Everyone’s experienced this one time or the other – a dog being overly aggressive about protecting his food.
But being aggressive over food at home is something entirely different from doing it outside, where dogs must stave off competition or thievery.
Let’s take a look at 4 easy exercises that will get your dog to stop being aggressive with his food, and enjoy his meals in peace.
However, first let’s make sure you’re reading the situation correctly, and doing some basic things right.
First, it’s good to understand the reason why your dog is being aggressive.
Is he merely trying to show his dominance by being aggressive, where he thinks he’s the alpha in the house? Or is he just exhibiting anxiety or fear that his food may be taken away?
Signs of aggression can be simple to read and understand.
An alpha dog would be more intent on scaring or subduing any intruders nearing his meal.
An insecure dog, on the other hand, would be clearly shielding or protecting it. Signs of food aggression include things like:
- Stiffening or tensing up with approaching people or other animals
- Pulling back the ears and raising the hackles
- Showing his teeth and the whites of the eyes
It’s important to note that even if you’re the owner, and have raised the dog since he was a pup, food aggression can get dangerous when provoked too far, even unintentionally.
If your dog doesn’t stop at the above signs and tends to snap and bite as well, you must take the help of a professional behavioral expert or your vet at the very least, until his aggression reduces to a level you can deal with on your own at home.
Getting the Schedule Right
A regular and consistent feeding schedule can make a world of difference if the source of your dog’s aggression is insecurity.
After all, knowing when you’re going to get your next meal is something that is deeply comforting. Not something you realize often, huh?
So make sure you’re doing the following as a basic deterrent to food aggression at home:
- Have consistent feeding times at home every day. Talk to your vet about good schedules, frequency, and servings to be sure.
- Make sure you’re feeding your dog enough, particularly when you have other dogs too. And go for individual bowls for each dog, instead of them having to share and compete for meals.
- Always feed your dog after his walk or exercise. Firstly, it’s healthy, and secondly, it makes him feel like he’s earned it – akin to hunting for food.
- Always eat first, yourself. Never feed your dog before or while you eat. Remember, in the wild, the alpha of the pack always eats first, and your dog knows this.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the exercise you can do to train your dog out of his food aggression.
1. Training to Sit and Wait for Meals
Teach your dog to sit and wait patiently for his meals, or when asking for food as well so that he remains calm and relaxed through his mealtime too.
Toss him a treat every time he sits when he’s otherwise jumping or running around in anticipation of food.
Walk around the house and toss him a treat every time he sits down while following you until he gets the hint.
Put him on a leash and toss a treat beyond its length. If he scrambles to get it, don’t let go, and be firm until he relaxes and sits down. When he’s sitting calmly, then go and fetch him his treat.
Don’t give him his treat if he pulls on the leash, or if there’s tension in the leash whatsoever.
Once he understands the principle, try to teach him a command as a cue for this sit and wait for a game, which you can use during mealtimes too.
2. Getting Your Dog Used to Hand Feeding
Try to hand feed your dog as much as possible, especially if he’s still a puppy.
Getting him used to your hand’s scent in his food, in his bowl and around his face and mouth will make him feel much more relaxed about having people near his food.
3. Playing Games that Get Your Puppy Used to People Near His Food
Training puppies through little games or exercises are really effective since they’re at an impressionable age and change their ways much quicker than adult dogs.
These games could be things like playing tug with his bone or toy and making him let go of a treat distraction to help understand that letting your guard down isn’t always bad.
Gradually, make it so that he won’t get his treat if he growls or makes a fuss if you try to take his bone away.
Distract your puppy with a tasty treat while he’s eating his regular meal, and then make his bowl disappear. After a couple of days of this, try taking away his bowl before treating him, as he should now anticipate a treat when his bowl disappears.
If your puppy is a little difficult with his food, try piecemeal feeding. Serve him very small portions of food at a time.
Of course, dissatisfied with his meal, he will come asking for more, giving you the chance to serve him more, and thereby get him increasingly used to you being around his food and bowl.
The piecemeal feeding is also a good chance to reinforce good behavior, such as serving him more only when he diligently obeys his “sit” commands, and so forth.
Another thing to try is to put your hand in his bowl during meals, while offering him a treat simultaneously, to get him used to people touching his food.
Remember that these games and exercises are best done when he’s still a puppy.
4. Treating Your Dog Every Time Someone Walks By
Getting your dog used to other people or animals near his food is a bit trickier.
The easiest way to do this is, again, through reward.
Try to toss him a treat every time a guest or family member walks by or approaches him while he’s eating, or even when another dog or pet comes near if he tends to overreact.
Eventually, he may come to associate others approaching him to something positive, and stop being so aggressive during mealtimes.
Another thing to try to get family members and others, and yourself too, in fact, in your dog’s good books is to try a trade: some treats for his food bowl.
Once he’s done with his treats, give him back his bowl of food intact.
If he isn’t overly fond of his kibble over tasty treats, what your dog will learn from this is that not everyone is out to get his food and that it’s perfectly fine to let go of his bowl for a bit.
We hope these tips and suggestions help you get your dog relax during his mealtimes and chomp away in peaceful contentment.
For more tips and advice on setting up feeding routines and other daily habits for your pup, do check out our compendium of puppy training wisdom, the Dogology Blueprint. And don’t forget to share your thoughts, suggestions, and experiences in the comments section here below!