Food Aggression in Dogs

If the dog defends its food with a growl, it is usually a great emotional burden for the owner. Here you can read about the possible causes of food aggression and how relaxation and trust in the bowl can be specifically trained.

Food aggression is a dog’s behavior to defend its food (or even just a treat) and to become aggressive when someone tries to get too close to the food or take it away. A dog with food aggression usually cannot eat in a relaxed manner when its owner is present – even if the owner doesn’t want to take the food away from it.

Why Do Dogs Develop Food Aggression?

If a dog guards or defends its food, this can have various causes.

Food as a vital resource

In most cases, food aggression in dogs is caused by insecurity or fear of having to do without the vital resource “food“. The dogs’ ancestors, the wolves, had no set feeding times and never knew when they would next get essential food.

Dogs that are kept as pets today shouldn’t really be afraid of them anymore. But only humans know that they want to take care of their dogs every day and according to their needs – not the dog. Although he can adapt to routines, he lacks planning security. And this can lead to food aggression.

Feeding aggression due to stress

There are also dogs that use food defense to relieve stress. For example, if a number of dogs are lying under a table in a multi-dog household and crumbs fall, a dog that is tense may choose a particular crumb and guard it for a long time. If another dog approaches the guarded object, spontaneous defense can occur. However, the primary goal is not necessarily the food, but the reduction of stress that can be caused by the aggression.

If he defends his food, try to be supportive and de-stress first so that future conflicts don’t arise in the first place. Also, be sure to get advice and help from a professional dog trainer who will support you.

Dog owners often see a food-aggressive dog as ungrateful. But ingratitude towards people is not behind this behavior!

Feeding a dog without aggression: this is how it works!

The main causes of food aggression are insecurity, fear, and stress. In order for your dog to be able to relax and feel good again while eating, he needs your support. It is often enough to change a few small things:

Improve your eye for the essentials!

The tension in dogs with food aggression often starts with the preparation of the food. Observe your dog’s body language as you prepare the food and present the bowl. Is he tense then? Some dog owners report that their dog seems to “freeze”. This is an important sign of stress. With training, you can try to take the stress out of him:

Involve the dog in preparing the food. Give him a few commands and reward him with food from the bowl.
Only do exercises that your dog masters with flying colors. This isn’t about training per se, it’s about having fun. You can also give a few pieces of food for free when in a good mood.
Hold back a few more pieces and surprise the dog by not wanting to take anything away from him, but giving him something extra in your presence. Thus, your closeness will be more appreciated during his feeding rituals.

Getting rid of food aggression

Simply leaving the room so that the dog can eat in a relaxed manner is not a solution. He has to learn to enjoy his food even in the presence of others and to get rid of food aggression. This works best in small steps:

  • First, stay far away from your eating dog. If that works, reduce the distance next time and get closer and closer to your dog.
  • At first, you should just stand in one spot and watch your dog. Later you can also walk around (first just a little back and forth, later you should then be able to walk freely through the room). Again, the same applies here: First only at a great distance from the dog, later also next to him.
  • Pay attention to the dog’s body language: If it shows stress signals, growls or flattens its ears, it is still too early for the next step. Then go back a bit. Only when the dog can eat comfortably while you are in the distance should you move closer.

If your dog can eat in a relaxed manner while you are standing next to him, the next step is to train that you can also touch his bowl. To do this, first, give your dog only a small portion of its food. Stand next to him while he eats. If he eats it up, give him a second small portion.

In the second step, fill the second portion or individual treats into the bowl while the dog is still eating the first. This is how the dog links: the human’s hand on the bowl/the presence of the human when eating = positive.

Train new signals in a relaxed manner

It is not only important that your dog can eat relaxed in your presence, it is also important that you are allowed to take something away from him and that he does not become aggressive. This can be particularly important in an emergency situation, for example, if the dog wants to eat poisonous food or poisoned bait.

Your mood is very important: If you are tense yourself and your dog notices your mood, he could eat the part that you want to take away from him even faster – especially if he has a food aggression. Even scolding isn’t helpful.

It is therefore important that you remain calm yourself. You should also teach your dog two new signals:

“Take”: Give your dog permission to pick up something. With the help of this word, your dog can orientate itself exactly to you. After kind permission, stay with him for some more time and give a few more snacks. Maintain your good mood so that the feeding is taken positively by you.
“Off”: If the dog learns to hand things over without stress, it will not put him under pressure in an emergency situation. Training together means “building trust”. If he lets go of something, feel free to reward him with something even better.
Make sure that you personally can take something away from him in the future. However, this does not apply to strangers, e.g. visitors. Make sure that your dog can enjoy in peace, even when you have guests with you.

Food aggression in puppies

Even puppies can develop food aggression or want to defend their food. You can already see that around the 5th week of life. It is supposedly assumed that the dog is already very courageous and will later become a “daredevil”. But that is not necessarily the case. Rather, the puppy is afraid of losing food as a resource, possibly also to the many littermates. Such dogs need a quiet feeding place. The first step should be to take away the dog’s fear and then establish training so that the dog learns that it doesn’t have to defend its food.

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