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How to Prevent a Dog or Puppy’s Aggression Around Food

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

How to prevent a puppy's aggression around 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!

Prevent a puppy's aggression around food

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.

dog and cat sharing raw food

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.

Good grief.

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:

How to break a dog’s possessiveness

Does your dog know the leave it command?

Stop a dog from guarding food using desensitization

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.

Bruce Bolduc

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Our dog is a rescue and generally not food aggressive. We sometimes feed her with a "sit and wait" and she's not allowed to eat until we tell her OK. She is a rescue that was bullied by another dog in her prior home, so glad she is not food aggressive. The only time she is anyway food aggressive is when we give her a bone, when she will growl when we touch her. Any suggestions?

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Yes, here are some ideas in this post.

Jean Patterson

Tuesday 27th of December 2016

These are all Brilliant tips. I was fortunate to be able to do these with all my dogs, and we don't have any food issues. We go to dog group twice a week and when we get new dogs in I sit several of the dogs in a circle and everyone has to sit and wait their turn for a treat. This helps bring the new dogs into the pack quicker and it shows everyone gets a treat as long as they wait. My Rotties are excellent at this activity. Sometimes I ask for the treat back and so far it works. Love this post


Friday 11th of September 2015

These are amazing tips! I know plenty of people who struggle with food aggression with their dogs, and more often than not their solution is just to separate the animals when they eat. I will definitely suggest all of these tips to other people because I could see them being incredibly useful.


Friday 11th of September 2015

These are all great tips! Training your dog to not be aggressive around food is definitely important, and it seems like people tend to avoid it and just accept as "well that's just how our dog is". At least they say that right up until their dog bites a child who was just trying to play with the dog, and then it becomes readily apparent that they should have trained their dog not to do that!


Thursday 10th of September 2015

It's so important to practice these tips when your puppy is young. I did hand feeding and would put my hands in Haley's bowl. Most people wouldn't do this, but I've seen some people (usually kids) tease their dog with food or treats in a kind of keep-away type game, yikes! All your tips are fantastic for dog owners to practice! :)