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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How to Handle a Dog That's Aggressive Over Food

Does your dog growl or snap at you or the other dogs at meal time? A dog that becomes aggressive over food can be a sign of a bigger problem. Dogs are social animals that interact with people and other animals based on a pack hierarchy. Generally, a dog will only show aggression towards an animal or person who’s perceived to be lower in the pack order than he is. When a dog becomes aggressive over food, it means that he feels entitled to it because of his higher place in the hierarchy. If that aggression is directed towards a human, it can be a particularly serious problem. How is a dog that’s aggressive with food best handled?

If a dog’s aggression over food is directed towards another dog in the family, the problem can be simpler to solve. The best solution is to separate the two dogs at meal time, preferably in separate rooms so they’re unable to see one another. It’s important to understand where each dog lies in the pack hierarchy so this can be reinforced at feeding time. If the dogs are fed together, the dominant dog should be given his bowl of food before the other dogs. In the wild, the dominant dog or wolf is expected to eat first, while the submissive dog waits for his turn. Reinforcing the pack order helps both dogs feel more comfortable and they’ll be less likely to become aggressive over food.

If a dog becomes aggressive over food with a human, the dog considers himself to be higher in the pack hierarchy and feels justified in demanding the food. A dog that’s aggressive with food may growl or snarl, but in some cases, could bite or attack. This is more likely to happen with a smaller, less threatening human such as a child. It’s obvious that this behavior needs to be stopped both for the safety of family members and to maintain peace in the household.

The only way to eliminate aggressive behavior with food is to clearly establish that the humans in the household are higher in the pack hierarchy. When feeding a dog with food aggression, show him that the food will be taken away at the first sign of bad behavior. Encourage him to sit and make him wait for a minute or two before setting his food bowl down to show him you control the food supply. If he growls or shows signs of aggression, quickly remove the food bowl. Once your dog sees that the food will be taken away when he shows aggression, the aggressive behavior should gradually stop. It’s important not to punish your dog as this can make the problem worse. Consistently show your dog that you control the food and treats. This should be reinforced by every member of the family.

Because a dog that’s aggressive over food can be a threat, particularly to small children, it may be best, especially with larger dogs, to seek the help of a dog trainer or dog behavior specialist. It’s important to take any sign of food aggression seriously, even an occasional growl. If the problem isn’t addressed quickly, the dog could rapidly become more aggressive. Keep in mind that problems with aggression can be caused by underlying medical problems, so have your dog checked out by a veterinarian if he suddenly becomes aggressive over food.

by, Dr. Kristie

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