How do you stop your dog becoming possessive over bones or food?

Dog showing food agression
Dog showing food agression | Source

When you take on a dog (no matter how small), you will need to be aware that food aggression is a potential problem. I have noticed this mostly in dogs that are rescue dogs, (although this is usually in cases where they were previously starved or at least underfed.) Naturally this is a behavior you want to nip in the bud from an early age (or an early stage) after you adopt them, especially if you have young children or your new pet is likely to encounter children or kids in its day to day life. The question you want the answer to is 'How do you stop your dog becoming possessive over bones or food' as well as 'How do you solve the problem if it already exists in your dog?'.

Before jumping to any conclusions remember some breeds can be more possessive by nature naturally (certain terrier breeds for instance), so please don't be put off adopting a rescue dog because you believe it is an automatic risk to your children or grandchildren. Most rescue dogs won't exhibit any signs of food aggression at all and will happily let you take their food or bones away from them whenever you wish to, at worst with a quizzical 'but why?' expression on their face until you return the food, bone or toy to them. Rescue centres usually make it their business to thoroughly test dogs going up for re-homing to make sure they will not be food possessive or a risk to children, so relax, don't panic and feel confident that a rescue dog is still a great idea.

Dog eating
Dog eating | Source

Some years back I adopted a gorgeous rescue terrier puppy that I am certain was a Cairn cross breed. She and her sister had been found dumped in a box on the gates of the RSPCA rescue centre nearest to where my late husband and I lived. At the time we had a delightfully even tempered Doberman called 'Odin', and we had decided to get him a companion. Both my husband and I immediately fell in love with this exceptionally cute and furry young puppy and signed up to adopt her. We easily passed the home check, and Odin met her at the rescue centre proving his good nature by immediately accepting her with no signs of jealousy.

The first few days after Misty came home (we called her Misty due to her smoky grey 'misty' colouring), it never occurred to me to attempt to take either her food or bones away from her, I was just delighted to have her as a part of our family. When I first decided it might be a good idea to try to remove her food from her as a test I was quite shocked that she immediately froze, and without even looking at me she began growling. Under normal circumstances I would have found this mildly amusing in a puppy that was barely three months old, but as a former veterinary assistant I immediately saw danger signs and realised that this was a potential problem that really had to be stopped before it became a significant risk, i.e. when she got much bigger and her terrier jaws became much stronger.

Preventing the problem from getting any worse (and in fact curing it completely) was not at all difficult at such a young age. When she began to growl at me I simply said "NO" very firmly, and then removed her food bowl from her for about a minute or so. After this time had passed I simply gave it back to her so she knew that the food would always come back and there was no need to be possessive over it.

During the following weeks I repeated this exercise regularly with food bowls, bones and toys. It really wasn't an issue after the first time I did it, but I wanted to be absolutely sure she understood her place in the pack pecking order. Clearly she did, because I never ever saw her show any signs of possession over anything ever again.

With older dogs this can be more of a problem of course, not least because they can inflict a great deal more damage with their adult teeth and jaw strength than a puppy can. You might be best off seeking the advice of a dog behaviorist who can show you ways to safely avoid being bitten whilst training them out of this bad behaviour trait. I would not advise even attempting to try this otherwise (unless you first place a muzzle on the dog and then remove the food or bone before returning them to your pet.)

The important thing to remember when training any dog is that punishment is negative reinforcement, and like children, dogs cope best on a positive reinforcement basis. It is okay to use a firm 'NO' for bad behaviour, but physical punishment is a huge 'no no'. When your dog shows the required behaviour reward him or her with praise. Ignore most negative behaviour completely, (to a dog any attention is often perceived as better than no attention.)

