Dog eating out of bowl

Food Aggression And What To Do About It

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If a dog displays aggression to protect their food, it can become a severe problem. Not only does it pose a risk to other dogs or humans in the house, but over time it can cause the dog to become possessive over everything. 

Related: The Best Sources Of Calcium For Your Dogs

What Is Food Aggression?

Food aggression comprises a kind of resource guarding in which a dog becomes very defensive when confronted with others during a meal and resorts to threats to force others away. Food aggression can be directed towards other humans, animals, or both. The behavior is not just limited to feeding times but treats as well. There are three levels of food aggression to watch out for:

  • Mild- the dog growls and may bare its teeth
  • Moderate- when approached, the dog snaps or lunges
  • Severe- the dog bites

While some people may assume that all cases of food aggression result from a show of dominance, this isn’t necessarily true. Food aggression stems partly from inherited pack behavior. In a dog pack, after a successful hunt, the alpha dogs always eat first, with the other dogs eating the leftovers according to their position in the pack. Displaying food aggression is a form of dominance for an alpha dog, while for dogs of lower status in the pack, it can signal their fear or anxiety. Keep in mind that in the wild, dogs never know where or when they’re going to get their next meal, making it an instinct for them to wolf down whatever food there is at hand whenever they have it- and also to guard it against anything that seemed to be a threat. 

Recognizing Food Aggression

When a dog is eating, his body may stiffen, and his head may go down, displaying body language to “hover” around their meal and protect it. Some other signs to watch for:

  • If you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes
  • If their ears are held back
  • If their tail is lowered
  • If their hackles may rise

A dog can display any or all of these signs. We’ve already mentioned how to gauge the severity of the situation through your dog’s growling, lunging, or biting. 

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What To Do About It

When you see that your dog is displaying food aggression, the first step is to assess your dog’s overall behavior. Is he only being possessive with his food, or is the behavior extending to other things, like favorite napping spots, toys, or even people in the pack? If the behavior extends to more than just food, then your dog is displaying general resource guarding, and you may need to employ the techniques we list below; in any case, your dog is showing aggression over an object (not just food). 

You should also take account of your dog’s overall behavior and confidence. If your dog is dominant by nature, you will have to assert yourself as the Pack Leader assertively and calmly. If he is naturally timid or fearful, on the other hand, then you will have to build up his confidence by playing and working with him and let him know that his food is safe with humans around. 

Lastly, figure out whether your dog’s aggression is mild, moderate, or severe. For serious cases, you may want to consult with a professional until you can get the dog down to a reasonable level of aggression. 

Related: How To Help Your Dog Gain Weight

Techniques To Help With Food Aggression

Be Consistent

Here are some techniques you can employ to help your dog deal with food aggression. If your dog’s aggression stems from fear or anxiety over when their next meal will be, then make sure you’re feeding your dog at set times every day. Dogs have a reliable internal clock, and through consistency, they quickly learn how to tell when it’s time to go for a walk, time to get up, or time for their people to come home. Mealtime isn’t any different- be regular in feeding to ease their anxiety. 

Has To Work For Food

Before you even start to make your dog’s food, make him sit or lie down and stay, preferably right outside of the room you usually feed him his meal. Train her to stay even after you’ve put the bowl down. After you set the bowl down, stand close to it as you allow her to come to eat, at which point you can then move. 

Always feed your dog after exercise, never before– which fulfills their instinct to hunt for food, so he’ll feel like he earned his meal when you get home. Moreover, exercising a dog after eating can be dangerous, possibly even causing life-threatening conditions like bloat.  

Pack Leaders First

When a wild pack comes back from a successful hunt, the alpha dogs always eat before everybody else does. It should be the same in your little human/dog pack. Always eat first before your dog does. Humans should always eat first, and when they’re finished, the dogs can eat. Having this routine will reinforce your status as the pack leader. 

“Win” The Bowl

If you concede to your dog and back away from the bowl, food aggression can worsen. Every time you walk away when the dog is territorial about their food, the dog “wins.” Here are some techniques to recondition the dog to help them learn that they win when you come near her while eating:

  • Treat tossing– Drop your puppy’s favorite treats into the bowl while she’s eating to teach her that people around the bowl is a good thing rather than a threat. Putting treats into the bowl when you walk next to it and she’s not eating is also a good move. Your dog will thus learn that people near her bowl are good.
  • Hand-feeding: You can start your dog’s meal by feeding him by hand and giving the bowl your scent using your hands to put food in the bowl. Get your dog used to eating while your hands are around his face, and to stop being aggressive if you put your hands in or near the bowl while he’s eating. 
  • “Trade-up“- When your dog eats their regular food, give them something better, like a special treat or some meat. The goal is to interrupt your dog from eating their food and take a treat from you. This lets your dog know nobody will steal his food if he looks away and rewards him for removing attention from his food when people come around. 

Related: 6 Causes Of Sudden Weight Loss in Dogs, and How to Maintain a Healthy Weight

There are many other techniques you can try to lower your dog’s food aggression or to prevent it from occurring. The key is to be calm, consistent, and assertive. Rogue Pet Science offers all-natural pet products to keep your pet healthy. Feed your dog top-tier food and treats with Rogue Pet Science today! 

golden retriever eating

Looking for all-natural dog treats? Order from Rogue Pet Science today!

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