Food Aggression: Why Some Dogs Feel the Need to Aggressively Protect Their Dinner

Food Aggression: Why Some Dogs Feel the Need to Aggressively Protect Their Dinner

by The Online Dog Trainer

Food aggression is a dangerous behavioral issue that often results in accidental injuries to both humans and other household pets.

The worst part: While this type of behavioral issue is often found in dogs who have been rescued from neglectful situations, the behavior also pops up frequently in dogs who don’t have a proper training foundation.

So, what causes food aggression and what can you do to ensure your pup doesn’t develop this dangerous behavior? Keep reading to find out…

What Is Food Aggression?

Food aggression is simply the act of a dog aggressively lashing out toward a human or another animal when food is present. The behavioral aspects of food aggression may include:

  • Growling if you/an animal gets too close to your dog’s food bowl.
  • Stalking you for food.
  • Biting, attacking, or lashing out at humans/other animals who come between your dog and his food.
  • Guarding food even when they are not eating it.

There are varying levels of food aggression behavioral issues—from growling to biting—but all should be taken seriously.

Why Dogs Have Food Aggression

Often serious food aggression is found in dogs who have been rescued from neglectful situations. The reason: dogs who have been neglected have to fight to survive. Sadly, when a “fight or die” instinct has been triggered, a dog will do almost anything to ensure he doesn’t lose out on his next meal. You can’t blame the dog for this.

If you and your family were starving and a loaf of bread was to suddenly appear on the street in the midst of several other hungry families, I’m sure you’d do your best to grab the bread and fight off others who were trying to take it from you.

However, another very common but least understood reason a dog might be aggressive towards food is that he believes he is the boss and in charge. The more your dog thinks that he is in charge, the more he will feel like he controls the food. Often eating before everyone else, including you! This behavior comes from nature when dogs were wilder in packs and still exists in the wolf pack to this day. The wolves that are the strongest determine who eats what and when usually eating first and or feeding their young.

Being a dog person, I always find it amusing when I see humans at the dinner table serving any ‘visitors’ first. This is because they are the ‘important people’ and so the person in charge of the food decides to feed them first! If your dog has this mentality that ‘they are in charge’ there’s a good chance that he won’t take kindly toward someone potentially taking some of his food away or getting in the way of his eating!

How to Put an End to Dangerous Food Aggression Behaviors

Food aggression is a very serious issue that must be addressed in your home—especially if you have small children or other pets. Here are a few ways you can help your dog relax when it comes to food so he doesn’t feel the need to vigorously protect his meals

Technique #1- Stick to a Feeding Schedule

Believe it or not, a routine is important for dogs. This is especially true if you have a dog that’s recently come out of a neglectful situation. Dogs are incredibly smart, so they are able to key in on patterns. For example, most dogs have a general idea of when it’s time to go out in the morning, when it’s walk time, and when their owners will be coming home from work every day. It’s almost like a sixth sense.

For that reason, it’s no surprise that your dog will also key into breakfast and dinner time routines if you keep them on schedule. Pick a time every day to feed your pup and stay consistent. Doing so and sticking to a routine will help your pup get rid of some anxiety toward mealtimes.

I once worked at a doggy daycare with a huge pack of dogs. One day a dog named ‘Demo’ whom I loved very much turned up out of sorts and I couldn’t work out why. He had no energy and seemed very grumpy, in the afternoon he got into a fight. When his owners picked him up I asked them if anything different had happened to him. They replied… ‘Oh, we forgot to feed him this morning!’

I am sure this was a contributing factor! In our family, when we are hungry and become angry we call it “hangry.” And I believe it’s the same with dogs…A dog with a full belly is a happy dog!

Technique #2 – Supplement Your Dog’s Diet throughout the Day

It’s very important to monitor how much your dog eats every day so he doesn’t gain too much weight. That being said, if your dog has stress-or anxiety-related food aggression issues, supplementing his meals so he knows he will be continually fed might help.

The logic behind this is simple… You keep your dog’s belly full so he doesn’t stress about food. At the same time, your dog will learn to look to you for food and will associate you with food in a positive way. In order to do this in a healthy way, I recommend you break your dog’s normal-sized breakfast and dinner into 4-6 smaller meals. The other trick you can use if you use dry food is to soak it overnight so it swells to a much larger volume. This gives your dog the perception that there is a lot more food being offered and they feel fuller.

Doing this will ensure you are able to feed your pup multiple times a day without overfeeding him. The food you give your dog or puppy could also simply be rewards that you give them during training throughout the day.

Once your dog gets comfortable and understands you’ll provide food for him every day, you can cut back on the number of mini meals you give him and get back on to a normal feeding schedule.

Technique #3 – Training the sit and wait command

Training your dog or puppy to sit and wait for their food calms their mind and their body.

Here’s a short video showing you how you can do this with younger puppies. It’s taken from inside ‘Project Moses’ the video diary of my puppy Moses when he was 14 weeks of age.

Technique #4 – Avoid leaving food down

One of the biggest mistakes that I see is people leaving dogs food down. There are a number of reasons that this is not a good idea. First, leaving food down attracts flies and other unwanted animals and pests, never mind the smell that can be produced in warmer weather!

Second, dogs digestive systems are not designed like grazing animals such as cows who eat slowly all day long. Rather they are animals who eat much larger meals quickly a couple of times each day. (Pups can often eat up to 4 or 5 times a day when very young)

Third, by leaving food down, which your dog is not eating, you give your dog the wrong message. You tell your dog that they are in charge. This produces a dog who is far more likely to make their own decisions, ignore you and even tell you off if they don’t agree with you…so watch out!

If your dog is not eating the food, pick it up.

Technique #5 – Establish yourself as the provider

This final technique is the most important—establishing yourself as the one in charge and the provider. This part is crucial as dogs who think they are in charge are always going to try to control the food in unpredictable ways…

As we talked about earlier, many dogs have food aggression issues simply because they believe they are the “pack leaders” or put another way, the ones in charge. If a dog has this mindset, it’s more likely they’ll get cranky and lash out if they think someone is trying to steal his meal.

The good news…It’s easy to establish yourself as the leader in a kind, gentle way. It simply just takes a little time and patience. One of the easiest ways to reassure your dog that you are the provider is to always eat your meals first before you feed your dog. You can even eat a little bit of your food over your dog’s food bowl to show him you’re the one that gets to eat first—you’re the one in charge. It might feel silly, but your dog will understand the point you are making.

Making sure your dog understands that you are the provider isn’t usually that hard. It just takes some understanding and patience. Once you get this bit in place, everything else falls into place…

It’s something I’ve helped tens of thousands of people establish with their dogs and it’s what I am totally passionate about because it changes the whole relationship you have with your dog for the better.

If you’re interested in finding out more, check out The Dog Calming Code.

In this program, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to establish yourself as the one in charge or the decision maker. The knock on effect of this is that your dog will relax and focus on you so much more resulting in a more responsive dog who is easier to train!

Next Steps to Helping Resolve Your Dog’s Food Aggression Issues

Food aggression is a very serious issue that can result in serious injury to other dogs and people. If your dog exhibits any signs of food aggression, be sure to…

1. Put a comprehensive training program in place—like The Dog Calming Code.

2. Keep kids and other pets away from your dog while he eats.

3. Ensure your dog feels safe while eating meals.

Best wishes as you work with your pup.

Cheers, 

Doggy Dan Signature

~Doggy Dan 🙂

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