Food Aggression in Dogs – Is your dog a grumpy growling guzzler?

Food aggression issues in dogs seems to be on the rise in my mind, I am seeing more and more cases of food aggression in dogs. Is it the way we handle dogs? Is it the food we feed? Is it genetics? Is is dogs being dogs? What ever it is, we need to address it.

This is one I have wanted to get written down for a while, but kept getting side tracked by other posts!

From young puppies, up to older dogs who have been displaying it years, it is a behaviour that can be remedied very early on in your relationship, and reduce so much stress. I have seen puppies develop it over a matter of days from the wrong training, and it has then caused issues for a life time. I have seen adult dogs become to food aggressive they can’t be fed in the same room as people, without feeling the need to lunge and bite.

For those lucky enough to have a dog without food issues, I’ll explain what I define as food aggression. Food aggression is where your dog will growl, posture or attack when they are eating, taking a treat or being given a chew. These dogs feel the need to guard their food, for various reasons, and can be driven to lash out at their owners in the need to guard the food.

All these behaviours are normal for dogs guarding their resource, it is normal for a dog to want to guard food to protect it from other predators. It is not normal for a dog to go over the top, and in the worst cases bite. That is human driven. Biting is a last resort for any dog, owners drive them to do this to keep owners away.
What should not be normal is the fact you want to take the dog food. I honestly don’t understand when owners feel the need to take the food off a puppy…. a hungry puppy whose food intake is dictated by you anyway. Food is a resource that they need, so they will guard it to protect it, if they feel the need to do so. I will explain some training to pre-empt the problem, but I honestly feel we cause more food issues than sort them as dog owners in some cases. So often we muck up being idiots, rather than being good dog owners.

There are some real old fashion ideas still kicking around on the internet and from other dog owners, that can lead to this food aggression appearing in puppies, or dogs of any age. One of them is “You should be able to take the food from a dog”….right? So when I steal your fudge cake mid bite, you’re going to accept it and just ignore me? Well you’re a weirdo if you do, you’re going to kick, scream and tell me how much you bloody well don’t like it. Yet we do it to our dogs, then have a go at them when they growl or snap? Lack of logic here it seems. Furthermore on this, the more you try to take the food, the more the dog sees it as a prize to be had. The more you want, the more they want it basically. By making food an issue, you are making the dog more likely to guard it.

I’ve seen countless puppies become food aggressive, because people want to take their food, chews or bones off them to “Assert their control”… The puppy wants to eat. Stop being an ass, and let your puppy eat.

Some people brandish the excuse “I should be able to take it out of their mouth without argument encase my child puts their hands in the bowl, or take their chew”….. It won’t cut it love. Your child should be taught to leave a dog alone while eating, if your child is not old enough to understand that/ doesn’t listen then either feed the dog elsewhere, or remove the child. You’re the adult, so control the situation. Excuses are not tolerated by me or anyone.

Whatever your reason for doing food aggression training, please do it right. Applying common sense, put yourself in your dog’s shoes, don’t follow what others say about being the alpha or you “should” be able to do these things. Train your dog to accept them, not force them. You’re the one that will get bitten not them. You’re also the one with a choice in all of this, they don’t. We dictate everything in their life, stop trying to lord it over them.

I have seen people loose chunks in their arms or finger tips over food issues. It is not a training model to be taken lightly, and should be approached with caution. Things can go too far if you piss a dog or puppy off. I have seen a puppy go from being fine with its food at 11 weeks, to try to attack its owner at 16 weeks. This was due to insisting on taking the dog food off them while eating, feeding in small dark area and not feeding enough to a growing puppy. You have the power in your hands, don’t fuck it up.

Some food issues can start at the breeders, feeding all the puppies from one bowl and not feeding enough. Feeding via several bowls, and feeding more than the puppies can consume in a sitting can stop a lot of food issues from the get go. But even you as owners can stop this issue early on by applying the same principle, feed more than the puppy can eat, this helps some puppies learn there is an overabundance of food. If there’s more food than can be eaten, then there is no point guarding it. If the puppy learns that, they won’t start guarding unless you make an issue of it. This means feeding more than the packet recommends, and applying a bit of common sense on how much the puppy should be eating. I am not a nutritionist or vet so I can’t tell you how much, and at what age, so look at your puppy’s structure, and weight. Food type, or brand is up to you. Do your own research on that one.

