0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

In This Article

Defensive dining: Managing food aggression in dogs
49

Defensive dining: Managing food aggression in dogs

Training techniques like positive reinforcement, where the dog receives rewards for calm behavior during feeding, can be effective in managing food aggression

Managing food aggression in dogs

While dogs are known for loyalty and affection, they can sometimes display behaviors that catch their owners off guard. Food aggression is one such challenge that is rooted in a dog’s instinctual nature. What is food aggression? This term refers to your furry friend’s hostile behavior where they feel the territorial urge to guard their food or treats. 

Yamika Damini, a canine behaviorist, says “Food aggression refers to a behavior in dogs where they exhibit possessiveness or aggression towards their food. This manifests as growling, snapping, or biting when approached while eating. It can stem from an instinctual need to protect and guard a valuable resource — food.”

Causes of food aggression in dogs

Dogs are descendants of wild canids. For surviving in the wild, securing and protecting food resources is essential. While domestication has altered their behavior, the instinct to guard their meals remains deeply ingrained.

Avinash N, a Hyderabad-based cabin crew, shares his experience with food aggression in his pet dogs. “Understanding my dog’s behavior proved challenging at first. My first dog, a small breed, came home when he was just 28 days old. Training him was a breeze, especially with food. However, the dynamics changed when I rescued another dog (a large breed) when he was four and a half years old. He had spent years fending for himself as an abandoned street dog, and his behavior reflected territorial and possessive tendencies, particularly during meals.”

Food aggression in dogs can occur due to various factors. One of these is the fact that dogs often view their feeding area as a territory to be defended and can showcase aggression when they perceive a threat. Damini adds, “Past experiences of competition for food, inadequate socialization during the early stages of life, a history of resource scarcity and even abuse can be the underlying cause of food aggression in dogs. Besides, underlying medical conditions or physical discomfort and pain while eating may contribute to this behavior.”

Genetics and breed tendencies can also play a role in predisposing certain dogs to food aggression. Understanding the individual dog’s history and triggers is essential for addressing the behavior effectively.

Recognizing food aggression in dogs

“The first sign of food aggression in young dogs is that the dog starts gulping down meals when you get close to him. However, in older dogs, food aggression can be seen as growling and guarding their food,” says Vicky Franklin, canine behaviorist and founder of Fetch-Canine Training and Rehabilitation Centre, Bangalore.

Guarding in dogs shows up as a spectrum of behaviors. It could be a harmless action such as running away with a cherished item. They could also growl at approaching individuals — strangers, specific people or any approaching person. Some dogs may also exhibit full-blown aggression like biting or chasing the person, even if it is the one who offered the food. The resources that they are guarding can also vary. It could be their favorite chew-stick, toy, sock or just food. 

“My rescued dog tended to guard everything we gave him, likely due to the perception that if he didn’t, someone might take it away. This behavior made it apparent that he had spent a significant amount of time living on the streets,” says Avinash. “However, my younger dog also adopted this behavior. The influence of their shared living environment seemed to contribute to the development of this habit,” he adds. 

Strategies to manage food aggression

Veterinarians and canine behaviorists have several suggestions to prevent food aggression from developing in your dogs. In the case of dogs who have this behavioral issue, certain tips can help manage it.

• Maintain a routine

“Managing your dog’s food aggression requires a multifaceted approach. Begin by ensuring a consistent feeding schedule, which helps create a routine and reduces anxiety,” says Damini. If the dog fears when their next meal could be, they can show food aggression. Dogs have an internal clock — establishing a consistent feeding schedule can minimize uncertainty and reduce anxiety associated with mealtimes. Predictability fosters a sense of security.

• Make him work for his meal

Dogs can be trained to sit and wait for their cue to eat. You can make them wait as you prepare their meal, and even after you put their bowl down, train them to await their cue to start eating. Stand close to the bowl as they dig in. At this point, you can move. This is to let them know that they don’t have to fear for food. 

Healthy tip: Feed your dogs after exercising and never before. This satisfies their urge to hunt for food. 

