K-9 Food Aggression and Kids Makes for a Dangerous Cocktail

Food aggression in dogs may develop if they are not properly socialized and desensitized around all family members while eating their meals. You do not want your dog biting you or other family members. Training a dog to prevent food aggression means getting your new puppy or dog used to family members being around their food bowl.  This is a simple exercise that, if started when you get your puppy or dog, could save you a lot of grief down the road because you have prevented your dog from becoming an aggressive dog.

In addition to food aggression, dogs can guard things they perceive as having high value to them such as:

·       Space: Personal space, their dog bed or your bed couch or chairs

·       Articles of play: Dog toys, kid toys or anything of yours he picks up that is laying around that he determines has high value to him at that time.

·       Love and affection: You can become a highly valued resource to your dog as well. What does that mean?  That’s the love and affection you give him which he may want to reserve for himself and not share with other 2 legged or 4 legged pack members.

In some dogs this concern needs to be addressed immediately. Otherwise a growling dog could turn into a biting dog that bites a family member and it escalates from there. Not addressing this behavior could be setting the dog up for a one way trip to the vet and that is not a good outcome for anyone – especially the dog. It just makes good sense to make sure your new puppy or dog does not learn to guard his food or anything.

Why does a dog become aggressive around his food bowl? That’s a good question. There could be a number of factors. Lets take a look at possible reasons dogs develop this aggressive attitude while in possession or close to the things that fit into the above categories:

·       Not being properly desensitized to family members around him when he is eating. This should include heavy doses of feeding him from your hand, taking his food bowl up during meals and giving it back with a much yummier treat on top of his remaining food.

·       Another factor could be a complete lack of structure in the family.  Meaning that the dog is not required to earn the things in life that he really wants by simply performing sits and downs before getting the high valued thing he wants.

·       Dogs that have more leader type personalities or strong temperaments who may be in conflict with their owner as to “who’s the boss”.  This can be caused by a lack of structure as mentioned above. This type of dog personality could be more likely to control or guard their food bowl and other things than say a very submissive dog.

Don’t misunderstand; submissive dogs can also become dog food aggressive. It’s just that the more strong personality of the dog, the more likely it could aggressively guard its food bowl. I’ve also seen strong, leader type dogs aggressively guard their position on the family couch yet be perfectly fine with family members near their food bowl while they are eating. It all depends on the individual dog and influential environmental factors.

If your dog has a serious aggression issue around his food bowl or when he is in possession of what he perceives as things of high value, consider the following:

1.    Make sure all humans and dogs are safe. This means that the dog should be physically managed – crated, gated or on a leash in the house (when you are home,) so the dog is prevented from becoming aggressively reactive.

2.    Balance your relationship with your dog. Let him know that your relationship is a give and take kind of deal. Control the things in life he wants. Put him on a learn-to-earn program of performing sits and downs for these valuable things in his life. All family members should participate so he gets the same message from everyone.

3.    Get back into the training groove with sits and downs to give him a sense of working for leadership rather than feeling responsible for it himself.

4.    Exercise your dog to more constructively manage his energy rather than it being managed by the dog in a destructive way.

5.    Finally, get with a good trainer or behaviorist to begin working on a behavior modification program to directly address the issues of food aggression and aggression around anything else.

If you detect a problem, it should be addressed sooner than later because this aggressive dog behavior grows stronger each time the dog growls or snaps causing people to back away. Dogs repeat behaviors that work for them. If you notice your dog growling around their food bowl or growling when you approach them in certain situations, call a trainer or behaviorist before the problem gets worse. If you secure a trainer, be as comfortable with the trainer as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, Opportunity Barks!”