This post will go over some simple ways to PREVENT your dog or puppy from developing aggression around food before there’s a problem.
I can’t speak for everyone, but these are the tips I’ve tried and plan to use again with future pups.
Some of us are lucky to have dogs that don’t mind if you reach in their mouths and take away their bone or whatever. That’s great! The following can still be used to keep reinforcing that good behavior.
If you have some tips to share, please leave them in the comments.
Tips for preventing a puppy from guarding food
1. Hand feed your puppy.
Do this for at least part of each meal. Calmly praise her for taking the food gently. Ask her to sit or lie down first. Say her name and praise her for how good she is.
2. Gently put your hands in your puppy’s bowl while she’s eating.
Obviously, I’m assuming you know your puppy and what she is comfortable with at this point. Remember, even an 8-week-old puppy can already be food aggressive, so don’t go sticking your hand in her bowl “because That Mutt said so” unless you’re sure it’s OK.
I do this by sitting next to the puppy while she’s eating and dropping bits of meat (like real chicken) into her bowl. Then I’ll pet her and give her more meat and even put my hand in the bowl and move the food around.
If your puppy is good with hand feeding, then she’s probably not going to have an issue with you sitting by her bowl or touching the food.
3. Take toys and bones away in exchange for something better.
When your puppy has a toy or bone, take it away and give her a piece of meat immediately (like ham, chicken or beef) and then give the toy or bone right back. Teach her good things happen when you take her bone away!
4. Safely encourage all of the above with other family members.
All adults and older kids in your family should practice the above tips – feeding the dog, taking things away, touching the food bowl. You want the puppy to associate positive things with all people being near her food.
If you have a young kid or a baby, you can have him hang out next to you while you drop extra goodies into your dog’s bowl. That way the puppy associates good things with your child.
5. Do all of the above with other pets around.
Assuming your other pets are not food aggressive, you can practice all of the above with your other dog around or a cat. Reward all the animals for calm behavior. Whoever is sitting calmly and quietly gets the food first. Whoever is waiting patiently gets the treat first (talking to you, BEAMER!).
When we get a puppy or young dog, I plan to allow my cats to hang out around her bowl and be around the puppy while she’s eating. With supervision, of course.
While it’s always wise to feed animals separately for safety, I prefer to have animals that can actually share food without fighting.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s a pic of my cat and dog sharing a raw chicken.
I’m not suggesting you should try this. I know my pets very well, as I’m sure most of you know yours. They’re also used to eating raw meat.
6. Work on general obedience commands.
I say this in every post. Practice these commands right away with your puppy – sit, down, stay, come, heel, leave it, drop, watch me. All of these concepts will help with her overall self-control and ability to remain calm and focused, viewing you as a fun and positive leader – someone she respects.
By the way, I had someone email me all upset for using the word “commands” in another post. “Do you really want to ‘command’ your dog?” she asked.
Call them “polite requests” if you prefer. The point is to work with your dog on these important skills.
7. Stay happy and positive. Avoid tension.
If you’re a little tentative or nervous or too forceful, some dogs could actually respond to that and feel the need to guard their food or just be more “on edge.” But if you’re having fun with relaxed but serious energy, your dog will pick up on that too.
8. Get help from a trainer if you think you need it.
I don’t want anyone to get hurt. By all means, contact a professional if your dog is showing aggression. It’s worth it!
And what if your pup is already showing aggression around food?
Don’t worry. It’s a common problem, actually.
I’ve written these posts to help:
What tips do the rest of you have for preventing food aggression?
Your comments are always helpful for brainstorming. Thank you for sharing your experiences.