A friend of ours from Woodstock called us the other day to talk about an ongoing problem with his dog.  He said that Pappy, his Bull Terrier, was normally a great dog. The problem was that he would sometimes become protective and even aggressive over his food. Although seemingly random, something could go wrong and someone in his family could get scared or hurt.  He wanted our advice to understand how to deal with this and assure his family’s safety.

You must be clearly in control of your dog's meal time to minimize and eliminate food aggression.

Aggression in a dog is never a good thing.  Luckily, canine food aggression can be minimized, redirected, or sometimes completely resolved. The first thing our friend needs to consider is what may have caused Pappy’s aggression and possessive nature with his food. 

Robin and I went on to ask if his dog was a stray or a rescue. That experience with his dog could naturally cause possessive or aggressive actions with food.  Stray, rescue, or abused dogs often have a limited food resource available to them.  Lack or loss of food becomes a very large safety and health issue with these dogs. When these dogs acquire food, it becomes imperative to protect this limited commodity. If his dog had his food withheld, that could also be a cause for his aggressive and/or possessive stance towards food.  

So what can our friend do to help fix Pappy’s food aggression?  There are several things he can immediately do.  Let’s discuss some of them now:

  • He needs to determine when and where to feed his dog.  If Pappy can demand when to eat, he will not see our friend as the sole provider of the food. Pappy will not recognize that our friend is the one providing the food he naturally needs for safety and health.
  • We suggest scatter-feeding.  Take his food and scatter it on the ground or in the yard.  Pappy is now “grazing” across a large area and not protecting an exact spot.  Our friend could also hide some food behind a chair or under a plant so that Pappy is focused on “the hunt” and not other people coming and going in the area.
  • It is important that our friend teaches Pappy some simple obedience such as “leave it”, “stay”, and “wait”.  He needs to practice these commands during feeding time or when giving Pappy a little treat. This will direct Pappy’s focus to him as the one giving him the food.  It will also direct Pappy to wait until our client decides to feed him.
  • If he needs to have Pappy move away from his food, he should never approach him and his food bowl directly.  As we always teach our clients; this is a natural, aggressive act and not a good idea when working with a food aggressive dog. Instead, he should have Pappy come to him.  In this way, he is redirecting Pappy’s attention to him. When Pappy responds, he is enforcing that he is Pappy’s boss and protector.  In Pappy’s eyes, the food is not as important as the safety provided by obeying our friend.
  • If needed, he can click a leash on his dog during feeding time. This will help him redirect his dog away from the food without becoming physical.
  • He should never feed Pappy in a corner.  This limits Pappy’s options if anyone mistakenly approaches him and also heightens any aggressive or protective tendencies he still may have.
  • If there is more than one dog in the family, he needs to feed them separately until he can resolve the food issue.  He can eventually bring them back together at feeding time.  When this happens, he needs to always be there. If he sees the dogs start to adrenalize, focus on the other, or approach the other while still eating; he can step in and proactively defuse the situation.

We always tell our clients that it is critical to keep the entire process really slow when it comes to any form of dog aggression.  They must clearly set the environment to allow their dog to come to the conclusion that everything is fine and he is safe.  He needs to learn this at his own pace and in an environment where he has the ability to learn.  This is not set on a specific time table.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.