Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog becomes defensive and uses threats, like growling, to force other animals or humans away from a food source. If not dealt with, it can lead to a bigger problem of being possessive of everything-- toys, beds, treats, food, ect... Before I begin on the steps that dog owners can take to deal with a food aggressive dog, I should lay down a common ground rule for all dogs--> Humans (including, and especially, children) should never mess with a dog while its eating. This includes the common myth of making a dog eat out of it's bowl with your hand in it.
There are three levels of food aggression:
1. Mild-- a dog will show it's teeth and growl.
2. Moderate-- a dog will snap and lunge.
3. Extreme-- a dog will attempt to, and/or maybe succeed, at biting another animal or human.
If you are a dog owner that has a dog with extreme food aggression, your best measure is to get an expert to help you with the problem. Do not try to deal with it on your own.
Food aggression can stem from a dog trying to show it's dominance in a pack (aka the alpha male) OR it can be from a stressed out, high anxiety dog. As a dog owner, the first thing you need to recognize is why your dog is being aggressive. Is your dog trying to maintain rank in the pack? If so, then you, as the dog owner, must establish yourself as the leader in a calm, assertive way. If your dog is food aggressive from stress and anxiety, then you must teach your dog that food is safe and build up your dog's confidence level. Once the reason is established, you can move forward with desensitizing and counter conditioning your dog to associate humans (or other animals) being around the food as a positive experience.
Signs of Food Aggression :
- Hovering over the meal-- the body will be stiff with the head down.
- Whites of the eyes are visible
- Ears are back
- Tail is lowered
- Hackles rise
Steps To Take:
- Be Consistent With Meals: A dog should not be "free fed" with a large bowl that they eat out of at all times of the day. There should be a designated meal time(s) at the same time(s) every day and once the meal is done, the bowls should be put away. If you have more than one animal, each pet should have it's own bowl.
- A Dog Should Work For It's Food: While you are preparing the meal, the dog should sit and stay outside of the room and remain at "stay" while the bowl is being set down on the floor. Your dog should only be able to eat once you have given permission with a command.
- Pack Leaders Eat First: You, the dog owner, are the pack leader. Not the dog. Therefore, your dog needs to wait until you have eaten before he/she can eat. You dog should never be eating at the same time you are eating or before you have eaten.
- Stay With the Bowl: Instead of the dog learning they win the food when you walk away, stay near them while they eat. This teaches your dog they win the food when you stay.
- If needed, hand feed your dog it's meal one kibble at a time like you are giving a treat. You can also use your hands to put the food into the bowl so that your scent is on the food, but never actually stick your hand in the bowl while your dog is eating.
- While the dog is eating, occasionally toss a really good treat into the bowl. The treat should be something your dog absolutely loves, but only gets during meal time. He/she will start to associate you being around the bowl as being a positive experience (the really good treat).
- Trade up during mealtime. The goal of "trading up" is to get your dog to stop eating and take food from you (again, using the really good treat). This teaches your dog that no one will steal his food if he looks up from his bowl.