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Home > Dog Behavior, Uncategorized > My Dog Growls When I Go Near Her Food Bowl

My Dog Growls When I Go Near Her Food Bowl

October 30th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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

Growling at People is Unacceptable

Growling at People is Unacceptable

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

Make the Dog Sit and Wait for her Food

Make the Dog Sit and Wait for her Food

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.

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  1. October 30th, 2009 at 14:23 | #1

    I Love your article. the reason is because you don’t suggest the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard in terms of stopping a dog from growling at the food bowl: that is taking the food away. according to http://www.leerburg.com, taking food away will only reinforce anxiety and aggression in a dog. it’s better to be a “fair” leader. once you give the dog the food, it’s his to eat and he should not be afraid that you will take it away at any time. wolves in packs do this. when the alpha is done, others eat. the alpha doesn’t run over to take the food away to “prove a point”. YOu are correct in establishing being “near” the dog when he eats. when i established non-food aggression, i always pet my dogs while they ate to show them a human being around his resource was nothing to be afraid of. if a human constantly or even occasionally takes the food away to prove leadership it only makes the dog MORE possessive. establishing calm feelings of a person around its food will make it calm. and then the ONE time a young child is unsupervised with your dog for whatever reason (accidents happen and sometimes you’ll find a child near a dog unsupervised) and decides to take its bone or toy, the dog is “surprised” but not aggressive. Neither of my dogs is food possessive. i can leave tri tip on the floor, walk away and tell them to “stay” in their down positions (not eat it) then release them to their separate bowls of food/tri tip and neither will bully for the other’s or protect their own bowls. another great reason not to use that stupid training technique of taking food away at any time is there will be a time, guaranteed, that you will need to reach into your dogs mouth and take away something dangerous (cooked chicken bone). and it’s nice not to have a biting or aggressive dog! I just had to take a bully out of loki’s mouth to give him his “vitamin” that i ususally give before his bully but forgot this time. he wasn’t interested in his treat/vitamin over his bully, so I asked him to “out” the bully. then i gave him his delicious treat/vitamin and gave him his bully back. there was no fighting, no aggression.

    Holding food in the bowl is also great way to “be around the food” while they eat.

    great job on Lucy! she’ll get it! remember to reinforce her for NOT “looking” at frankie during his eating or trying to get his food. if she even ‘looks’ in his direction, redirect her and give her a “job” (sit, down, leave the room) and praise. it took exactly 2 nights to teach loki this (of NEVER EVER looking at juno while eating) using this simple technique. I used “look at me” or “leave the room” for his jobs. he got used to “leaving the room” and finding me to sit with me after he was done and juno kept eating. funny thing: one day i gave them both bully bones for breakfast, then within 30 seconds he came in my office and sat next to me, sans bone. i didn’t believe he ate it that fast, i went in the living room and my “non aggressive dog” juno had BOTH bones! (I think she got it not thru fighting–becasue i didn’t hear anything– but maybe he abandonned it for a few seconds and she took advantage of it and took it.) he came in my office to “tell on her” instead of fighting of his bone. good boy! as a leader, i was able to EASILY take his bone back from juno (no fighting or aggression) and give it to him. moral of the story: be a fair leader, show praise for right behavior and no fights will occur…and they will come to YOU for conflict resolution.
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..We’re Waiting for You =-.

  2. Suzanne
    November 2nd, 2009 at 20:14 | #2

    @Wild Dingo
    Thanks so much for your kind words, Dingo! It means a lot coming from an experienced dog trainer such as yourself. I definitely disagree with the so-called experts who would advise taking the dog’s food away from her as a way to train her to stop showing food aggression or possessiveness. As you’ve said, all that does is further convince the poor dog that her stash is in danger of being raided by the big mean human (or anyone else who might happen by).

    It is really a matter of security with a lot of dogs. At least, I think it starts out that way. But if we don’t modify the behavior right away, it could become less a matter of security and more a matter of the dog thinking she is the pack leader.

    And thanks for the heads-up on training the dogs not to “look” at one another during meals. So far, we’ve been feeding them just out of sight to each other, so that hasn’t been necessary. But I would like to eventually stop feeding them in separate rooms. I will certainly try your tips.

    One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started working with Lucy on the food aggression is that she no longer automatically runs to her crate whenever the treat bag comes out. She and Frankie have more often than not been eating their little treats side by side without incident.

    And one other big development happened the other night when my husband accidentally dropped a bit of cracker on the floor. They both rushed for it at once and one of them snapped it up (he did not see who the lucky winner was), but there was no growling or jealousy.

    So we are making progress. And for the record, Lucy hasn’t growled at me during feeding time at all lately.

  3. November 3rd, 2009 at 03:03 | #3

    oh that’s so great to hear! over time, each behavior will extinguish. all beahviors you describe are about the same thing, but in a way, they are different for the dog’s experience — eating dinner in kitchen vs snack in living room or eating side by side, not freaking about who gets the fair food on the floor. they’re all the same thing but in different places, times, actions. one thing you can also teach is if you drop something, they really aren’t allowed to get it until you “say so.” because, what if you dropped a chicken bone? right? so keep that in mind. both my dogs look at me when i drop something for permission to get it. but seriously? with all the challenges you’re facing with Lucy and food possession, that’s the least of your worries!

    the “look at me” or “leave the room” is a simple voice correction. when you give her/him the “no” and then redirect to look at you, praise it. another thing you can do if the annoying behavior of staring at other dog who’s peacefully eating isn’t going away is to chase the offender out of the room and make him/her sit in other room with you. by “chase” i don’t mean frighten or scare, just simply body block so he/she goes into other room, or lead them away into the other room. then PRAISE. always praise. they sooooo get the praise. believe me. people correct behavior with a leash correction or a voice correction but they always FORGET to praise for the right behavior. i’m not against corrections, but it should always end with a behavior that can be praised. (end on a good note.)

    if you start feeding them in same room, simply supervise it for however long it takes. stand right over them. over time, stay in the room, but move around while they eat (do the dishes, fold laundry, whatever you can do in that room). i can leave the room and there are no fights. ever. BUT i absolutely supervised for a few months. and i would NEVER leave them home alone with raw bones even tho i know they don’t fight over them. it’s just not worth me finding out.

    “experienced dog trainer?” LOL. I’m still learning. I just got into it when i got Loki, who has more drive than my Mini Cooper S! He’s like a corvette on high-tess… and was naughty to boot. so i hit the ground running with him. we’ve been at it since aug 2008 now. compared to average pet owner, people say my dogs are “great!” but compared to what i know is out there, I’d say ‘they’re ok’ and NOT perfect! but that’s why i love ‘em!

    glad lucy isn’t growling at feeding. even gladder (?) that her growling behavior wouldn’t deter you from keeping her. so many people give up too easily. food aggression to me is easiest form of aggression to fix. but then again… maybe i haven’t really had the worst case of it in either of my dogs (tho i was told Loki was food aggressive and could never be fed with another dog…now look at him, telling on Juno when she stole his bone!)
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..The Other White Meat =-.

  4. Suzanne
    November 3rd, 2009 at 12:28 | #4

    So nice to hear about the success stories! And you’re right, praise is absolutely the key. They love it almost as much as they love treats.

    And you could have fooled me, Dingo! I thought you were a pro when it comes to dog training. But you’ve definitely got a lot of good experience. Thanks for sharing!

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