The location of your dog’s food bowl can make all the difference, why everyone wants to feed in the middle of the kitchen I shall never know. Feed where your dog feels safe, be that in a crate (This avoids kiddies bothering dogs as well), in the garden, hall way, where ever, so the dog has room to eat in peace. There is nothing worse than someone leaning over you as you eat, or trying to take your food, so give your dog space to get away from it all.
I personally feed all my dogs way from the kitchen, either in crates, or in other rooms. So, there is no stealing, as well as no one bothering them as they eat. It reduces the need to guard their food, and therefore the value you of it. So if I need to take something from them, their not fussed as it’s probably going to be swapped for something.

Swapping! Teaching your dog to swap chews, bowls and what not early on can help if you feel the need to bother them while eating. The best way to do it is give the puppy one food item, then throw another near by, as they go get it praise them, throw another bit of food, and praise them as they swap from food to food. Then throw the first thing the dog had for them. Keep swapping these things by throwing, until you dog is waiting for you to throw them, expecting a swapping. Then you can start doing it with a command. It is teaching your dog that you have more things to give them, you’re not going to guard them either and are happy for them to share.

Feeding your dog via scattering the food around the garden. Scatter feeding your pooch its tea via the garden is a great way to avoid guarding issues. Simple throw the biscuit into the grass, they are busy sniffing and searching the bits out to eat. While you get on with something else, be that in the garden or in the home. There isn’t a large bowl of food to guard, so the guarding reduces. Plus, they are more tired from using their senses to find food, and a tired, mentally stimulated dog is a happy one.

Feeding from our hands can help reduce food guarding. Instead of seeing your hands as something that is going to steal food, they see it as the giver of food. Not the bowl. This works well adding in higher reward foods as well as the normal food, to teach the puppy that you have all the good things, and it therefore worth being nice to you. It is all too easy for a dog to think food only comes from a bowl, not you.

If you already have a puppy guarding food, or a dog doing it then dropping in treats every time you pass by, or when in the area can teach the dog you bring rewards to the bowl, not take them away from them. You being near is a good things in essence, so it’s good having you near their bowl or feeder. The treats must be higher value than the food their eating, so something like dried liver or cooked chicken are great added goodies.

Feeding the meal over time, so feed a 1/4 of the meal to start, then once their eating food add in another handful, and continue until it’s all finished. Start off from a distance, or dropping it from a height, then putting your hand in the bowl if you so wish. Do this as much as possible, it is teaching your dog to expect food from your hand and that you being near their bowl is a good thing.

Think about the value of your food, raw bones and tasty chews can send some dogs into a more heightened state. Working with food aggression, means starting with as low value food as possible, which is usually biscuit. Start there and work your way up to higher value things, and expect that sometimes dogs will never give up on guarding some things. Some dogs feel the need to guard food no matter what, in this case management is key. Feeding outside, or in another room. Feeding lower value food, or low energy food. Management is sometimes a more successful option than training, and training wrong.

These are some simple food aggression training ideas, and management. These are by no means the answer to food aggression in many cases. This blog was to get some ideas off my chest, and have a little rant about people faffing with their dog while eating. Something that really annoys me, and I’m sure the dog as well.

Issues with dog to dog food aggression is VERY complicated as you are dealing with two individual animals, who see the other as competition. These training ideaa do not apply to dog to dog issues.

Extreme food aggression needs to be seen by a Behaviourist, it can lead to damage to people or other dogs. Do not attempt to do things on your own. Behaviour management or modification is very difficult, made more so by aggression in the mix.

These ideas, are not for ever dog and are to be under taken with caution and at your own risk. I’m good, but I can’t train via the internet.

Kathryn Jones FdSc AAB NTIPDU/MGoDT

A Clever Approach to Dog Training and Behaviour