What Is Food Guarding?
Food guarding is a very normal behavior for dogs. Their ancestors would not have survived if they allowed someone else to take the food they spent so much time and energy scavenging and hunting. They can’t help it. It probably feels like they’re actually going to die if they don’t protect their meal.
A particular dog may indicate their discomfort by displaying any of the following signals.
- Freezes, stops eating
- Eats faster
- Hard eye (a look that is not relaxed, soft, but very intense)
- Hunkers over food (often with whale eye; keeping head over food while looking at threat out of corner of their eye)
We can teach puppies and dogs to like it (Yay!) instead of worrying (Oh no!) when people come near them while they eat. Our goal is for dogs to want people to approach them, because it means fabulous stuff them.
If your dog is already guarding or showing signs of discomfort when people come nearby when they eat, hire a qualified trainer to help you change your dog’s mind. We can help!
Food Bowl Bonuses: What To Do
Let your dog eat in peace unless you are practicing this exercise.
Watch carefully for any signs of guarding or discomfort (see above). If you see any, toss treats, leave your dog alone to finish their meal, and call a qualified trainer.
- While your dog is eating, walk towards them and stop when you are about 1 foot away.
- Reach into your pocket for a fabulous, amazing, delightful (to your dog) treat. This should be something way better than what’s already in the bowl.
- Add the treat to your dog’s bowl.
- Repeat during your dog’s meals at least a few times a week.
After several sessions, if done correctly, your dog will happily anticipate the bonus, and look forward to your approach.
Pitfalls: What Not To Do
A lot of clients proudly tell me that they can mess with their dog’s food while their dog is eating. It never fails to stop me in my tracks. Unfortunately, the advice to test a dog in this way is flawed. Testing a dog like this could easily backfire, and even result in a bite. They could inadvertently be creating a problem by teaching the dog that there is, in fact, a reason to be worried about people coming near their food. Instead of a dog happily munching away, they are now on guard, ready to protect their food. It’s perfectly understandable — would you want someone to stick their hand in your food while you’re enjoying a nice meal?
Remember, we want our dogs to think it’s wonderful when people approach while they’re eating. It’s counterproductive to scold or otherwise punish a dog for any type of guarding behavior. Call in the help of a qualified trainer if you see signs of food guarding.
Click here to read Academy Vet Talk: Resource Guarding in Dogs from the Academy for Dog Trainers.
For information about dogs who guard food from other dogs, check out Possession is Nine-Tenths of Canine Property Law: What To Do If Your Dog Resource Guardsby Kristi Benson.