Food aggression is when a dog “guards” a food item like a food bowl, bone, bully stick, pig’s ear or other edible item from a person or another animal by growling, showing teeth, becoming very stiff, giving hard eye contact, snapping, or biting. This may occur when the dog is in direct possession of the item or when the dog is in the vicinity of the item.
Food aggression is a form of Resource Guarding and can be confusing because the dog may guard some items but not others. This is because it is up to the dog to decide what is valuable enough to guard and from the dog’s perspective, not all items are equal.
Sometimes food and food items are the only things dogs will show the aggressive guarding behavior around, but there are cases where it “generalizes” to toys, beds, furniture, space, crates, certain people and/or ordinary items (i.e. tissues, pens, paper) that the dog “steals” and then guards.
How to Recognize it?
Food aggression has 3 categories:
In addition to the more obvious behaviors listed above, you may also see your dog lower their head over a food item they are protecting, with ears back and a low tail, while she watches you closely. She is essentially “hovering” over the item to protect it. Some dogs will also place a paw directly on the item.
But She Was Fine as a Puppy!
It is very common to start to see food aggression emerge as your puppy or young dog enters more mature developmental stages. Frequently this occurs somewhere between 5-8 months as your puppy moves out of puppyhood and into adolescence. This being said, there certainly are cases where the guarding behavior is also evident at a very young age and other cases where the onset happens later.
Food aggression often has a genetic component that may cause it to emerge on its own, or it may be a genetic tendency that is triggered by environmental factors.
How We Can Help
We have worked with many dogs and their families on issues around both food aggression and other resource guarding behaviors.
Our first step is to work with you to assess the severity of the aggression, get clarity on what the dog is guarding and to put some immediate management in place to keep the humans and other animals safe. Management on its own is not the fix, but it’s an important layer of safety for everyone involved.
We will help you avoid the common mistakes people make with food aggression so that you do not inadvertently make things worse. For example, you may have read or been told that putting your hands in your dog’s food dish or taking the food bowl away while she is eating, will prevent or fix resource guarding. Unfortunately, this can actually exacerbate food aggression in dogs who have a genetic tendency for it.
We develop a behavior plan that is individual for your dog’s circumstances and work towards desensitizing and counterconditioning your dog around her guarding triggers so she doesn’t feel the need to guard.
Ready to get started? Book your virtual or in-person Behavioral Consult today. We look forward to meeting you.
Training Solutions for Both Ends of the Leash
Ask Me Anything
Schedule your 50 minute virtual Ask Me Anything for quick, laser focus on one issue. Quick questions on house training, why your dog won’t come inside (if you have a fenced yard) puppy issues and jumping up are examples of appropriate topics. Not suitable for aggression, biting or other serious issues.
Take a deep dive into your dog’s behavior. We look at the Whole Dog. We ask Why is this behavior happening, then move into the How, how do we stop it, how do we change it, etc.
Allow 1.5 – 2 hours for this deep dive.
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