Dealing with Puppies with Food Aggression

Waylon's favorite treat: A Pig or Cow Ear

Waylon’s favorite treat: A Pig or Cow Ear

As visions of roasts, gravy and pies dance through our dreams tonight and good smells waft from our kitchens, a post about dog food aggression is in order. Waylon turned four months old this month and by far the biggest behavior issue we’ve had with him is food aggression, otherwise known as resource guarding. From 8 weeks to 12 weeks, we lavished Waylon with delicious chewy treats from pig ears to beef trachea. He would settle down with the treat and go into a zombie like state of bliss, not coming up for air until it was gone or we took it away. And then at about three months old, the growling started. Dun…Dun…Dun…. Gulp.

We first noticed the problem at a friends house. They were very thoughtful to buy his favorite treat: smoked pig ears. As he happily chewed as we visited, at one point my husband got close to our pup and Waylon growled. We were very surprised. I ran to get some food to throw at his side. I read that with food aggression you want the dog to associate you coming close to him while chewing precious items as a positive. Throwing the kibble worked at the time and diverted his attention. Yet, the problem persisted. Soon, we found Waylon would growl and guard lots of things he had in his possession: a sock, a branch, a toy, etc., with the guarding of chewable treats always taking the cake for severity. It was mostly growling, with the intensity rising as we pet him, but sometimes he would lunge aggressively. I can thankfully report that he has never bitten us.

We got LOTS of different opinions on how to deal with this:

The Breeder: “Make sure he knows you’re the pack leader. Enroll in Puppy Kindergarten, it will pay off.”

The Pet Store Owner: “You should never accept your dogs growling. Take the item away and pin him on the ground. Never be afraid to yell at him.”

The Dog Walker: “Just take the item away when he growls. He needs to know you are boss and that you own the item. You choose to give it to him. You can even pretend to eat it, too, so he gets the point. But it’s normal for puppies to be protective.”

The Blogs: “Swap him other items for the item he is protecting so he learns ‘drop it’ and ‘take it.'”

The Friend: “He’s just playing! He means no harm.”

The Vet: “His age is akin to the terrible twos stage of toddlers. He will try to get away with a lot and test your authority. This could be a phase. Be firm in your commands and limits.”

The Puppy Kindergarten Instructor: “Start the first two weeks by just getting him used to you being close to him while he chews the item of value. Throw high value bits of treats next to him on your approach. Let him eat the treats then go back to his item. Don’t touch him. Repeat. We’ll check in after two weeks of this exercise.”

My husband and I have been using the puppy kindergarten instructors advice in the past week since last class, doing the exercise every day, and feel like progress is good. While Waylon is showing excellent socialization with dogs and people and otherwise exceptional behavior, this is not something we want to ignore. When you find an unwanted behavior in your puppy it is important to guide them on the correct path. I’m finding with a bit of research and patience we are making tremendous improvement. I will post updates on the progress of our exercises and the next steps from our puppy k instructor after the next class.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Puppies with Food Aggression

  1. waylon is adorable! and bernese mountain dogs really are the best companions out there! i have a 4.5 yo named gruber. a little bit of advice with the food aggression, in the beginning, we hand fed gruber (i know it sounds a little crazy), but it taught him that we are the ones that control whether he gets food or not and it also taught him that if he wants to eat he has to play by our rules. have fun with your pup! berners are great!

    • Thanks for your feedback! We’ve tried a bit of hand feeding and I’m glad you reminded me of it, because I’ve started to do it again this past week thanks to your suggestion and I think it’s really paying off. We have also started to make sure we eat first, before him, so he knows where he is in the pecking order. I would love to see a photo of Gruber!

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