Food aggression in dogs is obviously a disturbing problem. One minute your beloved companion is seemingly enjoying a peaceful meal out of their food bowl, and the next minute, your sweet puppy is lashing out, either at you or one of your other pets.
Why does this type of aggression in dogs happen? What can you do about food aggression if it happens to your pup? Here are a few reasons why a normally calm, loving pooch can turn into a food aggressive dog – and some techniques for dealing with aggressive behavior that might help you control the issue.
What Is Food Aggression?
Guarding behavior, such as guarding toys or food from other animals or even humans, isn’t uncommon among dogs. Your pet’s ancestors guarded their food, and animals in the wild continue to do so. The dogs who do the best job of protecting their food have a better chance of survival. It’s instinct.1
But while this type of resource guarding might be understandable for wild animals, it can be downright scary when your pet does it.
The risk of severe food aggression is obvious – it could result in a serious injury to you, one of your children, or one of your other pets. Whether it occurs when giving a special treat or food, aggressive behavior is potentially dangerous.
Food aggression in dogs typically comes in one of three forms: mild, moderate, or severe. When it’s mild, the food aggressive dog might not do a whole lot more than growl or show you their teeth. In a moderate case, your dog might show some undesirable body language, such as lunging when you get near their bowl. If food aggression is severe, the results can be a painful bite.2
If you have more than one dog, the dominant, or “alpha,” dog might show food aggression in order to assert their dominance over the rest of the “pack,” so to speak. It could simply be your dog is fearful or anxious for some reason.3
Here’s a closer look at why this form of aggression in dogs occurs.
Possible Causes Of – And Fixes For – Food Aggression In Dogs
While any dog can become a food aggressive dog, the behavior is more common in puppies – especially those who come from breeders. Often times, a breeder will only use one large pan to feed a litter of puppies, leaving them to fend for themselves for what they can get.4
The puppies who tend to be the most successful also tend to grow larger and stronger. This, in turn, can lead to a puppy being food aggressive all the time, because they feel they’ll be rewarded for acting aggressively.5
If Your Dog Growls When Eating, It Might Be A Medical Problem
In some instances, there could be a medical reason why severe food aggression takes place. These are just a few examples of medical problems that might result in aggressive dogs.
- Pain – If a dog is having an issue, such as an ear infection, that can make them exhibit aggressive behavior when touched near their head. So, if you pet your pup while they’re eating, it might look like they’re food guarding when, in fact, they just feel lousy.
- Thyroid problems – If a dog suddenly shows aggression, while at the same time exhibiting lethargy, losing hair, and gaining weight, they might have thyroid issues.
- Seizures – If your dog has a seizure and acts aggressively after an episode, that might be because the part of their brain that regulates aggression has been affected.6
Obviously, if your dog suddenly acts in an aggressive fashion – whether they’re guarding their meals or other items, such as toys – take them to the vet to see if a medical problem is the culprit.
Other Possible Reasons For Food Aggression In Dogs
If you’ve ruled out a medical cause, yet your dog is still showing food aggression, then it might be due to one of these reasons.
- Shelter dog syndrome – There are instances where shelter dogs who have recently found their new home may show severe food aggression. This not only happens at mealtime, but other times as well. This could be due to the fact that they see their owners, or other pets in the home, as competition for what they consider scarce resources.
- A new pet – If you recently brought home a new pet, your older dog may suddenly become aggressive when it comes to food, toys, or even territory – such as your living room couch.
- Ingrained behavior – As you learned earlier, puppies often have to fight other pups in the litter for food. It might simply be a case that your dog learned this behavior when they were very young, and it’s become a way of life.7,8,9
Don’t Get Discouraged
Food aggression in dogs is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. There are several effective ways you or a professional can help control this troubling behavior. Talk to your vet or dog trainer about the best ways to train your dog out of this habit. They may recommend taking very small steps towards desensitizing your pet to having their food handled. If your dog gets particularly aggressive, or you don’t feel comfortable taking the matter into your own hands, have a professional dog trainer work with your pet instead. Never punish your dog for food aggression, because that may only make the problem worse. Again, talk to your vet or an animal behavior expert instead to determine your best options.