It’s important to train your pup to stay calm around his dog bowl. A dog who guards his dog bowl may growl, snarl, snap at or even bite you, other pets, or family and friends.
Not only is this behavior inappropriate, but it also can be extremely dangerous. So, what can you do to prevent food aggression in dogs?
First step is to get ahead of the problem. This begins with understanding why food aggression in dogs happens in the first place.
Food is a valuable resource. Without it, we die. Dogs, like us, are programmed to care about food. Because food can be stolen, when we’re near the dog bowl, our pets may assume we want a taste, too!
Prevent Problems Around the Dog Bowl
First thing’s first, learn to recognize early signs of discomfort in your dog. Canines use subtle body language to show they are nervous.
A nervous dog might yawn, lick his lips, position himself between you and the dog bowl, eat faster or stiffen up (“freeze”). Each of these subtle signs say, “Please stay away from me right now.”
If you see these signs as you approach your pet at his dog bowl, calmly take a step back. When we ignore a dog’s subtle body language signals, he can feel more threatened and generally will escalate to more obvious “keep away” behaviors, such as growling, baring teeth or snapping.
Approaching a dog who already asked you nicely to keep away may convince him that you really are after his dog food! I recommend the following rules for every dog household:
- Let your dog eat in peace. In other words, after you serve the dog food, stay away from the dog bowl until your pup has finished eating. If you have multiple pets, feed them in separate rooms or times.
- Never take dog food out of the dog bowl while your pet is eating.
The key to training your dog to remain calm around his dog bowl is to teach him that people aren’t thieves. In fact, people often have extra food and like to share.
If you have more than one pet, it’s may be best to separate your dog from the other pets during mealtime. In my experience, the most common reason for fights to start between housemate pets is that both animals are interested in the same food. Good fences make good neighbors, as they say!
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Train Your Dog to Stay Calm Around His Dog Bowl
IMPORTANT NOTE: The following protocol assumes your dog has never growled, snapped, lunged at, or bitten anyone around the dog bowl. If your dog has a history of aggressive behavior around the dog bowl, the situation could be dangerous. In that case, consult a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA/CPDT-KSA), or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) for assistance.
- When it’s time to feed your furry friend, start by holding the empty dog bowl in your hands. Ask your dog to sit, and slowly lower the bowl. If your pup stands up, lift up the bowl and ask him to sit again. If he stays seated, put the dog bowl on the floor and encourage your dog to go check it out.
- Your dog quickly will realize the bowl is empty. That means it’s time to “share” food. First, ask your dog to sit again. When he does, drop a little dog food into his bowl and encourage him to take it. Then move a couple of steps away and wait.
- As soon as the bowl is empty, ask your dog to sit again. Then walk up to the bowl, drop some food in and cue your dog to take it. Step back and wait again.
- Repeat this process until you have given your dog all his food. Then walk away. Pick up the empty bowl later, after your dog has left the area.
By doing this, you are teaching your dog that when you walk up to his dog bowl more food appears. This is the opposite of acting like a thief.
“What if my dog won’t sit when I put the bowl down?”
If your pet won’t sit still while you put down the dog bowl, lower it as far as you can while he stays seated. Then praise and hand feed him. (Note: Do not attempt to hand feed your dog if he has a history of aggressive behavior, e.g. snapping, lunging, biting.)
Next, lower the bowl again, praise and hand feed while your dog remains sitting, and so on, until you can lower the bowl all the way to the floor. You may need to experiment to learn how far you can lower the dog bowl before your pup stands up.
“Help! I need to stop my dog from eating his food mid-meal. What now?”
If you need to take the dog bowl away for safety reasons (perhaps you gave him the wrong food), call your canine from another room while holding some really yummy dog treats. When he comes over, scatter a big bunch of treats on the floor. Then leave the room, shut the door and go pick up the dog bowl while your dog is munching the treats on the other side of the closed door.
“The above protocol is not helping me. What do I do?”
If your dog behaves aggressively as you go through the protocol described above, or you simply aren’t making progress no matter how hard you try, consult a certified professional (CDBC, CPDT-KA/KSA, CAAB) immediately.
Teaching your dog to remain calm around his dog bowl is well worth the time and effort. It’s also easy to practice. Simply follow the steps above at each of your dog’s meals to teach him to be relaxed when people are near his dog bowl.
Featured Image: iStock.com/YakobchukOlena