What Your Dog Is Thinking
If your dog growls, snarls, bites at or barks at you or other animals, they are saying "this is mine, go away, find your own, because you're not getting it." It is their way of saying that they are dominant and that they run the show. This is not a situation that will just remedy itself, it will take some work and effort on your part.
The Beginning of Food Aggression
Food aggression begins with a little growl or bark at the food bowl. In the beginning, it is cute and adorable and it may just seem like the dog is playing. This is the time to stop it if you haven't let it go beyond this point. This frustration could turn dangerous for you or children in your home.
An irregular feeding schedule could cause food aggression. Not knowing when they are going to be fed again could cause him to guard this resource. He feels that he must protect it in order to keep it. They would respond the same way in a pack type situation. Remember, dogs have not always been domesticated and they, at one point, had to defend their food. Whether your dog personally has or not, they have it built into their brain. In this case, you will need to proceed with dominance training with your dog.
If your dog has had a dominance problem in the past, this could be attributed to that. The alpha dog eats before the other dogs in the wild, he may be telling you to back off until he gets his fill. In this case, you need to redirect who is who in the situation and teach them who is dominant. Try using the NILIF program to retrain this behavior.
Your dog may not know that what he is doing is wrong. Try correcting this communication problem by saying "no" as a redirection. If your dog responds to the "no" command and the behavior resolves, he simply didn't know that he was out of line in the first place.
Solving Food Aggression
Solving food aggression is not something that happens over night, even though it may have started over night. Realizing that your dog is basically throwing a tantrum over food is necessary to regain control of the situation. Here are some rules to follow for resolving food aggression.
When your dog barks, growls, snarls or acts like a 2-year old over food, backing off is giving him what he wants. If you know for a fact that your dog will not bite you, remove the bowl from him, showing him that you own the food. Have him do something for you before you give it back, such as sit, down, or shake. Move the food to another spot in the room before giving it back to him/her. This will show that you control when and where he gets food and that he doesn't call the shots.
***If you think your dog will bite you, leave the bowl where it is but stay close enough that he can see that you are not a threat to his food.
If your dog is aggressive toward other dog during meal time, don't feed them in the same room. Feed them in separate rooms and slowly move their bowls toward one another at each meal time.
Feed the dog in different places every day, make them do something for you before you give them the food. Examples are sit, down, paw. I recommend using the down command. This is the most submissive position possible for a dog. Having them lay and roll onto their back before they get their food forces them to realize that you are the dominant dog, and that is what you need for a safe and happy home.
Feed your dog after your family eats. This establishes the pack mentality. In the wild, the dominant dog eats first and the submissive dogs eat last. Your family eats first and the dog eating after, shows the dog that he is not the one in control and that the humans are the dominant factor in the house. Your dog will probably understand this at a deeper level than you do.
Do not be mean to your dog. If you intimidate him, this will only make the behavior worse. Responding to your dog's aggressive behavior with aggression will cause a battle of will between the two of you and you could cause them to bite or injure you.
If your dog is just beginning the behavior, begin feeding them out of your hand. This will show them that you give him the food, and have no desire to take it away.
Pet your dog while they are eating at their bowl and talk to them with a soothing voice.
If your dog snarls, bites, or growls when you get near his food bowl, keep your distance. Every once in a while throw a dog treat his way and move a little closer. This will show him that you do not mean him harm and reward him for allowing your closer.
Keep a little of his food in your hand while he is eating. After he is finished eating and he is satisfied that his bowl is clean. Hold your hand out and offer the food, he will see that you mean his food no harm.
Give your dog an empty bowl. Placing an empty bowl on the floor might get you some strange looks from your dog but trust me, it works. As he is sitting there looking at you if you are completely insane, take a little bit of food and place it in the bowl. He will then see that the food came from you. When he is finished, tell him to sit. If he sits, give him a little more. This shows him that you wish to give him food, not take it away and also shows him that you control this resource.
Charlene Little is the mother of three wonderful boys and a volunteer foster mom for her local animal shelter. She enjoys working with various breeds of dogs and cats in learning social behavior, training, and how to be the successful member of a fur-ever family. She enjoys studying animals' behavior and finding solutions to behavior problems that the everyday person can handle. She covers topics from various forms of aggression and small problem behaviors. Every problem behavior has a solution, and the solution is never to give up on your pet! Love, kindness, and small adjustments could be just what you need.