Food Aggression: The Cure

malteseI just got back from helping clients with a Canaanite dog who has food aggression.They told me they researched everything online to fix it but to no avail. They called several trainers who offered some of the worst and most bizarre solutions I have ever heard (and I’ve heard em all).

Some of these solutions included shocking the dog with an electronic collar when he becomes aggressive next to his food. Another trainer made an out-of-the-box suggestion advising him to feed his dog more than he could eat. The dog just ate until he threw up but still became aggressive whenever the owners went near his vomit. Needless to say, the dog became ill and there was no change in his food aggression whatsoever.

They bought elevated dog bowls, dog bowls that make the food hard to reach all in a vain effort to curb his food aggression.

But what they and the charlatan trainers they hired failed to understand is that  Like fear aggression, food aggression is an emotional problem, not a practical problem with a quick fix.

The Cause

This particular dog was rescued. the scenario that goes through my head when I hear about a food aggressive rescue dog is as follows. He likely grew up on the streets where he had to fight for his food. Although it’s all speculative, what likely happened was that when the puppy was eating, every other dog in the area patiently waited for him to leave the food or give it up so that they could capitalize. Some of his fellow street dogs were probably more bold than others and went right up to him in an attempt to steal his meal. After much warning growls, the dog realized that the only way he could protect his food was by showing aggression.

Fast forward to today and the same paranoid instincts have manifested themselves in the home of this lovely couple who has zero intention of taking his food. But it doesn’t matter. The damage is done and the mental scars have been inscribed.

When he eats food, he is still not convinced that everyone else is trying to take what’s his and he’ll demonstrate the same aggression every time anyone gets within five feet of his food bowl. His paranoia has his owners on edge and the food bullies of his puppy hood still haunt him at every dinner meal. His food is his lifeline. Without it he dies. So he is ready to challenge anyone who trespasses in his personal space when eating to the death.

This is an all too common profile of the food aggressive dog.

The Cure

Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, there is no quick fix, but there is a fix. Although it can take years to rehabilitate, there is hope for the food aggressive dog. As we said earlier, the food aggressive dog shows aggression when eating because he feels vulnerable. So it’s our job to make him feel extra safe when eating. We do this by

  • Giving him his space
  • Setting up a secure sanctuary for him to enjoy his meals
  • spitting food into his mouth

Giving him his space means not encroaching on the food aggressive dog when he’s eating. Don’t challenge him, just let him eat in peace and quiet. Remember, the more he’s convinced that he won’t be bothered when eating, the less likely he is to express food based aggression. Simply because there’s no reason to.

Setting up a secure sanctuary for him to eat in can mean several things. I usually recommend letting him eat in a crate or his own room with the door closed. This simply compounds the solution I mentioned in the last paragraph whose goal is to convince him that he won’t be bothered when eating. Because then, he is less likely he is to express food based aggression (as highlighted in the previous paragraph).

Lastly, spit food in his mouth. This one may sound bizarre, but it actually works. He needs to know that the yummy treats he eats come from the owner. They are yours and not his. So if you cook a hot-dog, take a bite out of it and spit the chunk into his mouth, it revives an instinct from his puppy hood when he would rely on his mother for food by licking her teeth (which causes her to vomit). And if he knows he needs to rely on you for his food, he’ll realize that he can’t be possessive of something that doesn’t belong to him.

That’s because the more the food aggressive dog has to rely on you for his salvation, the more he’ll realize that the food isn’t really his. Which means there’s no point in protecting it.

 

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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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