Dog food aggression: you have just put the food bowl down and your dog is eating eagerly. As he is eating in the kitchen, you remember you have forgotten to turn off the stove burner. As you approach the kitchen, you are “greeted “by your dog emitting a low, menacing growl. Surprised, you start to believe you have a dog with a food aggression problem.
Dog food aggression is a pretty common problem. It is mostly seen in households where dogs are not sure of their place in rank. Often, these are dogs adopted from shelters that have an unknown history. While many shelters may opt to put to sleep a dog that has not been able to successfully pass the food aggression test, with patience and time mild cases may be able to be rehabilitated.
Understanding why a dog growls is a great starting point. In the wild, a growling dog is warning others to stay away from their food. They are claiming possession and giving the message that they want to be left alone. This attitutude is used mostly towards other dogs lower in rank, rarely is it used towards the alpha dog. In a household environment, humans are supposed to be the pack leader. A growling dog therefore, more often than not is in an upside down relationship, where he thinks to be on the top of the rank with humans being on the bottom. Below are some steps to help re-establish rank order.
- Re-establishing Rank Order
A major step in fighting food aggression is therefore to re-establish order in the household by giving clear messages that the humans are the alphas in charge. This can be accomplished by again taking a look in the wild. In the wild, alpha dogs eat first, sleep in better spots, get through passageways first, and so on. As an owner therefore you should emphasize your position. Always eat first and feed your dog after. Always get out of the door first. Never allow your dog on elevated places such as your sofa or bed. Doing so will make your dog think your are equal. Some people even recommend spitting in your dog’s food, this gives your dog the idea that he is eating your left overs by smelling your saliva just as dogs in the wild eat the leftover the alpha dog has left after eating first.
- Nothing in Life is Free
Nothing in life is free, commonly abbreviated as NILIF is a training method that enforces your top rank position. Your dog will perceive that you are in charge of his food, toys and attention time. You need to teach your dog two basic commands:sit and stay. From now on, instead of having your dog eat the food as soon as you put the bowl down have him sit. Put the bowl down and say “Stay”. Have your dog wait a few seconds and then tell him “Go”. Your dog learns that you control his food and decide when he can eat. Even better hand feed your dog one kibble at a time. Do the same when giving toys or attention. Let your dog earn everything. Don’t let your dog decide when to be pet, rather call him to you have him sit nicely and then pet. Same for play time you decide when a game starts and when a game ends. Do not make the dog make the rules.
- Reassurance Towards Threats
Once your dog has a better understanding of the rank order, you can work on reassuring him that you are not a threat. Your dog will learn that you are not entering the kitchen to rob him of his food. Rather, you will teach him quite the opposite, that great things happen as you get close to him and his food bowl. Many people believe that a dog that is growling does not deserve the food, so they take away the food or bone. This only teaches the dog that you are really a threat to him, and next time you take his food away ignoring his warning growl he may decide to upgrade to a bite.
Try instead to crate your dog at first. He will eat calmly and quietly with nobody bothering him. Then try to apporach him as he is eating. From a distance toss him a treat if he is not growling. Take a step at a time tossing treats every time he does not growl. If he growls ignore for a second but do not back up. Continue until you are very close. Praise and give lots of treats when you are very close. Never put your hand in your dogs bowl or reach out near him. Simply toss the treats from a distance. Once he seems much better you can try this with the dog out of the crate. With patience, you should notice that instead of growling when you get close he will look up to you wagging, waiting for a treat. This is a very good sign. It may take weeks to months but you should be seeing some improvement over time. Every now and then when you pass by him in the kitchen, refresh his training by tossing a treat in his food bowl. In good cases you may even be able to pat him in the head. But always use extreme caution.
Now that you have followed these three important steps you should have a dog that respects you as a leader, works for his
food and affection and trusts you when walking near his food bowl. These three steps should have greatly improved your relationship and enforced your bond. In any case, never leave children nearby as the dogs eats. It is never a bad thing to be over cautious. Should food aggression be still an issue despite your efforts, you may need to have your dog seen by a dog behaviorist.