If your dog growls, shows his teeth, snarls, or shows other aggressive behavior while eating, you have a defensive dog when it comes to mealtime. My grandparents’ dog, Sammy, became very mean if you got near him while he was eating his breakfast or dinner. As a child I didn’t understand why I couldn’t pet him while he was enjoying his meal. After he was done, he was as nice as could be.
Many dogs exhibit this same type of behavior. If not altered this behavior can become physically dangerous to you and those around your pet.
This type of defensive eating is often time called dog food, canine possession or food guarding. It comes down to an issue of dominance. Who is the true master of the house? For one reason or another dogs chose this one fight to really try and assert their leadership.
Let’s delve a little into what these reasons can be for food guarding.
- If you have adopted your dog from a shelter, or even taken in a stray, your dogs past may play a part in this aggressive behavior. Food may have been withheld or not provided at all to him, and now that he has some, he will fight to the death to keep a hold of it.
- As a puppy you use to play little games with him to make him work for his food, or you would play tug or war with a dog biscuit. You may have accidentally enforced some of this negative behavior.
- Your dog views you as a threat.
- Your dog is very hungry and the amount of food that you have been giving him is not enough.
- Your dog wants to feel powerful and as if he is in charge.
- You may have other pets in the house who have been stealing you dog’s food.
How can you help stop this behavior?
- Fed your dog in an isolated part of the house if you feel that they are a threat at mealtime.
- Make sure that you feed your dog at the same time each day. Do not let them wear you down by barking or jumping in order to be fed at an earlier time. You need to remain in control.
- Command your dog to sit in order to get his food bowl. This again shows your dog who’s boss.
- If you have a young puppy get them use to having people around while they are eating.
- Eat your meal first before you feed your dog. This is a reference to your dog’s pack mentality where the alpha dog (you) eats first.
- Do not show aggressive behavior as a reaction to your dog’s aggressive behavior. If you do, you will be showing your dog that aggression is accepted. Your dog will become more aggressive to try and one up you.
- Try and start to hand feed your dog. You will be showing him that you do not want to take the food away from him, but actually give it to him.
- Gently pet your dog while he is eating. Only do this if your dog has not tried to bite you while eating. Touching your dog, if they are a biter, is going to be a trigger to them to bite first and ask questions later.
- Feed your dog as you would normally do, but hold back a little of his food. When he is finished, and he looks at you, walk over to his bowl and add the remaining food. This keeps you in the feeding loop.
- While your dog is eating, go over to the bowl, and drop a treat or two into the bowl. You may need to stand back some and almost toss it in to keep some distance at first. Soon your dog will look forward to you being around at mealtime, in hopes of some added special munchies.
- Instead of putting down a full bowl, put down an empty bowl. Then fill the bowl, as your dog watches. This reinforces to your dog that you are actually interested in adding food to the bowl, not taking it away.
Defensive eating, especially in adopted dogs, can be a very serious issue. Don’t assume that the previous owner treated your dog humanely, and remember that animals instinct to eat is one of their strongest.
If you feel that you cannot safely handle the situation yourself, bring in a professional dog trainer for help. You don’t ever want to put yourself, or your family in a situation where you could end up injured, or where animal control makes the decision to put your down down.
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image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelspencer/2043842994/