By: Gillian Daniels – Trainer at New Dawn Animal Behavior Center Clearwater, Florida
“My dog is aggressive about food”
This is called resource guarding, and is a behavior that requires management to keep everyone feeling safe. The best thing to do when faced with resource guarding is to contact a professional for assistance.
As a first step with a dog who is resource guarding, remove the chances of him practicing this behavior. The reason this is so important is that every time the dog practices the behavior, he gets better at it, and learns that it works. Preventing helps keep the dog feeling safe while you implement training. If the dog guards food/food bowls feed him separately from other dogs and humans, preferably in his own room or crate.
Generally speaking, resource guarding is a genetic, inborn behavior. Many dogs retain this behavior, despite there being ample resources.
In some cases, resource guarding can be learned. This happens most often when a bored dog starts to chew or take objects. The person approaches and removes the object, often times scolding the dog. Unfortunately this only teaches the dog to steal/chew objects out of your sight to avoid punishment, and/or it will teach him that he needs to protect the object from you.
Things like anxiety, being in a new home, a new baby, addition of another dog or pet can increase these behaviors, or cause them to appear seemingly spontaneously. Dogs that lack confidence in other aspects of their lives tend to be resource guarders.
It’s very important to understand that resource guarding takes a decent amount of time to modify with most dogs. Patience is key.
To prevent resource guarding before it begins, always trade your dog for items that you want to take away. Offer your dog treats of equal or higher value than what they have, and only take the object when the dog drops it. This way your dog learns that you will trade instead of just taking, and over time they will happily drop the item, because you always pay them for it.
A great resource for dog owners with a dog who resource guards is the book, “Mine!” by Jean Donaldson.