Food is the strongest driving force for animals in the natural world. Of course, most dogs are happy to munch on what their owner provides on a regular basis and occasionally supplement it with what they hunt (find around the house). Unfortunately, many puppies are not taught from day one that you have the right to take away food or place your hand near their food without any dispute.
This type of aggression takes the form of the dog either growling when you walk near him when he is eating or lying near his food, or when you try to remove the food bowl, which he has decided to guard in a display of dominance.In the wild, disputes over food are a daily occurrence, but they are acted out mainly through a set of ritualized threats – bared teeth, growling, or stares.
In fact the dog uses the same signals to communicate with its owners. Owners who retaliate or threaten often find that it only causes more aggression, which adds a twist to the vicious cycle. Each confrontation we lose reinforces the dog’s belief that he is dominant and that he is the winner. This is the opposite of what we want. More subtle methods work better.
Find below a few programs that shows you ways of avoiding such conflict and redirecting the dog’s attention, plus it teaches your dog that your approach can mean a reward, not a threat.
- Change the food to a dry mix, which is less tasty and less likely to be protected than something more succulent and desirable.
- Remove the food bowl when the dog finishes eating. Allow only five minutes eating time daily. This again prevents the guarding routine from developing or getting ingrained.
- Don’t feed the dog in a narrow passage or a room in which you have to squeeze by. This only causes friction and unnecessary tension.
- Feed your dog in a new area, preferably in the yard. In this way there will be no food bowl for him to defend when you pass him in the house. The new location also stops him from associating food with the place where formerly confrontation took place.
- Allow no begging at the table and give no treats at any other time.
- If bones or chews cause problems, stop giving them permanently.
Using the “Come” command that is part of the recall training program can be helpful in reinforcing good behavior. Use a leash and collar, as most dogs associate the leash with control and are usually more respectful of their owners when attached to one. Then practice recall exercises in the house, repeated twice daily. This may take several weeks to master. The idea is to condition the dog to come to you on command. Always give a treat when calling a dog.
When your dog leaves his bowl on command, you can stop attaching the leash. Your dog is learning to leave his bowl, come on command, and to accept that you control the situation. He also benefits from a food reward, and comes to realize that the situation is not in any way threatening.
This method works on most dogs if very subtly applied. If you have a very determined dog who always growls, and for practical reasons you have to get on with your daily routine and get past the dog, this method will interrupt the dog’s guarding behavior. It does not stop aggression, but it stops the incident from worsening or being played out in the dog’s favor.
Use a citronella spray or other harmless, bitter-scented aerosol. As you walk near the dog, simply spray the air at least 5 feet above the dog’s food bowl. It is critical that you say nothing to the dog. It will generally leave the area, enabling you to collect the bowl of food quickly without a fight.
It is important not to point the spray at the dog in any threatening manner. Simply imagine that you are spraying the air from side to side with a deodorant room scent.
This technique is used with some success. The timing and how you manage the procedure will determine how effective it is. Though we have used it on all dogs, it is especially good if a dog is in the early stages of food guarding.
First change the dog’s diet to a less tasty one – dried dog foods often fall into this category. Using a 6-foot leash, attach your dog to the wall hook by its collar and leash. Prepare the dog’s food and place it in front of the dog – just beyond reach. Then place some small pieces of ham or chicken on a plate next to you out of the dog’s reach. Push the dog’s food bowl within its reach and simultaneously show it the treat. If it smells the chicken or ham and prefers it, the chances of success are high.
Simply offer the treat and remove the food bowl; this is called food exchange. This can be repeated as many times as necessary to teach the dog that far from being a threat, you are a source of tasty treats. Be watchful and have some help nearby. The tether will help prevent any serious aggressive lunges from reaching you. If your dog takes to this method, repeat it over many weeks.
Prevention is the best answer, but there are some very aggressive dogs that don’t respond to any obedience training when food is present. This is normally because they are beyond mild correction or because their owners were not skilled enough to teach them at the right age using the right methods.
With these dogs, the only answer is to feed them away from the house and avoid the situation. You must be very cautious when dealing with this behavior, especially if children are routinely part of the household.
Some Do’s And Don’ts
- Don’t try to take a bone from your dog if he is underneath a chair, a sofa, or a table, for it is more likely to snap or growl. You are physically very vulnerable in such situations.
- Don’t smack your dog to make it release any object.
- Don’t shout loudly at your dog. Us sonly clear, concise commands and offer food in exchange for the toy.
- Don’t kneel down talking to your dog gently as its growls. This usually reinforces the dog’s sense of dominance while the close contact makes the aggression worse.
- Do follow the “Ignore” method, which works with some dogs. When the dog sees no reaction to its growls and grunts, it may stop defending its food due to lack of response from the owner.