Fear Aggression vs. Food Aggression: The Difference


growling dogMany dog owners make the mistake of placing dog aggression into one single category.

But the truth is that if we want to solve a dog’s aggression, we first have to determine what kind of aggression we are dealing with.

In this article, I’m going to discuss two types of aggression; fear aggression and food aggression. Both equally as dangerous, yet they both come from the same place.

A Simple Analogy

Imagine a guy living in Toronto who is in serious financial debt. His situation is so bad that the bank comes in and seizes all of his assets including his house. Fearing he will die sleeping on the cold streets in the Canadian winter, he gets defensive with the repo men and the police.

This is an example of the mindset of a food aggressive dog. Just as the man in our example believes that he needs his house for survival, so does the food aggressive dog feel he needs the food you’re trying to take from his mouth (or dogbowl).

Now imagine a guy across town who always got bullied and beat up by Russian immigrants in his neighborhood where he grew up. He has obviously developed a fear of Russian immigrants and every time he sees one, he gets defensive.

This is a classic example of the mindset of a fear aggressive dog.

The Difference

While the aggression of a fear-aggressive dog comes from one of bodily harm, the food aggressive dog sees it as a challenge to survive.

That’s because food aggressive dogs understand that they need food to stay alive. Unfortunately, that primal canine instinct is alive and kicking amongst many domesticated dogs who will often growl or bite anyone who comes near their food bowl or tries to take food from their mouth. Whether or not they are malnourished or even hungary is besides the point. The instinctive reaction is real and there is close to nothing you can do to reassure him otherwise short of trading him one piece of food for another.

Whereby a fear-aggressive dog is simply paranoid. They often go through life a scared mess and their aggressive behavior is quite unpredictable. The treatment is a long complicated process. But it is possible. And although solving trauma in humans is far more complicated, fixing dog trauma is tricky as well.


If you have a puppy, there are steps you can take to prevent food aggression later in their life. One example is petting your puppy’s face when he’s eating. This act shows the puppy that even though there’s a human hand is on his face when he’s eating, he has nothing to fear. It will not take or threaten to take his food.

As far as fear aggression goes, it’s more of a what not to do than anything else. To prevent a puppy from becoming a fear aggressive dog, the most important thing is to always encourage his confidence. Any harsh correction or attack from another dog can scar him for life turning into a fear aggressive basket case.
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David Sidman is a certified professional K-9 trainer with a specialization in training military and Police working dogs. Sidman qualified as an I.D.F explosive detection dog handler and was certified in Police K-9 Training by the Eastern States Working dog Association (ESWDA)

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