Food aggression in dogs is the term used when a dog shows behaviors such as growling or snapping to convince humans or other animals to stay away from their food or treats. Some pet owners chalk this behavior up to a dog’s natural instincts, but the truth is that food aggression is a very dangerous behavior that needs to be corrected. You need to know how to stop food aggression in dogs.
Food aggression is a natural behavior in dogs, as they have evolved from opportunistic feeders. This means that wild dogs tend to eat whenever the opportunity arises, because they never know where their next meal may come from. Domesticated dogs still see food as a resource that they need to protect.
Usually, with proper training and exposure as a puppy, a dog will learn that food aggression is not an acceptable behavior. In some cases, the dog may not learn this as a puppy or the desire to guard food may be stronger than average.
How To Stop Food Aggression in Dogs
Levels of Food Aggression
There are 3 levels of food aggression in dogs:
- Mild – includes growling, baring teeth and raising hackles
- Moderate – includes all of the above as well as snapping and/or lunging
- Severe – includes all of the above as well as biting/attacking
You can learn how to stop food aggression in dogs if they show signs of mild or moderate aggression. If your dog shows signs of severe food aggression, it could lead to a very dangerous situation. You should address this issue with a professional dog behaviorist to ensure your safety and the safety of the other members of your family.
How To Stop Food Aggression in Dogs
First, I must warn about having children around dogs that exhibit food aggression. Sadly, it has been found that dogs who are guarding their resources are more likely to bite children – especially children that are unfamiliar to the dog. To avoid this, when kids are going to be near your dog, make sure you take the time to explain to those children that they should not try to take the dog’s food or toys.
You will need to do a lot of desensitization training with your dog. This must be a very gradual process. The first step is to stay within a few feet of your dog while he is eating. Once you can do this during 10 meals in a row without seeing any signs of food aggression, you can move on to the next step.
Next, you will add a treat to his bowl and then step back. Do not put your hand down by his bowl when adding the treat. Simply drop the treat in from above the bowl and step back until you’re about 2 feet from the bowl. When you can do this during 10 meals in a row, you can move on.
This next step is a multi-step process. First, you’ll begin by standing within 1 foot of your dog’s bowl. Talk to him, move your feet every once in a while, and drop a treat into the bowl from above. At least once during the meal, walk out of the room and then come back and stand within a foot of his bowl again. Do not move on until you can do this for 10 meals in a row without seeing any aggression signs.
MORE: 8 Tips On How To Deal with Resource Guarding in Dogs
If you’re dog is no longer growling or showing his teeth when you stand near his bowl, it’s time to try hand feeding him. When your dog is eating, hold a treat above him and draw his attention to it. Start high and lower your hand down to his level to hand feed him the treat.
Gradually try bringing the treat lower and lower. When you can get within 1 foot of the bowl with no signs of aggression for 10 consecutive meals, you can move on with your training.
The next step is to touch the bowl, but DO NOT take any food. When you can touch the bowl during 10 consecutive meals without any signs of aggression, you can move on to lifting the bowl.
Start by lifting the bowl off the ground about an inch. Gradually work your way higher until you can take the food bowl away from your dog and set it up on a table or countertop. Be sure to add a treat to the bowl before putting it back down. This will give your dog a tasty reward for being such a good boy!.
Keep in mind that this process needs to be done with every member of your family. Just because your pet begins to trust you around his food does not mean that it is going to be safe for everyone. You should keep young children away from eating dogs at all times, but older children and other adults in your home will need to go through this desensitization process too.
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