In the wild, dogs guard their food from other dogs in order to establish dominance and ensure they can feed their young. In a domestic setting, however, resource guarding can quickly become dangerous behavior that may result in bites or aggression toward humans or other dogs.
Fortunately, dogs can often be discouraged from resource guarding with a few simple tips.
Prevention is Key
If you have a young puppy, you can easily nip resource-guarding behavior in the bud. One of the best ways to prevent dogs from becoming protective over their food is to occasionally hand-feed meals to them while they are young. Doing this allows a dog to see that you are not a threat to his food source, which means that they are much less likely to react aggressively with other people or animals in the future. Hand feeding should only be undertaken with dogs that do not show any signs of aggression while eating.
Treating the Dog that Food Guards
Dogs begin food guarding because they are concerned that their resources (food, in this case) will be taken from them. That said, treating a dog’s food guarding behavior involves conditioning the dog to understand that his food source is not in danger. Begin treating your dog’s food guarding behavior in the following ways:
Be Present at Mealtime: In the beginning, pet parents should simply stand by the dog’s bowl while he eats. At intermittent times throughout the meal, you can toss a special treat into the dog’s bowl. Do not, however, approach the dog or attempt to move or adjust the bowl. Simply stand within five feet of Fido’s bowl for several consecutive mealtimes.
Begin Moving Closer: After the dog has begun to get comfortable with your presence near the bowl at mealtime, begin to move closer each day until you are standing near the dog’s head during his meal. Watch the dog’s body carefully for any signs of stress or aggression and, if the dog seems anxious, move back.
Provide Treats During Mealtime: Once the dog is comfortable with you standing near his bowl, begin to offer one treat during mealtime. Crouch down to the dog’s level, offer the treat and walk away as soon as the dog eats it. This teaches the dog to value your presence near his food and to be unconcerned about the food being taken away. As the dog becomes more comfortable with this action, you can begin to lift the bowl to drop the treat into it as your pooch eats. Always be aware of the dog’s body language and keep a safe distance if he seems anxious or upset.
Remember that food guarding is a deeply rooted behavior and many dogs will quickly become aggressive when a person or animal approaches their food. If your dog exhibits this behavior, stop your training program and take the dog to a certified pet behaviorist or a veterinarian to seek further treatment and rule out medical causes. Although most dogs can be trained out of their food guarding behavior, the process takes plenty of time and patience.