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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Food Possessive Aggression


Pet Professional Tip

Ask the dog to sit before placing the food bowl or Kong in the run or kennel to help deter toy guarding and food bowl aggression.

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Who Paid For That Food, Anyway?


When a dog has food-related aggression, he or she will guard his or her food, treats, rawhides, or bones from other dogs or  people. How the dog shows food-related aggression can be quite variable. Some dogs begin to growl softly from a great distance and increase the intensity of their growling as people approach. Some dogs growl while shaking and gulping their food. Some dogs stare and snarl at anyone within their view while eating.

Treatment of Food Bowl Aggression

Once a dog over the age of seven months has developed a habit of food guarding, it is not always possible to correct this behavior or it may require the assistance of a professional. Some dogs become so firmly entrenched in this habit that it is necessary to simply not allow anyone near the dog while he or she is eating. However, if food bowl aggression is noticed early on, then use the following steps:

1.   Watch for "stiffening" of the body. This is a warning that you are in danger of being bitten, so stop the session and come back to it later.

2.   Begin feeding the dog in a different food area.

3.   Make the dog "Sit, down, and wait" before putting down the food bowl.

4.   Put down an empty bowl, ask the dog to "Sit," then hand feed individual pieces of kibble. After this, ask the dog to earn each piece of kibble for at least the first 10 pieces by sitting or lying down, staying, coming, or following another Instruction.

5.  If the dog will not work for the kibble, put the food away and try again later when the dog is hungry and more food motivated.

6.  After the dog has earned the first 10+ pieces of kibble, bring your hand towards the empty food bowl, drop one piece of kibble in the bowl, and then allow the dog to take it. Next, have the dog sit and stay again while you drop the next kibble in. Don't allow the dog to go to the kibble until you give permission (i.e., using a releaser word like," Okay").

7.  During this time, have a leash on the dog, preferably with a head collar.  Do not grab the dog by the collar. Use the leash-collar combination to pull the dog back if he or she goes toward the food before you give permission. After you give permission, allow him or her to go to the food bowl to get the  food treat.

8.  Next, put several pieces of kibble in the food bowl. Allow the dog to eat some of it. Then, while there is still kibble in the food bowl, offer a food treat that is more desirable than the kibble, such as a piece of chicken or cheese. Do this by having the dog sit. Drop the food treat in the food bowl.  

Instead of being anxious around the food bowl, you want the dog to feel happy and relaxed when you, your hand, or other people that approach the food bowl. The goal is to help the dog to let go of any suspicions (a conditioned emotional response) and realize that humans really don't steal dog food and eat it.

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