Food guarding is a type of resource guarding, and it can appear in any dogs, at any time in their life. It is important to react quickly if it happens with your dog. As always I think prevention is key, and some simple positive reinforcement exercises can be done to prevent this kind of problem from happening.
Some clients ask, how do I know if my dog is guarding his food?
You could start by noticing a growl or a snarl when you (or someone else) is approaching your dog when he is eating his food or munching on a treat, but it could also go as far as physical aggression. So as always best to prevent and start early.
With puppies it is vital to introduce them to many new experiences as early as possible, and you should consider breakfast and dinnertime two of them. So, as puppies, don’t hesitate to sit next to them while they are eating and gently pet them whilst they eat. Reinforce with verbal rewards, such as good boy, and lovely girl. You want them to realise that you are absolutely no threat to their food. Do this often and they will understand just that.
You can also, slowly go from petting your dog to approaching the food bowl, and, if this is OK, start touching the food itself. You could pick a few bits of kibble and offer them to your dog as a friendly and peaceful gesture.
A fun exercise with food: all humans hide around the house, first human give a few bits of kibble to the dog, human number 2 calls the dog from his/her hiding place. The dog will have to find human number 2 to get a few more bits of kibble. If you have two humans, keep going back and forth and keep hiding in different places or different rooms; make it harder and harder the more you play. If you are more than two, take turns. It’s a great way to get your dog to use his sense of smell, you’ll also create a deep bond between your dog and your whole family, big or small, and again your dog will understand that you give the food, and do not take it away.
Another tip, when I'm cooking a roast (or similar), I always keep a nice little juicy piece of meat (no bone) for my dog and leave it on the side to cool off. During his dinnertime (mid dinner) I will approach his bowl and place this yummy extra treat in his bowl. Showing to him that my hand approaching his bowl during eating time will produce good things. I like the way he looks at me when I do that.
These exercises above are for puppies only and will help prevent any food aggression in them in the future. But don’t take anything for granted.
As much as early socialisation is important, keeping up with all these techniques over the first few years is also vital. If your dog is older and has already developed resource guarding these techniques might not be appropriate. If this is your case and you need extra help, please contact me and we can arrange a meeting.
Remember, you can play with their food, but never take the bowl away. And if you are met with snarls, barks or signs of aggression, get back to step one, but never encourage bad behaviour.
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