4 Ways to Prevent Food Aggression in a Dog and 7 Ways to Eliminate It

Updated on April 26, 2017
DrMark1961 profile image

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

Food aggression can come in any size.
Food aggression can come in any size. | Source

Aggression in dogs is a delicate subject. If your dog is showing symptoms of aggression you should consult with a veterinarian to find out if your dog has a medical reason for her behavior changes, and then with a behaviorist to find out why she is being aggressive (if her medical examination is normal); animal behaviorists know the signs a dog will show before biting and are trained in helping your dog. 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 they can be difficult to deal with.
Once a dog develops food aggression they can be difficult to deal with. | Source

Four Steps To Prevent It Starting

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

1. 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 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. 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. 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.

With some effort, food aggression can be stopped.
With some effort, food aggression can be stopped. | Source

Seven Steps To Eliminate Food Aggression

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 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.

Food Aggression Might Take A Long Time To Get Over

Don´t yell at her or ht 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.

What works best for your food aggessive dog?

See results

Questions & Answers

  • 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?

    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 https://pethelpful.com/dogs/dog-to-dog-aggression

    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.

  • 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?

    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.

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    • profile image

      DoItForHer 

      6 years ago

      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.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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.

    • profile image

      DoItForHer 

      6 years ago

      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.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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!

    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 

      6 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      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 profile image

      Lovelovemeloveme 

      6 years ago from Cindee's Land

      Interesting hub. Thanks

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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 profile image

      toomuchmint 

      6 years ago

      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 profile image

      wetnosedogs 

      6 years ago from Alabama

      drmark,

      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.

    • Relationshipc profile image

      Kari 

      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      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.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      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 profile image

      wetnosedogs 

      6 years ago from Alabama

      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?

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