Is Food Aggression Is Simmering between Your Dogs?
Dogs communicate a great deal with their body language before they utter a sound. Know how to spot signs of food aggression between dogs before it spills over into open conflict.
A dog guarding food has a stiff posture. They might stand over their bowl and glare at the other dog. The next step beyond that is usually a low growl and a lifted lip. A dog that is aggressively possessive might also gulp their food down. That can increase their risk of developing bloat, so it is important to solve this problem and help them feel secure about their food.
A relaxed, secure dog tends to eat more slowly. They clearly enjoy meals more than the aggressively possessive dog. This dog is relaxed, and if they look away from their bowl, their face is calm and their gaze moves around the room rather than fixing on their perceived rival.
How Do I Stop My Dogs from Fighting over Food?
Sibling rivalry isn’t just for humans. Dogs in the same family can have their share of conflict too. If their human pack leader doesn’t step up and manage it, it can develop into a bigger problem. But with the right approach, canine conflict can be resolved. Dogs get possessive over their toys, food and even their personal space. If they could talk, we’d probably hear many of the same things that children say – ‘that’s mine!’ ‘he got more than me, no fair!’ and ‘she’s touching me, make her stop!’ The biggest conflicts between dogs are usually about food, so people who have more than one pup need to know how to deal with food aggression between dogs.
Dogs are all individuals. Some will happily eat side by side with the utmost consideration for each other. Others, meanwhile, will wolf down their food with one eye on their companion’s bowl watching for a chance to make a move. Many fall somewhere in the middle – mostly good friends, but not above grabbing a bite of each other’s food occasionally. And the dynamics can change between dogs in a family due to their age, changes in the household or even picking up on their people being stressed.
However, if children live in a home with a resource-guarding dog, the situation becomes unacceptably risky. Children are more likely to get bitten because they’re less able to recognize a dog’s warning signals and more likely to behave recklessly around the dog. In some cases, the risk of living with a dog who guards resources is too high for adults, too. For example, some dogs guard food on tables and counters, leftover food on dishes in the dishwasher and food dropped on the floor. Because it’s impossible to avoid these situations, it’s impossible to prevent the guarding behavior.
Young puppies are prone to guarding behavior because they often have to compete with their littermates for limited amounts of food. Breeders often feed puppies from one large communal pan, and the puppy who manages to eat the most will grow the quickest and become the strongest. If a breeder is not observant, this situation can deteriorate into one or two puppies monopolizing most of the food. A history of being rewarded for aggressive behavior can become firmly established in these puppies.
Guarding possessions from humans or other animals is normal behavior for dogs. Wild animals who successfully protect their valuable resources—such as food, mates and living areas—are more likely to survive in the wild than those who don’t. However, we find the tendency to guard valued items undesirable in our domestic pets, especially when the behavior is directed toward people.
Resource guarding in dogs can range from relatively benign behavior, like running away with a coveted item or growling at an approaching person, to full-blown aggression, such as biting or chasing a person away. Some dogs only direct resource guarding toward certain people, often strangers. Other dogs guard their resources from all people. Dogs vary in what they consider valuable. Some dogs only guard chew bones or toys. Some guard stolen items, such as food wrappers from the trash can or socks. Many dogs guard food.
If you have a new puppy or adult dog who doesn’t guard things, it’s important to do some simple exercises to prevent the development of guarding behavior. As soon as you bring your new dog home, make sure you hand feed several meals. Sit with your dog and give him his kibble one bite at a time. During hand-fed meals, speak pleasantly to your dog and stroke him while you offer him food with your other hand. If he shows any discomfort or wariness, stop hand feeding him and see the exercises outlined below. If your dog seems calm and comfortable with hand feeding, switch to holding his bowl in your lap and allowing him to eat from the bowl. Continue to speak to him and stroke his head and body while he eats. After a few meals, place your dog’s bowl on the floor and, as he eats his regular chow, periodically reach down to drop in a piece of something especially tasty, like a small bite of cheese, chicken or beef. If you do this intermittently for the first few months after you bring your dog home, he should remain relaxed and unthreatened by your presence while he eats.
How to STOP Dog Food Aggression / Resource Gaurding
Does your dog guard his food, toy or you? This is normal dog behavior, but it can be corrected. Use these sharing exercises for preventing and managing resource guarding.
If your dog growls or freezes, you’ve moved too close to his food bowl. Next time, try taking only one step forward while tossing food. Or try tossing treats from across the room. Treats should land near your dog. If he scatters about, that’s okay too.
By now, you’ve practiced your bowling moves during your dog’s meals. Now, your dog will lift his head up and away from his food bowl as you approach. Some dogs will even take a few steps away, as they’ve learned your approach means treats. Good job!
If your dog begins growling as you approach, increase distance. You’ve moved too far too fast.
Usually, this is the homestretch. Your dog has learned to step back from his bowl or move his head away from the chew toy. It’s time to add a cue.
Your dog understands that the “food” cue means you’re approaching and picking up his food bowl. To maintain this polite behavior, practice makes perfect!
If, at anytime, your dog reverts back to guarding his bowl, start back at Week One. Setbacks happen, so don’t fret and get back to dog training.