How to Stop Puppy Food Aggression

Food aggression is a serious problem because it often leads to bites, especially of children in the home. Once you notice signs of food aggression, begin a training program immediately.

Signs of Food Aggression

Puppies often don't show aggression as adults do, so the early warning signs of food aggression may be difficult to detect. One missed early warning sign is gobbling. If a puppy is eating calmly without you in the room and begins gobbling when you enter, this dog may develop food aggression.

Other early warning signs include moving his head to the side where you are standing as if to prevent you from getting into the bowl and looking at you nervously during the meal.

Full-blown food aggression involves growling, snapping, lunging and even biting if you come too close to the food bowl or treat.

Training Food Bowl Aggression

Many owners make the mistake of proving they are "alpha" by taking the dog's food or taking treats out of their mouth to prove that they can. This is only going to make the problem worse because it proves you are indeed a threat.

Instead, make yourself non-threatening by teaching your dog to be comfortable with you around the food bowl.

  1. Start by hand feeding your dog every meal for at least a month.
  2. Remove the food bowl from the equation altogether.
  3. When you add the food bowl back in, toss only a handful at a time into the bowl and toss in another once your dog has eaten it. If there is any growling, stop the meal and try again at the next meal time.
  4. Build up to allowing your dog to eat a meal with you standing nearby. Occasionally toss a special treat into the bowl, such as boiled chicken or freeze-dried liver, which signifies that it's still a good thing to have you around the food bowl.

With young puppies who are only showing early signs, wet down the food and freeze it. This will take them a long time to eat. Sit beside them the entire time, dropping in yummy treats but not interfering in any other way.

Training Treat Aggression

Begin by teaching your dog to leave it. With a handful of low value treats that your dog wouldn't guard, give some and say "take it." Then, close your fist and say "leave it." Ignore all barking, nipping, pawing behavior and say "good! take it," once your dog stops and looks at you.

Repeat until you can hold a treat in your flat palm and your dog ignores it. Then, practice on the floor, using your foot as you used your hand. As your dog gets good, build up to having him leave desirable objects.

Use a leash and walk your dog past something he guards. When he looks at you, reward him. Practice making exchanges by having identical high value treats. When he has a bone, say leave it and show him that you have an identical one. Get very excited about the one you have. When he leaves the one on the floor to get the one that you have, reward with both.

These exercises will help your dog understand that you are on the same team, not adversaries. Don't have children practice with dogs who have food aggression. This is a training task for adults.