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Eliminate Food-Guarding Behavior in 7 Steps

Guarding possessions, whether it be food, a special toy, or any other item, is a normal behavior in dogs. When dogs ran wild, they were forced to guard their possessions to survive. Those who did guard their food, and/or their family were more likely to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, this could become an issue for us, as their family.

Guarding behavior can range from completely harmless to extremely aggressive. Some dogs guard their resources from everyone. And, others guard their possessions from only certain people (like ‘strangers’).

Some dogs guard their bone. Some dogs guard their toy. Some dogs guard their food.

Which of the above is your dog doing?

We’ll talk about how to resolve these issues. And, if your dog isn’t resource guarding, we’ll talk about how to prevent resource guarding as well.

Prevent the Behavior

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If you have a puppy, now is an excellent time to begin preventing resource guarding. Puppies are prone to developing food guarding behavior because they must compete with their litter mates.

As soon as you bring your dog home, you should begin hand-feeding. Sit down with your puppy and feed him one piece of kibble at a time. Speak softly to your puppy as you’re feeding.

Once your dog is comfortable with hand-feeding, you can move to the bowl. Set the bowl in your lap or directly next to you. Watch your dog’s behavior as she’s eating with you. Continue speaking to your dog in a soft, positive voice as she’s eating.

My Dog is Already Food Guarding

If your dog is currently guarding her food, there are ways to desensitize your dog. The process we will use is known as counterconditioning.

While completing these exercises, be sure to listen to vocalizations and watch your dog’s body language. This will help you understand how he or she is feeling during this time.

The First Step: Only Standing Nearby

You need to go about this step-by-step. Try standing a few feet away from your dog while she’s eating her kibble. During the first step, you should not try to move closer. Calmly talk to her in a reassuring manner while she’s eating. This should be repeated a minimum of ten times before moving to the next step.

The Second Step: Standing and One Step

In the second step, you should still begin by standing a few feet away from your dog. But, you can take one step closer to your dog at this time. When you take your step, throw a treat toward your dog’s food bowl. Then, step back to where you were in the first place. Each day, you can take an extra step (as long as your dog is calm/relaxed). Step 2 should also be repeated a minimum of ten times before moving to step 3.

Step 3: Standing and Walking Away

If your dog has successfully mastered steps 1 and 2, you can move on to step 3. If your dog is still uncomfortable, please stay with the first two steps.

In the third step, continue talking to your dog in a soft tone, while walking toward his food bowl. Stand next to your dog’s food bowl, place a treat in the bowl, and walk away slowly. This step should be repeated a minimum of ten times.

Step 4: The Treat Trick

Continue applying what you have learned in the first three steps. In this step, while your dog is eating, you can hold a treat in your hand. Slowly show your dog the treat as he’s eating his meal. This step should encourage your dog to stop eating what’s in the bowl and take the treat. Once your dog has taken the treat, walk away and stand a few feet away from your dog. Continue to do this at each mealtime until your dog has finished eating.

Step 5: Pick Up the Bowl

The next step… raising the bowl. Please only attempt this step if your dog is 100% comfortable with steps 1-4.

Stand next to your dog and pick up her bowl with one hand. Don’t pick it up all the way… only lift the bowl slightly from the floor. Then, return the bowl to your dog immediately.

Step 6: Now She’s Comfy

Once your dog is comfortable with step 5, you can take the bowl away, place a treat in the bowl, and return it. Your dog now associates you with goodies. At this point, your dog should no longer have any problem with you being near her food.

Step 7: The Final Step

The final stage is to help the other members of your family go through all six steps. Be sure everyone in the household completes the steps in the same manner you did. And, don’t skip a step! This will allow your dog to learn there’s no reason to guard his food… not only from you but from anyone.

DO NOT PUNISH

Do not punish your dog for guarding her food. Your dog is guarding her food because she thinks you’re going to take it away and she won’t get it back. Punishment often results in the behavior worsening as the trust between you and your dog is lost.

DISCLAIMER:

If your dog becomes aggressive with his or her food, you should not attempt to resolve this behavior on your own. Please contact a Canine Behaviorist to assist in the process.

 

Why Do Dogs Bite Ankles?

There is a commonality among herding dog breeds– they bite ankles! Why?!