  • Remember to reinforce your position in the 'pack' as leader by always greeting other members of your family before your dogs when you arrive home (difficult to do I know.)
  • Make sure you eat before your pet and your family eat in one room and your dog in another, (again this shows the dog it is lowest in the pack.)
  • Always ensure you enter the room ahead of your pet whether arriving or leaving, (this includes returning to your home after walking your dog.) If your dog barges past you then he is asserting dominance and you are letting him.
  • Even when your new dog or puppy has not exhibited any signs of possessiveness over food, bones or toys it is still a good idea to occasionally take food, bones or toys away from them for a minute or so and then return them. This will prevent the possessive or aggressive behaviour from developing in the months to come.

I hope this has helped you to understand how to stop your dog or dogs becoming possessive or aggressive over food or bones. There is so much more information on this subject that it is virtually impossible to include it all in one hub article. This hub simply covers the basics that should help you to prevent a food possession problem with your new puppy or adult dog, and hopefully solve the problem if it is already showing.

Another approach to preventing or solving problems with food possessive dogs

Small dog eating
Small dog eating | Source

A dog shows possessive behaviour towards his own leg.

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Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

My female dog gets possessive over bones. She only does this with my male dog. If you give both of them a bone she will put hers on the floor by the kitchen doorway and lay in front of it and not allow my male to go into the kitchen. If he tries to she will glare at him and he immediately backs off. I spoke with a breeder that I used to work for about this, and she told me that it was a dominance thing that happens frequently between dogs. If the bone is outside in the back yard she won't let him go into the back yard. It's a big problem and I've gotten to the point where I hate to give them bones.

Thought I'd share that with you.

Great hub and very useful.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks Susan, yes this is a common problem between dogs, probably related to the wolf in them and their place in the pack pecking order. I watched a program on a problem like this last night, and the animal behaviourist changed the way the dogs were fed so that the aggressive dog was fed in the kitchen with a child's stair gate to keep him in there and the other submissive dog was fed in the living room safe in the knowledge the aggressor would not intimidate him. I know this is more difficult with bones, but it might be the answer even if you only allow them the bones for a couple of hours at a time and then remove them until the next time. A behaviourist might have another suggestion too if you contact one. Good Luck and thanks for the great comment :)

Ardie profile image

Ardie 4 years ago from Neverland

This is an awesome topic! I wish I would have read it before I adopted my germ shep/collie mix. He is ULTRA food aggressive and we didn't realize it until he was already in our home with 3 young kids. He's so big that we just have him fed on a schedule in a secluded area. He's only this way over his food dish so if we drop something or hand feed him its not an issue. He's never bitten but he does the freeze, sideways stare, and growl. So far our method has worked (its been 5 years) and the kids know not to mess with or get near the dog while he's eatin at his dish. Great Hub!!

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

I may not be a dog owner, but I found this Hub to be most interesting! Also, that first photo is just... fantastic.

Rufus rambles profile image

Rufus rambles 4 years ago from Australia

This is a really useful article. I have always practiced taking bones off my dogs so as to 'test' them and also let them know I am the boss. They have never once growled at me or tried to keep their bone. However this could be because they are a naturally gentle breed being Shelties. The girl dog can be highly aggressive if the boy dog tries to take her food or bone - but they must see me as the leader as there is no resistance at all! However I am hardly a 'dominant' leader - I never hit or yell at them or act 'dominant'! They are just gorgeous gentle dogs. I'm very lucky. Voted up!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi Ardie, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. There are ways to solve the problems you describe, but they are probably best tackled by a behaviourist honestly. Even the video in this hub (not the last one, the one before) offers some good advice. Good luck and I hope the food aggression can be cured, even when he is eating from his bowl.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi Simone, thanks so much for commenting here. I loved that picture too, and it does kind of look super-cute in a dog that size, probably less so in a much larger breed ;)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi Rufus, wow, I grew up in a household with two Shelties, and they are lovely dogs. We never had any food aggression problems with them either, (although they seemed to quite like the postman's ankles much to his dismay). We never had to hit or yell at them either, and I would never condone the 'punishment' method of training in any case. Shelties are naturally gentle, but they are a little guilty on occasion of nipping at ankles, which tends to come from their herding instincts, (not a sign of nastiness at all).

