How to Make a Dog Food Aggressive

Food aggression is more an issue of "trust"

alexadry al rights reserved
alexadry al rights reserved

Yes, the title of this hub is correct. If you really are motivated you can make your dog very food aggressive without even realizing it. It is amazing the amount of people that resort to such behaviors and most people are successful in raising food or toy aggressive dogs. It all starts from an inner need to control the dog in every aspect expecting it to behave under all circumstances, but often this training method just simply backfires the owner.

I am writing this hub because I get several questions from people asking me how to train their dog to be less food aggressive. Many of these e-mails regrettably have the same dynamics going on and the owners always appear to be quite surprised when their dog is incapable of being able to lower his food guarding aggression no matter how hard they work on it.

Well, let's go to the facts, here is a sample letter:

''Dear Adrienne,

I have a 2 year old Labrador which loves us very much and is a really good dog under most aspects. We only have one problem and it is his food aggression. No matter how hard I work on it he will not get better. What can I do?''

Of course I replied back to her asking for further details on what she had done so far and how she has handled the situation.

This was her reply:

''We have been feeding her and petting her as she ate since she was a puppy. We worked really hard in making her understand that when we are close to her food we give her lots of love. But every time we put our hands in her food bowl she will growl and try to bite''.

Everything was crystal clear now. By petting her dog all the time as she ate and sticking her hands in this poor dog's food bowl her owner has literally creating a food aggressive dog! I am not sure where the literature of petting dogs while they eat and sticking hands in food bowls stems from but it is completely wrong! Yet; it's so widespread!

First of all, it is very frustrating for a dog and goes against its primal needs, not to mention the fact that it is outright dangerous! Stepping back into time, when dogs were left to fend for themselves, there was no such thing as one dog bothering another dog while eating. If you watch a group of wild canines eat, you will notice that they each maintain a certain distance and respect each other spaces as they eat. This is a very important rule in dog society and not even a higher ranking wolf will go to bother a lower ranking one while eating. While dogs are not wolves, it is typical in the animal kingdom for animals to want to eat in peace and maintain space.

Why would your dog like to be pet while eating? I don't think that as humans we would appreciate being repeatedly touched as we are about to eat a juicy steak. Or imagine having somebody put their hands in your dish and touch things around. That would be really rude!

By petting and sticking hands in a food bowl owners are simply reinforcing the dog's worse fears: the risk of being bothered and having its food taken away. Yes, even pushing his food bowl out of the way is unacceptable. It only teaches the dog that you are a threat. In a dog's mind he may think: '' Yes, I guess I must resort to growling because my owner is rude and bothering me/sticking his hands in my food/taking my food away/ just as I have feared''.

Not only, these owners are also very likely unable to properly read the dog's body language. The dog may turn tense upon walking towards him. Then the owner pets the dog. The dog may appear in conflict, completely confused by mixed messages, he may be wagging its tail because he craves attention one moment and them growling the next. It's almost as if the dog is saying, "yes owner, I like you, but please get away from my food and let me eat in peace".

A food aggressive dog is simply a dog that does not trust you. By petting him/sticking hands in the food bowl/moving his food bowl away, you are simply making him trust you less. You are simply reinforcing his worst fear and adding up his opinion of you as being a real threat.

So what should you do? Should you just let him be? No. You simply teach him that you provide the food and that you are somebody to thank, rather than somebody to fear. How do you accomplish this? By using these this technique:

Stop free-feeding all day. Feed twice a day and train your dog a bit of impulse control by asking him to sit and only once he sits put the food bowl and let him have the food. This helps him understand you are the provider of food and you're not trying to take his food away, you are simply providing it. OK, now, so what can be done to work on the food aggression, the food aggression obviously won't go away if I make him sit and then give him the food. In this case you make "Great things Happen when you get close!"

Instead of petting your dog and sticking your food in his bowl, do something more constructive. Try to do something that will make your dog trust you more around his food. Instead of taking the bowl away, try to add to it!

Let's say you are walking by and your dog growls at you because he does not want to be bothered. Get to a distance where he is not bothered and as you pass by, casually toss a treat. Do this every day and try to get closer and closer. Whatever you do, never back away from a dog growling while eating, just stop proceeding wait til he calms down and then leave. By going away the dog only learns that growling, works! Make sure you toss the treat only when he is not growling. If you do this diligently every day, a time will come where you will notice that your dog will no longer greet you with a growl but rather with a wagging tail, in anticipation for a treat!

A great thing has happened at this point, you are no longer a foe but a friend! Expect great things to come! Your dog will likely be looking up at you drooling instead of baring his teeth. No more need to test him with sticking hands in the bowl or taking his food bowl away!

Now your dog has learned two vital things: that you are the provider of food, and that you are fair because once you give the food he has earned you let him have it and eat in peace. But it doesn't stop there, because actually you even add great stuff to his bowl as you walk by!