Dog breeds like the Corgi, the Great Pyrenees, the German Shepherd, and others, and even mixes are known to bite ankles when playing.

Well, they’re trying to herd you. Think about their instincts for a moment. Way back when, the sheep or other livestock would be running and they would be nipping their ‘ankles’ lightly to get them to stay in line, and get to where they want them to be.

Now, take today’s situation. Let’s say you are running with your dog, playing… her natural instinct may be to bite at your ankles. They’re copying the behavior they were originally bred to do.

Altering the Behavior

Even though this behavior is based on instinct, of course that doesn’t mean we’re okay with our dogs nipping at our ankles. So, we need to re-direct our dogs in an effort to remove this behavior from their ‘behavior menu.’

If you’re noticing this behavior, your dog needs a job mimicking this behavior… or even just a little bit of extra exercise. But, make sure to give them a purpose. They need to feel like they’re being productive.

Don’t pay attention to this behavior. If you give your dog extra attention when he bites your ankles, he will either see it as positive (like you wanting to continue playing), or as punishment which can be damaging to the bond you share with your dog. And… if you think about it… he may not understand why you’re mad (remember, instinctual behavior).

Ideas to Rid of Ankle Biting

The following are several ideas you can try out to remove this behavior from your dog’s mind (or just make him content):

  • Toy balls: Herding dogs often love toy balls. Throw them in the yard and let them run, and chase.
  • Keep a toy ball available during play. When you’re playing, and she nips at your ankle, throw the ball to redirect her attention.
  • Puzzle toys: Puzzle toys are recommended for not only this behavioral issue but many others well. Puzzle toys stimulate the mind and decrease problem behaviors.

Food Guarding

Believe it or not, food guarding is classified under the category of aggression. Please note, just because your dog guards his food, does not automatically mean he or she is an aggressive dog. This is a common problem for more dogs than you would think.

Back to Instincts

Food guarding is instinctual and derives from wolves needing to guard their food from other predators. Wolves who guard(ed) their food are more likely to survive than those who don’t. Of course, in our world, this is not a desired behavior.

Prevention

If you have a puppy and you don’t want him to guard his food, try sitting near him when he eats. If he is comfortable with this, you can get closer and see how he reacts. If or once he is comfortable with you being close, you can reach your hand toward the bowl while he is eating. Please note, this should only be done by an adult with a puppy (not an adult dog) and caution should be taken.

You can also hand-feed your puppy which behaviorists have found helps incredibly. Grab a handful of your puppy’s food and feed your puppy one piece at a time. This will greatly reduce the risk of him guarding his food as he gets older.

Treatment

If you do not want to seek treatment with a canine behaviorist, try feeding your dog in another room away from ‘competition.’

In most cases, food guarding is not treated because it doesn’t pose a threat in most cases. If there are young children in the home, or other pets who could be harmed, it definitely becomes a problem. Children are more likely to be bitten because they do not yet understand the warning signs a dog displays when he is angry or uncomfortable.

Never

You should never punish your dog for guarding his food. Punishing your dog can greatly impact the bond you share with him and lead to him trusting you less.

Know the Signs of Aggression

Each year, there are so many dog bites that could have been prevented by simply knowing the signs. The majority of dogs will let you know, in their own way, when they are feeling uncomfortable.

The Warning Signs

Dogs will often communicate in their own way to tell you they are not comfortable with a situation. When they are becoming upset, frustrated or angry, they may display the following warning signs:

  • Growling
  • Showing their teeth
  • Stiff, rigid body language
  • Wagging their tail

Learning and understanding a dog’s body language will help you understand how he or she is feeling all the time. This is not only important for understanding aggression but also for understanding your dog in all aspects.

But, He’s Wagging His Tail…?

The most confusing of all of these signs? Wagging their tail. Most people think if a dog is wagging his tail, he is automatically happy. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes, dogs wag their tail to tell you they are not happy at all.

You can tell if a dog is wagging his tail because he is happy, or if he is wagging his tail because he is upset, by looking at the rest of his body language. If he is wagging his tail with a relaxed mouth and a relaxed or playful stance, he is likely wagging his tail because he is happy. If he is wagging his tail with stiff body language, closed mouth and/or staring at you, this is more than likely a warning sign for you to ‘get out of his personal bubble.’