Discover the causes of food aggression in dogs,
the symptoms, and how to remedy this aggressive dog behavior!
What exactly is dog food aggression?
Well...if your sweet, gentle Cocker Spaniel suddenly turns into a snarling demon when anyone approaches his food bowl while he's eating - that's food aggression!
This behavior is also sometimes known as food guarding or resource guarding, and is a throw-back to the wild, where dogs lived and hunted in packs.
They fiercely guarded their food and only the fittest and strongest dogs survived.
Food aggression in dogs is instinctive and is normal canine behavior, however this aggression can result in owners or children being bitten and should be managed immediately.
Never, ever, try to remove food from a dog who guards his food in this way.
There are many situations that may cause food aggression in dogs but, in most cases, it's either because the dog believes his food is under threat of being removed or where there's a confusion over leadership - both of which can lead to fierce resource guarding.
Your dog's food aggression may be triggered if he believes you're going to take his food from him (even though you gave it to him in the first place!). When he growls or snarls, he's giving you a very definite warning to stay away!
If you then remove his food from him you may be compounding the problem, as this will only serve to confirm his original fears that you were going to steal his food!
Food aggression in dogs may also be triggered where there's a leadership issue - the owner relaxes his leadership, the dog becomes aware of it and views the lapse as a weakness.
In a pack, (wild or domestic) members will usually compete with one another and the strongest will win the position of alpha dog.
All packs need a leader and, if your dog sees a weakness in you, he will almost certainly try to assume the role of alpha dog (which, by the way, could also be female - it just means 'top dog').
If you back away from your dog when he challenges you, you are reinforcing his position as pack leader and confirming to him that his aggressive dog behavior works, making it more likely that he'll repeat this behavior in the future.
It is vital that you quickly reclaim your status as pack leader if you are going to resolve your Cocker Spaniel's food aggression.
In a domestic environment, and no matter what the cause, food aggression in dogs is potentially dangerous and unacceptable behavior. If it's not addressed swiftly, your dog will almost certainly end up biting or attacking a family member, which could result in a serious injury.
The first signs of food aggression in dogs are subtle and very easily overlooked. Some or all of the following signs may be observed if you approach your dog while he's eating, for example, he may:
If you notice any of these 'early warning signs', you must act quickly to address them before they escalate into the following more obvious signs of food aggression in dogs.
Your dog may:
In a domestic environment, aggressive dog behaviors such as those listed above are unacceptable; they are dangerous and must be remedied immediately.
In the wild, the alpha male always eats first.
If you are to retain (or regain) the role of alpha dog, you will need to ensure you always feed your dog after you and your family have eaten.
At the very least, let your dog see you eat something, a cracker perhaps, or simply pretend to eat some of his food before you feed him.
Ensure you're already following our recommended feeding guidelines which will help to prevent food aggression in dogs, and then try one or more of the following remedies:
This exercise will help to teach your dog that you are the source of his food and will help him to enjoy (and, more importantly, accept) you approaching him and being around him while he's feeding.
The following alternative method only applies if your puppy or dog is beginning to display early signs of dog food aggression and you are certain that your dog won't bite you.
If there's any doubt in your mind, do not try to take his food from him. Instead, consult a professional dog behaviorist.
Your puppy should eventually learn that you are the provider of his food (only when he behaves) and that if he misbehaves, you will remove it and, ultimately, he won't be fed.
Resource guarding is another name for food aggression in dogs and it isn't limited to food; your puppy may also guard his toys!
To prevent this from happening, you may like to try the following exercise:
(If he runs away with the toy, don't chase your puppy - you'll only be setting yourself up for trouble!)
Food aggression in dogs should never be punished with harsh words and/or aggression from an owner.
No matter how frustrated you may become, please don't become aggressive yourself (verbally or, heaven forbid, physically) - this will only make him much worse and the situation may spiral out of control as he responds to (and attempts to compete with) your aggression/retaliation.
If you find yourself in this situation, and you're worried your dog may bite, we strongly advise you to seek professional help from a qualified dog trainer or animal behavior specialist.
IMPORTANT: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to remedy your dog's aggression by yourself - leave that to the professionals.
Resolving food aggression in dogs is not easy, nor is it a quick fix - you need to take your time and proceed with care.
We strongly recommend you contact a dog behavioral specialist before attempting to treat any aggressive behaviors in dogs, particularly where you are concerned that your dog may bite you.
If your Cocker Spaniel is prone to resource guarding, you'll probably need to watch for the reappearance of any warning signs of dog food aggression and continue practicing some of the above exercises from time to time, probably for the rest of his life.
Continue to walk up occasionally to your dog while he's feeding and drop a couple of morsels of his favorite food, for example, chicken or liver, into his bowl - just to remind him that people approaching his dish mean that something good is about to happen and he shouldn't feel threatened.
Learn how to prevent dog food aggression.
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