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How to Prevent and Stop Food Aggression in Dogs

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Learn how to deal with food aggression in dogs. If you're not careful, food aggression can lead to biting, and you'll want to avoid that.

Learn how to deal with food aggression in dogs. If you're not careful, food aggression can lead to biting, and you'll want to avoid that.

Food Aggression in Puppies and Dogs

Aggression in dogs is a delicate subject. If your dog is showing symptoms of aggression, you should consult with a veterinarian to determine if your dog has a medical reason for her behavior changes. Thereafter, consult with a behaviorist to find out why she is being aggressive (if her medical examination is normal); animal behaviorists know which signs indicate a dog may bite and are trained to help your dog and intervene. It takes many years of dealing with aggressive dogs before a person can handle them safely.

The reality may be different. If you are isolated—in an area where there is no one to help your companion—the dog should not be condemned without searching for answers. In this article, I will discuss a few causes of food aggression and some of the ways you might be able to help reduce them.

Even among dog trainers, there is a lot of conflicting advice on this subject. Some of them think the dog is trying to take charge in the household. Sometimes a food aggressive dog will be fearful, not dominant. Some food aggressive dogs are easy to train, some are very difficult.

These tips may help in some situations, but dogs are all different, and they will not work in all cases. If your dog is snarling, growling, or barking, there is a problem. If he is shaking and tense, the situation is more serious. Ultimately, it will lead to biting, the most serious problem of all.

So, what can you do?

Once a dog develops food aggression, it can be difficult to deal with.

Once a dog develops food aggression, it can be difficult to deal with.

How to Prevent Food Aggression in Dogs

This is a problem that you can prevent even before it starts!

1. Always Tell Your New Puppy to “Sit”:

Always tell your new puppy to “sit” before giving her the food bowl. This will reinforce the idea that you are the provider and in control; it is helpful in questions of dominance.

2. Pet Her:

Pet your puppy while she is eating. She will be used to your presence and will also learn that you will not steal her food.

3. Give Her a Treat:

Once your puppy has learned the recall, call her over to you (during the meal) and give her a treat. She can then go back over to her meal and finish it.

4. Give Her Something Extra:

When your puppy is finished with her meal, give her something extra (like a special treat, for example, a small piece of chicken). If you do this, and she comes to expect it, she will want you to be around when she is eating.

Food aggression can come in any size.

Food aggression can come in any size.

7 Steps to Take to Help a Food-Aggressive Dog

  1. Make your dog “sit” before you give her the food bowl.
  2. Only feed your dog after you have had your dinner. Make sure she knows you are in control of the food and when it is passed out.
  3. Stop leaving food down all of the time. This is based on the “pack” theory, similar to the first two tips. If your dog recognizes you as the one who is in control of her meals, she is more likely to respect you as the leader and will no longer be aggressive.
  4. Feed twice a day so your dog does not get too hungry between meals. Some food aggression is caused by your dog not knowing when (or even if) her next meal will come along.
  5. Put her feed down in a quiet, secure location (like a back porch, not a busy area like the kitchen) so she does not feel threatened. You should leave your dog alone and not even pick up the bowl until she has gone into another room. This may be all that is needed for some dogs.
  6. Use counterconditioning techniques to let her get used to your presence. Step up just short of the point where she feels threatened; throw her a special treat (like a piece of baked chicken breast) and then walk away. Do this every day until she associates your approach to her food bowl with the handout of a special treat. Over time she will feel less aggressive and will not mind you coming very close to her bowl. This is a slow method and needs to be reinforced occasionally, but it may help if the other methods listed above are not enough.

    If counterconditioning is successful, I have also heard some trainers suggest you take the dog´s bowl away and add treats to it while she is still eating. I think taking the dog´s food bowl away, for any reason, is not a good idea. This is supposed to be another method of making the dog more confident in your control.
  7. An alternative food bowl may be helpful. There are a lot of other alternatives that might be more successful, so do not buy a bowl and expect it to solve your problems.
With some effort, food aggression can be stopped.

With some effort, food aggression can be stopped.

How Long Will This Take?

Don't yell at her or hit her to make her stop. Don’t just reach in and take her food bowl away because she is growling. These actions might work at the moment, but the problem will probably just get worse.

This behavior started slowly and has taken a long time to develop. Do not be surprised if it takes a long time to stop.

