How to Make a Dog Food Aggressive
Food aggression is more an issue of "trust"
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:
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.
For further reading
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