Pets

How to curb food aggression in dogs

By: Andrea Karr

Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Getty Images

Pets

How to curb food aggression in dogs

By: Andrea Karr

So your dog’s extremely food possessive and doesn’t want anyone touching his kibble while he’s eating—is this a problem? Bryan Bailey, dog trainer, wolf behaviourist and author of Embracing the Wild in Your Dog, explains how to read your pup’s behaviour and stop food aggression from escalating and causing physical harm.

What does food aggression look like?
When you, your family and friends or other dogs approach your pup while he’s eating and he stiffens up, glares, raises his hackles or growls. “Most dogs aren’t going to launch into an immediate attack,” says Bailey. “They’re going to use a warning mechanism first to tell you to back off.”

Why do some dogs show aggression around food and others don’t?
Many dogs have the urge to guard their resources. “Food protection is the number one reason why predators on the planet Earth are aggressive,” says Bailey. “It’s called living in a world of limited resources.” If your dog feels threatened or worries that his food might disappear, he may display aggressive behavior. Dominant dogs and street dogs that have had to fight for survival are the most likely to become possessive at mealtime. Fido is also more likely to growl if he’s being fed next to a dog that isn’t part of your family.

How important is it to curb food aggression?
“People feel like they have some right to pet their dogs while they’re eating and put their fingers in the dog food,” says Bailey, but he says that’s ridiculous. You should only fight the battle if you have to—in other words, if you’re required to feed the dog in a high-traffic area of your home or if the aggression starts to manifest itself with other items such as rawhides, toys or even a spot on the couch. Otherwise, put your dog in a room by itself to eat. “These dogs that are food aggressive are not grazers,” says Bailey, so he should be finished within a couple minutes.

If the aggression becomes an issue, how do you stop it?
If your dog has become aggressive when chewing his toys or bones, place a nylon slip collar around his neck (a collar that’s thinner than your pinky with two rings in it) and connect him to a line that’s about 10 or 20 feet long. If he starts to show aggression when you approach, pick up the line and pull the dog away from its source. If it hangs onto the toy, give a cue such as “drop it” or “leave it” and apply pressure to the collar, which will cause it to tighten. Wolves in the wild use the same technique to discipline other wolves, except they apply pressure with their jaws. Once the dog drops the toy, pull the dog away from it (don’t reach down immediately or he could bite you!) and reward him with a treat or praise.

Is there anything that owners do that inadvertently reinforces food aggression?
Some owners will consistently backing off when their dog growls, but his means he’ll quickly learn he gets to guard his food and toys if he growls. Bartering with the dog (say, offering a rawhide if he leaves his food bowl) won’t work and neither will distraction.

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How to curb food aggression in dogs

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