How To Train A Food Aggressive Dog: What Can You Do About Food Aggression?
It can be a serious problem when a dog shows aggression to protect its food. Not only is it possible for other dogs or humans in the house to be bitten, but it can also lead to the dog becoming possessive of everything over time.
What is the definition of food aggression?
Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog becomes extremely defensive while eating and uses threats to push other dogs away. It can be directed at other animals, humans, or both at the same time. It’s also possible that the behavior extends to treats.
Food aggression is divided into three levels:
- Mild: the dog may growl and show its teeth.
- Moderate: when approached, the dog snaps or lunges.
- Aggravating: the dog bites
While it’s tempting to assume that all cases of food aggression are a show of dominance, this isn’t always the case. After a successful hunt, the alpha dogs always eat first, followed by the other dogs, who eat according to their pack position.
Food aggression is a form of dominance for an alpha dog, but it can be a sign of anxiety or fearfulness for dogs in a lower pack position. Remember that dogs in the wild don’t know where or when their next meal will come from, so it is instinctive for them to eat whatever food they can get their hands on whenever they can — and to protect it from anything that comes close.
Food Aggression and How to Recognize It
A dog’s body stiffens when he eats, and he may keep his head down. He’s using his body language to protect and “hover” over the meal.
The whites of your dog’s eyes may be visible, their ears may be held back, their tail may be lowered, or their hackles may rise, among other signs. Any or all of these symptoms may be displayed by a dog. Finally, there are the above-mentioned signs of the problem’s severity: growling, lunging, or biting.
What Should You Do About It?
Assess your dog’s overall behavior as the first step. Is her possessiveness limited to food, or does it extend to other items such as favorite toys, resting spots, or even other members of the pack?
If the behavior isn’t limited to food, your dog is doing general resource guarding. If your dog is being aggressive toward something other than food, you should use the techniques below as needed.
Assess your dog’s overall confidence and behavior as well. If he’s a naturally dominant dog, you’ll need to assert yourself as the pack leader in a calm and assertive manner. If he is timid or afraid, on the other hand, you will need to boost his confidence and teach him that his food is safe when humans are present.
Finally, determine whether your dog has a mild, moderate, or severe case of food aggression. For severe cases, seek professional help until you can calm the dog down to a moderate level.
You’re ready to start changing your behavior once you’ve completed these steps. Here are a few techniques to employ.
If your dog’s aggression stems from a fear or anxiety about when the next meal will arrive, make sure you’re feeding him at the same time every day.
Dogs have excellent internal clocks, and with practice, they can tell when it’s time to get up, go for a walk, or wait for their owners to return home. It shouldn’t be any different at mealtime. Feeding on a regular basis will help to alleviate anxiety.
Food Must Be Earned
Make your dog sit or lie down and stay outside the room where you’ll be feeding her before you start preparing her food. Train her to stay even after you’ve set the bowl down, then stand close to it as you release her from the stay and she starts eating, at which point you can back away.
Never feed your dog before or during a walk. When you come home, he’ll feel like he’s earned it because it satisfies his instinct to hunt for food. Exercising a dog after he has eaten can also be dangerous, as it can result in life-threatening conditions such as bloat.
The pack leaders are the first to eat.
Remember that in a wild pack, the alpha dogs eat first, before everyone else, and the same should be true in a human/dog pack.
Never feed your dog before or during a meal for humans. The humans eat first, and the dogs eat after they’re done. This will solidify your position as the pack leader.
“Winning” the Super Bowl
Backing away from the bowl can actually exacerbate food aggression because that’s what your dog wants. The dog “wins” every time you walk away from it when it is displaying food aggression. The food is reinforced as a reward, reinforcing the aggressive aggression.
Of course, you don’t want to come in aggressively yourself, especially if you have moderate to severe food aggression, because you’ll get bitten. You can, however, retrain the dog so that she knows she wins when she lets you get close to her while she is eating.
Here are a few techniques you can employ:
- Hand feeding: start your dog’s meal by hand-feeding him and placing the food in the bowl with your hands, which will leave your scent on the food. The goal is to get your dog used to eating with your hands around his face, and to have him not react aggressively if you stick your hands in or near the bowl while he’s eating.
- Treat tossing: While your dog is eating, toss her favorite treats into the bowl to teach her that people approaching the bowl is a good thing, not a threat. When you walk near the bowl and she isn’t eating, you can also put treats in it. This reinforces your dog’s perception that people near her bowl are good.
- “Trade-Up”: Approach your dog with something better, such as meat or a special treat, while they are eating their regular food. The goal is to get your dog to stop eating his or her food so that you can give it the treat. This teaches your dog a variety of things. One is that if he looks away from his food, no one will steal it. The other is that when people come around, he gets a reward for taking his attention away from his food.
So, what’s going on here?
Two things happen when you’re rehabilitating a food-aggressive dog. One is that you’re desensitizing your dog to the point where she won’t become defensive if someone approaches her while she’s eating. The other is that you’re training your dog to associate people approaching her bowl with good things.
You can use a variety of other techniques to reduce food aggression or prevent it from happening in the first place. The key is to remain calm, assertive, and consistent, as is always the case.
The term “food aggression” can be misleading because it is easily misconstrued as dominance; instead, think of it as resource guarding. As humans, we must establish our place as pack leaders and teach our dogs that guarding their food from us is unnecessary.
Have you set up a feeding schedule for your dog?