If your dog is showing other signs of aggression (like protecting her bed or a special toy), then dealing with food aggression may help her. When these methods do not help your dog, I really recommend you consult an animal behaviorist.

Take care of this problem before your dog bites someone.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: We have a 3 yr old female pit and lab mix. We have had her since she was 6 months old. The other day we brought home another 3 yr. old female pit/lab. The first one is being very dominant and sneering and growling at the second one if she comes too close to her or us or her food bowl. She is acting jealous but I understand that's not it. We have left them alone by themselves in the home and they were fine. How do we stop it?

Answer: This sounds much worse than a food aggression issue. It is possible that the 3 yr old considers this her turf and does not accept the other dog being there at all.

You should read

Try all of the things that i recommend in that article. Do not give up on your dogs until you have tried those things.

Sometimes two females or two males never get along. You have to rehome one of the dogs. When you adopted the second dog, did you discuss this? I know a pit mix is going to have a hard time finding a new home, but keep in mind that this is something you might need to consider if things do not work out.

Question: My ten months old GSD gets aggressive when am about to drop his food sometimes. I usually feed him in his doghouse, but this evening I tried dropping the bowl of water first before the food, and he bit my arm, nothing too serious; What do I do about it? He eats from my hand when I try feeding him, but once I drop his bowl, he shows those aggressive signs.

Answer: A dog that bites, even if it is not bad, is a very serious problem, so hopefully, we can solve this before it gets worse.

There is no reason he should be so upset when you are putting his food down. You need to make sure he is obedience trained and tell him to sit and lie down before putting the food down. Have him do so on the other side of the room. If he gets up and approaches the food, take it away before telling him to sit and lie down again. Do not feed him if he does not obey you.

You could also start feeding him in a separate room. Put the food down and then let the dog into the room. This is NOT a better solution though. The best thing to do is learn to control your dog.

If you need to learn more about how to teach him to be polite and control his impulses here is a reference:

Question: Our five-year-old Cavoodle is not aggressive over his own food, but when he steals food that he is not supposed to have (like chocolate), then he will bite if we try to take it away and becomes quite aggressive. How do we deal with this?

Answer: A dog that steals something often becomes aggressive. It is not food aggression, just a type of resource guarding. The easiest way to get over this problem is to exchange what he has with something even better.

You can not just take the treat away. Go to your fridge, grab a piece of chicken or lunchmeat, heat it up in the microwave for a few seconds, and then get down on the dogs level. Look at the food and tell him "Oh, look what I have here, this smells so good!" Well, not exactly, but you get the picture. Eat a little bit of it, loudly, so he gets curious. If he stands up to look, but is still guarding this food, hide the food in your hands a little so that he is forced to come closer to look at it.

Dogs cannot resist this.

When you get a new puppy, this is something that can be avoided. Take the treat away at the very beginning and then give it back, immediately, so that the dog realizes you are not a threat.

Question: We have two puppies one is a 17 week female and the other is a 14 week male. They are fine when it comes to meal time, but treats are our problem with aggression. How can I stop it?

Answer: The methods I describe in this article are for dogs with food aggression towards their families. If you have two puppies fighting over treats, it is a different problem.

It is mostly a matter of dog-dog aggression. The best thing to do would be to put the dogs in separate rooms before giving treats. This may seem inconvenient to you, but if you allow the dogs to continue to fight in this way one of them is going to be hurt, badly, as they grow up.

If this problem is not resolved, you may need to find a local animal behaviorist in your area. You need to get a handle on this and stop this now before the dogs become adults.


DoItForHer on August 05, 2012:

I like to encourage the treatment of the core behaviors rather than treating only symptomatic behaviors. But this takes work and not everyone is up to it. Excuses abound. If one is not up to the task, they should own up and say as much then do what they are able to do.

Like barking. If one deals with only the barking, one could place the dog in the basement whenever it decided to carry on. Not a real solution, but it does solve the barking problem.

When I read mvillecat's post, it seems like an excuse. Another person hanging onto the past that the dog would happily let go of if the owners let it.

I can't understand why certain cues that cause uncontrollable behavior can't be corrected. For some dogs it is men in hats, for others it is bicycles, for some it is specific people, and others it's food. All can be trained.

