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Food Bowl Exercises

Food Bowl Exercises are designed to teach your dog that whenever anyone goes near their dish, good things happen.  Dogs can become possessive of dishes when there is not proper Pack Structure and these preventative exercises have not been performed. Betas or Alphas are most susceptible, Omegas will generally never have a problem.

The following exercises are to be followed for a dog with aggression towards their food dish.  If a puppy has shown no signs of food aggression you can follow the same steps to ensure there is no aggression towards the food dish.

Warning – If you have a bad gut feeling about the exercises or if your dog “freezes” when doing the exercise then use extra caution. Acquiring bite protection gear may be essential.  Freezing is a tell tale sign of “if you go any further the dog will most likely bite”.  Worst case we heard of was a dog removing his owner's finger for going near the dog's food dish so it is good to take precautions when doing these exercises.  Most dogs we deal with only have mild versions of food aggression.  An easy way to ensure safety when a child is present is to put the dog on leash and stand on the leash and have another adult with the child.  The leash will keep the dog from going any further without consent.  Even with dogs that have nipped children and drawn blood these exercises can be carried out with 100% safety. It is still highly advisable to never let the child feed on their own or go near the food dish when the dog is eating. For a food aggressive dog these exercises are designed to provide a safety buffer just in case a child ever goes near the food dish.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Follow all other steps of Pack Structure 100%.  Ensure everyone involved makes the dog follow all rules of Pack Structure.  With children you will need to supervise and ensure the dog is not taking advantage of the child’s inability to have the dog respect them.

2. Remove the food dish altogether and just feed the dog or puppy by hand for 3-7 days.  (Some dogs will differ and you can judge progress. If your dog loses interest in the exercises you will end the exercise and resume at next meal time.  You can break it up into multiple meals over the day to allow more frequent repetition and learning time.)

3. For this step make sure your dog is showing no signs of growling or freezing.  Have the food dish in your hand and put a few (5 approx) kibble in the dish and hold it at the same height you were when you were feeding by hand.  When the dog finishes eating the 5 kibble, put in another 5 kibble and continue for 3-7 days.

4. Now you can begin lowering the food dish closer to the ground over the next few days while adding a few kibble at a time.  This helps to teach your dog that human hands going near their food dish are a good thing.

5. After a few days of Step 4 you can then put a few kibble in the food dish while holding it and when your dog finishes the last of the kibble you will say “Leave it” and lift the dish up and put some more kibble in and then lower it back down and say “Take it” and repeat until that meal is done.  Repeat this for 3-7 days.

6. This step requires you to go by gut feeling and watch for “freezing”.  Put a few handfuls of kibble in the dish and toss in a tasty piece of cheese or steak or something high value while your dog is still eating the kibble.  This is all done with you holding the food dish.  This will teach them while they are eating, when a human hand comes toward the dish it means good things are happening.  You can do this for 3-7 days.

7. Now you will allow your dog to be eating from the dish while you are holding it and toss in a tasty treat.  Immediately after that one you will have another tasty treat and you can say “leave it” while your dog is still eating kibble and lift the food dish and put the tasty treat in and then lower the food dish back down and say “Take it”.  Repeat this for 3-7 days.

8. Next you will be practicing putting treats in and lifting the food dish up with the food dish on the floor but keeping your hand on it the entire time.  Again go by gut feeling, if it feels off it most likely is.  

9. Your dog should now be able to leave the dish on command and you should be able to pick the dish up to replenish or re-treat and set it back down.  If your dog does not respond by command then you can work further on “take it / leave it” exercise.  

Make sure you are following all Pack Structure exercises and giving your dog the required exercise needed to burn off their excess energy.  

Other Tips and Methods

Here are some other things over the years we have found or heard work for people:

1. You eat first - Prepare the dog's food, set it up on the counter and then you eat your meal and then feed your dog. For years we never found that to be a problem until a lady told us she had a dog years ago and that is what she did and it stopped the dog's food aggression immediately.

2. Bite Glove - The dog that removed his owner's finger required training for a full year to be safe around food. They would chain the dog back to the wall on 2 points so the dog could not lunge at the person. They would set the dog's food dish down to be eaten out of in which the dog would inhale food very quickly. The handler would then have a bite glove on and with a closed fist, move his fist toward the dog eating. The dog would freeze and growl and then latch onto the hand and shake like it wanted to take the whole hand off (the bite glove protecting the handler). Then the dog would stop and they would say "good dog" and open the hand and there was a treat in there for the dog to take which the dog did. They repeated this over and over for a long time until finally the dog realized the people were not trying to steal the food and good things did indeed happen when people went near his food dish.

3. Scruff Grab & Shake - For puppies or smaller dogs some people find if they growl over food you can grab them by the scruff and do enough of a shake to make them yelp and then take the food and praise the dog and give the food back to the dog.

4. Leash Correction - A man once told us of a full grown German Shepherd that was food aggressive and if this dog were to bite anyone it would have been put down immediately. They tied a 15 foot rope onto the dog's collar and the wife would walk passed the food dish. The dog would freeze and growl at the wife. The man would yank on the rope as hard as he could and the dog didn't know what hit him. The dog gathered himself and went to the food dish to eat again. The wife then walked passed the food dish again. The dog again would stare and growl. The man again yanked on the rope as hard as he could. The third time the wife went near the food bowl the dog looked away as if to offer his food to her. That solved that dog’s food aggression problem.

5. Remote Collar - Some people will also find a stout correction on a remote collar will also teach the dog not to be possessive of food.

6. Handling Exercises - With some tasty treats you can pull on a tail a bit and then reward the dog. Do the same with ears, legs, hair, lips, etc. This teaches the dog that they are rewarded for being handled. We also like to practice picking the dog's back legs off the ground to walk them around like a wheel barrow and then reward. The more you can do these the easier it is to handle the dog around food.

7. This Way (Long Rope) - You could also have your dog hooked up to a harness and when they are eating from a safe distance you can say "This way" (especially if you have been practicing Long Line Recall) and tug the dog in your direction and reward with something better than their food. Then allow them to go back to their food dish.

8. Bed Command - We do this lots with our dogs or any dogs we are training. See article on "Bed" to teach a dog the steps to go to their bed. You can then measure out their food and put 2 kibble in their food dish and tell your dog to take it. Then when finished say your "bed" command and send the dog to their bed. Put another 2 kibble in their food bowl and say "take it". Repeat this over and over.

9. Possessive of Bones - Tie your dog's bone to a solid object so the dog cannot bring it with them. Have your dog on harness and long line. With two people one can stand a bit closer to the dog and say "Leave it" and the other person can pull on the long line to get the dog to follow them. Then reward the dog with a tasty treat for leaving the bone and then say "take it" and let them go back to the bone. This could be done with one person as well.

10. Giant Bite Suit - If you have an extra $2000 laying around you can buy yourself a bite suit. Walk right over to the dog's food or bone and when the dog goes to bite you, you can just hold your ground. When the dog backs off you can reward them and let them resume chewing the bone. You could also hold the bone and tell them to chew on it and then say "leave it" and take the bone away, reward and then let them resume chewing the bone. Some people use hockey equipment for this method.