Food aggression in dogs is a form of
resource guarding in which the animal is abnormally protective
of edible items. Some dogs even go so far as to “guard” their
The issue of food guarding can be particularly difficult to deal
with because it is considered a normal canine survival instinct.
Understanding the problem is key to managing it within your home
What causes food aggression in dogs?
There are several reasons a dog may develop food aggression.
Competition for limited nourishment among puppies is often thought
to spark the behavior at an early age. In fact, according to dog
trainer and educator Steve Frost, there can
even be a genetic component. The natural instinct to resource guard
is reinforced by real life situations the animal encounters.
Food aggression can also be a problem in rescued strays. During
their time on the streets, these poor pups learn that each meal
could potentially be their last.
Sadly, even owned dogs may experience food shortages that set
off their guarding instinct. Neglect, blatant cruelty, and
competition from other pets are all potential triggers.
What are the different types of food aggression in dogs?
Resource guarders may act out towards other pets, humans, or
anyone they see as a potential threat to their life-giving
nourishment. They may growl when approached while eating, chase
another pet away from their dish, or snap at a child who reaches
for their chew bone. As mentioned above, some may even aggressively
guard their humans’ food, such as scraps dropped on the floor by
Without rehabilitation, those that snarl and snap at humans run
the risk of being turned over to shelters or even put to sleep. On
the other hand, dogs that focus their aggression towards other pets
can be even more difficult to rehab.
“We humans can tend to forget just how instinctive
intra-species resource guarding can be,” Frost explains.
“Sometimes, re-introducing another animal during training can
re-trigger deeply ingrained patterns of conduct.”
How to manage food aggression in dogs: At Home
When dealing with food aggression at home, it is important to
remain vigilant and take daily precautions to prevent conflict.
These may include:
- Giving your dog plenty of space during meal times
- Placing food bowls behind a sturdy barrier for security
- Never manually removing food from your dog’s possession
- Instructing children and guests to avoid your dog when food is
- If your dog is aggressive around “human food,” confining
him or her to another room when eating
- Picking up bones when your dog is not actively chewing to avoid
It is also extremely important to understand canine
body language so you realize when your pooch is feeling
stressed or threatened.
In Multi-Dog Households
The key word when dealing with food aggression in dogs living in
multi-pet households is distance. Dogs that food guard become
agitated when their personal space is invaded during meal or snack
times. Consider the following tips to prevent conflict:
- Instead of feeding all your dogs together in one area, separate
their bowls to different areas of the room or house.
- Train your dogs to go to their individual spots when meal time
- Be sure to monitor meal times to prevent other people or pets
from entering your dog’s space.
- Ensure that your resource guarder gets enough to eat, but does
not steal food from your other pets.
- Maintain a safe distance between pets during treat times.
When heading out in public with a food aggressive dog, be open,
honest, and above all, vigilant. Inform anyone who may interact
with your pooch that treats and snacks are a no-no.
If your dog will be boarding or participating in play sessions,
disclose the food aggression concern to the staff. Many businesses
reserve the right to refuse service to aggressive dogs, so be
prepared for this possibility.
How to prevent food aggression from developing.
According to the
ASPCA, new puppies and adult dogs who are relaxed during
mealtimes can be encouraged to stay that way. They recommend
following three simple steps intermittently for the first few
months after bringing home a new dog:
- Sit with your dog during mealtimes and hand-feed a single bite
at a time as you gently pet him and speak in a soothing voice.
- If your dog remains calm and relaxed during the hand-feeding
process, try placing the food bowl in your lap and have him eat
from it as you continue to pet and praise him.
- After a few meals, if your dog is still not showing any signs
of food aggression, move the food bowl to the floor. As he eats his
regular food, periodically reach down to drop in a particularly
desirable treat like a small bite of cheese or meat.
These steps should help your new pup remain calm and relaxed
when eating in your presence.
What NOT To Do When It Comes to Food Aggression in Dogs.
Frost warns that punishing a food aggressive dog is not only
ineffective, it may reinforce or worsen guarding behavior. Owners
who take away a treat or bone as punishment for guarding run the
risk of exacerbating the problem.
Frost explains that this only serves to teach an already
aggressive dog “that a lower-level guarding behavior wasn’t
enough to keep that coveted item.” He recommends resisting the
urge to intimidate, threaten, or punish your resource guarder.
When to seek professional
help for your dog’s food aggression.
ASPCA offers desensitization and counterconditioning exercises
to help pet owners eliminate the problem at home. However, unless
you have prior dog training experience, issues of aggression are
best left to the professionals.
Frost suggests finding a trainer who has experience dealing with
food aggression in dogs using positive reinforcement techniques.
Consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist if the problem is
extreme. You can find one in your area by clicking
Source: FS – Dogs – iHD
How To Manage Food Aggression In Dogs