Dogs who guard their food (or other resources such as bones and toys and even people) are a danger to anyone coming near. Although it is NORMAL dog behavior (and often manifested by stiffening, staring, growling or snapping), we must teach our dogs not to do it. If your dog guards her food from you, rest assured she does not see you as her leader.
With some work, you can change your relationship with her and extinguish this dangerous behavior. You should always be able to take anything away from your dog, even if it’s food, and even if it’s already in her mouth.
Prevention is ALWAYS better than correction.
To PREVENT food guarding, there is some simple stuff you can do with your puppy so this dangerous behavior never starts. I’ll explain in a second.
With an older dog who is already guarding her food, it’s tougher but doable and I’ll discuss that too.
When your puppy arrives, teach her that there is benefit in having you near her food. Place her food on the floor, and teach her to wait until you tell her it’s ok to eat. While she’s eating, tell her to “Leave it” and pick up the bowl and place something special (a piece of meat or cheese) in it, then let her continue eating. Keep your hands on the bowl while she eats. Feed some of it to her by hand. Pet her while she eats. Occasionally remove food from her mouth. Do this once in a while throughout her life to maintain her comfort level.
With an older dog who is guarding her food, you have your work cut out for you. DO NOT practice these exercises as you are risking a bite. DO NOT use any type of force trying to get her to allow you near her food. Forcing the issue can get you bitten, and will only further damage your relationship with her. In addition, teaching her through force will not change her motivation or “heal” her distress. It can only make her more aggressive, or it may cause her to suppress her aggression and surprise you with it later.
You really should seek professional help. Choose a trainer (like ME!) who uses positive, motivational methods (never choose a force/punishment trainer) to work on your dog’s food bowl issues. She probably needs you to be firmer with her in all aspects of your relationship. If she’s “top dog” in your pack, that needs to change!
Over time, she should get comfortable with you near her food, and some day you should even be able to remove food from her mouth.
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