Dogs Who Guard Their Food

What to do if your dog freezes, snaps, growls or gets aggressive around food.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #126

“Don’t bother the dog while she’s eating.” It’s good advice. Even if your dog smiles and wiggles happily when you approach her bowl, chronic pestering at mealtime can sour that sweet attitude. But many dogs freeze up, curl their lips, growl, snap, or even bite if you go near their food. Here’s what to do if this sounds like your dog..

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As I’ve explained before, you should always respect your dog’s warning. Back off – confrontation can make a potentially dangerous situation worse. In the long term, you’ll be looking to teach your dog that your presence is no threat to her food. Instead, she learns that if you show up, delicious treats often show up too. It isn’t easy to teach this lesson, or to learn it, under conditions where she’s already tense. She can’t read the thought balloon over your head saying, “I’m not going to take away your food, Dogalini.” She can’t understand the words as you say them, either. She’s a dog. She perceives behavior that from her point of view presents a threat, and she reacts accordingly.

Your goal is to teach your dog that you’re no threat to her food – in fact, you deliver tasty treats.

Help Your Dog Succeed by Working Slowly

So your starting point has to be the most vanilla version possible of the situation in which she guards her food.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).