Why does my dog growl when he’s eating? A Step-by-Step Guide

Be Consistent

If the source of your dog’s aggression is fear or anxiety over when the next meal is coming, then be sure that you are feeding your dog at the same times every single day.

Dogs have a very good internal clock, and with consistency, they quickly learn how to tell when it’s time to get up, time to go for a walk, or time for the people to come home. Mealtime should be no different. Be regular in feeding to take away the anxiety.

Step 2: ‘Walk and Throw’

The next step is to walk about whilst throwing the food. Your movement will worry him as he does not know what you are going to do next. This is very natural, even people don’t usually like someone moving around near them whilst they eat. So back further away, and take your time with this stage.

If walking around at three yards from the dog worries him, go further away. Find a distance at which you can move without him growling. If you can’t get this far away in your kitchen, try tiny movements (e.g. just shifting your feet around) to begin with, taking larger steps as he gets used to this. All the while you are throwing yummy bits of food into or around his bowl whilst he eats.

When you can walk all around the dog at a distance of one yard whilst he is eating, and when he is so relaxed about this that his tail will wag whilst he eats and you praise him, then it is time to move on to Step 3.

Stop your dog growling Stage 1

The first stage is to make sure you don’t make the problem any worse. Food guarding often starts whilst dogs are still very young. Do not be tempted to punish a labrador puppy for growling, we will explain why below. Until you have read and understood the following, stay away from the puppy whilst he is eating and make sure other members of the family do the same.

Read Stage Two to understand the underlying problem, then read Stage Three and follow the six steps to stop the growling and permanently improve your puppy’s behavior.

Food Aggression | National Geographic

We have all heard the expression “possession is 9/10ths of the law,” which means that ownership is easier to maintain if one is in possession of something. Well, this philosophy is certainly true when it comes to dogs.

If a dog has a bone or a toy, it is not likely that another dog will challenge that dog to gain possession of the item. This is also why if the cat is lying in a dog’s bed, the dog will lie next to the bed moping instead of chasing the cat out. While most dogs live by this rule, some dogs take it to a dangerous level and become aggressive when guarding their possessions. We call this behavior “resource guarding,” and it can be difficult to deal with when the aggression is directed to us.

Dogs with the propensity to resource guard can exhibit aggressive behavior when someone goes near them while they are eating or when in possession of a valuable resource such as a bone, toy, stolen object, or found object. Some dogs exhibit guarding behavior over resting places (their dog bed, the sofa, the owner’s bed, etc.) and can become aggressive when someone comes near or tries to remove them from the location.

Most of the time, there is a genetic component to resource guarding. This means that dogs are born with the propensity to guard coveted items. Resource guarding can get worse due to environmental influences however. Owners often make resource guarding worse by their response – typically through punishment. For example, if a dog growls when a person goes near her when she has a bone and the person yells and takes the bone away anyway – the dog doesn’t learn that guarding is bad, she learns that growling doesn’t work to retain the bone. The consequence of this punishment can lead the dog to escalate to snapping or biting the next time she has something and a person tries to take it. Physical punishment is never advisable with a resource-guarding dog as this response usually makes the behavior worse.

The behavior modification program to work on resource guarding involves systematic desensitization (start at a low stimulus strength and slowly increase it over time) and positive counterconditioning (using something the dog loves to change the response from negative to positive). We want the dog to learn that not guarding is more reinforcing than guarding. To do this, we first determine at what distance away from the dog he starts to exhibit the resource guarding behavior and then, starting farther away from that point, we approach and toss a yummy treat to the dog. We do this over and over at that distance until the dog actively looks happy to see you coming because he anticipates that you are going to toss a yummy treat, and then we move a step closer and repeat the process. You would do this until you can walk right up to the dog when he has something or when he is lying in a coveted location and hand him the treat. We will have successfully changed the way he feels about your approach from negative to positive.

It is also important to teach the dog to “drop it,” which means to spit out the item when requested for a reward and to “leave it,” which means to move away from the item to earn a reward. Using extra special yummy treats (usually chunks of meat) is important because you want the reward to be more special than the thing the dog typically guards.

If the dog ever growls at you during this process, do not punish her – simply take note of how close you were and stay farther away next time. Remember growling is communication and, if you punish the warning signal, the dog could escalate to a much more dangerous behavior.