We all love our dogs. They’re a fluffy member of the family who we count on for their seemingly endless affection and companionship, just like they depend on us for food, water, playtime, and daily belly scratches. But just because we love our dogs doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Sometimes, they come with a few issues that loving owners need to recognize and address, including food possessiveness. 

Below, our team of animal experts at All Paws Express will explore the basics of food possessiveness in dogs and how their owners can train them out of the problematic behavior. Please read on to find out more. Also, consider browsing our selection of other expertly written resources to find out more great information about pets and pet parenthood. 

Related: How Much Should I Feed My Dog? A Complete Guide

Why Are Some Dogs Possessive Over Their Food?

A dog taking a treat stick from a human.

Possessiveness over food, also called food aggression or food guarding, is a territorial reaction that some dogs exhibit when trying to eat. It typically involves using hostile behavior to protect their food and prevent other animals (or people) from getting to it. The behavior is quite common in dogs; one report says that approximately 20% display signs of food aggression.  

Despite its commonality, dogs do not have a single cause for food aggression. Instead, the behavior is typically linked to a range of reasons. For example:

  • Some dog breeds, including German Shepherds and Rottweilers, are genetically predisposed to display aggressive or dominant tendencies.
  • Different types of trauma can trigger some dogs to develop food aggression later in life as they learn to protect their resources. Dogs from shelters also tend to be at higher risk for developing food aggression due to competition for resources. 
  • Sometimes food aggression is learned in puppyhood due to limited resources or accidental training practices.

There are three types of food aggression that dogs can exhibit in different situations related to their food, with each corresponding to the intensity of their reaction. These include;

  1. Mild Aggression: Showing teeth or growling
  2. Moderate Aggression: Snapping or lunging
  3. Severe Aggression: Biting

Thankfully, even dogs with severe food aggression can be trained to overcome the issue and learn that they don’t have to be so protective over their meal, whether from other animals or their owners. 

All Paws Express is here to handle the pet relocation process from A to Z!

How Do You Stop Food Aggression in Dogs?

A dog lying by his food bowl.

There are several critical steps involved with training your dog out of food aggression or food guarding behaviors. It’s essential to leverage each one and remain consistent with their training to have the best chance of helping them move beyond their possessive tendencies.

  1. Get Your Dog Used to Your Presence During Meals

The first step involves getting your dog used to your presence while they eat. Doing this will help teach the dog to be calm when other people are present during mealtimes and serves as a critical foundation for the additional steps below. Stand back a few feet from them during their meal for at least ten meals in a row.

  1. Add a Treat to Their Food, Then Step Back

Once they feel comfortable with your presence while eating, you can take things a step further by adding a treat to their bowl and then stepping back to your original place away from them. Do this for at least ten consecutive meals.

  1. Stay Close and Talk to Your Dog While They’re Eating

The next step involves basic interaction. After putting a treat in your dog’s bowl, stand next to your dog and talk to him using a conversational tone. For example, you can say, “What have you got there?” or “What are you eating?”. Repeat the process every few seconds, and then do it again for ten or more meals in a row.  

Related: Can Dogs Eat Fish? Here is What You Need to Know

  1. Try Handfeeding Them

Approach your pup with the same conversational tone and stand beside their bowl while holding a treat. Instead of dropping it in the bowl, encourage them to take it from your hand and then walk away. Do this during several meal times, and try to bend down a little further each day until your hand is next to the bowl.

  1. Touch Their Bowl, But Don’t Move it or Take Food From it

Follow step four, and bend down to offer the treat in one of your hands while talking to them. Use your other hand to touch their bowl without taking any food from it to get them used to your close presence during mealtime. If your dog remains relaxed for ten or more sessions of this, move on to the next step.

  1. Lift Their Bowl, Provide a Treat, and Return the Bowl

As you speak to your dog and bend down with a treat, gently pick up their bowl and lift it only 6-12 inches from the ground before dropping the treat into it. Immediately put it back on the ground. Lift the bowl a little bit higher every day for several days until you can put it on the table to prepare the treat with your dog still relaxed. 

  1. Repeat the Process With All Family Members

Once your dog overcomes their food aggression with you, you can start the training again with other family or household members! Ideally, it should take less and less time for your dog to lose their food aggression towards others.

Related: Can Dogs Eat Strawberries? Fruits and Vegetables Dogs Can and Can’t Eat

Final Facts to Consider

Our animal experts at All Paws Express hope you’ve learned the essentials you’ll need to help train your fuzzy friend out of their food possessiveness and that you can start to enjoy one another’s presence during mealtimes without any worries or stress!

All Paws Express is here to make the pet relocation process as easy as possible!