Rufus rambles profile image

Rufus rambles 4 years ago from Australia

Haha my girl dog is such a natural herder... I can totally relate to the ankle nipping. She goes for kids on bikes, joggers, motorbikes, cars etc. In fact anything that moves!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Great loving little dogs though aren't they Rufus, and super pretty. I loved mine so much and wish they had a lifespan like ours :)

Rufus rambles profile image

Rufus rambles 4 years ago from Australia

Yes I sure love my two. They are 5 years old and hopefully have many happy and healthy years ahead. I have written a hub about training shelties and also one about my girl dog getting desexed (from her perspective) - a little strange but I wanted to give her the "chance" to tell her side of the story - poor little thing!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Both of ours were boys, (although one of them might as well have been a girl because his testicles never dropped, and you could tell lol). Pepsi sadly escaped from our garden aged nine, and must have been hit by a car that didn't stop. He survived, but with severe hypothermia due to being found in a ditch of water. He was in a coma, but sadly he died. It totally broke my heart as I adored that dog, and as a child I was the one who failed to close the gate. Our second Sheltie was called Skippy, and he lived to about 17, although he was blind by then due to 'Collie eye' (a common complaint in the breed). When he finally had to be put to sleep he was incontinent, and showing strong signs of being senile. It was his time, but still very sad.

Rufus rambles profile image

Rufus rambles 4 years ago from Australia

That's a sad story - but I'm sure the love you gave them made the time they did have with us wonderful :)

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks Rufus, my Mum still has their photos on display (and I hope she always does.) Both of them were a hugely important part of my growing up years. I hope I get to see them again in the next place, wherever or whatever that consists of :)

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Misty! Oops! My newest puppy has been doing this - it seemed hilarious because he weighs like 6 punds? Lol. I will for sure follow your tips to curtail it.

My dog Gizmo is 2 - he's been growling at me if I stop petting him! He will jump up on my lap and if I don't pet him right away he's sort of look sideways and give me a low growl. He stops growling if I pet him and the second I stop petting him he growls again! Who does he think he is trying to boss around? Is this a problem? He does growl if I pet the other dogs too! Thanks so much - up and everything!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi Kelly, a great thing that you read this before your new puppy got any bigger. Really glad you are going to stop this behaviour early.

As for your other dog, well essentially it sounds as it he trying to dominate you. My advice would be that if you are petting him and he growls, you should immediately put him on the floor, walk away and ignore him for several minutes. He needs to learn that bad behaviour results in affection being withdrawn. If you pet him again when he growls you essentially reward him for bad behaviour, and so the problem continues. Only pet him when he isn't growling, and if you are petting the other dogs and he growls, either shut him out of the room for a few minutes, or just ignore him completely and carry on petting the other dogs.

Dogs hate to be ignored, so ignore bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. This applies in so many situations, including when they are showing fear at unsuitable times like when fireworks are going off outside. If you pet them/reassure them during these times you teach them that showing fear is good behaviour. Better to ignore it and reward signs of bravery, even if it does go against your instincts.

Right now you have a problem with Gizmo that can be solved, but you need to stick to doing the right things and not treat him as a 'human'. You need to be the pack leader in the wolf pack, and if you don't act like one you could find you end up growling at him for attention instead lol :)

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

I have never had this problem with any dog I have owned. Sometimes I would tease them and say "I'll have that bone!" and move towards it, but they always saw it was a game and the growl was one of affection.

I don't enjoy dominating life forms dependent on me. Dogs intimately read your body language. Kids should be taught to never go near a feeding pet.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Hi Bob, I agree children should not go near a feeding pet, but it is important the dog knows its place in the pack pecking order and that this is below the humans, as otherwise even a toy can become an object of possessiveness, and the child can get bitten trying to pick up the toy simply to throw it for the dog. This isn't so much a case of trying to 'dominate' your pet, as stopping them trying to dominate you and it then causing a situation where someone gets bitten.

