How to Stop a Dog From Growling When You Approach Its Food Bowl
Dog Food Aggression Can Be Remedied Effectively through Counterconditioning
Although it may be intended for comedic effect in movies or cartoons, a dog that growls, snarls, and/or snaps when a human gets too close to its food bowl has significantly more serious overtones in real life. A dog can be menacing and particularly aggressive in an effort to protect its food as a person approaches even if they know that it was the very same person who provided/served that food in the first place.
This behaviour, known as dog food aggression or food guarding may seem rather cute or even funny to some owners at first but it is certainly no laughing matter. It is in fact negative dog behaviour that must be addressed immediately and permanently as it will simply not go away on its own and can pose a serious safety issue for family members, especially small children.
There are some primal reasons why a dog can become aggressive when people near its food. These motives may result from one or more of the following predispositions:
- Desire to establish itself in the alpha role for the household (or pack)
- Protective instinct – to guard its share of the food in the pack/family
- Fear/uncertainty of not knowing when or if it will have its next meal
- Need to dominate any competition for its food (other pets in house)
- Perception that the human is posing a very serious threat to its food
In the majority of cases, dog food aggression becomes evident during the early/puppy stage of a dog’s life. Although this may be somewhat disconcerting to a new dog owner, it is a correctable behaviour, and doing so at this young age will lead to a much happier and less stressful owner-dog relationship over the course of time.
If this undesirable dog behaviour becomes apparent, owners are strongly discouraged from reacting in an aggressive manner of their own. Using any type of force to separate the dog from its food, scolding/admonishing the dog, and/or punishing the dog will more likely serve to intensify rather than discourage the aggressive behaviour.
There should be two driving forces behind the efforts of dog owners when they are trying to address and correct the negative behaviour of dog food guarding. These consist of:
- Desensitizing the dog’s inherent desire or instinct to protect/safeguard its food
- Counterconditioning – associating good things with people approaching its food
Some of the basic yet critically important actions to employ in achieving these objectives with a food possessive/protective dog will include the following:
- Feeding by hand at the start of the meal, then putting food in the bowl by hand
- Stroke/pet the hind section of the dog while speaking in a calm voice as it eats
- Flick/toss a few treats into the bowl from a short distance away as dog is eating
- Offer the dog ‘something better’ (meat or special treat) as it eats its regular food
- Place very little food in its bowl at meal time – approach when dog asks for more
All of these steps are intended to show the dog that:
- It does not have to worry about someone stealing or taking away its food
- It is alright and can actually be rewarding to have people around as it eats
Another important facet to correcting this unwanted behaviour is to ensure that all those involved act consistently and confidently throughout their implementation of the process. For dog owners/families that may not have the time and/or the confidence to adequately address such situations, professional training services are available, like the aggression control programs offered by Alpha Paws.
Customized Training Programs to Help Control Aggressive Dog Behaviour
Sometimes, there may be other factors at play when dog food aggression is observed, thereby making matters more difficult or perhaps more complex when owners attempt to address such behaviour.
Such issues or factors can include:
- Extent of the behaviour – is it food only, or toys, locations, people too?
- Adopting or rescuing an older dog with a history of aggressive behaviour
- Introduction of a second, and perhaps much younger dog, into the home
Treating dog food aggression in these types of cases may best be left to the certified dog training professionals at Alpha Paws in Newmarket, Ontario. The Alpha Paws team has the knowledge and experience required to assess the overall situation and recommend the most appropriate course of action on an individual dog basis. Based on the specific circumstances, an Alpha Paws trainer will devise/tailor an aggression control program for the dog and its owner family; such programs are offered in either of these two ways:
- Board-and-Train: dog is boarded on site for 10 days of training
- Private Lessons: at the Alpha Paws facility or the owner’s home
Is you want or need additional support to control your dog’s food aggression, call the aggression control training professionals from Alpha Paws today at 905-830-9500 or 1-877-868-PAWS (5248) to schedule an in-home consultation at your convenience.