Home Getting a Dog Getting Started Training A Dog Dog Fun Videos The Great Debate About Us

Food Aggression

Food aggression or the potential for it can be defined as:

Freezing, growling, lunging, nipping or biting whenever a person or dog (cats too) come close to something this dog is eating.

There are two main reasons for a dog to act aggressive around food:

1. Dominance

2. Food / Health Related

Dominance - In the case of Dominance this dog can think they are higher ranking than whoever is going near their food. They will correct lower ranking pack members for coming near their food.

We received a phone call from a lady who was phoning on behalf of her dad. This was the third time his 8 month old dog had sent him to the emergency room after pretty severe dog bites. Any time the dad would walk close to the 8 month old dog's food or toys the dog would lunge and bite him. That is dominance over food and possessions.

Food / Health Related - In many cases a dog can act aggressive over food if it causes health problems or if the food is lacking in nutrition. We have found this to be much more prevalent with food containing corn or grains. These are fillers and can cause some very weird behavioural problems. We have heard corn is one of the top three known allergens to dogs and is a very common filler. We have also heard that corn kernels are fine, but some food companies throw the whole corn cob into the food and that is part of the problem.

From what we have found, and we highly recommend you do your own research as we are not experts, this is just speaking from past experiences, is this: For a company to produce dog food they need to turn a profit to continue operating. Fillers are cheap and allow companies to make more profit. We have seen dog food companies that have no fillers, customizable food with the ability to add supplements and they don't last long because it was very hard to turn a profit. With extra good ingredients there is less profit which means they usually need to ship straight from the manufacturing plant to the end consumer. This cuts out wholesalers and retailers who typically each take about 30% of the profit each from what we have heard.

Good food comes down to economics, it is hard to do. Companies that you see advertise a lot, someone has to pay for that and it is usually the dog in the form of having to eat more fillers.

Vet food is also expensive and much of it contains corn and grains. That may switch over time but why would expensive food contain fillers? Veterinarians we have talked with have said that companies that make the vet food, sponsor their education on Pet Nutrition during Veterinary School. These companies even give the vet students free food for their own dogs. In some cases, corporate kickbacks may get in the way of your dog's best interest. So now you can keep in mind that veterinarians are taught this food is best right from vet school. The vet clinics sell this food and make a profit. We have heard of one Veterinarian trying to recommend raw food and they threatened to take away her veterinary license. Many veterinarians are employees for larger Vet Clinics and as an employee the company makes money off of them through selling their services and products for the company. It can be frowned upon if the food is not promoted by veterinarians.

We have met many dogs where the only food they did well on was veterinary food. Other dogs we have seen made vast improvements in health and behaviour by switching to other foods with no fillers. Veterinary foods often have special ingredients for certain health problems that help dogs out. We had a cat that had kidney issues so we had her on a veterinary food that had fillers and the special ingredients really helped the cat. She lived one month shy of 22 years.

It is a safe bet to say that you care about your dog more than anyone else and you have your dog's best interest in mind. It is good to ask questions on why people recommend or advise what they do especially when it revolves around profit.

Example of Health Related Food Aggression - We had a client with a dog that was very food aggressive when they first got him. He even bit the lady on the face over food. They questioned whether he had neurological problems or not. They had him diagnosed at a veterinary college in Colorado and they said he had a Liver Shunt. Repeating as best I can they said the Liver Shunt was like a vessel that by-passed the liver. The toxins were not filtered out by the liver causing very bad issues. The dog would eat and become very sick and then not want to eat for a couple days and become fine. Then the dog would eat and become very sick again. The surgery they had performed down in Phoenix where a clamp was put on the vein by-pass. The clamp was designed to slowly start closing over a period of time thus forcing the liver to do its job. Now the dog is fine and has zero food aggression.

