Food, its Mine, Mine, Mine

A common issue I have been asked to help dog owners with is a dog growling and or snaping at them or other human family members if they go near the dog’s food bowl when it is eating

Aggression like this is known as “resource guarding”, typically associated with toys and food. The solution to this problem is to establish the leader / follower relationship between the person and their dog.

How can this be done safely? I recommend the following:

  1. Tie a long string around the bowl and extended the string across the room.
  2. Fill the bowl normally and let the dog start eating
  3. Walk across the room
  4. Pull the string so the bowl moves 6-8 inches toward you
  5. Throw a bunch of “high value” treats (small chicken, liver, hot dogs pieces…) near the dog and in a high pitch voice say “Good dog”. The dog will stop eating from the bowl and eat the treats.
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 every time you feed the dog, however each time increase the amount you pull the bowl toward you by 6 to 8 inches, so on feeding #2 it is 12 to 16 inches, feeding #3 it is 18 to 24 inches, each time including the “rain of treats”
  7. Continue this process until the bowl is at your feet without any aggression during feeding.
  8. If the dog shows any signs of aggression go back to the distance where there is no aggression for a few feedings and then try bringing the bowl closer.
  9. Once the dog is eating at your feet throw some treats about 4 to 6 feet away and when the dog leaves the bowl with food to get the treats, pick up the bowl. When the dog comes back to resume eating from the bowl, put it down and let him/her resume eating.
  10. Work to the point that you can do the treat-throw, pick up bowl and give the bowl back several times during the feeding.
  11. The final stage is to walk up to the dog while feeding and pick up the bowl without aggression.

Congratulate yourself for using Progressive Successive Approximation behavior shaping. If you use this process, decrease the amount of food in the bowl to accommodate the extra treats as not to overfeed the dog.