Dogs that have so little control over their emotions and their physicality are creepy and potentially dangerous. Why do some powerful breeds get a bad wrap? Possibly because the owners put off dealing with any sort of aggression, but when the dog is expected to control its emotions, it never learned how and reacts inappropriately. Sometimes with disastrous news worthy results.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 05, 2012:

If by moving the dog to a separate area the problem is solved, it is avoiding a situation and a totally appropriate action. You or I may feel that the counterconditioning is more successful, but as with the Golden owned by mvillecat, you have to do what works.

I talked to a neighbor on the beach this morning, and his new dog is food aggressive but he manages the problem easily by feeding his dogs in separate areas. It works.

DoItForHer on August 05, 2012:

My approach is the dog food is mine not the dog's. The dog is privileged to have my food. The dog earns the food by being calm. Aggressive behavior has a consequence of not having the food. I always take food away from aggressive actions. I do not tolerate inappropriate aggression at all.

I can handle food or anything in any way I choose at any time. My vet often comments on how easy to handle my dogs have been.

Moving the dog to a separate area is not training, it is managing. Managing is a crutch and when used properly is very helpful, but it is easy to stop there and forgo training. Don't get lazy.

I have not met a dog that couldn't be trained to eat calmy. I'm sure there are dogs that are amazingly aggressive, but that is rare.

Training is powerful and should not be underestimated.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 05, 2012:

Sorry to hear about the troubles with the Golden. As you noted (and many people here disagree) biting is not always a reason for putting a dog down. Sometimes they feel it is really necessary.

lovelovemeloveme--thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed your profile page!

Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on August 05, 2012:

We had a rescued Golden Retriever that turned into Cujo during feeding time. He had nearly starved to death on the streets as a stray and never recovered from it. He bit my husband multiple times. We had him for four years before he passed and tried to work with him but to no avail. He was the sweetest, most loving dog in all other instances. We miss him dearly.

Lovelovemeloveme from Cindee's Land on August 04, 2012:

Interesting hub. Thanks

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 04, 2012:

Thanks for the comments. Relationshipc, theat is exactly the way I was taught and it sounds like you have his aggression well under control.

toomuchmint, I hope this does keep a few from that ride to the pound, or even worse, that final ride in an animal control vehicle!

toomuchmint on August 04, 2012:

Great advice Dr Mark. Food aggression in dogs can develop into a major problem that sends dogs needlessly to the pound. Your simple tips can make a big difference in getting people and dogs comfortable with feedings and treats. Voted up and useful!

wetnosedogs from Alabama on August 04, 2012:


That's Jenny! Goofy and yes, entertaining. And while I was reading your comment, she just went for Bella's bowl! (afraid for me, separate rooms don't work, but I get the exercise). Gotta love these dogs.

Kari on August 04, 2012:

My newest addition, a Miniature Schnauzer, is very food aggressive BUT only with one of my dogs. He respects my Doberman, but my Miniature Pinscher has been attacked for licking the floor.

Now, my Min. Pin. eats separately from the other two in a room with a door. We even have an issue with toys between the two of them.

He is not food aggressive towards us either, as we can take a bone right out of his mouth. We did everything you talked about in this article when it came to us. My husband and I are in control of the food, and my schnauzer will sit until he is given the okay to eat. His problem is just with the one dog.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 04, 2012:

She does not sound food aggressive but it sounds like she has food issues. I used to feed all my Siberians in separate rooms to avoid this problem as one of them was just like Jenny and loved to go after the other dog´s dishes, even if she still had food. Jenny just sounds goofy, and entertaining as always!

wetnosedogs from Alabama on August 04, 2012:

I don't know if Jenny is food aggressive or not. I always figured she had to fight for her food when she was a stray and she doesn't want to be that hungry again.

Jenny will want to eat from Bella's and Roscoe's bowl. They hope to come back for it cause they are nibblers. But I started putting the bowls up due to noticing Jenny gaining weight. I notice Jenny eating from another bowl and I will ask her where Jenny's food is. I ask this while I take away the bowl. She doesn't do anything. She does know where her bowl is and I think by now she knows I'm going to get the bowl that isn't hers. She's just seeing if she can get away with it. To me, the kicker is, there is still food in her bowl and yet she has to go after the neglected bowls.

I do feed my dogs twice a day. Bella is a morning eater. For Jenny and Roscoe the food is there if they want it. I don't give them a full feeding in the a.m. cause if I fail to put it up, Jenny is the one who will stuff her face. That's the a.m. when I am running around to get ready for work.

Does these actions make Jenny food aggressive, you think? Or is she just my goofy dog as I see her?