Do you have a dog who snarls and bites when you feed him? Does he lash out at other dogs, humans or cats when food is in the bowl? If the answer is yes, then you have a food aggressive dog. “Food aggression” sounds scarier than it is, since the dog is not necessarily going to bite your or anyone else. The dog is not angry or hostile, it is simply reacting like a wild animal who is guarding its resources. As the owner of a food aggressive dog, it is important to train your dogs to understand that they are not at risk of losing their food to humans or other animals.
What are the steps to retrain a food aggressive dog?
In working to retrain dogs who are aggressive during meals, your goal is to first desensitize the dog so he is not extra protective during meals. That means no snarling or barking if a person approaches the dog while he eats. The other goal is to counter-condition your dog of his other learned behaviors, by teaching the dog to associate people near the food bowl with positive events.
Here are a few ideas for training your dog to be calm around the food dish.
Treat tossing: Dogs love treats and odds are your pups have a favorite treat. Use your dog’s fave to teach her how to eat properly. Start by dropping the treats into the dish while the dog is already eating. This helps retrain the dog about the reasons people are approaching her bowl. Rather than believing you are there to steal her food, she will observe that when you approach, something good happens: she gets treats! This is positive reinforcement that people are good when they are near her food.
Hand feeding the dog: Feeding dogs by hand can be a way to retrain your dog’s habits from the ground up! Begin the meal by giving the dog food from your hands. Then use your hands to put food in the bowl. That way your scent makes its way into the dish. What is happening here is that your dog will be associating your scent with the positive happening of being fed. This way you can get your dog used to eating while you are using your hands near his face. The ultimate goal is for the dog to not have an aggressive response if you put your hands near or in the bowl.
Trading up: Here’s a technique that all dogs love – trade up with them by substituting their regular food with something even better, like fresh meat. Approach the dog while they are already eating and then present them with something they already consider much tastier. If the dog takes your better option, then the dog will learn that his food will be safe even if he stops eating for a moment and looks away. He will also be less vigilant about guarding his dish from people who are around.
With these tricks, your dog should reduce these irritating and aggressive behaviors.