Nobody wants their puppy to grow up to be a food (or any type of resource) guarder. It’s quite a shock to have your baby growl at you over a bowl of food or a toy. However, too many times, in trying to prevent resource guarding — we can cause it!
So many clients have proudly told me that they take their puppy’s (or newly adopted adult dog’s) food bowl away from them to teach them to NOT guard their food. I always cringe when I hear this. First of all, in the dog’s world, this just ISN’T DONE! Usually, once a dog has something, she OWNS it and the other dogs respect that. So, when we give a dog a bowl of food, say, then pull it away, then give it back and pull it away again, the poor dog is very confused. Depending on her basic temperament that can make the dog hand-shy or aggressive.
Either way, it’s all about trust! To use a human example: If you put a big yummy brownie (or steak) in front of me, then just when I pick up the fork, you take it away — I would not be happy! If you do it over and over, I certainly wouldn’t trust that you’ll leave it there the next time! I’d start to expect that you’d try to take it away and I’d might eat very fast before you do, and hunch over the plate. If this happened a lot I would probably “growl” (i.e. complain!) — and I’d be tempted to bite! All the same things a food-guarding dog does!
I NEVER take away my dog’s food bowl. In the dog world, only very dominant dogs would ever try something like that; and they’d be ready to fight in necessary. I do want my dog to know that I’m the Leader, and it’s “My” food, and I’m letting her have some. However, taking it back isn’t the best way to accomplish that. Instead, I fill the dog’s food bowl, and while holding it up as if I’m eating from it, consume a cracker or something crunchy. (Most dogs look very surprised, and startled when you do this.) When I first get a dog, I do that at every meal for a week, and once in a while for months afterwards. Then I always ask for a SIT before the dog gets the bowl. After the dog has her food, I back off and let her eat.
To accustom a dog to tolerating hands near her food bowl, I want to teach her that HANDS bring MORE ane BETTER food! After putting the food bowl down, I drop something really yummy in it — like chicken or the dog’s favorite treat. At first, I drop it from a long ways up to be on the safe side. Gradually, my “treat” hand gets closer and closer until it is right in the bowl. This way, the puppy sees a hand and expects something GOOD is coming — a cause for rejoicing! — not that the food might disappear — a cause for guarding.
WARNING — if your dog has shown ANY signs of Food Aggression, DO NOT try the “dropping a treat” exercise. (You can do the “pretending to eat from the dog’s bowl” exercise.) Please consult a professional dog trainer/behaviorist so they can evaluate the situation and safely coach you through retraining your dog.