Sirius Training, Serious Fun!
Sirius Training, Serious Fun!

People near food bowls ROCK!

Last week I wrote about how common it is for people to actually create food aggressive dogs by trying to get the dog used to people taking the food bowl away.  What people thought was proper socialization, was actually causing their dog’s aggressive behavior.  That post may have left a giant question, “so if not that, then what?”  What should people do to help build confidence/security with food to prevent food aggression?

Well, first off, my end goal is not necessarily a dog who will share everything or who will back off their food at the mere presence of a human or who is so relaxed they will let other dogs take their food–but I do work toward a dog who is tolerant of people walking near, tolerant of other animals in the household casually being around, and tolerant of human hand being near the bowl  (so if the human drops something near the bowl and needs to pick the object up, that the dog will not lash out).

Shayne came to me pretty food aggressive. We did a lot of work so she feels totally comfortable with me standing really close to her, walking near her, and even getting low to snap pictures while she has a very high value food.

Now, how I approach this with puppies is a little different than dogs who already have issues around food guarding–even though exercises are the same.  With dogs who are already food aggressive, I go much slower, spend more time on each exercise, and only move on when there is a level of relaxation or comfort.  With them, it’s about fixing past problems, not just building  a solid foundation.  Since puppies often are already pretty comfortable, I can mix it up and just practice the different exercises.

My general protocol is to build up security about resources and to teach tolerance of activity nearby while they have a resource.  I use a variety of “exercises” to create a high level of tolerance.  One of the guiding principles is that once the puppy has his food, it’s his and I won’t try to take it.  There is a difference between “getting a dog used to having their bowl taken” and being able to take the bowl safely if there is an emergency.

These are some of the exercises I suggest (I encourage all family members to practice these  and employ friends to help)…  if the pups shows stress during any of the exercises, take a step back, add space or go back to hand feeding to prevent the stress from increasing.

Hand Feed–I like to hand feed pups for a few weeks to help build up lots of positive associations between humans and their food.  The pups will start to see me not as a threat to their food but the provider of that food!

Feed From Hand in Food Bowl–Again, this is more work toward building a positive association between people hands and the pup’s food bowl.  I don’t pick up the bowl or take it away ever.  I may nudge it around with my hand in the bowl (so it makes the sound of the bowl being moved) but never taking it away.  I then move to dropping kibble in the bowl–deliberately letting my hand get pretty close to the bowl to put the food in.

When Rio was a younger pup and new to raw, I would walk up to him, sit down and toss him a chicken foot

Sit Near and be a PEZ Dispense–While the pup is snacking on a handful of their kibble, I’ll sit near and drop extra special food near the bowl (in between dropping handfuls of kibble in the bowl).  I start kneeling and standing around to toss extra special treats near the bowl.  I want the pup to get used to food raining from the sky with me being near in a variety of distances and heights.  I work towards leaning down and putting my hand pretty close to the bowl and dropping treats.  You want to be careful not to be staring or looming…just casually standing around.  I use this same technique to stand by and drop food when another animal in the house may wander nearby.

Walk by and drop food–Like many people, my pups are not fed in isolation, when they are eating, I frequently walk near them or by them as I move around the house.  I don’t want to walk by the pup and have him lash out at me for being too close… so I condition them to see people walking near them as a really awesome thing.  Much the same as the stationary work, I have people walk by and drop food near the pup’s bowl when they are eating.  No-looming or staring, just passively dropping food as they walk passed.  Depending on the puppy and the household, I do like to work up to “bumping” into the pup and dropping a jackpot amount of treats on the ground.  I know in my house, occasionally while walking around the dogs eating, they’ll get bumped into and again, I want there to be a positive association to this type of interaction.

 

Through these types of non-confrontational exercises, owners can create dogs who are extremely confident that people near their food bowls mean nothing but good things.  These are pups who are not going to lash out if a person walks near them while they eat or if a human puts their hand near the bowl.  This sets up a safe environment if a human MUST pick up the food bowl for an emergency reason–though I always suggest, if you HAVE TO pick up the bowl, you should drop some extra good rewards in its place if it’s safe to do so.

6 Comments
  1. Thanks for the article… My dog was a resource guarder with humans when he was a tiny pup (it was really bad, too!), but we worked with it and he has no problems with humans being around his food/toys/bones, etc. Humans mean good things. However, he has become a resource guarder with other dogs- BAD! We also have 3 wiener dogs and they have each experienced his wrath when approaching a bone left out, me training with treats, and other silly things that I NEVER thought would lead to an aggressive outburst. We now meticulously manage the environment to keep everyone safe. I can’t find articles on solving this behavioral issue and it’s driving me nuts! I have seen one video online, but I’d like more ideas. Can you send me your suggestions or other resources you know of that I can look into? Thanks so much! 🙂

    • Intra-pack resource guarding is something that isn’t written about extensively… my go-to resource guarding book, “Mine!” doesn’t really address RG between dogs.

      I don’t have many dog (3 in the house right now) but I do allow for a level of resource guarding. If Bandit the Shih Tzu is hovering too close to Rio and I don’t see him, Rio will give a growl or bark. I’m fine with this behavior. It’s not over the top and Bandit respects it–I try to prevent it but… y’know how it goes.

      When I encounter crazy intra-pack RG, first step is to HEAVILY manage the situations to keep everyone safe. Once things are managed and have been calm for a while, I work on classically conditioning a new emotional response. I start by feeding them separately–ideally with a baby gate. When the RG-er eats I’ll start having the other dog be walked passed the room at a distance if possible… each time the dog walks by the door, EXTRA SPECIAL treats rain from the sky. This shouldn’t be intrusive to the dog eating… if the dog doesn’t react that’s good… I would only walk past twice….once in one direction and once back. Each and every time, extra yummy food rains down. At first you want them as far apart as possible. I would do this every meal for minimum a week. Assuming there are no reactions at this distance you slowly decrease the distance repeating the same process… that’s what i would do and where I would start.

      Good luck! If i find more specific intra-pack RG information I will pass it along–but management is often a big part of it.

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