The good thing about dogs that resource-guard is that they are very predictable. Once you learn what the dog values, you know exactly when he will become aggressive. This is not always as easy as it seems because dogs don’t always guard obvious things (like food). They may value a person or a cubicle of airspace or an object you would never think they would put any value on. So the first big step in helping the dog is to accurately identify what he feels the need to guard.
My treatment of resource guarding dogs is very dependent upon the dog and his owners. It really is an individual thing that is affected by a number of factors, so as with all aggression cases, it’s best to get some profession advice on how to safely handle the situation. I believe that food aggression is something that needs to be handled immediately in all cases, but is especially important in households that include children. Kids are the victim of dog bites much more than adults and special precautions should be made when a dog is showing any signs of aggression in families with children.
First off we need to teach the dog some impulse control by making sure he takes treats politely and eats his food in a calm state of mind. The best way to get some manners around food is to never reward him when he jumps or leans forward towards treats. Make sure the food always goes to the dog. Also, pay close attention to his state of mind. Is he out-of-his-mind excited when he sees or smells food? If so, don’t give him that treat just yet. Instead, wait until he visibly settles before releases his snack.
If your dog is protective of his food bowl I would recommend you feed him his meal in 10 – 20 small portions a little at a time. Begin by giving just a few pieces, let him scoff it up, look to you in confusion and then pick the bowl up and give him the next course, which is equally as small. By feeding him this way you are slowing him down physically and mentally, and he’s looking to you to supply him with more food. If he’s calm and doing well you can increase the amount of food you give each time you put the bowl down.
After you are mid-way through his meal you can then give him his portion and as he’s eating it you throw a piece of chicken (or other high impact treat) into his bowl. He’ll love that no doubt, and as you continue this, will equate you with the chicken (which is better than his original meal). So instead of wanting to keep you away from something he values, he’ll want you to get close because when you do yummy things seem to fall from the sky.
How fast you proceed through this exercise really depends on the dog. Some dogs come around pretty quickly, while other severe cases may take months. Be patient and let your dog’s behavior dictate how fast you move forward.
Most cases of aggression can be treated, but don’t wait until your dog actually bites to get help. If you have an anxious or fearful dog, find out what you need to do to help build your dogs confidence safely and effectively. If you have a young puppy, get out there and socialize the crap out of him right now. Remember, most cases of aggression are really a cry for help and it’s up to you to provide that help to your dog, insuring that he will be with you happily for his entire life.
Here’s a video I did about food bowl aggression: