By Guest Contributor & Trainer, Lesley Zoromski
The last few times I’ve had clients come in with concerns regarding food aggression behavior, I noticed a few things that they all had in common. First of all, each had 4 month old puppies and had these puppies since 8 weeks of age. All families mentioned that their previous dog also exhibited food aggression. Hmmmmm. The red flag went up for me.
I started to wonder if I had just been lucky with all of the dogs I had owned or known since childhood; never having food aggression. Or had I or my family and friends done something differently than my clients? We are talking about 25-30 dogs over my 54 years of life. All of my/family dogs were different breeds and had various backgrounds. These clients’ dogs were labs and Australian Shepherds… not that this matters but face it, people do not guess a lab as a food aggressive dog, let alone a 4 month old puppy!
In each consult, the clients and I both fed the dog in the kitchen. The typical kitchen activities were going on around the dogs as they ate.
At the start of the consult I began to ask questions of the owners to see if I could get better background information and unravel their issues. I found some interesting similarities in each of their stories:
1. Because of their concern over food aggression they had turned to the internet
2. The internet instructs owners to take the bowl away whiles the dog eats, put your hand in the dogs bowl and/or pet the dog while they eat
3. These clients did all of these things at every meal time repeatedly.
Holy Toledo! If someone kept doing these things with me every time I ate, I’m pretty sure I’d get aggressive with my food, too.
My husband nearly got a fork in the back of his hand when he tried to take something off my plate before I was finished. And I make no apologies for this! LOL.
Clearly, in each of these cases, dog owners were taking some general advice and going overboard with it, ironically creating the very problem they were trying to avoid in the first place.
When I asked them if this behavior started the first time they tried removing the bowl they said “No.” This is where they should have stopped. In my experience, if a dog has a tendency toward food aggression, it will be exhibited at this point — even with an 8 week old puppy.
Now, what to do with the food aggressive dogs my clients have created? Here is what I suggested:
1. Stop petting the dog or messing with it while it eats.
2. After placing the food bowl down, go to a distance that the dog doesn’t growl and toss a piece of special food into the bowl – a piece of chicken or some other high value dog treat – something better than the dog’s regular food. It is not necessary to make it into the bowl. Each time, try to get closer until you can place it in as the dog eats. This may take a long time to achieve.
3. Be sure you are working on basic overall house rules/manners and not allowing the dog to believe it has a lot of privileges in general. If he has “rights” to the sofa, “rights” to his food bowl can seem justified, too.
4. Teach basic obedience and more importantly you must learn how to be a good leader by following through on what you ask for. This is not about teaching “Sit”, but rather convincing the dog that you will follow-through on every command (including “Sit”) and that you make and enforce all the rules around the house.
5. Do not think that being confrontational is a good leader. It can make many dogs confront you right back. It is not a sign of strong leadership. Many people allow privileges and then strongly over-correct when they don’t like something. You are sending mixed messages at best. Unfair and confusing to the dog!
6. If you are still having issues, you need to get a crate and feed your dog in the crate. They will feel more secure and less threatened there.
7. Seek professional help if you are unsure about some of these steps.
Good luck, Lesley Zoromski
Trainer, Dairydell Canine,