Does your dog growl, freeze, eat faster or try to bite if you approach him when he’s eating? Food guarding is a completely normal and very common dog behavior but it understandably upsets owners and in some cases, can be a safety concern, especially if there are children in the home.
The good news is we can help dogs feel better and even like when we approach them and they have food. I recently worked remotely with DJ and his mom to help DJ learn that when someone approaches and he has food, that it isn’t anything scary and in fact, he gets a bonus! That’s right – no use of force, fear, pain or intimidation. This isn’t about showing the dog who is the boss or not letting him bully you (to keep HIS food!). The best way to help modify food guarding is teaching the dog that you approaching predicts good stuff is about to happen, not that anything scary is about to happen.
This may surprise you, but food guarders are afraid, not being mean or dominant or any of those other silly claims. They’re afraid of losing their valuable resource – their food. When working with any dog who is fearful or upset, it’s incredibly important that we pay attention to body language to know how they’re feeling in that moment because this can change second to second. Some dogs are very subtle when they’re upset. They may only tense up or give a little lip lick. Some dogs freeze or eat faster (I’d better hurry up and finish this before she takes it away!) while other dogs are much more obvious and growl, lip curl or try to bite. And even though all dogs speak through body language, not every dog does the same sequence of threat signals so it’s important to learn your dog’s dialect of body language so you know what they’re saying.
You can watch DJ’s incredible progress through the playlist I created to highlight his remote sessions here. I’ve never met DJ in person – he was a remote video client for this whole process!
If you have a guarder, whether it’s food, toys, location, favorite person or high value chews, reach out to me for help.