Food aggression is a common issue in dogs for two main reasons. The first is that canines naturally guard their food in the wild, and the second is that a significant number of dogs see themselves as dominant over their humans. This short article is not meant to teach you how to resolve your dog’s food aggression issues but rather to illustrate how it is taken care of by a skilled trainer or behaviorist. I hope that by reading this you can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that your dog can be helped.
Whenever I am called in on a food aggression case, the first thing that I do is establish some control over the dog. When a dog sees himself as dominant, it makes sense in his brain to guard his resource and to tell you to back off. Food aggression is often called resource guarding, which actually includes any resource from rawhides to kibble to even his human as they pet him. My first step is taking the dog for a walk in the proper manner. If the dog doesn’t respect you as you walk, there is no way that he will respect you as you start the resource guarding training. I focus on teaching the dog to walk behind me in a calm submissive fashion.
Once I have achieved some control over the animal during the walk I am now ready to start working with the resource. I will start preparing the dogs food and expect him to maintain an appropriate distance as I work. If the dog is showing too much excitement I will claim my space and my food by backing him up until he remains at least a few feet away. When I put the food down I will immediately stop the dog using my leash if he tries to eat it. This is to establish that the food belongs to me and not to him. When ready I will tell the dog OK and allow him to start eating. After about five seconds I will say the dog’s name and gently pull him away from the food. The purpose is to start teaching him that I control the meal, not him. I repeat this step until there is no growling, snarling, or tension from this action.
The next phase is backing the dog off of his food. This is where food aggression can take an instant turn for the worse because we are now truly addressing the issue. With the leash on the dog I will slowly place my shoe onto the bowl and slowly back the dog away from the bowl. The leash is a crucial element here because it gives you the highest chance of not being bitten. I repeat this step over and over until the dog shows no frustration or aggression. Once I see that I can say the dog’s name to tell him I am approaching and back him off the bowl easily, it is now time to start taking the bowl by hand. In the dogs brain it doesn’t matter if you take the bowl using your shoe or your hand, so once you can do one you can do the other.
Overcoming food aggression in a dog is not a safe or an easy task. This article is not meant to encourage you to try this at home, and I take no responsibility for any injuries that occur while trying this. I have written this to show you how a responsible and skilled professional can achieve remarkable results in as little as a few weeks. To truly explain how I work with resource guarding in every possible scenario would take an entire book, so if you have any questions feel free to contact myself or any competent behaviorist.