Trust me when I say the dogs are much happier and more secure when they know their place in the pack. If you give out mixed signals problems start and the dogs become stressed or develop behavioural problems. All you are doing is mimicking nature when you ensure that your dogs know they are lower down the pack pecking order than you and your children. Naturally this should be done without cruelty or punishment, and by simple following simple tips like I listed here.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 4 years ago from Minnesota

Great information misty and so important. I have two rescue dogs and one of them had this issue until we intervened and did some training.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks Minnetonka Twin, thanks for commenting :)

viveresperando profile image

viveresperando 4 years ago from A Place Where Nothing Is Real

Loved this. I let my dog go in front of me in the morning and she waits for permission. She loves it. If I forget she seems sad. She listens more as she is older and I have to unfortunately break some bad habits. Not her, lol, me, like feeding her on the coach. I know, I know, please no hate mail. She is precious, she got parvo when she was 8 weeks old, survived. Got glaucoma in one eye, had surgery to remove it. I baby her.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 4 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Ah bless her, it sounds like she has a very wonderful and loving owner viveresperando.

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

This is a very useful and informative hub as I have a new puppy. I have to do a lot of training now. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend!

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 3 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thank you for commenting Thelma, and good luck with your new puppy :)

By Lori profile image

By Lori 3 years ago from USA

That is the funniest cute photo, the first one at the very top of this article ! He means business even though he practically weighs nothing ! Yes dogs get very worried about their belongings. I had a dog who insisted on raiding trash cans and if you tried to take back any of his "treasures" he'd snap at your hand.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 3 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

Thanks for commenting Lori, your experience is exactly why it is so important for people to 'nip this behaviour in the bud' whilst the dog is young enough not to do any serious damage, because once they get older they do this and end up being put to sleep, especially if they nip a child, or are placed in a rescue centre for some unforeseen reason and fail their behavioural evaluation.

Mari 3 years ago

I'm going to try this with my dog. She is a rescue and was in a really bad condition when she was found, so I assume that's why she's so possesive with her food and bones. I just leave her alone while she eats, but it becomes a problem when she gets aggressive with my other very submisive doggie.

Also, she likes to "bury" her bones and gets obsessive about it. Like whenever I give her one, she can look for hours for the "perfect" spot (like on my bed, behind a chair or something like that) and then she pushes/rubs her face around it, like she would if she was burying it outside. She goes away for a few minutes and then comes back, takes the bone and starts over. Is this normal? Should I stop giving them bones?

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 3 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

It does sound like she has a problem with food possession and wanting to keep what food she does have safe from other dogs taking it. It seems a shame to stop her having bones all together, especially as they are good for her teeth. Perhaps stop giving them to her in the short term whilst you work on her other food aggression issues, and once you have these under control you can gradually introduce bones again, but work on the principle that the dog needs to know the bone is yours, not hers, therefore you can give it to her and take it away as you wish to. Once she begins to know that you do return it to her she will no doubt feel less desperate to hide it. Try only giving her the bones in a certain place that is isolated from your other dog or from interruption by children etc, and that does not offer an option to bury the bone or hide it easily, e.g. a utility room or a large dog crate. When she has finished chewing it for that session you can put the bone away safely until the next time, at which point you again make the decision to return it to her in controlled surroundings. Over time she should begin to learn that she always gets the bone returned to her, therefore there is no need to hide it, bury it or be possessive over it.

Remember to try to solve the normal food aggression and possessiveness issues first though, and then working on the bone problem should be easier.

delores murray 2 years ago

My dog is a rescue dog 1 year old. my other dogs are 10 years old. The 1 year old goes up to the others and starts to lick one in the mouth and bite her mouth. When like it they fight. mostly about food.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 2 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

It is likely the licking and biting of the mouth of the others is much the same thing as wild dogs do. A way of getting the adults to regurgitate food for a puppy who is hungry. You might want to consult an animal behaviourist about this problem as it isn't to do with possessive behaviour over food, it is an instinctual behaviour.

Lizz 15 months ago

i found this very helpful! Thank you.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 15 months ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands) Author

You are welcome Lizz.

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