How to Battle Food Aggression in Dogs
When your otherwise calm or loving dog becomes aggressive around food it might be disturbing, but you needn’t worry. This behavior may be reversed and dealt with. In this post, we’ll be explaining why this happens and the different ways to change it.
What Is Food Aggression?
When your dog becomes hostile or angry around food, it isn’t a complete anomaly. This is a behavior that has been passed down through evolution. Dogs are naturally territorial, and they have a tendency to guard things that they see as valuable. This is also called resource guarding. Food is commonly seen as a resource that must be protected. In a family with multiple dogs, even more so. It’s easy to see why this behavior can be cause for concern, and something which they need to be trained to stop.
For a puppy, food aggression might be a result of competing over limited resources when they were at a shelter, or it might have been a habit they accidentally picked up from incorrect training practices.
There are some breeds that have historically been guard dogs or raised in packs, and such breeds might be predisposed to becoming aggressive around food and exhibiting guarding behavior. Some such breeds are English Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers.
Things you need to know about food aggression
We'll discuss the indicators of dog food aggression if you're confused about how to interpret your dog's behavior around food and are unable to determine if it is normal or cause for concern. Dogs who exhibit minor food aggression may verbally react by growling when you approach them while they are eating. Your dog might lunge or snap at a person or another dog that approaches them while they are near their meal if they exhibit mild food aggression. Dogs with severe food aggressiveness may bite or chase away people they see as threats, which can be harmful.
How to Stop Food Aggression
If your dog, who is usually the epitome of affection, turns into a little monster around its food, you are dealing with a classic case of food aggression. Do not fret and fear excessively, even though your dog might seem to be possessed by a little demon, rest assured that this can be reduced or stopped altogether.
Ascertain whether your dog exhibits the same guarding behavior with other objects, such as toys, or if it is just limited to food. Knowing your dog's personality type is crucial since it should affect how you train them. If your dog is naturally assertive and dominant, you will need to establish that you are the alpha male and make all the decisions. Instead of demonstrating your authority if your dog is hesitant and fearful, you should put more effort into helping them feel safe and assured that their food is secure. Depending on the personality type of your dog, the underlying tone and motivation may alter.
There are essentially two things you’re aiming to do in the process of stopping food aggression - desensitizing your dog so that the presence of people around them while they’re eating is not a trigger, and counterconditioning your dog so that they think people around their food is a positive thing.
At times, such behavior can be due to hormonal changes, so consult your vet and if they see fit, get your dog spayed or neutered. This could help reduce aggression and hostility.
Other than that, there are much simpler, non-invasive ways to help your dog overcome this problem. Your dog can be put through a training regimen, and we will share the different tricks you can use to train them out of this habit.
Food Aggression Training
Here, we’ve outlined a training routine that you can follow for a long time to lead to a long-term solution.
The first thing you should do is to get your dog accustomed to your presence while they eat. It might seem amusing to simply stand at a short and safe distance and watch your dog gulp down its food, but this is the first step in reducing its food aggression issues. The goal of this is to establish that your presence is non-threatening and to get your dog to relax while eating near you. Once this has gone smoothly for at least 10 or more meals, you can try the next step in the process, which is leaving a treat they enjoy in their bowl and immediately moving back to the previous distance. You must be consistent, and with each day, you can reduce the distance at which you stand. Once this step has become routine for your dog, and you have advanced to a place close to them, you can try the next part. While those who do not know what it’s like to have a dog would probably laugh at this step, we dog parents have to admit that talking to our dogs as though they understand everything we’re saying, is something we do all the time. This is precisely what you must do in the next step. Speak to them in a warm, conversational tone, and then give them the treat. Repeat this a few times. Once your dog is at ease with this, you can try hand feeding. You must now let your dog eat the treat in your hand instead of putting it in their bowl. Once they’ve taken the treat, you can move away from them. This shows them that you are there to provide for them and are not interested in their food.
After a few iterations of this step, your dog should now be comfortable with you doing this, and you may move to the next step. While you hand them the treat and speak to them, use your other hand to touch their bowl, but do not touch the food. If your dog remains calm while you do this for at least 10 meals in a row, you can start to lift their bowl off the ground while giving them the treat with the other hand. This step is very important for trust building. Start by lifting it to a very short height, and then gradually increase this with each passing day. By the end of this step, your dog should be comfortable eating around you and should let go of its aggression. Now, repeat this whole process with each family member! Long and tedious, yes, but completely worth it because by the end of the process your dog will feel a lot more secure about their food, and the family will feel a lot more secure about not getting bitten!
Food Aggression Between Dogs
When it comes to multiple dogs, the process of training your dogs to overcome food aggression becomes a bit more complex. Although it will require more people and more patience, undertaking this training will make a world of difference to your home if you have two dogs between whom there is resource guarding or food aggression.
First, set up a controlled situation. Keep both your dogs on a leash and keep their food bowls in the center of the room. You’ll also need to have a helper and find treats that your dogs like even more than the food in the bowl. Let one of the dogs into the room first and let the other wait outside while Dog 1 (let’s call him Bruno) is inside near the food. Then Let Dog 2(let’s call him Pluto) enter the room. Just as Pluto is entering the room, Bruno should be given his treats and lots of praise. Pluto can also be praised at the same time. Then, ask the helper with Pluto to take Pluto out again. Ignore Bruno till Pluto is brought back to the room. It’s easy to see how this would change Bruno’s perception of Pluto being around. If he thinks that Pluto’s presence will fetch him affection and threats, he will become less hostile toward him.
An important tip to remember throughout this process of reducing food aggression in dogs or between dogs is to be consistent about your timings. Falling into a routine will allow your dog to feel secure in the fact that his meals arrive every day at a particular time. Being erratic increases the fear that they may have that the source of their next meal is uncertain, and thus they have to guard any and all food they are given. Be calm yet assertive while carrying out all the tips we’ve mentioned.
With the right training, your dog can turn over a new leaf, and we hope to have made the process a whole lot easier!
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