Demand barking is a very common behavior in dogs, they bark because they know from experience they will get what they want (a.k.a food) in return for the peace and quiet you so greatly appreciate and yearn for. However, what is a much less common occurrence is dogs barking at their food, instead of for their food.
Welcome! So, you may have seen this mildly-strange behavior from your dog - barking at his food despite the fact that it’s already been placed in front of him and now you’re here, researching and reading this to figure out if your doggo is a weirdo. Well, reading this won’t instantly make you a dog whisperer with the ability to decipher your dog's woofs. However, it will give you a better understanding of his behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
Considering the fact that it a pretty unusual thing for dogs to do, little research has been made in finding the psychological root of this behavior. In other words, you’re on your own. However, don’t be discouraged, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t find the cause or the cure. Dog behavior as a whole can be a very individual thing and another dog's habit can be caused by an entirely different thing than yours.
To begin, you will need to observe your dog and ask yourself several questions. Is this new behavior? Were there any recent changes that might have caused this new habit? This can be anything from a big change that might not seem related to the issue at hand, like getting another dog in the house - to a less significant one such as buying your dog a new bowl or new kibble. If there’s a new dog in the house, it could be guarding his food and making sure to let everyone around know it is his and he’s not willing to share it. If it’s a new bowl, is it made out of stainless steel? Maybe your dog sees his own reflection and that sparks his barks. It is possible that his dog tag is hitting the bowl and that is spooking him out. You could try removing the food out of his bowl to see if it makes a difference.
It is also possible that a change in his diet could be behind his barking. Does he eat the food with enthusiasm and a wagging tail? The barking could be a sign of appreciation, it is, after all, how dogs communicate. However, if his ears are pinned down or his tail is tucked in between his legs - it could mean your dog is anxious. This could be instinctual because other dogs are around or even possibly because he views his food as prey that needs to be dominated. This is especially a possibility if his food consists of something like a raw chicken leg, which due to the meat odor and boniness can be found threatening by some dogs. Experiment with different food to see if there’s a correlation, or if you recently changed things up, do the opposite and bring back the old kibble to see if it will resolve the situation. Although the barking can be annoying unless your dog is not eating or exhibiting any other symptoms it is no cause for alarm. Even though there might not be published studies on this yet, there are hundreds of forum posts with pet owners describing this behavior as just their puppy being quirky.
Encouraging the Behavior
Whether you pinpoint the source of your dog's food barking or not, you can try to get the habit to go by following the universal, never-failing trick - by not encouraging it. Your canine companion might just be trying to get your attention or complaining about his dry food. Instead of hovering and trying to be accommodative, ignore the barking and walk away. Remember that your behavior is setting the rules at all times and that you are responsible for reinforcing the proper behavior of your pup. The same goes for discouraging bad behavior or actions you don’t approve of. Don’t give in because what you might consider as “giving your dog a break” today can be much more harmful in the long run, as it can get him used to certain behavior, create patterns, and confuse him. Just as you would ignore your dog when it’s barking at you to receive food, you should ignore him if he’s barking after he has received it. That is a clear signal for your dog that you are standing your ground and will not be manipulated or pressured into complying with his demands - hence making your dog adjust to you instead of the other way around.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you’ve tried the above suggestions and the behavior still occurs, you have only two options left. If you are concerned, see a professional about it. For example, a dog trainer or a veterinary professional, to see if they have a deeper insight into your dog’s behavior. Alternatively, if your dog does always end up eating the food after his barking sessions, and he does not seem to be in any pain or distress, and his barks do not seem to be doing any excessive harm to your ears...you can always just try to see it as your dog simply saying grace before his meal.
The key in figuring out why your dog might be barking at his food lies in observation and identifying the triggers, switching things up to see if the situation improves or if the behavior is new or recent, retracing your steps and changing things back to what they used to be. At the end of the day, your dog might just be yearning for some love, care, and attention - just make sure to give it to him during the non-barking window.