As a pet owner, you might encounter a lot of behaviors from your furry friend both positive and negative behaviors. However, one which is very common and at the same time disturbing is food guarding.
Imagine seeing your dog that loves to eat suddenly becomes overly protective of his food bowl. He stops to eat then starts to growl and snap when you or another pet come close to him.
This behavior can be alarming and might make you want to ask this question “Why is my dog guarding food but not eating?”
Well, it is an instinctual behavior and it is quite common in dogs. But fortunately, there are ways to stop your dog from guarding his food.
In this article, we have revealed all you need to know about food guarding in dogs, you will also get to know the effective ways to address this behavior.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Understanding The Behavior (Food Guarding)
Food guarding is a behavior rooted in a dog’s instincts. In the wild, dogs had to compete for limited resources, they guard their foods and valuables from other dogs or animals because they believe the animal will take it away from them.
However, dogs are now domesticated but this resource-guarding behavior is still present in their repertoire of behavior.
Why Is My Dog Guarding Food but Not Eating?
Food guarding in dogs usually stems from anxiety. It is one of the most significant factors contributing to food-guarding behavior in dogs. Dogs, like humans, can experience anxiety and stress in various situations, and mealtime can be one of them.
Here’s how anxiety can cause food guarding in dogs:
1. Anxiety Triggers Dog’s Survival Instinct
Before domestication, dogs had always lived in the wild where their survival instincts help them survive. They always compete for limited resources and guard the ones they have to prevent their potential threats from taking them away.
This instinctual behavior is still very much present in domesticated dogs’ behavior.
When your dog is anxious, it might trigger his resource-guarding instinct, and this will make him feel the need to guard their food to prevent potential threats from taking it away.
2. Past Negative Experiences
Dogs with a history of anxiety or traumatic experiences related to food may develop food-guarding behavior.
For example, a dog that was previously in a competitive environment for food may become anxious during mealtimes in their new home, leading to food guarding.
3. Anxiety Can Trigger Territorial Instinct in Dogs
Dogs have different instinctual behavior and one of them is territoriality. Dogs mark territories and try to keep other dogs or animals away from their territories.
Anxiety can amplify a dog’s territorial instincts. In this state, they may view their feeding area as their territory, and anyone approaching it, including humans or other pets, might be perceived as intruders or threat.
4. Resource Guarding
Dogs always protect their valuable resources like food, toys, resting spots, and even their owners.
When someone or animals comes close to your dog while eating, he may become anxious and this anxiety can exacerbate resource-guarding behavior, making him defensive of his food bowl.
5. Lack of Socialization and Exposure
Dogs that lack proper socialization and exposure to various environments may become anxious and uncertain when faced with new situations, including mealtime around others. This anxiety can contribute to food guarding.
How To Stop Your Dog from Guarding Food
Fortunately for your dog, there are several methods or techniques you can apply to help correct your dog’s food aggression behavior.
Here are some of the ways to stop your dog from guarding food:
Provide a Safe and Comfortable Environment for your Dog.
Anxiety is a major factor that causes food guarding in dogs. However, by creating a calm and comfortable setting, you can help your dog associate mealtimes with positive experiences, reducing the need to protect their food.
Help your dog create a peaceful environment, you can help designate a quiet spot where there is no noise or distraction. You should also observe the environment and remove any potential stressors, that may trigger anxiety.
You should also avoid reaching for their food while they eat, as it may trigger guarding behavior.
Hand Feed Your Dog
Hand-feeding your dog can be a powerful way to build trust and minimize food-guarding tendencies.
By hand-feeding, you directly engage with your dog during mealtimes, allowing them to associate you with positive experiences and their food source.
Handfeeding can also help your dog become more comfortable around your presence during meals, reducing any anxiety or stress related to food.
Train your Dog and Make use of Positive Reinforcement
Training your dog is crucial in addressing food-guarding behavior. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as rewarding your dog for calm and relaxed behavior around their food, can be highly effective.
Teach your dog the “leave it” command and always praise him and give him treats anytime he obeys the command.
Hire a Professional Dog Trainer
If after trying the three methods above, you still don’t see any positive changes in your dog. The best thing to do is to hire a professional dog trainer.
A trained animal behaviorist can assess your dog’s food-guarding behavior, identify triggers, and create a personalized training plan.
They can guide you on the best positive reinforcement techniques and offer valuable insights into your dog’s unique needs. Working with a professional can lead to more effective and quicker results in addressing food guarding.
Dog guarding food but not eating is an instinctual behavior in dogs and it is not uncommon to see dogs showcasing this bad behavior.
It is even worse when it is coupled with aggression such as growling and snapping at people around them while guarding the food.
It is important to address this behavior promptly to avoid a situation where all animals or pets around your dog while eating will be exposed to harm or injury.
Fortunately for your dog, this instinctual behavior can be managed with understanding and positive reinforcement.
By identifying its triggers, being patient, and implementing appropriate training, you can help your dog feel more relaxed and secure during mealtime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Do If My Dog Growls or Snaps When I Approach Its Food Bowl?
It is normal for your dog to guard his food while eating. However, an urgent solution is needed when he starts to growl, snap or even bite people approaching him while eating.
Food aggression differs from food guarding and the former needs a prompt solution. To help your dog with food aggression, try to make him used to your presence while eating.
After serving him food, stand a few distance away and watch him eat. After doing this for a few days, proceed to always go to add treats to his food intermittently while he is eating and move back immediately.
After doing this for a few days, reduce the distance and stand very close to your dog and communicate with him softly while eating. When he is already used to your presence, start to hand-feed him to build trust too.
Then make it the norm to always interrupt his mealtime by lifting his food bowl and dropping it back. Teach him some basic commands such as (leave it, sit down, etc.)
After doing all these, your dog should be used to your presence while eating and he will stop being aggressive anytime you approach him.
Can Food Guarding Be a Sign of An Underlying Health Issue?
Food guarding is an instinctual behavior in dogs and it is not ideally linked to any health issue. However, the answer to the question above is YES.
Food guarding can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health issue in dogs. Dogs experiencing pain and discomfort may become more protective of their food as they try to avoid potential threats or disruptions during mealtime.
Is It Safe to Approach a Dog That’s Guarding Food?
No, it is best to avoid approaching dogs that guard their food. Food guarding usually leads to food aggression in dogs and approaching dogs with food aggression can expose you to the risk of getting bitten or injured.
Are There Specific Breeds More Prone to Food Guarding Behavior?
No, food guarding is not dependent on the breed but the environment and whether or not the dog was well trained or socialized at puppyhood.
A dog with proper care, attention, and training during puppyhood is less likely to exhibit food-guarding behavior.
Before you go, you can also read: How to Comfort Dogs Suffering from Pancreatitis