Training Your Dog Not to be Aggressive at Feeding Time
Lucy is a sweet-natured, playful dog who has never had any hesitation to share toys and beds with her adoptive brother Frankie, another Labrador retriever mix of about the same age.
But My Dog Doesn’t Want to Share Her Food Bowl
In fact, she doesn’t even want Frankie anywhere near her food while she’s eating. She growls in a threatening manner if he gets too close, and he usually backs away. (He is the type of dog who likes to pick at his food anyway, so there typically is not much conflict. He never really tries to take any of her food away from her.)
Growling at Other Dogs
Most dog trainers feel that it is not a cause for alarm when a dog tries to protect his food from another dog. After all, dogs have an instinctive tendency to protect their food when another animal gets too close. Among dogs, protecting one’s food is a way to ensure one gets enough to eat. It is also part of the competitive process of establishing one’s place in the pack.
In Lucy’s case, add in the fact that she was rescued from near-starvation, and it seems only natural that she would want to keep every kibble in her food bowl for herself.
The simple solution is to feed the dogs in separate bowls and to perhaps place the bowls a distance away from each other. Each dog will feel he has his own space for eating.
Training Your Dog Not to Growl at People
The real problem arises, according to dog trainers, when the dog growls at people. In the book The Well-Mannered Dog, the authors explain that dogs who show aggression when their humans get too close to the food bowl are forgetting their rightful place in the pack. That is, they are trying to assume the lead position in the pack over their humans. As the authors state, “Food aggression can be a problem because it invariably leads to other kinds of aggression.”
Dog Training Techniques to Stop Food Aggression
There are several dog training tools that owners can use to modify their dog’s aggressive behavior at feeding time.
- The dog should never be fed first. In a pack, the leader eats first. The leaders are the humans in the family and the dog should not be fed until after having watched the humans eat.
- The dog should be given a training task or two to perform prior to receiving her food bowl. It could be something as simple as a sit or a down command. But a training task will focus the dog’s mind and emphasize the idea that the human is the pack leader.
- Reward the dog with the food only after she has performed the training tasks.
- Stay with the dog while she eats. The authors of The Well-Mannered Dog note that leaving the room while the dog eats can give her the idea that she is entitled to be left alone with her food. Staying with her reinforces the human’s status as the pack leader.
Train Your Dog to Understand that You are the Leader of the Dog Pack
These training tips for aggressive growling behavior around feeding time seem to be working with Lucy. In the past few days, I have done the following, without hearing any growling:
- Gave her sit commands and made her earn a couple of hand-fed kibbles before putting down her food bowl.
- Held the food bowl in my hands for the first minute or so after she started eating.
- Moved the food bowl a few inches after putting it down.
- Stood over her while she ate.
- Promptly removed the food bowl after she finished eating.
I think Lucy is catching on to the fact that I am the leader of this dog pack, and she is a well-loved but subordinate member of it.