Imagine your partner puts the dog's food down, but you realize the dog wasn't supposed to eat. Perhaps the dog is due for minor surgery at the vet clinic and is supposed to fast. You've already booked the day off work and so it's even more important to go ahead today. Without thinking, you swoop down with the intention of removing the food bowl... only to have the dog growl and lunge at you.
Shocked, it now occurs to you the dog has been getting defensive over his meals of late. Then a horrible thought pops into your mind. What if the kids get between the dog and his dinner?
This concern is totally valid, because dog food aggression can pose a significant risk to the unwary owner.
Such behavior isn't the dog being dominant, and it is a mistake to view it as such. Down this path lies the potential for an ill-informed owner to challenge the dog and forcibly remove the food in order to prove who is boss. This is likely to end with the owner being bitten and the dog erroneously labeled as aggressive.
Instead, it is better to correct the problem using dog psychology. This relies on changing the dog's perception of people as a threat to his food, and instead help him view people as providers.
Never rush this training or place yourself in danger. Also, be prepared to take baby steps and only progress once the dog has been relaxed on at least 10 consecutive meal times. If you force the pace, at best all your good work will be undone in an instant and at worst you may get badly bitten.
Also, know that prevention is better than cure. The methods listed below are also ideal to use with a new puppy so that he gets off on the right paw from the start.
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Our 3 yr old German Shepherd is a very well-behaved, extensively trained, sweet boy. He has been through many training classes, has his Good Citizenship badge and is even Pet Therapy certified. This past spring we had our first child and Chief has done very well with the change. However, just a few weeks ago he started to exhibit food-aggression out of nowhere. He has even snapped at 2 family members. Until today, though, he has always recognized me as the Alpha and we have had no issues. This morning though he growled and snapped at me. Please help! We love him dearly but with a newborn in the house I have to make sure her safety is our priority. Thank you for any insight you can provide!
Hello Miriam, Congratulations on the new baby! First of all, I would highly recommend finding a qualified trainer or behaviorist who is very experienced with aggression rehabilitation. Below is the protocol I would recommend that that trainer follow and teach you. Be very mindful of safety and utilize things like leashes and muzzles as described for safety reasons. Any dog can bite, especially one that is showing aggressive tendencies so it is important to take proper precautions while training. A qualified trainer will be better able to read your dog's body language and do the following safety and hand the training off to you. There are two sides to resource guarding. One is working on the dog's respect for you and the other is building his trust for you. Your dog needs to learn that he is never allowed to guard items. It is simply not acceptable. He also needs to learn that when you take his things it will not be a negative experience for him. Having food taken away can cause a lot of defensiveness and anxiety so you want to show him that when you take his food you might add something even better to it and you will give it back to him afterward. You also want to associate your approach toward his food with something pleasant. This will be especially true when your baby begins to be mobile. Start associating the baby being near him with good things now by giving him pieces of his own dog food whenever he is calm around her and very tolerant of her, to prevent more problems as she grows. I highly suggest getting him used to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle in general, so that you can have him wear that while you practice laying food down for him. You also want him to be wearing a fitted prong collar with a leash attached, with slack in it the majority of the time. You want to practice placing his food and bones down while he is wearing the muzzle and on the leash. Have him wait for permission to check the item out, then tell him "Okay", and let him sniff it. While he is sniffing it and interested in it tell him "Out", then go to grab the item. When he growls or acts aggressively, while wearing the muzzle, then correct him with the leash, and remove the item so that he sees that his aggressive behavior does not get him what he wants. Repeat this over and over again until he will let you take the item without aggression when you tell him "Out". After you take the item, then place the item back down and have him wait until you say "Okay" before you let him go back to it. When he waits for permission and lets you take his food without acting aggressively, then pass several tasty treats through his muzzle for him to eat. When he will allow you to take his food and begins to calm down and relax when you are near his food because you are rewarding his correct behavior and correcting his aggressive behavior, then while he is not wearing the muzzle, but is on a loose leash with a prong collar that is attached somewhere secure nearby, then walk up to him, just out of his reach, while he is eating and toss treats by his bowl if he does not growl when you approach. After you toss the treats walk away again. If he growls when you do this, then go back to practicing with the muzzle so that you can safely correct him with the leash for growling. You can also connect a second prong collar and leash to him that you can hold while out of his reach and correct him with that leash if he acts aggressively when you approach. That way one leash will keep him from being able to get to you and bite you while you correct him from a safer distance. Make sure that the prong collar that is tethering him somewhere secure will not break and is also secured to a normal buckle collar as a backup. Also make sure that what he is connected to is secure and will not release him. Because of safety reasons and more things that can go wrong in this scenario I recommend you only do this with the assistance of a trainer though. Eventually, you want to work up to him letting you take his bowl when you say "Out", waiting to eat until you say "Okay", and being able to walk up to him while he is eating and toss treats into his bowl safely. Whenever you take his bowl without him acting aggressively, reward him by giving him a treat or letting him see you drop treats into his bowl before giving it back to him and giving him permission to eat again. I would highly suggest hiring a very well qualified trainer who can follow the above method and tailor it to your dog's reactions to help you implement all of this safely. Here is a link below for part of the protocol that you will be following. This shows you how to correct and make the dog wait. It does not include the added rewards or tossing treats into the bowl though. I like to add the rewards because sometimes resource guarding is also a trust, insecurity issue and the rewards addresses that as well. It is almost always partially a respect issue too though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWyAA-7hedo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My Aussie has had some aggressive behavior towards other dogs when there is food around. He has never been aggressive towards humans, but if there is another dog and I am messing with his food (taking it out of the bag, packing it for a trip, etc.) or about to feed him and the other dog he freaks and has snapped at other dogs and even started a fight with my friends dog before. I make him sit and leave it before every meal so he doesn't get too excited about eating but I'm not sure how to curve this problem. I don't want it to get worse because we are around a lot of other dogs often. I also don't want it to progress into being aggressive towards humans.
Hello Zoe, First, I suggest feeding pup meals in a locked crate away from other dogs so that pup's stress and feelings of needing to guard food while eating goes down. You can also crate pup first, then go scoop the food, so that fights are prevented to begin with. Second, when you are ready to proactively train I suggest hiring a professional trainer to help you practice desensitizing pup to other dogs being around food in a structured way. Work on commands like Place, with pup on a back tie leash that has enough slack they won't feel it when they are obeying, but it will stop them from getting off if they respond poorly. Practice having the dog's stay on Place - using self-control, and reward the dog's for staying on Place while the other dogs are also on other place beds and you pack food. Pay attention to body language. Interrupt tensing, staring the other dogs down, and early signs of possessiveness. Reward calmness and tolerance. When pup can not only avoid a poor reaction but stay relaxed during the exercise - this will take a lot of repetition overtime, practice training another dog in the center of the room using food rewards while pup stays on place watching, and reward Ben for calm responses while the other dog is earning food - again pup should have a back tie leash for safety. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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