• Desensitization training

“Every dog shows different behavior, however; this also depends on where they are from — rescued from the streets, adopted from a shelter or even handed over to you by a friend,” says Vicky. Understanding them becomes a tad bit difficult. Damini adds, “It is crucial to gradually desensitize your pet through controlled exposure to stimuli that trigger aggression. Training techniques like positive reinforcement, where the dog receives rewards for calm behavior during feeding, can be effective.” When your dogs are eating their usual meal, give them a special treat or their favorite piece of meat. The goal is to interrupt their meal to make them receive that treat from your hand. This way, they know nobody steals their food when they turn away. Moreover, they are rewarded for taking their attention away from the bowl. This training should be done very patiently with positive reinforcements. Remember, punishing the dogs won’t aid in training them.

Damini explains, “Gradually introduce the idea that people approaching the food bowl means positive things, such as receiving treats or having the bowl refilled. Creating an optimistic association helps reduce guarding tendencies.” However, remember to prioritize safety and approach a canine behaviorist to mitigate severe food aggression.

An ounce of prevention

Young puppies often have to compete with their litter mates; hence, they are prone to guarding food. Early socialization is paramount in preventing food aggression. Puppies exposed to various people, situations and habits like hand-feeding are less likely to develop aggressive behaviors later in life. During hand-fed meals, speaking softly and pleasantly by stroking them gently goes a long way. You can even reach down to drop them some yummy chunks of chicken periodically while they are eating. Thus, your puppies will grow up accustomed to people around their food bowls. 

In case of older dogs, Vicky shares, “Keep the food bowl at a raised point and not on the ground where he feels he is claiming it. Every time you extend your hand to his bowl, ensure you do so with food. He must understand that you are giving him food and not taking it away.”

How to prevent food aggression in dogs

Takeaways

  • Food aggression in dogs is a complex behavior rooted in evolutionary instincts and territorial tendencies.
  • By embracing preventative measures from an early age, dog owners can foster a positive and stress-free mealtime experience for their furry companions.
  • Patience, consistency and commitment to positive reinforcement are key to navigating and managing food aggression.

Related Tags

Related Posts

Share Your Experience/Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Summit Registration

NOTE: The summit will be held at NIMHANS Convention Centre, Bengaluru.

Wellness Registration Form

-
-
-
Total Amount INR 3000
Trending

Articles

Article
Some couples consciously decide not to have children despite familial and social expectations, wanting to make the best of their relationship. Children should be had for their own sake, says psychotherapist Tasneem Nakhoda
Article
Insufficient consumption of heart-healthy foods can affect cardiovascular health. Experts discuss beneficial dietary choices
Article
Cycling and walking are both great cardiovascular activities that aid weight loss and keep various health conditions away. Pick one that suits your fitness goals and physical condition, say experts
Article
Summer drinks, though hydrating, can have excess sugar. Nutritionists suggest a few alternatives to keep the body temperature and sugar levels down
Article
Packed with protein, this recipe will help in weight management by keeping you full for a long time
Article
Researchers have found that a quick snooze can improve the retention of information by strengthening memories, leading to better recollection over an extended period
Trending

Articles

Article
Some couples consciously decide not to have children despite familial and social expectations, wanting to make the best of their relationship. Children should be had for their own sake, says psychotherapist Tasneem Nakhoda
Article
Insufficient consumption of heart-healthy foods can affect cardiovascular health. Experts discuss beneficial dietary choices
Article
Cycling and walking are both great cardiovascular activities that aid weight loss and keep various health conditions away. Pick one that suits your fitness goals and physical condition, say experts

0

0

0

Web Stories 

0

0

0

0

0

0

Opt-in To Our Daily Newsletter

* Please check your Spam folder for the Opt-in confirmation mail

Opt-in To Our
Daily Newsletter

We use cookies to customize your user experience, view our policy here

Your feedback has been submitted successfully.

The Happiest Health team will reach out to you at the earliest