Example of Food Related Food Aggression - A client we had, had a 3 year old German Shepherd that never showed any aggression until shortly after this client changed careers. She was just starting out in a new career and was back on a tight budget. The dog was switched from a good quality food to one with a lot of fillers. After this the dog would randomly growl at family members and back them into a corner. Then all of a sudden it would pass and the dog would be fine. Now this is just a guess on our part but this is what we think happened. This lower quality food caused digestion problems. Imagine someone Lactose intolerant drinking a glass of milk, they can experience pain after drinking something their body cannot process well. Our guess is that the dog all of a sudden experienced pain of some sort from trying to digest the food and related that pain towards the closest family member. The dog would growl at the person to have them stop causing this pain (it is very hard for a dog to know it is themselves not feeling well that is the issue). The pain would pass temporarily and the dog would continue on as if nothing happened. This client switched back to a good quality food with no fillers and the aggression problem went away.


Methods You May Have Heard to Stop Food Aggression

1. You eat before the dog.

2. Make the dog sit and wait before getting food.

3. Hand feed the dog.

4. Spit in their food.

5. Alpha roll your dog if they act aggressive.

6. Yank on the leash or physically correct the dog if they act aggressive.

7. Lure away with a treat.

You eat before the dog

It is said that in the wild the higher ranking pack members will eat first. Lower ranking pack members may try to get a piece here or there and run off to the side to eat it. This is one explanation why some dogs will take a mouthful of kibble and walk away to go eat it. These are often pretty easy going dogs that will do this.

We had a client here that said she had a dog that was food aggressive years ago. The only thing she changed was she prepared the dog's food, left it on the counter and the lady ate first and then fed the dog. That stopped the food aggression completely. You often won't get that lucky and have something as simple as this work but it is worth doing if you do have problems.

Make your dog sit and wait before getting food

This doesn't mean you always eat first it just means you can have your dog sit and wait, then you prepare the food and set it down and then the dog is allowed to go for it. See Food Bowl Exercises to learn how to do this. This puts self-control over food and helps your dog understand it is you who is in control of their food and they have to do as you say to earn their food.

Hand feed the dog

Some dogs can be quite aggressive around their food dish but perfectly fine when you feed them by hand. This teaches them that food comes from you. You are not going to take their food, you are giving it to them. That is the main reason dogs will act aggressive around food is they think you are going to take their food. Often as puppies a breeder will set out a bowl of food and the puppies will all dig in. The strong survive is the mentality. They can learn if they don't act a bit aggressive they do not get more food. So now at home you are teaching them your "human rules" and their "dog rules" no longer need to apply.

Spit in their food

This is supposed to incorporate your smell and we would think signify that you have already eaten out of the dish and your dog is eating next. Since the dog would think you have eaten first it is supposed to trigger the thought in your dog that they must be lower ranking than you if you have eaten first. We have never tried this one ourselves but a client told us another trainer had them do this. The kids started gagging as they were really grossed out by the exercise but it did work for their dog.

Alpha roll your dog if they act aggressive

This is a Force Based method of solving this problem. The idea is that when the dog growls they are trying to show dominance over you. You in turn pin your dog to the ground to show them you are boss and you are correcting them for trying to act dominant over you. Many dogs have overcome food aggression with this method. Many people have also been bit by their dog using this method because the dog wouldn't back down. This is often due to the fact that if another dog were to pin a dog for acting aggressive toward them the dog that pinned would bite at the other dog's neck and put on a fairly big display of threat until the other dog backed down. Then the problem may be solved. It is hard and dangerous to get in there with your own teeth to bite at your dogs neck. Some people will replicate this with a shake of the scruff when pinning the dog. The technique often works better if the dog is younger but as they get older their scruff is pretty tough (you see dogs grabbing each other by the scruff an hauling one another to the ground and not hear any yelping).

Yank on the leash or physically correct the dog if they act aggressive

Also a Force Based method but can be effective. Often if a person or trainer is more in favor of using force they will use this method on an older dog that could hurt them if they tried to pin the dog to the ground.

