How to Train a Food-Aggressive Dog
You may be making your dog food-aggressive without even realizing it. This behavior is usually the result of an owner who controls his/her pet in all situations, even when that pet is eating. To remedy the problem, you must first regain your dog's trust.
How to Get Rid of Food Aggression in Dogs
So what should you do? Should you just let him be? No. You have to make him understand that you are the one who provides the food and that you are someone to thank rather than someone to fear. How do you accomplish this?
1. Stop Free-Feeding All Day
Only feed your pooch twice a day. You can also train your dog to understand impulse control by asking him to sit before you give him his food bowl. This helps him understand that you are the food provider and that you're not trying to take his food away.
2. Do Something Trustworthy
Do something constructive to build trust. I suggest trying to add food to his bowl.
Let's say you are walking by, and your dog growls at you because he doesn't want to be bothered. Stand at a distance where he will not growl at you and casually toss him a treat. Make sure you toss the treat only when he is not growling. Do this every day, and try to get closer and closer. If you do this diligently every day, your dog will no longer greet you with a growl but, rather, with a wagging tail in anticipation of a treat!
Note: Never back away from a growling dog. Just stop proceeding and wait until he calms down. Once he is calm, then you can leave. By going away when he growls, the dog only learns that growling works!
Your dog will learn two vital things:
- That you are the provider of his food.
- That you are fair because once you give him the food he earns, you let him eat in peace. Plus, you give him treats as you walk by!
After using the correctional method above, your dog will likely look up at you drooling instead of baring his teeth.
Can This Method Work for Toy Aggression?
The same approach may be used in dogs that are toy-aggressive. Instead of taking a toy away to punish a growling dog, teach him the ''trade game."
How the "Trade Game" Works
- Tell your pooch to give up the toy, and, in exchange, you offer him a treat. He will likely drop the toy for the item he wants more (food).
- With time, your dog will trust you and you will trust him.
As safe as a dog may appear to be, never let children get near one that is eating, sleeping, or playing with a toy! Do not approach any dog unexpectedly and do not remove food from its mouth. Practice caution!
Why Does My Dog Growl at Me When He Is Eating?
I am writing this article because I get several questions from people asking me how to train their dog to be less food-aggressive. Many of these e-mails, regrettably, give glimpses into the same incorrect training dynamics, and the owners always appear to be quite surprised when their dog is incapable of lowering his food guarding, no matter how hard they work on it.
Here is a sample letter:
I have a 2-year-old Labrador that loves us very much and is a really good dog under most aspects. We only have one problem, and it is his food aggression. No matter how hard I work on it, he will not get better. What can I do?
Of course, I replied to her asking for further details on what she had done so far and how she has handled the situation.
This was her reply:
We have been feeding her and petting her as she ate since she was a puppy. We worked really hard in making her understand that when we are close to her food we give her lots of love. But every time we put our hands in her food bowl, she will growl and try to bite.
After reading her response, everything was crystal clear to me. By petting and sticking her hands in this poor dog's food bowl, she was creating an aggressive, food-guarding dog. Surprisingly, this literature of petting dogs while they eat and sticking your hands in their food bowl is widespread. I'm not sure where it comes from, but it is completely wrong!
First of all, it is very frustrating for a dog and goes against his primal needs. Before we had domesticated canines, there was no such thing as one dog bothering another dog while eating. If you watch a group of wild canines eat, you will notice that they each maintain a certain distance and respect each others' spaces. This is a very important rule in their society, and not even a higher-ranking wolf would bother a lower-ranking one while it is eating. Dogs are certainly not wolves, but it is typical in the animal kingdom for animals to want to eat in peace and maintain space.
As humans, we do not appreciate being repeatedly touched as we are about to eat a juicy steak. Imagine someone putting their hands in your dish. You would think that he/she is extremely rude! So why would a dog find it acceptable?
By petting and sticking your hands in your dog's food bowl, you are simply reinforcing his worst fears: the risk of being bothered and having his food taken away. It's also important to note that pushing his food bowl out of the way is also unacceptable. It only teaches the dog that you are a threat. In a dog's mind, he is thinking, "I guess I must resort to growling because my owner is rude and bothers me by sticking his hands in my food and taking my food away."
So how can you tell if your dog fears you? Sometimes you will get mixed signals. Your dog may become tense when you walk towards him, but when you pet him, he may wag his tail because he craves attention. At other times, he will growl at you. It's almost as if the dog is saying, "Yes, owner, I like you, but please get away from my food and let me eat in peace."
A food-aggressive dog is one that does not trust you. By bothering him or touching his food while he eats, you are simply reinforcing his worst fear that his food will be taken away. Therefore, anytime you are near his food, he sees you as threat.
If you patiently follow the method above, you will soon become a friend and not a foe. Expect great things to come!
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.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli