We deal with food aggression training in Northern Virginia (our HQ) on a pretty regular basis.
There are many different behaviors that our dogs do that maybe you do not really know how to interpret. They are communicating in their own way and as a responsible dog owner, it is your responsibility to figure out what they are trying to tell us. Dogs have specific body language that tells us what we need to know. The problem is that people do not always understand these cues that they are giving us. One big cue is resource guarding, especially their food bowls. If your dog resource guards, this is going to be important to deal with.
The first question that you may have is whether or not this is a problem your dog has. There is a simple test that you can do to help find out. You need to prepare your dog’s food bowl and then take the bowl to the center of the room. You need to call your dog to you, so you can make sure that your dog is really excited about the food. If your dog is not excited about the food bowl, this will not work. You should be very careful when doing this test as food is very important to them. You need to watch your dog for any signs of aggression that may put you in harm’s way. To perform the test, you need to put your bowl on the floor without saying anything and walk at least 8 feet away from the bowl. While looking directly at your dog, you need to move towards him quickly. When you do this, make sure that you pay attention to your dog’s body language as you do this.
To be clear, the only appropriate response from your dog at this moment is to ignore you and continue eating without changing his speed of eating the food or his posture. This means that your dog does not have a problem with resource guarding. However if you notice any change especially the speed of eating, or cutting his eyes so you can see the whites of his eyes, your dog may have a problem. It is obviously even more worrisome if your dog snarls, growls, or lunges at you.
There are things that you should and should not do when you come across this situation. You should watch your dog’s reaction and when you see them guarding, stop approaching him and move away until he looks comfortable again. You can try again to see how close you can get before he starts to guard. You can toss treats at your dog as you approach to positively reinforce your approach. You can also put your treats in your dog’s bowl to show that you are not a threat. After this works, you can begin doing things like petting him while he is eating and giving a treat to reward him. You want your pet to be okay with you near his food. You should never take your dog’s food bowl away, as this validates the dog’s fear and worsens the behavior. You should also never continue to approach despite these warning signs from your dog, as this can cause him to become aggressive with you.
If you are having resource guarding issues with your dog (food, toys, etc), contact an OLK9 trainer near you: http://www.offleashk9training.com/contact/
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