Aggressive tendencies in dogs part two: Managing the behavior

Before we begin…aggression is the most common and most serious behavior problem in dogs. It’s also the number-one reason why pet parents should seek professional help from behaviorists, trainers and veterinarians.

Last month, we talked about understanding the reasons for aggression in dogs. This month, we explore one of the most common things dogs guard (their food bowl), what triggers “food aggression” and ways to eliminate or manage the behavior.

Managing a Food-Aggressive Dog. First, be observant for signs your dog isn’t comfortable with the close proximity of humans to their food, including one or more of these signs: Gulping of food, stops eating and tenses his body, growls, stares at you or away from you and stops eating and raises his head slightly out of his food bowl.

1. Don’t give your dog a reason to guard his food. Start out by feeding your dog behind a physical barrier like a pet gate, or behind a closed door. Make it a house rule, especially if there are kids in the home, that everyone maintains their distance and leaves the dog alone at mealtime.

2. Don’t bowl-share in multi-dog households. There are many reasons feeding more than one dog from the same bowl is not a good idea. The most important is it can trigger food aggression that results in injuries to a dog and/or an owner who tries to break up a dogfight. Pick up your dog’s food bowl as soon as he has eaten, because even empty bowls can trigger a problem.

3. Use reward-based training to curb food-aggressive behavior. Reward-based training is an effective and compassionate way to change unwanted behaviors in dogs. To use it effectively, it’s important to recognize that an underlying emotion is driving your dog’s behavior. To a food-aggressive dog, anyone on two legs or four who approaches his bowl means he’s about to lose a valuable resource.

Toss a treat your dog really loves into the bowl as you approach. Try to do it from a safe distance and before he shows signs of resource protection. The goal is to create a positive association between you near his food bowl and a yummy treat, which may extinguish his aggressive behavior over time.

More suggestions can be found at

If you suspect that your dog’s aggression is more than normal resource protection, compile a diary on your dog’s behaviors and eating habits. Take the diary with you to visit your vet who will evaluate any underlying medical issues that may be causing the aggression. When cleared of any medical issues, then consult an experienced dog trainer who specializes in managing aggression in dogs.

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