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Dog Food Aggression

What Does it Mean?
What Do You Do About It?

Advice for dealing with dog food aggressionWhy would your dog be worried about you coming after his food? It baffles most dog owners right from the start, but at the same time we can make the mistake of thinking it’s cute. It’s not.

Dog food aggression, where your dog assumes a defensive or even aggressive posture every time you come near his food bowl, has a variety of causes. At best, it’s a simple misunderstanding. At its worst, it’s a sign that your dog thinks he is becoming the alpha of the household.

What Are the Signs of Dog Food Aggression?

If your dog is doing any of these things on a regular basis, you’ve got a case of dog food aggression on your hands:

  • Challenging you with eye contact if you so much as move while he’s eating.
  • Snarling and growling if you come near him or his (filled) food bowl.
  • Taking a defensive position with rigid body texture between you and the bowl.

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How Serious is Dog Food Aggression?

Dog food aggression is usually a serious problemBe aware that this problem usually doesn’t go away on its own. Left unchallenged, your dog will be free to assume he has won the alpha position in the family, because winning and keeping dominance over the food source is the main method of becoming the alpha in canines.

What’s worse, is that if we shrug it off and react to the dog as if it’s cute, then (to the dog’s mind) we’re outright encouraging the behavior and acknowledging the position.

Left unchecked, the dog might begin showing other signs of an alpha mindset, which in some cases can present a physical danger to members of your family.

Why Does Dog Food Aggression Happen?

Also known as canine possession aggression, dog food aggression usually stems from one of the following reasons:

  1. He’s not secure about his food source. In a dog pack, you have to hunt and win your food, and you have to compete with your fellows. The most aggressive, fastest dog is the one who gets a full belly, so he wards you off thinking you want to compete over a limited supply of food.
  2. He’s not secure about your role as a good alpha provider, or has come to see you as someone who denies the things that he wants.
  3. He’s not clear that you are the alpha. Someone has to be the alpha, so if you’re not, then it’s his job to rise to that role. In this case, if things are getting out of hand, you need detailed help. I recommend getting a membership for the site DogProblems.com and planning to spend considerable time repairing the structure of your pack.
  4. Simple miscommunication about boundaries, aka, lack of obedience training.

The Basics of Correcting Dog Food Aggression

  • If your dog is big and strong enough to physically harm you or a family member, seek the help of a dog behaviorist or professional trainer immediately.
  • Don’t forget that dog food aggression is a serious problem. When your dog warns you away from his food, you have little choice but to back off… which rewards his behavior. Do back off if your dog is overly aggressive, but make sure to follow the rest of these instructions to gradually correct the behavior problem.
  • If the aggression is not toward you, but instead toward other dogs in the household, simply feed them separately. Prevent competition using crates or closed doors at feeding time.
  • You need your whole family or household to be involved in correcting dog food aggression. Dogs are smart enough to play politics. Without a unified effort, they’ll just assert dominance over others.
  • Strictly control the feeding schedule. Refuse to be intimidated into feeding upon command.
  • Never argue with your dog at feeding time. Doing so will acknowledge his mindset that there is a struggle for dominance in place. Avoiding a struggle shows that you are quietly confident and that he is no challenge.
  • With puppies, get them used to being around people when they’re eating.
  • In a dog pack, the person who eats first is the alpha. Get your dog used to eating last.

A Simple Two-Step Process for Reducing Dog Food Aggression

If you’ve build up credibility as your dog’s alpha through obedience training in the past, then repeating these two steps at every meal might solve the problem:

  1. Rely on your history of obedience training by making the dog follow a few command phrases, after you go to the food source but before you feed him.
  2. If this previous step results in a growling contest, calmly put the food away, go have a seat, and try again once the dog calms down.

Remember – combat isn’t the only way dogs demonstrate leadership. Confidence is more effective.

Other Training Methods for Ending Dog Food Aggression

Additional training advice for dealing with dog food aggressionHere are some other techniques that work wonders with a dog that’s lost his manners at feeding time. In all cases, your goal is to show the dog that there is no competition over his food, and that you are a trustworthy alpha and a friend.

  • Put the food in your cupped hand instead of the bowl. This will be met with resistance and hesitance at first, but eventually the scent and your calm manner will win him over.
  • If that method is simply not working, then gradually begin to approach the food bowl while he is eating. Instead of backing off, just stand in a relaxed way. Over time, get closer – as slowly as it takes to avoid drama. Reward a lack of aggression with treats and praise, and ignore any aggression without backing off.
  • Once your dog learns to stay calm as you approach the food bowl, stroke and pet him while he eats and talk to him in a nice voice.
  • If you normally take the dog’s bowl toward the food and then return it with food, start returning the bowl to him empty. Make him be nice to you and/or follow some obedience commands before you fill it.
  • Hold back part of his meals, keeping the missing portion in your hands. Once he’s eaten all the food, personally deliver the rest by hand to the bowl or let him eat it from your hands.
  • Make a habit of dropping a treat in his bowl every time he stays calm as you walk by it.
  • In the middle of your dog’s meal, tell him to come. If he does, give him a treat, then let him go back to eating.
  • Tell your dog to sit and stay while you prepare the food. If he breaks the order, don’t serve him. Make him stay until the meal is placed in the usual spot, then tell him to come.

Much of this is advice I learned from practicing the excellent advice at DogProblems.com. I have not personally needed every single method that they offer on dog food aggression – not by a long shot. For more ideas and insight about understanding dog food aggression and how to handle the many different shades of it, I suggest you sign up for a membership.

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