Food aggression in dogs is often triggered when a dog thinks his food is under threat or there's confusion over who's the alpha male. Learn more about the causes and understand the signs of dog food aggression and how to remedy this potentially dangerous aggressive dog behavior!
What is it?
Well...if your sweet, loving Cocker Spaniel suddenly turns into a snarling demon when anyone approaches his food bowl while he's eating - that's dog food aggression!
Food aggression in dogs, also known as 'resource guarding', is instinctive and it's normal canine behavior.
It's a throw-back to the wild where dogs lived and hunted in packs and could never be certain when or where their next meal was coming from.
They had to fight for their share of the 'spoils' and fiercely guarded their food, and only the fittest and strongest dogs survived.
Unfortunately for some of our pets, this instinct rears its ugly head from time to time (and you may think for no 'apparent' reason).
In our human world, dog food aggression is a potentially dangerous and unacceptable canine behavior, and if it's not addressed swiftly, your dog will almost certainly end up biting or attacking someone, resulting in a serious injury.
If you see signs that your Cocker Spaniel is beginning to guard his food or toys, I recommend you take swift action, and if you're not sure what those signs are, you can learn more about them below.
There are many situations that may cause food aggression in dogs, but in
most cases it's either:
Your dog's 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'll be making the problem worse because you'll have confirmed that he was right all along - you were going to steal his food!
Food aggression in dogs may also be triggered where there's a question over leadership, for example, the owner relaxes his role as leader, 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 head of the pack.
All packs need a leader and if your Cocker sees a weakness in you he'll almost certainly try to assume the role of alpha male (which, by the way, could also be female - it just means 'top dog or leader').
It's vital that you quickly reclaim your status as pack leader if you are going to resolve your Cocker Spaniel's food aggression.
The first signs of food aggression in dogs are subtle and very easily overlooked. Some or all of the following signs may be seen if you walk towards 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're dangerous and must be addressed immediately.
IMPORTANT: Do not, under any circumstances, try to remove food from a dog displaying food aggression - if you do, you'll almost certainly get hurt.
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 Cocker Spaniel 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 (but only when he
behaves) and that if he misbehaves you will remove it
and ultimately, he won't be fed.
Important: If using Method 3 above results in your puppy missing more than one meal, I would change over to Method 1 because I'm not comfortable with a young puppy missing any more than one meal.
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 him - you'll only be setting yourself up for trouble!)
Food aggression in dogs should never be punished with harsh words.
And no matter how frustrated you are, please don't become aggressive yourself (verbally or, heaven forbid, physically) because this won't help. It 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, I 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; it needs careful handling.
I strongly recommend you contact a dog behavioral specialist before attempting to treat any aggressive behaviors in dogs, particularly where you're worried that your pet 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. In my opinion, it never really goes away.
Make a point of being around your dog when he's eating and drop a couple of morsels
of his favorite food, for example, chicken or liver, into his bowl. This will help to remind him that people approaching his dish mean that something
good is about to happen and he shouldn't feel threatened.
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