Sunday Surgery: How to Prevent Food Aggression

Food aggression- where a dog shows aggression whilst protecting, guarding or eating their food, can become a serious issue for dog owners. Not only does it have the potential to be dangerous to other pets in the home, but it may lead to further problems with obedience and the dog’s relationship with its owner. It is therefore crucial to fix this behavior as soon as it becomes apparent to prevent aggression and possessiveness around other items.

What is Food Aggression?

Food aggression is a behavior in which a dog becomes defensive and sometimes violent when guarding their food or whilst they are eating. They may direct this aggression towards humans, other animals or both. In addition, they may also act out towards treats and table scraps, whether it is theirs or not.

A common belief is that food aggression is a sign that the dog is attempting to show dominance and assert itself as a leader of the ‘pack’. However, in most cases it is actually a sign of fearfulness or anxiety.

There are three broad levels of food aggression, depending on the severity of the behaviour. The first level is the most mild- where the dog growls and may show their teeth from time to time. The next level is more severe and involves the dog snapping or lunging when approached around their food. The most severe occurrences of food aggression involve the dog biting or using other physical force.

What are the Signs of Food Aggression?

Aside from biting and lunging, there are other clear signs of food aggression that owners should be on the look out for. One of the most common signs is the dog appearing stiff with his head held low whilst eating. The reason for this appearance is because they are hovering over their meal in attempt to protect it from anyone who tries to approach them. Other signs to watch for in your dog’s behaviour around food are holding his ears back, keeping his tail low and between his legs, or any indicator that he is more wary or alert than usual.

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 How to Treat Food Aggression

When it comes to treating food aggression in dogs, it is important that you treat the situation in an assertive yet calm manner. There are a number of techniques that owners can use to help combat this particular form of aggression. Here are some of the most effective:

  • Consistency. Many dogs show aggression towards their food because of anxiety caused by them worrying that they are not going to get fed again. You should make a solid effort to feed your dog at the same times every day to prevent this from happening. Similar to humans, dogs have an internal clock, meaning that consistency will help them to learn that their meals are always guaranteed at a set time.
  • Treat Tossing. This particular method has proven to be a great success when treating food aggression. When your dog is eating, toss one of their favorite treats into their bowl whilst you slowly approach them. You could also try gently placing treats in their dish whilst they are guarding it when not eating. This helps to show your dog that people approaching their bowl is a positive occurrence rather than a negative one.
  • Avoid Free-Choice Feeding. As an owner, you should never provide your dog with constant access to food as it may cause them to feel as if they need to guard it. Stick to a strict feeding schedule, which includes a designated time to remove the food bowls from the floor.
  • Work for Food. You should always make your dog work for their food. Before you even begin to prepare their food for the night, command them lie down, stay or sit. Train them to stay in this stance until after you have placed their food bowl onto the floor. Continue to stand close to the bowl until you allow them to move. Once they begin eating, you can then move away. Another option would be to feed your dog following a walk. This may help to fulfil the instinct that many dogs have to hunt for their food. Furthermore, this will give them the feeling that they have rightfully earned their food. All in all, this technique works to show the dog that you have all of the control of their food and they have none.
  • Hand Feeding. Hand feeding a dog who is aggressive may not sound like a good idea to many, but it is actually one of the best ways to appease their aggression. Begin feeding time by allowing them to eat out of your hand, instead of their bowl. Once they have eaten a little bit of food out of your hand, place a handful into their bowl in order to give it your scent. The primary goal of this technique is to help the dog get used to having people around him while eating. In addition, it helps them to break free from any aggressive reactions that may have previously occurred when someone approached their food bowl.

As well as the techniques listed above, there are some other tips that can be used to work your dog out of food aggression. For example, never feed your dog while the humans or eating – Feed them after as it helps to reinforce your role as the leader. If there is more than one dog in the home, keep them completely separate during feeding and only allow them back around each other once the food bowls have been removed from the floor. This will not only lessen their food aggression, but it will prevent it from occurring at all!

The Bottom Line

Treating food aggression in dogs is not always easy. The aim is to condition them to associate people coming towards their bowl with positive things. As the owner of a dog who is aggressive towards food, it is your job to establish your role as the pack leader, and make sure that they know there is no reason for them to guard their food from you or any other person that may come to your home. The key is to always be as consistent, assertive and calm as you can. Eventually, food aggression will be a problem of the past!

If your dog is being aggressive and exhibiting dangerous behaviour such as biting, please get in touch with a qualified professional such as a vet or dog trainer to consult about your specific situation.

Have you had to deal with food aggression? How did you manage it? Do you have any more questions? Let us know in the comments!

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