or severe, if you do, just know you will get bitten. However, you can try to make the dog realize that she wins whenever she lets you come close to her when she’s eating.
Here are some techniques that can help you:
- Hand feeding: Start his meal by feeding him with your hand, and also use your hands when you are putting the food in the bowl, this will give the food your scent. The aim of this is to make him get used to eating with you your hands around his face without reacting aggressively. This way, your hands don’t threaten him whenever he is eating.
- Treat tossing: Drop some of your dog’s best treats in the bowl while you approach her when she is eating. This way, she’ll learn that people approaching her when she eats is a good thing. You can also use this technique when you walk near and notice she is not eating. This reinforces the same assertion that people coming near her bowl is not a threat but rather a good thing.
- “Trade-Up”: Approach your dog with something more special like a meat once they are eating their regular food. This will make the dog stop eating to come after you for the treat. This teaches your dog that no one is going to steal his food when he takes his eyes off them. Also it teaches him that taking his attention from his food is a good thing.
So what’s going on?
When reconditioning a dog that is food aggressive, two things are usually happening. One is that you’re training the dog to no longer become protective with people approaching her when she eats. Secondly you counter condition him by showing her that people approaching her bowl is a good thing.
There other techniques that can be used to reduce food aggression or better still prevent it from happening . The key is to be calm, consistent and assertive.
People often misinterpret food aggression for dominance, but maybe a better way to think of it is as resource guarding. As humans, we should affirm our place as the Pack Leader, and let our dogs know they don’t have to be afraid or aggressive with us over their food.
Have you developed a feeding routine for your dog?
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