That can often result in injuries to other pets and humans...
What is the cause of this behavior?
Well, it can often be found in dogs who've been rescued and have suffered neglect, or it can often show up in dogs that haven't had the proper training foundation in place.
Keep reading to learn what you can do to make sure your dog doesn't develop this dangerous behavior.
What Is Food Aggression?
Food aggression is simply the dog aggressively lashing out toward a human or another animal when food is present.
Other characteristics of food aggression can include the following:
Growling if you or another animal gets too close to your dog’s food bowl.
Stalking you for food.
Lashing out at humans or other dogs and biting, or attacking if they come between the dog and their food.
Guarding their food - even when they are not eating it.
Dogs with Food Aggression will show various levels of behavioral issues - from growling to biting but all should be taken very seriously.
What Causes Dogs To Have Food Aggression?
As previously mentioned, rescue dogs can often suffer from this behavioural problem... due to the past neglect they have suffered.
The reason: dogs who have been neglected have to fight to survive.
It's sad, but you can't blame the dog for this, if a "fight or die " instinct has been triggered, the dog will do almost anything to make sure they don't lose out on their next meal.
I'm sure the same would apply to humans, if your family was starving and food suddenly appeared on the street, and there were other humans trying to take it away from your family, you would try your best to keep it.
But, there is another little understood but very common reason why a dog might become aggressive towards his food and that is because he thinks he is in charge, he thinks he is the leader of the pack.
The more your dog thinks he is the boss, the more he will think that he controls his food as well. Quite often he will want to eat before anyone else, including you!
This goes back to wild dog packs, and it still exists in wolf packs to this day.
The strongest wolves would be the boss, saying who will eat what and when they will eat. They will usually eat first and feed their young first.
Think about when humans eat at the dinner table, if they have guests they always serve the "visitors" first, because our table manners dictate that the visitor is important and should be fed first.
But dogs think differently to us, the dog with Food Aggression won't like anyone getting in the way of him and his food.
How to Fix Dangerous Food Aggression Behaviors
If you have small children or other pets, you must address the serious issue of Food aggression in your home... I'm going to give you a few techniques to teach your dog to relax at meal time and so that they don't feel the need to vigorously protect their meals.
Technique Number 1- Stick to a Feeding Schedule
Having a routine is very important to dogs especially if they have just been rescued and have suffered neglect.
Dogs are incredibly smart, so they are able to tune in on patterns.
Dogs generally know what time to go out in the morning, what time their walk will be during the day, what time their owners go to work and come home.
It’s almost like a sixth sense.
So it's no surprise that they key into their feed times, if they are fed on the same schedule each day.
For this reason you must be consistent! - Pick a time every day to feed and stick to it.
In sticking to a routine it will help your dog relax and have less anxiety at meal time.
Here's a good example. I once worked at a doggy day-care centre, where there was a huge pack of dogs of all breeds.
One of the dogs that I loved very much, called Demo, arrived one day really out of sorts, no one knew why.
He was very grumpy, his energy was low, he got into a fight in the afternoon. I asked his owners what was wrong with him when they came to collect him and they said, "Oh, we forgot to feed him this morning".
I am positive this was a contributing factor! In our family, when we are hungry and become angry we call it “hangry.” And I believe it’s the same with dogs…A dog with a full belly is a happy dog!
Technique Number 2 – Supplement Your Dog’s Diet throughout the Day
Monitoring your dogs diet every day is very important so that they don't gain excess weight, having said that, if your dog has stress-or anxiety-related food aggression issues, it might help to supplement his meals, so that he knows he will be continually fed.
There is a simple logic here...
Keep your dog’s belly full so he doesn’t stress about food. Your dog will learn to look to you for food and will associate you with food in a positive way at the same time.
The healthy way to do this is to break your dog’s normal-sized breakfast and dinner into 4-6 smaller meals.
There's a trick you can use if you use dry food is to soak it overnight so it swells to a much larger volume. This gives your dog the perception that there is a lot more food being offered and they feel fuller.
Following this regime will mean you can feed your dog several times per day without overfeeding them. You can also include rewards that you give them throughout the day during training.
Once your dog understands you’ll provide food for him every day and gets comfortable with that you can cut back on the number of mini meals and get back on to a normal feeding regime.
Technique Number 3 – Training the sit and wait command
When Training your dog or puppy to sit and wait for their food it calms their mind and their body.
Take a look at this short video showing you how you can do this with younger puppies. It’s taken from inside ‘Project Moses’ the video diary of my puppy Moses when he was 14 weeks of age.
Technique Number 4 – Don't leave their food down
This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see people doing, they leave the dogs food down. This is not a good idea for a number of reasons.
1. It's not healthy to leave the food down, especially in the warmer weather when it can attract flies and other unwanted animals and pests, plus it smells awful!
2. A dogs digestive system is not designed to graze all day long, like cows. Dogs are animals who eat much larger meals quickly a couple of times each day. (Pups can often eat up to 4 or 5 times a day when very young)
3. The dog will get the wrong message if the food is left down all day, this tells them that they are in charge, not you. This creates a dog who makes his own decisions, is less likely to listen to you and may even ignore you.
So If your dog is not eating the food, pick it up.
Technique Number 5 – Establish yourself as the provider
This final technique is the most important—establishing yourself as the provider and the one in charge.
This part is crucial because dogs who think they are in charge are always going to try to control the food and they will be unpredictable…
This can be very dangerous, especially when other dogs or young children are around when it's feeding time, dogs with food aggression issues simply think that they are the "Pack Leaders" they think they are the ones in charge!
A dog with this mindset, is more likely to get cranky and lash out if they think someone is trying to steal their meal.
Here's the good news…
It’s not hard to establish yourself as the leader in a kind, gentle way. All you need is a little time and patience.
I've found one of the easiest ways to reassure your dog that you are the provider is to always eat your meals first before you feed your dog.
When you finish your meal, eat the last bit over their bowl, to show them that you always eat first. In your dog's eyes, this means YOU are the one in charge and they will understand and get the message.
Your dog will soon understand that you are the provider then everything else falls into place…
Sticking with this routine, will change the whole relationship with your dog for the better. It’s something I’ve helped tens of thousands of people establish with their dogs and it’s what I am totally passionate about.
If you’re interested in finding out more, check out The Dog Calming Code.
In this program, you'll get step-by-step instructions on how to establish yourself as the "Pack Leader", the one in charge or the decision maker. The knock on effect of this is that your dog will relax and focus on you so much more and you'll end up with a more responsive dog who is easier to train!
Next: Steps to Helping Resolve Your Dog’s Food Aggression Issues
To re-cap - Food aggression is a very serious issue that can result in serious injury to other dogs and people.
Is your dog exhibiting signs of food aggression? If so you need to be sure to...
1. Put a comprehensive training program in place—like The Dog Calming Code.
2. Keep kids and other pets away from your dog while he eats.
3. Ensure your dog feels safe while eating meals.
If you'd like to know how to make your dog feel safe while eating, I've put together a FREE guide on 3 ways you can help your dog feel safe during mealtimes.
Best wishes as you work with your pup.