How can I cure my dog's food aggression?

(Q) My 10-month-old Border Collie has really bad food aggression. How do I go about fixing it? If I stand near her while she eats she will try and eat as quickly as she can, sometimes making herself sick. If I put my hand near her she will growl and even try to bite me. She is great when it comes to waiting, until I tell her to eat. It is the same with chews. If another dog has one she will steal it, or if she has one and another dog comes near, she can get quite nasty.

(A) Trainer Elizabeth Kershaw says: First consider the management of this problem so that you do not make it worse and no one gets bitten.

Depending on how she lives with you, I would give her a month of eating - whether meals or other treats - in another room and shut the door. Leave her to get on with her food in peace without the threat of anyone or any other dog possibly challenging her. Let her relax with her food. Let her out of the room and even possibly outside before picking up the bowl.

At the end of the month continue to feed her separately but leave the door open. A few times during the eating period, walk past the door and toss a special goody to her and walk on. Do this for about a week and then start to take a step into the room to toss the treat in and walk away. 

If she is comfortable with this, do it a few times during her meal. If this goes well, go into the room and stand for a few seconds, toss the food, wait a moment, and then walk away. What you ideally want is a dog who continues to eat without even noticing your presence, except maybe to look up expecting the goody you are bringing. If you continue in this vein, in time you should be able to radically improve the situation, but if things don’t improve I suggest that you ask your vet for a referral to a qualified behaviourist for further help.

It is possible that at some point as a puppy, she was fed in the litter from a communal bowl and had to fight for her food or that someone insisted on removing a bowl of food while she was eating in the mistaken belief that this would cure the problem. Sadly, this will only make it worse and even escalate the problem to her guarding her empty bowl.

Curing this problem can be a long, slow process involving building up her confidence that you have no intention of stealing her food. This can be overcome with patience and understanding but takes time. You may always need to keep her away from other dogs while feeding.

EARLY WARNING SIGNS

Sometimes, stronger possessive-aggressive impulses in dogs can be evident when they are a few weeks old, and first beginning to share solid food from communal bowls.

Always ask a breeder if you can watch a litter of pups feeding, not just when they are very young, but also when they are six weeks plus.

You might see one or two pups being more aggressive - growling and snapping - at other pups who get near them when they are eating.

 

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