Luther was a 6-year-old mixed breed dog that had been adopted by the Paine family as a puppy. The dog went everywhere with the family of five including the children’s soccer games and family camping trips.
He was a sweet lovable dog, and the family never noticed any signs of aggression that they considered serious. One afternoon, the oldest daughter had given Luther a treat. He jumped up on the couch to enjoy it. The mom didn’t want him eating on the couch, so she took the treat in order to move it to his bed.
Without warning, Luther attacked her. He bit her seven times before her husband was able to pull him off of her and isolate him in the bathroom.
The mom had no life threatening injuries, but the family was devastated when Luther, who was an important member of the family, had to be put down.
“I couldn’t take a chance of him turning on one of the girls,” said Mrs. Paine. “Maybe it was an isolated incident, but that’s not a chance we could take.”
Mr. and Mrs. Paine agreed that, when looking back, there were behaviors that they shouldn’t have ignored. For example, Luther would sometimes growl if anyone got close to him while he was eating.
They knew he was being protective of his food, but they didn’t understand how important it was to curb any signs of food aggression immediately. If only they had asked about how to stop food aggression in dogs, Luther’s aggression may not have gone as far as it did. Had the Paine’s taken the proper steps the food aggression could have been brought under control before anyone was hurt.
Food aggression is a behavior that can be present in all breeds and sizes of dogs. In the wild, dogs would have to protect their food from other packs. Therefore, if a dog approached while he was eating, it would be a natural instinct for him to growl and otherwise act aggressively in order to convince the other dog to leave him and his food alone.
It is a myth that only dogs that have been abused or starved will show food aggression. While those circumstances will produce a higher likelihood that aggressive behavior will surface, the truth is that any dog, even one who had been spoiled his whole life like Luther, can be aggressive when it comes to food.
Does your Dog Show Signs of Food Aggression?
- Does he stop eating and watch you out of the corner of his eye if you get near him when he is eating?
- Does he move his body around his food bowl in order to prevent you from being able to touch it?
- Does he keep an eye on other pets or people in the room while he is eating?
- Has he ever growled or bared his teeth at people or other pets that approach the bowl when he is eating?
Understand that if your dog shows any sign of food aggression that it is not cute, funny or something to be ignored. Even if you only notice the behavior once in a while, it is something that needs to be addressed. Failing to act could lead to your dog attacking another family pet or, as with the Paine family, a person.
A dog that has food aggression isn’t necessarily an “aggressive dog”. Some dogs are aggressive and show violent tendencies in a variety of situations. While some of those dogs can be worked with, it is much harder to retrain a truly aggressive dog than it is to work with a dog that is showing food aggression.
The sooner you catch and begin to correct the behavior the better. Please note that if you feel your dog is so aggressive that approaching him while he is eating is dangerous, you should contact and animal behaviorist immediately rather than trying to work on the behavior yourself.
Don’t Punish Your Dog
A common mistake that many pet owners make is to punish a dog who display food aggression. Hitting or yelling at the dog when he exhibits such behavior will only serve to reinforce his feeling of insecurity about his food. This will make his behavior worse instead of better. Pet owners should never hit or yell at their dogs anyway, but to do so to try and break food aggression behaviors is a particularly bad idea.