Food Aggression

Dog standing next to food bowl, looking at camera

*Information adapted from Best Friends Animal Society*

Disclaimer: Pasco County Animal Services and Best Friends Animal Society are not responsible for any injuries incurred from using the techniques described in this article. Anyone using the techniques described here does so at their own risk.

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Some dogs will guard any valued item or space, including food, bowls, toys, treats, or furniture. You can easily get bitten trying to take something away from a dog who is a serious guarder.

Use caution when working on managing food aggression and other guarding behaviors. If you're not comfortable with any of the below techniques, seek help from a professional behavior consultant.

If guarding is a new behavior from your dog, visit your veterinarian first to rule out any medical concerns.

Hand-feeding and practicing trades

Stop using a food bowl and start hand-feeding all meals to the dog, giving them a few pieces of kibble at a time. This will change the dog's association of hands near their food from negative to positive. When you practice trades with the dog, you’ll teach them to always expect something better, making it worth trading.

Work with only one dog at a time. No other dogs should be within sight of your guarder.

If the dog growls, stiffens, etc., at any point, back up to the step where they were relaxed and work forward from that step. Do not move onto the next step if the dog is not improving.

Teaching trades

1. Start by giving the dog something they have never cared enough about to guard — a "low-value" item. Ask them to "give it." Take the item and give the dog a small yummy treat that you have tucked in your hand out of sight. Give the low-value item back and walk away. Wait two minutes. Then, approach again and repeat the exercise six times.

2. Practice six exercises per day for three days. Each day, change the low-value item to a different low-value item.

3. After three days of practice, approach the dog and hold out an object that they have guarded in the past — a "high-value" item. Don’t allow them to take it. Instead, say “give” as if you are asking for the item. Take the "high-value" item away while handing them a small yummy treat.

4. Again, practice six exercises per day for three days. Change the item each day to a different high-value item that the dog has guarded before.

5. After three days of practice, approach and hand the dog one of the high-value items that you have used before. Walk away (at least six feet) and wait two minutes. Then, take a deep breath, relax, smile and approach the dog. Say “give,” take the item, and hand her a small yummy treat.

6. Again, practice six exercises per day for three days. Remember to change the high-value item each day to other previously guarded items.

7. After three days of practice, lay all the high-value items on the floor and wait for the dog to settle on one. Then, approach with a small treat tucked in your hand. Practice six approaches, exchanging the high-value item for the small treat. Between approaches, remember to walk away and wait two minutes before approaching again.

8. If the dog is still doing well, leave the high-value items on the floor and practice the exercise at least three times a day for at least a week.

Consistency is key

It's a good idea to have other adults work with the dog. Start them off with the low-value items and have them work their way through the exercises. Supervise their interactions so you can see how the dog is doing. It also helps to practice in a variety of locations by taking high-value items and treats on outings.

Practice the above routine often to prevent any future problems.