How To Stop Food Aggression In Dogs

Dogs can get very emotional and territorial when it comes to guarding his valuable resource, one of which is their food. This behavior can be even more prominent in certain hunting breeds of dog where their natural instinct is to hunt for food and protect it for their pack.

If your dog is exhibiting food aggression behavior, it’s important that you pay special attention to him and work on stopping his aggressive behavior. Do not simply ignore him and think that it would go away tomorrow. 

This is especially important if you have young kids at home. They might have accidentally touched your dog’s food and gotten a bite from him.

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Food Aggressive?

Food aggression happens in dogs when they are overprotective of their meals or treats. This behavior is very common for dogs who have lived in dog shelters before, as they are forced to be aggressive in order to protect their food from being snatched or stolen away by other dogs. Fortunately, this behavior can be stopped through fostering positive thoughts about their feeding experience.

Generally, your dog will be considered to have food aggression behavior if he shows overprotective reaction over his food. His aggressiveness can be seen from his reaction – “growling” whenever you attempt to touch his food bowl or to take away his food.

Also be observant on your dog reaction when he is having his meal. Is he

  • Standing stiffly over his food bowl? Seems to be guarding it?
  • Getting very tense up and keeps growling at you whenever you stand near him when he is having his meal? You might even observe that he starts urine on the floor.
  • Gulping his food very fast as if someone will snatch or steal his food.
  • Attempting to chase you away barking at you.
  • Extreme case – start his attack (biting).

This behavior can be direct to you or any of your family members and other pets (if you have another one in your home).

What Causes Food Aggression In Dogs?

There could be a combination of factors that lead to food guarding behavior in dogs. Some common reasons are:

1. Traumatic experience in dog shelter homes: They need to compete for food and water with many dogs. 

2.  Loss of their caretaker or pack leader who used to take care of their foods. They had to rely on themselves to hunt for food and this makes them very possessive on their resources.

3. Some breeds (such as hunting breeds) are generally more dominant or aggressive in nature as their natural instinct is to hunt for food and guard it. 

Hunting Breeds Of Dogs

  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Beagle
  • Bloodhound
  • Boykin Spaniel
  • Brittany Dog
  • Rottweilers
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherds

Food aggressiveness behavior is more prominent on those dogs who had stayed in the shelter home before as there is very intense competition for any resources (food, beds or potential mates) in a confined space over there.

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How Aggressives Is Your Dog Reaction?

Mild Reaction

This is the early sign of his aggressiveness and you should not take it lightly else it may get worse over the time. Common signals exhibit from your dog could be 

  • His body becoming very rigid while he is taking his meal
  • Showing his teeth to you if you approach him while he is eating
  • Growling as soon as he found that you’re approaching his food bowl

Moderate Reaction

You should start taking all necessary action to train him before it escalates into severe conditions.

Common signs include:

  • Guttural barking that comes with sense of threatening
  • Lunging forward or charging at you (as he considered you as his potential threat)

Severe Reaction

I would suggest that you seek help from a professional as this might be too challenging for you to handle. Signs include

  • Bite that tears your skin
  • Bite that leaves you with bruise 
  • Repeat bites in succession

How Do You Stop Your Dog From Food Aggression?

Simply find a way to make him calm down and relax when he is having his meal. That sounds really simple. Doesn’t it?

In fact, NO, there is more to it.You need to have a defined training regime to gradually make him feel comfortable and calm to have his meal, with you beside him.

This certainly takes time so don’t expect it to be a one-day training affair.

This is how you can DO it.

The 8 STEPS ProcessFostering Positive Thought On His Feeding Experience

1. Place his food bowl (do not place any foods in it yet) on his usual dining spot. Keep his dining area a permanent fixed location. Dogs usually prefer to have his routine eating place where he is more familiar with and will have a sense of security.

2. Wait for him to come over to his bowl. He will start looking into his bowl and find there is no food in it. Do not do anything yet till he looks at you calmly. This is when you will toss some dry foods (just a bit will do as you will have to repeat this action several times and you certainly do not want to over feed him) into his bowl. 

This action is to “tell” him that YOU are his food provider and not food taker. You are here to give him the food.

3. When he has finished the first round of food in his bowl, wait for him to look up to you again. Then, you will toss another round of dry foods  into his bowl. Remember to keep the portion small. This will train him to look at you if he wants more food, and he will not be too aggressive when you are beside him when he is having his meal.

4. Once he is more comfortable and relaxed with this training, the next step will be to take a chair and seat beside his bowl in a non-threatening way.Watch out for his reaction. If he shows signs of aggressiveness, back off and repeat Step 1- 3 again till he no longer growls at you.

5. In seated position, toss the food into his bowel when he looks at you for his food. Keep a lookout on his body language to see if there is any sign of emotional anxiety or fear. 

6. If he is behaving well, this is a big improvement and you should continue with this training for at least another 2 weeks. By being able to sit beside him when he is eating, this shows that he is now not so aggressive on his food guarding.

Remember not to do any scratching or petting on him till Step 7. Dogs who are exhibiting food aggressiveness behavior dislike being touched when he is eating and if you do it before he is “well” trained, he might strike an attack on YOU!

7. This can be carried out after you have performed Step 1- 6 for 2 weeks. In this step, you will use your hand to bring him the food. I would suggest doing this training when your dog is not starving as it’s hard to predict a dog’s behavior when hunger can emotionally trigger any aggressive behavior. 

Place his empty dog bowl on his usual dining spot. This time round, when he looks at you, you use your hand to reach out to his bowl to place his dry foods.

This action is to introduce to him that having your hand towards his bowl is a GOOD thing as you are GIVING him food rather than taking it away. 

When he is still eating, put your hand into his bowel to add more food. This will reinforce his thinking that your hand into his bowl is a good thing as that would mean more food for him.

8. Once he feels REALLY calm and at ease with your presence, proceed to this final step which is to have physical contact with him.

As mentioned earlier in the post, dogs who are showing food guarding behaviors dislike any physical touch while they are eating. So only proceed to this step when you are VERY sure your dog is fully at ease with you around him during his feeding time.

This is how to go about doing it – Adding food with Physical Contact

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When your dog is enjoying his food, reach out to his bowl and add the foods with your hand and at the same time, use another hand to gently scratch his back. This will help to pair the scratching action with the process of adding more food and create that “positive” association for him. Make sure that he is still behaving calmly while you are touching him else move back to Step 7 again. 

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With these training tips, it’s time to put them into action. So, if your dog is suffering from food aggressiveness symptoms, why not give this approach a try. You will be surprised at how well it works!