Main menu


The Aggro Canine - Food Aggression in Your Dog


Expert Author Peter Demmon

Dog food aggression. While very simple at its base, a dog's food aggression can be complicated to work with and ultimately fix. If you come near your dog while he is eating and he waxes territorial with you, then you are probably experiencing his food aggression. "Waxing territorial?" That is a nice way of saying that the dog chooses to stand his ground, between you, and his food. There is probably a growl involved in there too.

Dogs with food aggression issues are a rather broad subject. For the purpose of this article, I am going to zero in on the aggression exhibited to their owners and not focus on aggression exhibited towards other dogs.

While researching food aggression, I found that there are several schools of thought in regards to this kind of behavior. Some people feel that this is a socializing process. That while as a puppy, the dog should have had people around while he was eating. A different theory is that this behavior is the dog asserting his "alpha dog stance" and that he needs to be assured that he is not the alpha. Other ideas include the notion that the dog has probably had to fight for his food prior to being in your household, perhaps in a kennel. Yet another theory is that your pet is regressing back to a time thousands of years ago and is having a hard time differentiating between ancient primal urges and the here and now.

Whatever the case is, this is a behavior that can be changed with a bit of patience from the owner.

The dog needs to know that the food is coming from the human in the first place. The big question that people on the business end of a dog's food aggression is "Hey! I give this guy food all the time! What's his problem?" Part of dealing with food aggression is to spell that point out for the dog.

One way to spell this out is to have specific feeding times. Free-feeding should become a thing of your dog's past. If there is always food out, the dog has no idea that it is coming from a source that should be respected. With specific feeding times, the dog will see you prepare or retrieve the food and place it in his bowl. Part of this process should be your order for the dog to "wait" until you have served the food. This way, the dog knows that the food comes from you. This can be a definite start towards food aggression diversion. The aggression has come from your dog's notion that you are the person who is going to take his food away. But if he sees you as the one providing it, it soothes his drive to protect his food at all costs. "Costs" is a good word, because for dogs, food is currency. Food is a dog's cash. In real simple terms, the dog needs to see you as the ATM.

There are other ways to assure the dog that his aggression will get him nowhere. One of these is to hand feed the dog. This could be sketchy, depending upon your orientation with your pet, but if you have a solid repertoire, this is a great method. This earns trust. If there is no bowl, and all of his food comes from your hand, he is going to get the message rather soon that you are the provider of all good things. Another method is to portion his meal out slowly. This can be done by giving him a few pieces, and then waiting for him to notice and look at you and then you to give him some more. You can also adjust this method by starting the bowl off with nothing. Place it down in front of him. Then slowly put in some food. Let him eat. Wait for him to look at you before giving more. This way he will know that you are running the show.

Another method is to place a quarter-full bowl of food on the ground. But before that can be completely eaten, drop some treats into the bowl. The adding of the treats can be done by leaning over and dropping them into the bowl, or (if safe) by actually picking up the bowl and adding them. If your dog is too aggressive, the same results can also be achieved by putting two bowls down in the first place. Then pull the bowl that isn't being eaten from and add treats to it. This way, the dog is going to see you as the bringer of good things, and will soon be more than willing to allow you to get near his bowl while he is eating. Another way to have your dog associate you with being "food-safe" is to call him away from his food while he is in the middle of a meal. If he comes to you, then give him a treat. Don't do this daily, but do it enough so that he is willing to "lower his bowl-guard" because you are giving him something more tasty than what is actually in his bowl.

Some also suggest that you should make your dog do a trick before he gets his food. This is to teach your dog that nothing comes for free and that you are the one in charge of the food. Yet another method is to leash your dog before feeding him. If he growls or shows aggression, pull him away from his food. This is especially good if your dog may in fact bite you if you get too close to the food while trying any of the previous methods.

If the situation is completely out of hand, all of the above methods may need to be applied over an extended period of time. If your dog growls while you are in his food vicinity, and you don't feel overly threatened, stand your ground. Remember that if you back off because of the growl, you have told the dog that his method is working. If you have to back off, then dive headlong into the aforementioned methods at the next feeding. He needs to be used to you. Stand just as far or a little closer the next time, and a little closer the next. Don't back off. A fistful of treats might help through this. Your ultimate goal is to be able to pet him while he eats. The adage that "you cant teach an old dog new tricks," is misinformed. It all boils down to the love and patience of the owner. Your dog is worth the extra time it is going to take to teach him proper food etiquette.

Dogs will take the cues offered by the above proven methods, but this is still your relationship with your dog. You understand him, and he for the most part, knows where you are coming from too. If you buy into the "alpha dog" philosophy, then your dog needs to know that you are an alpha who is a friend and a provider. Patience is key. Currency is another key. Food aggression is something that can be mastered in about two weeks if you play your cards right. Every day is a day of training, and if you keep the dog's food on an airtight schedule, sooner or later, it should all work out.