Do you know what food aggression looks like in dogs?
Schooner eats his food, spilling little kibbles out onto the floor. His maw, expansive as it is, has quite droopy sides and a few of those little kibbles find their way to the floor.
The cat notices and takes a few steps toward the bowl and the smattering of slobber-softened kibbles. She tentatively tastes one, deems it delicious, and continues to move forward kibble by mushy kibble.
Schoooner’s keeping an eye on her, head buried in his bowl. He isn’t moving his head, but his eyes follow the kitty’s every move. As she gets almost up to the bowl, he freezes, lowers his head just a bit more, and gives her the deepest growl he can muster.
“Stay AWAY from my bowl,” the growl tries to communicate.
Undeterred, the kitty remains directly under Schooner’s head, lazily eating the treats that have slipped out of Schooner’s mouth.
Finally, Schooner can’t take it any longer and lunges toward the kitty with a bark that rattles the windows. Kitty scampers off to the back room, back to where her own food bowl sits (with food in it, I might add).
This scene would repeat itself until Schooner finished his dinner if I allowed it. It seems comical if you don’t know that you’re watching a dog practice — and get better at — food-bowl aggression.
Food aggression, aka Resource Guarding
Technically, it’s called resource guarding. Schooner is guarding a highly prized resource, his food, from cat thievery. The cat will actually steal his food. She’s on a diet and she’ll take food any way she can get it, even if she has to risk the wrath of a dog 30x her size.
It’s perfectly normal for any animal (or human) to guard a valuable resource. (Have you seen people fight over a parking spot around holiday time? This is a version of resource guarding in humans.) It’s not necessarily appropriate, though.
I mean, I don’t want Schooner to develop the habit of growling to move the cat (or other dogs, or people) away from his food bowl. Now that I’ve noticed this habit, I’ve got a plan for how to deal with food guarding.
How to Deal with Food Aggression
First, I’ve got to contain the kitty so she can’t come in and steal Schooner’s food. If I can eliminate the thief, I’ve eliminated the threat. No threat = no guarding.
Next, I’ve got to change Schooner’s thought process about the kitty coming near his food. Schooner and the other dogs get snacks throughout the day and there are lots of opportunities for the cat to investigate the latest snack, even when the dogs aren’t eating their meals. So, whenever the cat comes around when I’m handling food (whether it’s dog food, people food, etc.), I’m going to give Schooner a little something extra.
By giving him something extra because the cat came near will help turn around Schooner’s feelings toward the kitty. Kitty will soon = treats! The quicker I can get this message across, the sooner Schooner will enjoy the cat coming closer.
Notice that nowhere have I recommended correcting or punishing the dog (or cat) for guarding (or stealing) the food. Often, paying attention to the problem (even to correct the dog) only lets the dog know that that behavior really works.
Paying attention to the dog and telling him what you do want him to do will work wonders and will help solve your problem!
Your turn: Does your dog have a favorite toy or chew that he guards from you? From other dogs? From cats? Let us know by leaving a comment below!