A guy once told me he used this method on his brothers dog that was 80 pounds and aggressive over food. They hooked a 15 foot rope onto the dog and they would set the food bowl down for the dog and the dog would go to eat. His wife would walk by the food bowl and the dog would freeze and growl. The man yanked on the rope as hard as he could which stopped the dog and made the dog wonder what just happened. The dog would then in a bit go back to his food dish and the wife would walk passed and again the dog would freeze and growl. The man would yank on the rope again. The third time the wife walked passed the dog, the dog looked away and did not freeze or growl. This solved that dog's food aggression problem.

Another 3 month old puppy we knew of was aggressive over bones with meat and marrow. The people tried using treats to lure away but this puppy was having none of that. The person would reach for the bone, the puppy would freeze and growl. The person would grab the dog by the scruff and do enough of a shake to make the dog yelp. They would take the bone from the puppy, praise the puppy and then give the bone back. Then they would push the puppy to its side and the puppy would growl. Another scruff shake to a yelp, take the bone, praise the puppy and give the bone back. That was the only two times that ever had to be done and the dog was never food aggressive over anything ever again. This dog grew to be 90 pounds and had an extremely powerful jaw. Had this exercise never been done and the dog continued on being food aggressive it may have severely injured someone and the dog may have been put down.

Lure away with a treat

Reward based way of dealing with food aggression. When the dog is eating you try to coax the dog away from their food bowl with a tasty treat. If they do you can toss the treat off to the side so the dog gets it or give it to them by hand. At the same time you lift up the dog's dish, have the dog sit and wait, put the dish down and tell them to take it. This helps to teach the dog that they get a tasty reward when you come near their food and they get their food dish back.

This would be similar to you eating a steak at a restaurant and if I came by and took your steak away you probably wouldn't be too happy. However if I then gave you $100 and set your steak back down for you, you would be plenty happy. You would have no problems with me coming to take your steak if I gave you $100 and then you got your steak back anyway. This method for a dog can also work quite well.


Will My Dog Ever Be Good Around Food?

With Dominance they can learn to be good but may still have problems with anyone else new. You would have to have the new person also do some food exercises with that dog to teach them to be ok with them as well.

If it is food or health related this will often go away on its own once the health problem is cleared or the food is adjusted properly to that dog.


What Are the Best Methods for Overcoming Food Aggression?

The first thing we do is ensure people are following Pack Structure. A dog will respond much better to someone they respect and view as higher ranking.

Any of the above methods can work. The things we try first are:

1. Pack Structure - Ensure the dog sees you as the leader.

2. Good Quality Food - Ensure the dog is on a food with no corn or grain.

3. Food Bowl Exercises - This helps teach your dog you are in control of the food.

4. Hand Feed Kibble - Make the dog work for every piece of kibble they get.

5. Lure Away with Treat - This applies Premack Principle in that the dog earns a reward and gets their food back.

Those almost always do the trick. If they don't and you can't think of any other nice ways around it, that leaves you with finding another method, physical correction, re-homing the dog, putting the dog down, or managing it so no one is ever around the dog when food is present.

In one extreme case of food aggression we heard of some trainers chaining the dog to a wall so it couldn't lunge. They would set down the dog's food dish and then approach the food bowl while wearing a special Bite Work Glove to protect this trainer's hand. The dog would freeze and growl and then bite the gloved hand and shake. The dog would finally stop and the trainer would open the gloved hand and there was a treat in there they would give the dog. They repeated this a lot and it took months but the dog finally got over its food aggression.

Food Aggression is usually Dominance related. These dogs often develop other aggression problems toward other people and dogs. These dogs will need a firm leader who can provide them with a job and make them follow through on commands and rules. In the hands of a person that likes to spoil a dog, this can turn into a real ugly problem.

Putting this dog to work is very helpful. These dogs are intelligent and often have high drives. Sure they may not always make the greatest pets but you can have a ton of fun with them in other areas.