Does your dog growl at you while he's eating? It can be quite unnerving to hear your dog retaliate in such a way, but it's actually fairly normal. Dogs can get very possessive of things, be it their favorite toy, preferred spot on the sofa, or in this context, their bowl of food.
This type of behavior is called 'resource guarding,' so called because your dog is protecting the resources that matter to him. It's a common issue, but it is one that can be prevented when your dog is just a pup or stopped if they're a little later on in life. In this article, we are going to give you some tips that we hope are useful to you.
Resource Guarding In Dogs
The term refers to any behavior that your dog might display when trying to protect what he considers valuable. Growling is one such exhibited behavior, although your dog might also glare at you, bark, or even snap at you if you get too near. In the case of food, your dog might also eat frantically, as this is his attempt to finish his food before you have an opportunity to take it away from him.
Common Reasons For Resource Guarding
So, what are the reasons for resource guarding? Well, the most common reasons include the following.
Resource guarding is generally learned behavior, as we will see in a moment. However, if you have a young pup at home, and they act aggressively when you're near their food dishes, it might be that it is a trait inherited from one or both of his parents.
A past trauma
If you have adopted an older dog from a rescue shelter, it might be that they have experienced trauma earlier on in life. They may have been mistreated or neglected, or they may have been homeless. In any situation where they have had to protect their food from others, be that their cruel owner or another dog, they will have picked up the traits related to resource guarding. This will have become part of your dog's survival instinct.
Do you have other pets in your home? A goldfish won't cause your dog to bear his teeth, but if you have other dogs or perhaps even cats in your home, your dog might see them as potential threats. This is especially true if your other pets have ever tried to steal your dog's food. In this instance, your dog will have learned the behavioral traits related to resource guarding in a bid to guard what he sees as rightfully his.
How To Prevent Resource Guarding
Prevention is always the best cure for resource guarding. If you can take steps when your dog is still a pup, you can reduce the potential for future problems. This isn't to say you can't prevent resource guarding if your dog is older, but if they have already begun to exhibit signs of resource guarding, it will be trickier.
To prevent resource guarding from becoming a problem behavior, you should:
Let your dog know that you aren't going to take their food. This way, your dog will have less reason to feel anxious when eating. The best way to do this is while they are puppies, when you feed them, walk up to their bowl and don't take any food. This way they will see your feet coming up and won't associate that with a threat of losing their grub! You can also add some food when you walk up.
Another thing to do when they are a puppy is to put your hands in the bowl while they are eating. Be sure not to take any food, you can even pick some up and let them eat from your hand. This way they associate your feet approaching and hands around the food bowl with good things. The calmer your dog is, the better, and he won't then associate you as a potential threat.
Treats are always useful when trying to discourage unwanted behavior, and you can use them to solve the issue of resource guarding. It's about making your dog feel happy, as the more positive an experience mealtime is for them, the less likely they are to act aggressively. So, before you give your dog his food, use a firm, calm voice to make him sit still. Reward his good behavior with a treat, and then give him his food. It's important to note that the treat can simply be some of their food fed from your hand after they sit.
You might also pick up his bowl and put the treat in it before giving it back to him. This way, your dog will associate your approach with treats and will start to understand that you will always give the bowl back. This should prevent any future conflicts.
Desensitize your dog to potential triggers
By introducing triggering elements slowly, you will start to desensitize your dog to anything that might potentially stress them out. So, you might bring your other pet in the room to eat near your dog, as your dog will get used to them being there. And you might stand at a distance from your dog, as they will start to get used to your company. In the case of both your other pets and yourself, you might gradually reduce the distance until your dog is comfortable with closer contact.
How To Stop Resource Guarding
The previous suggestions can also be used to stop resource guarding, especially in the case of older dogs who are already exhibiting protective behaviors.
Other things you can do include:
Offer a tasty chew while they're eating
Offer them a tasty chew while holding it from the other end. To be able to nibble at the chew, your dog will have to get used to you being near them and touching something they like to eat. This is one way to get them used to your presence while they're eating, and it might gradually stop them from seeing you as a threat.
Pet your dog when he is calm
Petting your dog isn't something you should do if he is overly aggressive, but once he associates your approach with a chew or a treat, he should be in a more relaxed state. At this point, you should be able to pet him without him growling at you, as he should be more able to tolerate your presence.
You love your dog, so it's understandable that you might be unnerved when he starts to growl at you while he is eating. However, dog growling can be prevented with the right methods. Use our suggestions, and then check out our online training courses for more advice on encouraging good behavior in your dog. As always, it is a good idea to consult a professional in home trainer to observe what is happening, or a k9 behavioral specialist. Upon seeing the situation they will be able to make the correct assessment and suggest the best course of action to fix the issue.