Robin and I received a call the other day from an old friend that had recently relocated to Atlanta.  After recalling some old times, he went on to tell us that he was having some troubles with his dog. He told us that Tully, his Bull Terrier, had always been just the best dog in the world. 

Food aggression must be quickly delt with when it comes to your dog

For the last several months, and before he had moved to Atlanta, he began to notice that Tully had started to become very protective and sometimes even aggressive with his food.  Although this was not an everyday occurrence, he was concerned that Tully could start to act this way when a guest or family member was near his food.  He asked me if I had any ideas regarding what he could do to deal with this problem and assure his family’s safety.

I started off by telling my friend that canine aggression is never a good thing, even when it takes place randomly for short bursts. I continued by saying that the good news is that canine food aggression can often be minimized, redirected, and often completely fixed. The initial step is to try and determine what may have caused Tully’s recent propensity towards aggression and possessive nature with his food.

I was not familiar with Tully’s history, so I continued to ask my friend some questions.  I wanted to know if Tully was a stray or if he rescued him. He told me that Tully was a rescue.

Experiences stemming from these circumstances often cause a dog to display possessive or aggressive actions with their food. I explained that rescue or abused dogs are often tasked with limited food supplies. Lack or loss of food becomes a critical issue due to health and safety concerns.

When dogs with these prior experiences get some food, it is extremely valuable to them.  This will lead them to be possessive of the food and aggressive towards anyone or anything that would block or limit their needed food supply.

Since I was positive that my friend was not starving Tully, lack or elimination of access to food was not the issue.  The problem is that Tully had somehow become nervous regarding his food.  My friend needed to address Tully’s misconception.  I told him that there were several actions he could immediately implement.  I would like to share them with you now:

  • You must determine the time and place where you will feed your dog. If your dog can tell you where he wants to eat and when he wants to eat, you are not the “provider of his food” and the one who is constantly supplying him safety and making sure he is healthy.
  • Another thing you can perform is to do something called “scatter-feeding”.  Get a handful of his food and “scatter” it around on the ground just like you were “feeding chickens on the farm”. You can do this inside or in the yard.  This will cause him to “graze over an extended area”. You are there as this is taking place and providing him security as he is eating.  You can also add a little “gamesmanship” to the process by placing (hiding) some food behind a chair or bush.  He can obviously smell the food and find it.  The difference is that you have made the process into a game.  Again, your actions are protecting your dog and letting him know that you will always be there to safely provide him with the food he needs.
  • On a slightly different subject, it is important that you teach your dog simple obedience commands.  These are commands such as “come”, “stay”, “leave it”, “sit”, etc. Practice these commands during feeding time so that your dog knows that he must always give you focus.  Even though you have directed him away from his food for a moment, it is safe and will be there once he returns.
  • Although you are teaching your dog that his food is always safe and that you are his protector, you need to understand that there are some “natural actions” that cause dogs to become nervous.  One of those “natural actions” is to quickly approach your dog.  So, don’t quickly approach your dog and his dog bowl while he is eating. This is a “natural aggressive act”, and your dog may respond inappropriately with a growl or nip.  If you need to get to your dog or his bowl, use your “come” command and call him to you.
  • Another great idea is to place a leash on your dog during feeding time.  This will help you to redirect him away from the bowl, if needed.  It will also allow you to diffuse any inappropriate, physical action.
  • Let me be very clear about this; do not feed your dog in a corner. Once in a corner, it limits his natural options of “fight or flight”. If someone quickly enters the room or he perceives that someone is inappropriately approaching him, it removes his ability to simply back away to assess the situation.  All he can do is to lunge out. That is not what you want to happen.
  • If you have multiple dogs, feed them separately.  This eliminates any possible rivalry that would elongate the process of removing your dog’s perceived safety issues that are causing the food aggression.

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over nineteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 wonderful dogs and caring families and are ready to help you.