Commonly termed as Food Aggression, this is when one of your dog attacks or snaps at the other mostly during meal times. Not all dogs have the same personality and therefore, while some pooches are quite nonchalant about sharing their food, others protect it quite possessively.
So, if one of your dogs has attacked the other dog over food recently, enforcing positive reinforcement training techniques is the need of the hour. There are many reasons as to why a canine might be showing aggression and hence seeking a vet’s help is a must. Sometimes the causes are rather medical-related, which when ignored can easily escalate into much more serious circumstances.
What is Food Aggression?
Another of the natural wild instincts, food aggression in simple terms is a way of guarding resources. Just like protecting their territory, female partners, and puppies, certain dogs get quite territorial about their food. This in turn leads to violent outbursts of aggressive behavior, such as growling, snapping, trying to bite, or wolfing down the food dangerously.
When approached, the dog gets defensive with the feed and starts showing signs of distress. This may happen with either humans, other animals or both. Such distress signals often range from mild to severe, and should be carefully studied to find the right solution.
What causes food aggression?
There are a multitude of reasons why your perfectly normal canine may be showing sudden sprouts of food aggression. The causes include:
One of the most common causes include learned behavior. Mostly prevalent in litters where either of the parents or litter mates show dominance over food, your pooch may also have grasped the same from their puppyhood.
In such an environment the pup starts associating violent acts such as growling, biting, snarling as means of getting the first chance to a resource. As a result, the dog will definitely start showing food aggression when in another’s presence, unless corrected at the right time.
Just like learned behavior, dominance is also a leading factor behind most food aggression cases. With some canine breeds predominantly exposed to aggressive nature due to bad breeding methods and genetics, food aggression can be a common occurrence.
Generally, guard dogs like German Shepherds, Rottweilers and small breeds including Chihuahuas, English Springer Spaniels, etc. are most inclined to show such characteristics. However, this doesn’t mean that all guard or small sized canine breeds will be predisposed to the same attributes. It typically depends upon their individual personality and therefore wrongly accusing any of such breeds would be a huge mistake.
Finally, painful traumas could also bring in such drastic changes in a completely normal pooch. For instance, sudden death of their beloved person, change in environment, physical abuse and neglect could be the triggering factors.
Such canines will out of the blue start showing extreme possessiveness to all their things, including toys, owners, feed, and even parents. They will become snappy upon being cornered and hence react violently to other dogs, or animals in the house. Instances like these would require professional intervention and may take a long time to be corrected.
Although rare, if your pooch is not feeling well, then also there is a higher chance that they might attack another dog during meal times. As dogs associate food as one of their most important treasures, a canine in pain or discomfort may feel agitated and threatened, resulting in such phases.
So, if nothing above seems to be making sense, having the vet do a thorough examination can work out well. This way you will be able to resolve two issues at the price of one.
How do you distinguish signs and symptoms of food aggression?
Depending upon the form of approach, food aggression signs and symptoms can be classified into three categories:
- Mild- usually consists of constant staring, baring of teeth, and raising of hackles
- Moderate- growling, snapping, threatful lunges
- Severe- the most dangerous of all, it is when the dog charges towards their target and bites them
Apart from these, there are also several other gestures that can easily go unnoticed, if the dog has no such previous cases of food aggression. Therefore, if you suspect food guarding behavior from one of your dogs, marking even the slightest of body behavior changes can be beneficial.
This will give you enough time to be prepared and if required call for professional help without risking the safety of other animals or humans within the premises. Some of these signs include:
- Laid back ears
- Tail tucked or lowered
- Raised hackles
- Wide eyes with whites of their eyes clearly visible
- Constant staring
- Chomping down of food without proper chewing
- Trying to take their feed and run away
- Not leaving their feed bowls even when they are done
These subtle signs can escalate into much more severe circumstances at the blink of an eye. Thus, heeding proper attention to their solution at the earliest, is what pet parents should focus upon.
How to stop food aggression in dogs?
Always remember that dealing with any bad canine behavior will require loads of practice, patience and regular effort. This is because while some pooches are smart enough to catch on to things quickly, others may exhibit immense stubbornness when tried to rectify. Similarly, going slow is also the key, as making haste will only put more and more emotional pressure on the already volatile woofer.
Now coming on to the steps:
Track the triggering factor
The first and foremost thing to do here is to detect the triggering factor. Whether the dog tries to attack an animal or a human is what the pet parent needs to determine. Only after this step is done, can the parent proceed to further behavior correction training.
Start by habitualizing them to the presence of the triggering factor
Based upon the results, next proceed to slowly making them habituated with the presence of the above-stated factor. If it is another dog, be sure to always maintain a safe distance between them and offer feed in separate bowls at the same time. Or in case it’s a human, make them stand or sit a few feet away from the pup in question, where the canine can see them clearly.
This helps the dog associate their presence as a non-threatening action, thereby gradually exhibiting less violent phases during meal times. However, if there is a sudden increase in their irritability, the factor should be immediately removed from the space.
Using treats as a peace sign
All dogs love treats. And this is something that can be leveraged to the maximum when trying to teach your dog the correct behaviors.
Once the dog is visibly relaxed with another’s presence, make sure to slowly approach the pooch and treat them. It is better to add in a verbal cue of ‘Sit/Lie down’ before letting them have the treat. Repeat the same with the other pooch.
As the dog notices that he/she gets rewarded in the presence of the other dog or human, they will also eventually put their guards down.
Let the dogs bond together
Sometimes poor socialization between the animals can be the cause behind such attacks. Therefore, letting your dogs interact, play and grow closer within a controlled environment is of high importance.
Try training and treating your dogs together. Take them on long walks, monitor them during yard play hours, or let them crazily run besides each other in an enclosed space. Given the increased bonding time, soon you will start noticing desired changes and a gradual decrease in their unfamiliarity amongst each other.
Seek professional consultation
Finally, if the situation doesn’t seem to improve, consulting an experienced and trained canine behaviorist is your last safe bet. When approached, the professional would start with pointing out all major factors that may be causing the change. Afterwards, depending upon the severity, the training can either be done back at the pooch’s residence or at a separate training facility.
Canine behavioral specialists always follow positive reinforcement training techniques only and thus, there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Here’s a video showing how professional trainers and specialists work with dogs exhibiting aggression due to numerous reasons.
Stopping food related attacks between dogs within the same house is an absolute mind game. You need to understand exactly what triggers the canine and work out ways to maintain a safe, healthy relationship between your animals. And all of this needs to be done at the right time.
Whereas rushing out, shouting, punishing, or using violent methods, such as choke chains, electric collars will only deteriorate the situation further and cause the dominant or aggressive dog to lash out even more on the other.
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