How to Stop Dog Aggression With Food

How to Stop Dog Aggression With Food

  • eDog Australia

If your dog is showing possessive behaviour or aggression towards others over food, you have a severe issue that needs addressing quickly. Dog food aggression can lead to people being hurt, other dogs being hurt and can lead to other possessive behaviours.

You can train this aggression out of your dog, and there are steps you can take to prevent it entirely. Learn what dog food aggression is, what it can look like in your dog, what triggers this behaviour and exactly how to stop it.

What is Dog Food Aggression?

Dog food aggression is a territorial reaction where a dog uses hostile behaviour and threats to scare others away to guard its food.

Dog food aggression is standard as is it an instinctual behaviour; wild dogs need to guard their valuables for survival.

What Does Dog Food Aggression Look Like?

Dog food aggression can be categorised into three different levels:

1. Mild Food Aggression

This is best recognised by your dog growling when you approach its food, growling when you go near whilst they eat, they may also bare their teeth and raise their hackles.

2. Moderate Food Aggression

This is when your dog snaps or lunges when a person or dog approaches their food.

3. Severe Food Aggression

Biting or chasing others away is categorised as severe, as this is a serious threat to both people and other animals.

Other Signs to Look For

Dog aggression with food can also look like their body stiffening, the whites of their eyes showing, ears held backwards and lowering of the tail. These signals are usually delivered in conjunction with the ones listed above.

Small Jack Russel showing no sign of dog aggression with food bowl

What Causes This Possessive Behaviour?

There isn’t a single cause for dog food aggression; instead, there are a few common reasons. Depending on your dog, it can be related to dominance, fear or anxiety.
    • Breed related: some breeds are genetically predisposed to have these aggressive tendencies. They may also have a stronger pack-like mentality. Examples include German Shepherds or Rottweilers who are known for their guarding instincts.
    • Trauma: Losing a carer, neglect, physical abuse, fighting with another dog or natural disasters can all bring food aggression to the surface. They are becoming more protective over their resources, in this case, specifically food.
    • Early habits: Food aggression can be learned as a puppy by having to compete over limited resources or by accidental training.

Why is My Dog Being Food Aggressive All of a Sudden?

One of the most common reasons your dog is suddenly being aggressive over food and showing possessive behaviour is pain. Dogs who haven’t shown any aggression before are more likely to be in pain than any other reason.

Take your dog to the vet, and be sure your dog is healthy. Hopefully, if they are in pain from an injury or issue, you can find the cause and manage it with the help of your vet.

Once medical causes are eliminated, the next step is looking at your dog’s behaviour. It is helpful to identify the exact triggers; you can still train food-based aggression out of your dog even if you can’t identify triggers.

Other triggers could be fear-based aggression (caused by feeling intimidated) or possessive aggression (protecting their valuables due to due ‘necessity’).

How to Stop Dog Aggression With Food

The first step is to assess your dog and its overall behaviour to see if it’s showing aggressiveness to things other than food.
If it isn’t just food that your dog is guarding, you’ll need to use the techniques listed below at every occasion where resource guarding is shown.

1. Be Consistent

Make sure you feed your dog at the same time every day. With consistency, they will learn when mealtime is; this is powerful when dealing with fear or anxiety based food aggression. They will quickly learn when food time is and not to grow anxious in waiting for food.

2. Don’t Back Away From the Bowl

If your dog shows food aggression toward people, the thing they want you to do is back away. What you need to do instead is to teach them to eat whilst you are around. When you back away from the bowl whilst they eat, the dog feels like it is winning, with the food being the reward.

The first thing you can try is feeding your dog by hand. This gives the food bowl your scent and forces your hands to be close to your dogs face whilst they eat.

Another technique to try is dropping treats into the food bowl whilst they eat. This will teach them that people approaching the bowl is a good thing and is not threatening. You can also do this when they aren’t near the bowl, to reinforce the idea that people going near the food bowl is a good thing.

The last technique to try is trading food with your dog. Whilst they eat their biscuits from the bowl, approach them with something they like even more. By making your dog stop for a treat, they learn that no one is going to steal their food whilst they turn away. Plus they will also know that removing their attention from the food bowl can lead to a reward.

3. Make Them Work For It

Go through some of your commands with your dog before they eat. Practice making them stay, even whilst you set the bowl down. Stand close to the bowl and release your dog, allowing them to eat with you standing right next to them. Also, if you do walk your dog, make sure you feed your dog afterwards and not before. Your dog will feel like it’s hunted for food and has earnt a reward when they get home.


Small brown French Bulldog looking at food bowl

How to Prevent Dog Aggression With Food

When your puppy is young, there are a few techniques you can implement to prevent the food aggression problem before it even starts.
  • Pet them! When your puppy is eating, pat them. They will get used to your presence and learn that you aren’t there to steal food.
  • Practice recall: Once your puppy has mastered recall, call them to you during their meal. Reward your puppy for responding to your recall and allow them to go back to eating their food.
  • Make them sit: Before you put the food bowl down, make your puppy sit. It reminds your puppy that you are in control.
  • Give Extra Treats: Drop-in treats whilst your puppy eats, and give them extra once they finish. Make sure the treat is something special; over time, your puppy will want you around when they eat.

If your dog has some issues with food aggression, don’t feel alone. It’s an extremely common issue, and although you can feel quite helpless, it is fixable with time and patience.

If you feel as though your dog is seriously struggling with food aggression, try layering a remote training collar with these other techniques. A remote training tool is a perfect device to capture your dog’s attention. Browse our range of remote training collars here.


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