Food Aggression – How to Help
There are three degrees of food aggression; mild, moderate and severe. It is a common misconception that all cases of food aggression are due to displays of dominance, but this isn’t necessarily always the case. For dogs lower in the pack structure it can be a sign of fearfulness or anxiety. In wild wolf packs the wolves never know when their next meal will be so it is instinctual for them to eat quickly whatever food they have and protect it from anything that approaches. Depending on if the dog is being dominant or fearful would depend how you would overcome the problem.
For dogs guarding their food due to dominance it is important to establish yourself as the leader, as leader you control all resources, how and when it will be available. As the leader you would eat first, so allow the dog to see you eating your meal first. Secondly have the dog work for it’s meal, so have the dog sitting and waiting while you prepare the meal, don’t allow the dog to jump up for the food bowl, even have the dog perform a few basic commands or a trick. Feed after the dog has been exercised, this will fulfil the dogs instinct to hunt and make the dog feel like they have earned the meal. Food aggression can be made worse by backing away from the food and bowl as this makes the dog think it has won the battle as you have backed off, so it is important to stand your ground and “win the bowl” . If feeding dry kibble use your hands to measure out the food as then the food will have your scent on it. Offer the dog a small amount of food to start with and then keep dropping more food into the bowl, the dog will then, over time, associate your presence near the food bowl as a good thing because more food keeps getting added. You can then get a really high value treat and offer it to the dog from your hand while the dog is eating. This will teach the dog again that your presence is a good thing, and if he looks away and takes the treat from you the food he was eating will still be there.
For fearful and anxious dogs the same technique described above can be used, but remember if the source of fear or anxiety is when is the next meal coming then sticking to a regular routine can help your dog, by getting into a routine this can reduce fear and anxiety.
From my own experiences I have always from being a puppy spent time sitting on the floor near the food bowls, or having the food bowl between out stretched legs so the dog has to come into my space to eat, and I’ve sat with my hands in the bowl while the puppy eats and occasionally taken the bowl away but immediately replaced with a different bowl with some more exciting food in it.