How to Stop Dogs from Guarding Their Food

May 28, 2014

By Langley Cornwell

Food guarding is a natural behavior in most dogs. In fact, the act of guarding any prized possession is inherent in canines.  Before dogs were domesticated, wild animals that successfully protected their valuable resources were the most likely to survive.

These days, food guarding is inadvertently reinforced in young puppies. Some dog breeders feed their puppies from a single large bowl so at mealtime puppies have to compete with one another for their fair share of the food. The puppy that is able to eat the most food will grow quicker than his littermates. He will also get stronger faster, which means he will get even more of the food, and so on. This seemingly innocent set of circumstances ultimately rewards aggressive behavior in dogs at a young age.

That’s why food guarding is so common in dogs, but what can we do about it?

Food guarding can become a serious issue if you don’t take steps to manage it. For your own safety and the safety of family members and guests, it’s important to teach your dog to remain relaxed while he eats – no matter who’s around or what’s going on. If you have a dog with aggressive food-guarding issues, these steps will help you break his tendency to guard his food.

Teach your dog to welcome your approach

Measure the regular amount of food you feed your dog daily; it’s best to give your pet a nutritious, high quality food like the CANIDAE grain-free Pure formulas. At his normal mealtime, ask your dog to sit and put down his bowl with one piece of dry food in it. Walk away. Your dog will likely eat the small bite and then look at you for more. On your own time, pick up the bowl and put in another single kibble. Issue the “sit” command. Once your dog is in a sure sit, place the bowl back down.

Continue this sequence, feeding your dog one or two pieces of kibble at a time, until he is relaxed when you approach his food bowl. Increase the small amounts gradually. When your dog acts eager and excited to see you walk towards his bowl (because he knows you are going to put a few bites of food in there), increase the amount until you are giving him the recommended amount of food for one sitting.

Demonstrate that your approach brings good things

Now that your dog gets a full bowl at mealtime, the next step is to arm yourself with treats your dog goes crazy for but doesn’t get very often; something like small bites of chicken or cheese. The next time he eats, say something like “Does my good boy like his food?” in a conversational tone and toss the special treat into his bowl. If you’re not comfortable getting that close to your dog’s bowl while he eats, toss the treat as close to the bowl as you can manage. Be careful not to zing the treat at his head. Do this several times during his meal and continue this step until your dog demonstrates relaxed body language while he eats.

During this stage in the training, if your dog leaves his food to come beg you for more treats, ignore him. Do not resume the treat-tossing until he goes back to his bowl and starts eating again.

Next you want to walk casually past your dog while he eats. Repeat the “Does my good boy like his food?” phrase and drop the special treat into his bowl. When you are both comfortable with the walk-by, it’s time to stand by the bowl while he eats, say your loving phrase and drop in a treat. Continue standing there, occasionally dropping in a treat. Your goal is to prove to your dog that you have no intention of stealing his food away.

Reinforce the Message

While your dog eats, approach him saying “Does my good boy like his food?” in a soothing voice. Slowly reach down and pick up his bowl. Lift it a few inches from the floor, drop in a delicious treat and set the bowl back down. Continue this exercise throughout mealtime. Over the course of many weeks, gradually build up until you can pick up the bowl, walk to the counter, drop in a treat, carry the bowl back to the same place and set it back down without making the dog anxious.

Even though your dog is okay with you approaching him while he’s eating, he may not be okay with other people doing so. To ensure a harmonious household, it’s important for everyone in your family to go through these steps.

One of our dogs growls when either the other dog or the cat approaches her bowl. We’re working on it, but it’s a slow process. What about you? Do you have a resource-guarding dog?

Top photo by Les Chatfield
Middle photo by Jonathon Choe
Bottom photo by tps12

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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