Adult Dogs

How to Train a Food Aggressive Dog with Conditioning


Food aggression is one of the most common types of canine aggression that many dog owners face.

It can manifest in any number of ways.  But more often than not, the puppy starts to growl, snarl, or even bite whenever someone approaches his precious food bowl.

This article explains how to use conditioning and desensitizing to train food aggression out of your dog.  But first, let’s look at why puppies are food aggressive to begin with.

Why Do Puppies Guard Their Food so Much?

Food aggression is a holdover from the days when dogs (or rather, wolves) had to hunt for their meals.  Wild dogs are social animals that work together to take down big game.  But after the kill, the cooperation ends.  And pack members compete with one another for the spoils.

Today’s domesticated dogs no longer have to hunt for food.

But food aggression can also be reinforced during a puppy’s formative years.  It is not uncommon for brothers and sisters to compete for their mother’s milk.  The lucky ones get the most nutrition, and grow stronger and more quickly.  The unlucky (or weaker) ones get very little – if anything.

These 2 reasons (pack hunting and mama’s milk) help to explain why food aggression remains so prevalent in today’s canine breeds.

How NOT to Train a Food Aggressive Dog

Before we look at a 6-step process for conditioning food aggression out of your puppy, let’s look at what NOT to do.

1.  Don’t free feed your dog.  Free feeding is when you leave the food bowl out all day.  Your dog can eat whenever it wants.  This is both unhealthy and unwise.  By free feeding, you make it harder to reinforce the fact that YOU are the sole provider of all nourishment.  Your puppy has no one to thank since his meal is always waiting there for him.

Instead, schedule regular meal times throughout the day.  And stick with the schedule is much as possible.  Obviously with work, family, and social commitments, you may have to adjust mealtimes occasionally.  But consistency is key.

2.  When it comes to general aggression training, we often recommend taking away food, toys, and other rewards until your puppy is better behaved.  But if you are specifically targeting food aggression, you don’t want to take away the bowl.  Doing so will only reinforce his apprehension and anxiety about approaching footsteps.

3.  Don’t use scolding, reprimands, violence, or yelling.  Not only do these tactics typically failed to produce results, but they also erode much of the trust both you and your dog have already built into the relationship.

Now, let’s look at what you should do.

How to Train a Food Aggressive Dog in 6 Easy Steps

There are many different ways to train food aggression out of your puppy.  The following steps represent one of our favorite methods.  It is based on conditioning your dog to become familiar with approaching people – even as he eats.

Let’s begin.

Step 1

Whenever you feed your dog, stand a safe distance away.  And toss treats into his bowl while he is eating his normal dog food.  Repeat this process for 5 or 10 days.

Step 2

Repeat the same process as above.  But over the course of a week, reduce your distance from the bowl.  If you originally started 5 m away, then make it 4 m away, 3 m away, etc.

The goal here is to be able to approach the bowl (with treats) without provoking any violent reactions from your puppy.

Step 3

After a while, you should be able to stand directly over the bowl and drop treats into it whenever your puppy is eating his normal food.  If you cannot, you still need to invest more time in Steps 1 and 2.

Step 4

Now that you’re able to stand over the bowl (without any problems), your new goal is to be able to move your hand closer and closer as you deposit treats.

Step 5

After several more days of practice, you can deposit treats with one hand and gently touch the bowl with the other hand (at the same time).  If this ever provokes a reaction, you need to invest more time in the previous steps.

Step 6

Once your dog becomes comfortable with your touching his bowl, you can actually pick up the bowl, deposit a treat into it, and put the ball down to let the dog resume eating.

And that’s basically it.

Customize These Puppy Training Steps As Necessary

There are countless variations of this conditioning/desensitizing process – but the overall idea remains the same.

Over the period of several weeks, you slowly condition your dog to remain calm even as you approach his precious bowl.

But here are some important tips.

Tip 1 – Go Slow and Scale Up

The process must be gradual and consistent.  Never move on to the next step until you and your dog have fully mastered the previous step.

Tip 2 – Involve the Whole Family

Everyone in your household must follow the same steps (on their own timetable).  This is important because your puppy might have different reactions to different people.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these canine training tips.

  • If you need additional resources on aggression training, click here.
  • If you want more general dog training ideas, check out our expert resources located here.

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