Managing Dog Food Aggression And Resource Guarding

A Belgian Malinois guarding his food bowl(out of sight) and warning everyone to stay away. This dog needs to learn a submissive role.
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Dog food aggression and resource guarding is a dangerous dog with bared teeth, standing stiff and snarling while staring you in the eye. It's quite a sight and it’s best to back off real fast. The dog is serious, dead serious. No one is going to get near his food. It’s also called food aggression or "resource guarding.

It’s really difficult to appreciate the potential severity of the problem unless you witness it yourself. Resource guarding issues are not necessarily a reflection on the personality or training level of the dog. It’s an instinctive thing.

Dogs with a general aggression problem are naturally more prone to demonstrating the dog food aggression condition. It is also exhibited by otherwise sweet, well-behaved, well-adjusted family dogs. It can be a case of Jekyll and Hyde.

A dog with serious food aggression issues can be a real danger to anyone who might approach during a meal.

Many ASPCA’s and other kennels test incoming dogs and if they find serious food bowl aggression, it is an automatic euthanasia for the dog. You can’t just teach the dog to “play nice.”

Instinct is what is forcing her to act this way. You have to take steps to reverse this behavior before your relationship with the dog deteriorates.

Someone is going to get badly hurt if you don’t. Dog kennels don’t always have the time to spend re-training dogs with this issue. Dog food aggression attitude-dogs are capable of taking a hand off and will do it to protect their food, the most precious thing they have, or so they believe. Kennels are forced to euthanize.

There are three different degrees of dog food aggression:

  • In the mildest case, the dog will merely tense up a bit or freeze if somebody approaches her while she’s eating. She may even continue eating, but her posture will be rigid and stiff.

  • Signs that the problem is more severe would include a marked increase in eating speed, a hard stare right at you, a lifted lip.

  • A hard stare, tense body, snarl, a snap and finally a real bite.

    NOTE A dog showing any of the last three: snarl, snap, bite… has a pretty severe case of food aggression and may be prepared to inflict actual harm!

    If this is the case with your dog, hiring a hands-on trainer may be your best option to ensure your safety. The trainer will also be able to examine your overall relationship with you and your dog. He can see if there are other areas contributing to the dog food aggression and resource guarding.

    Toy or resource guarding. This Belgian Shepherd
    is making sure no one gets near his properties.

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    Food guarding dogs are confused. They have your role mixed up.

    • They fail to recognize that you are the dispenser of food and instead are seeing you as a threat who might be trying to take the food away.

    • If she realized you were the dispenser of food, you would automatically gain alpha-dog status in her eyes.

    • The degree of aggression that a food-guarding dog is capable of might be hard to understand until you consider that FOOD is one of the greatest pleasures in your dog's life, and one of the most treasured items for a dog in the wild. Thus, some dogs become very fearful that someone will take their cherished food away.

    • For some dogs, this fear is out of proportion and overwhelming.

    • The dog must learn, or be seriously reminded, that YOU are the one who brings the food to her in the first place. After all, this food is what she is holding so dear.

    • You must make it clear that you are in charge of the kitchen and YOU are her provider of that “tasty stuff.”

    Dogs can develop food-guarding instincts at any point in their lives. Some will have the problem from puppyhood. For others, the tendency lies dormant and is awakened by something simple like a piece of real MEAT, possibly a scrap from the table or a marrow bone or who knows?

    Meat is to dogs what money is to humans. It makes them do horrible things and this is why we have dog food aggression problems It goes on in the wild all the time.

    Before a solution, a word of PREVENTION. Because food-guarding can erupt at any time in a dogs life, prevention is the best plan.

    Food Guarding Prevention:

  • Make it a habit to interrupt your (normal) dog while he’s eating...not a lot, but just enough that he knows he will still keep his food dish when you’re finished. Walk past him. Don’t tiptoe around.

  • Don’t stomp your feet and make a scene; that’s going too far the other way.

  • You want your dog to know that even though there are people around, he is going to get to finish his meal; disturbed, yes, but no one is going to take the food away.

  • Add some tasty little item to his food bowl when you interrupt him. He won’t mind the interruption! So much. (A spoonful of scrambled egg, a piece of liver treat, a few chunks of cheese… anything he’ll enjoy.)

    This should help him from getting an overinflated sense of importance of himself along with the realization that no one cares about his dinner. This will help considerably with dog food aggression and resource guarding in general.

    If it’s too late for prevention and your dog already has a resource guarding problem, you’ll need to adopt a very different approach.

    Here’s one way:


    STOP Dog Food Bowl and Toy Aggression!
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    • Put the dog bowl away for a week to ten days.

    • Feed your dog by hand.

    • Yes, one handful at a time. One bite at a time. Time consuming, but consider the alternative. Don’t allow any greedy snapping or grabbing.

    • After a week, put the food bowl down, EMPTY. Walk by, drop a small handful of food in it for him to eat.

    • When that’s finished off, wait a minute, repeat with another small handful of food.

    • Keep this up until his entire meal is eaten… one small handful in the bowl at a time.

    • Your dog will soon WANT you to be around his food bowl!

    • Once he’s eating the food peacefully, fill the bowl half way. Hold the bowl out of reach while you make him SIT and WAIT for the food.

    • Don’t put the food bowl down until he complies. YOU have become the boss, the leader.

    • Crouch and add small amounts of food to the bowl as before until the full meal has been eaten.

    • Final step: Give him access to a full bowl but make him SIT and WAIT for the food to be put down. Release him with an “OK” as you put the bowl down as before.

    What you have done here is demonstrate to your dog that YOU are the one from which he gets his treasured food, and YOU control WHEN he can have it. No dog food aggression should remain.

    I suggest you let others in the family participate in this, doing the same thing, so the dog knows all of you are his masters, not just you alone.

    To keep the message clear, call him away from his food a few times each week and reward him with a super-tasty treat for his great obedience! Try some freeze-dried liver bits.

    He’ll begin to seem like a different dog!

    If at any time your dog’s behavior gets shaky on any of these steps, backslide until you reach the stage at which he is 100% reliable. Wait at this stage at least two or three more days before attempting to progress any more.

    As with any dog training, it’s essential that a solid foundation be built before moving on to the next level. Dogs must be completely comfortable with each step before trying a new one.

    The problem with dog food aggression is that it is part of resource guarding. This means if you try to take a chew toy or any other toy from him, he's likely to act the same as he did before with the dog food aggression and bite someone, maybe a child. I would work hard on this situation and cure your dog of it immediately!

    Happy Jack Russell - "I'm cured! No more aggression!"
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