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Controlling Food Aggression in Dogs

Food aggression in dogs is quite common and as dog owners, we pretty much deal with it on a regular basis. With proper training, this behavior can be reduced. According to research, approximately 20% of dogs show signs of food aggression. Wondering if your dog is one of them? Read this article to find out.

A dog running with a bone

Before proceeding to the How To’s of controlling food aggression among our furry pals, let’s first define food aggression. Basically, food aggression in dogs is a behavior in which your dog becomes very defensive when eating. This form of aggression can be directed towards other animals and humans, including their owners. This can be avoided with proper training although we recommend you consult your veterinarian first to see what’s going on with your dog and to apply proper intervention towards their aggressive behavior.

Typically, there are three degrees of food aggression. The first degree is mild and can be characterized by growling and showing of their teeth. The second degree is moderate and can be characterized when the dog lunging or snapping when approached while eating. The third degree is severe and can be characterized by biting. You may notice that your dog is showing aggressive food behavior when their body stiffens and they keep their head down. This body language portrays them as “hovering” over the meal and protecting it. 

This aggressive behavior can be traced way back in history and was passed down through evolution, where dogs needed to protect their resources, especially their food. This could be food in their bowls, food dropped on the floor during meals, food scraps in the garbage or even the food being prepared in the kitchen counter. 

What are the Signs of Food Aggression in Dogs?

It is important to know the warning signs of this behavior. The symptoms are quite obvious but nonetheless, everyone in your home should know these considering that it could be dangerous, especially when kids or toddlers or even other animals are around.

  1. Growling
  2. Snarling/Teeth Showing
  3. Stiffening
  4. Freezing
  5. Lunging
  6. Snapping or biting when feeding is being interrupted
  7. Freezing

What Causes Food Aggression?

A dog chewing his bone

The causes of food aggression in dogs usually depends on their upbringing, age and sometimes, breed. Here are the common reasons for this behavior:

 

  1. Puppyhood environment- aggression towards food can happen among puppies, especially when they have the need to compete over limited resources in a shelter habitat.
  2. Trauma- some dogs can develop this behavior later in their life. Trauma can be a trigger among them: such as loss of their original owner, physical abuse, neglect or constant fighting with other dogs because of food. Such circumstances can make them very protective towards their resources, especially with their food.
  3. Genes- some breeds are genetically inclined to dominance or aggressive tendencies. Some dog breeds such as German Shepherds or Rottweilers have hereditary guarding instincts, though this instinct is usually towards property or livestock.

 

How to Control Food Aggression in Dogs:

If your dog’s food aggression is moderate to severe, we advise that you consult your veterinarian and/or an animal behaviorist in order for your dog to  receive the proper intervention needed to diminish the aggression. Preventing food aggression will require proper training, as well as a good diet regime suggested by your vet. Moreover, you need to be consistent with their mealtime in order to take away the anxiety on their part. Leaving their problems unattended will make the matter worse, so it is better to address their food aggression problem the moment you notice the behavior.

A puppy dog enjoying a juicy bone

You may also follow these tips in order to control your dog’s food aggression:

 

1. Allow your dog to get used to your presence while eating. 

This doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? But for owners with aggressive dogs, this can be hard. Trainers usually advise dog owners to stand back a few meters away from your pet while they’re eating. This indicates that you mean no harm and can help in making your dog eat in a more relaxed manner.

 

2. Feed them treats with your hand.

Hand feeding is a good technique to prevent them from being aggressive. This will help your dog understand that you’re not a threat to their food when they eat.

 

3. Stand close and talk to them.

Talking to your dog, asking them questions like “what are you having to eat?” in a conversational tone while eating is very important as it can calm them while eating, allowing you to get closer to them. Giving them instructions like “sit” before eating can also tame their aggressive behavior.


4. Pet them while eating.

Make sure not to touch anything, especially their bowl. Petting your pup while they’re eating can help them get used to your presence as well as indicate that you will not take their food away.

 

5. Be consistent with the mealtime and don’t let them be hungry.

Some aggressions are triggered due to hunger. Thus, some dogs become food aggressive because they don’t have a specific time for feeding. Dogs have a very good internal clock so it gives them anxiety when they’re not fed during the time they’re accustomed to.

 

The DON’Ts of Controlling Food Aggression in Dogs:

  • Don’t physically punish your dog.
  • Don’t shout at your dog.
  • Don’t make them hungry.
  • Don’t forget their mealtimes.
  • If you have other dogs or animals in the house, DON’T feed them in the same bowl.

 

Key Insights

Dogs are like family to us so as owners, it is very important to be patient and understanding at all times. Controlling food aggression in dogs takes an indefinite amount of time so the best you can do is learn how to be patient and take note of the progress too! Give them special treats when you see small progress as it can also diminish their aggressive behavior.