The same approach may be used in dogs that are toy aggressive. Instead of taking the toy away to punish the growling dog, teach the dog the ''trade game''. You tell the dog to give up the toy and in exchange you offer him a treat. With time, your dog will trust you and you will trust him, he will drop the toy in anticipation waiting for the treat and everything will flow how it is supposed to!

*As safe as a dog may appear, never let children get near a dog that is eating, sleeping or playing with a toy! Do not approach the dog unexpectandly while eating and do not remove food from its mouth, practice always caution and put safety first!

Need more training tips? Learn more about the famous Learn to Earn Program so to train better impulse control and give your working dog some more mental stimulation.

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Comments 12 comments

blue dog profile image

blue dog 7 years ago from texas hill country

it really all comes down to the basics. after my dogs finish eating, they seek me out, wherever i might be, and in dog speak, tell me thank you. although they provide me with daily pleasure, i find this act of thoughtfulness to be rather remarkable. thanks, again, for another informative piece.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 7 years ago from USA Author

That's interesting, as my dogs do that too! Well, I thought for some time that my male was thanking me even for filling his water bowl, but only later I found out that he was always licking me after drinking just to clean up his face lol! Now, that I send him away, he no longer comes to me after he drinks but goes straight to my kitty! I guess her fur works great for this purpose..


qingcong profile image

qingcong 6 years ago from Virginia

There are some excellent ideas in this article. My dog does something similar after he eats - he comes over after he's done eating, tail wagging mightily, and body looking submissive. I don't know that he's trying to say "thank you" or anything, that's kind of a stretch, but obviously there is some sort of significance to the event.


marpauling profile image

marpauling 5 years ago

Wow, great information.


paulineleo52 profile image

paulineleo52 5 years ago

I have never had this problem also if I finish my meal and there is left over I will give him the plate to show him I the pack leader and I eat first than you never had a problem with me I have a cat that like eating the dog food but Mocha has never chased the cat away from his bowel yet The cat does not bark like the dog yet.


Solaras profile image

Solaras 3 years ago

I had a puppy buyer tell me she wanted to return her six month old puppy because it had growled at her. I asked what was going on and she explained that she was hand feeding the puppy its dinner as she always does. How she went about it was to put the bowl on the floor, so the dog could smell it, then she took it back and parsed out a few kibbles at a time for 20 minutes. Finally the puppy growled at her for taking away her food. I suggested that she not do that anymore. Her obedience instructor suggested the same. There have been no more growling incidents in the last 2.5 years since she stopped teasing the dog with its food. lol


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

For the series how to ruin a puppy... it saddens me when I hear about breeders doing their best to raise good puppies and then people ruining all the hard work. Luckily this pup had a great temperament that was able to override such immoral acts...


Heldi 15 months ago

I have problem with my dog who started guarding my bag from other dogs in park. His treats and water are in the bag. When a dog approaches me, while I am sitting on the bench with bag in my lap, he jumps and attacks dog who comes near me. He is more obedient because of the tasty treats. It seems to me that one thing has improved while another, dangerous one, has suddenly bloomed. At this point, it is impossible for me to treat him when some dog approaches me. Can you give me some advice? Other than not bringing treats or avoiding park. (He is mix breed, 1 year and 5 month old, neutered, 30kilos weight)

Thank you very much.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 15 months ago from USA Author

This is one of those cases where having a professional guide you through is best. As you mention, the behavior can be quite dangerous (even though your dog may just lunge and bark, another dog may decide to attack back and soon you have a fight where you, your dog and others may get hurt). Not to mention, the risk of other off-leash dogs joining in. Behavior modification should be performed in a controlled setting with your dog "under threshold." See my article under "for future reading" to grasp what this means. You will need a professional familiar with force-free behavior modification that involves counterconditioning and desensitization. Successful behavior modification for resource guarding involves set-ups in a controlled setting so your dog doesn't go over threshold, other dogs are prevented from getting too close for comfort, but most importantly, the purpose is to keep everybody safe. Going gradually and systematically is key.


Heldi 15 months ago

Thank you for quick and thorough response! I understand how training/working under threshold works, I use it in other situations in park(before he engages in non desired behaviours such as group chasing one dog, barking on dogs passing by the fence etc) or on walks, it works perfectly. I am also aware what behaviour modification should look like and I appreciate your advice for professional help because it would be impossible and too risky to do it in the park.

P.S. I love your hubs, very detailed and informative, real treasure on world wide web!


alexadry profile image

alexadry 15 months ago from USA Author

Thank you, looks like you are on the right path! if we were closer I would have been happy to help, best wishes.


Heldi 15 months ago

If that could only be possible...

Greetings from Split, Croatia!

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