Before getting into any methods of curing this behavior, let’s try to understand the behavior. Why are dogs sometimes aggressive around food, or even toys? Once you fully comprehend why this might happen, it will be all but impossible to not sympathize with your hungry pet!
The Purpose Behind Resource Guarding
Tracking, chasing, and taking down prey animals is often no easy feat, even for a well organized and highly intelligent pack of Canines! Sometimes this process can take quite a while, and the wolves themselves face the potential for injury, not even considering the caloric burn and energy toll this can take.
No wolf (or most other intelligent species on our planet, for that matter) is going to go through all of this intense effort to simply leave their prize unguarded for other animals to steal. And, trust me- their meals have a knack of disappearing if left unchecked. Wolves can sometimes go for a very long period of time without meals; to finally get one, and have it stolen- well, a hungry wolf can turn into a desperate, weak wolf, and death isn’t a far stretch behind.
Wolves aren’t stupid animals, and will concede to greater threats (emphasis on greater threats) if they can afford it. If not, if hunger has reached it’s climax, they will often guard their kills as if their lives depend on it.
Food Aggression and Your Dog
Dogs retain the same instinct, although often somewhat diminished. ‘Instinct’ is the key word; resource guarding is natural, and you shouldn’t become angry or worried if this happens; it’s a very natural behavior.
What you shouldn’t, for any reasons whatsoever, do, is try and steal your pet’s meal out from under them, or reach behind their field of vision while they are eating.
Taking their meals from them only enforces this negative behavior, and their necessity to ‘guard’, and reaching from behind them, well…
Never Reach From Behind Your Dog!
When I was young, barely a teenager, we kept a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as our family pet. My beloved dog slept in my room every night, was awaiting my arrival home from school every day; I loved him like a younger brother. Unfortunately, he had developed a pretty bad case of resource guarding.
Well, long story short, my little nephew reached out from behind the dog to grab a candy bar from his mouth, and was bitten. Of course my family blamed the dog completely- he was then labeled ‘a damaged animal’.
Why This Happened
The unfortunate truth is that this behavior is completely natural, and should have been expected. Dogs are instinctual animals, basing their decisions upon a rigid set of biological ‘rules’. They aren’t capable of the intricate intellectual thought process humans are, and don’t ask themselves prior to acting- ‘Is this the best course? What are the possible consequences?’
Our dog could have been taught to enjoy the presence of humans around his food, but none of us understood any kind of behavioral psychology at the time.
Dealing with Resource Guarding
The answer here is extremely simple! First, however, let’s cover a few things Not to do:
- Never remove your pet’s meal while they are in the process of eating.
- Absolutely don’t reach from outside their field of vision while they are eating.
- Don’t become angry, or meet your pet’s defensiveness with aggression of your own.
Now that those are covered, there is one very, very simple process to deal with this! Show your dog you aren’t a threat to their meals by providing something they value more than the kibble you are feeding them- like a treat! If you are going to be around them while they are eating, or feel the need to touch their food for whatever reason, be sure to accompany your presence with something they love!
Show them you are not a threat, but rather condition them to enjoy your presence!
If your dog has developed a severe case of resource guarding, it is best to consult an accredited animal behaviorist before attempting to take anything into your own hands. Do not, by any means, attempt to induce any kind of ‘dominance’.