Food aggression: Although it may seem like a behavior that is difficult to break, food aggression is not a behavior you have to live with or even tolerate. And, it doesn’t have to result in a miserable feeding time experience or being bitten. You can have a dog that you are not scared to feed, remains calm, relaxed, and eats dog food without growling or nipping at you. If you have a dog that is dog food aggressive, it is very important that your dog is not allowed to continue with this type of behavior because it may transfer (and most of the time it does) to other items the dog has access to such as bones, toys, furniture, and even areas of the house, like your bed.
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Usually food aggression is a behavior that is learned very early on. Puppies that come from a large litter may have had the food aggression behavior from an early age because of the competition for food or the limited amount of food that was provided. The puppy will learn early on that the only way to get their share of the food, was to threaten their litter mates. When the puppy found that this behavior worked, it was cemented into his mind. If your dog is older and possessive with their toys, bed, or other items, this behavior can easily be transferred to food.
Steps to Get Rid of Food Aggression:
- Get rid of the bowl. Instead decide you are going to feed your dog by hand for at least two weeks, consistently and without fail, twice a day. Prepare your dog’s food in their bowl as usual, so you have the correct amount to feed your dog. Grab a small handful of food (don’t tower over your dog), and get eye-level with your dog. Hold out your hand with the food. Let your dog sniff the food and even take small bites. Be patient. If you do not put your dog in the position to “guard” something, the behavior shouldn’t exhibit itself.
- Praise. Praise your dog and pet your dog after each handful of food. Repeat the hand feeding until the entire bowl of food is gone. Do this for two weeks. Repetition and time will cement a good feeding experience in your dog’s mind.
- Use this time to train. Feeding your dog by hand not only will fix food aggression in dogs, but it will reinforce the position of leader in your dog’s eyes. Your dog is learning to be dependent on you as they notice that you are the one who is feeding them and “not the bowl”. Incorporate commands such as “sit”, as your dog will be open to be trained and see their food as a reward. Commands during feeding time should be minimal. Reinforce a calm, relaxed training session.
- Remove toys or items your dog is aggressive over. Address as many areas as possible that cause aggression during the two week time period you are fixing the food aggression issues. Sometimes, it is just one toy or item a dog is possessive over.
- After two weeks, and only after successfully making sure that there is no more food aggression issues, you can try to give your dog their bowl of food. Introduce the bowl from your hand using the same posture as when you were hand feeding your dog. Allow your dog to eat for just a few minutes, then take the bowl away from him. Use a command such as “leave it” and keep the food bowl away from your dog. If your dog does not show food aggression, then give the food back to him and allow your dog to continue eating, while praising him. Repeat this behavior 2 or 3 times during each meal and then at least a couple of times a week, for at least a few weeks.
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What Happens When Food Aggression Disappears?
Generally, food aggression isn’t incurable or difficult to fix and you will reap the rewards of training your dog not to be food aggressive in other areas as well. You will notice that your dog’s aggressive attitude towards food and toys will disappear with repetition of the above steps, because he will recognize he is not the leader, you are. If for any reason, your dog’s behavior does not change, please do not give up, rather follow the above steps for a longer time period.