Oakley has food aggression in the presence of other dogs

  • This is something I started noticing since he turned about four months ( he is now ten months) and very infrequently and in situations where I could understand ( still not acceptable but u got it). Whenever treats or food has been given in the past when he is around two other puggles there have erupted fights or displays of agression…. We haven't been around those dogs lately and so the situation hasn't happened but the other day I was walking Oakley when another women in the neighborhood with her 12 week old minischnauzer came to greet us as we usually walk together. She carries treats in a bag to train her dog and while we were both kneeling down admiring our dogs she asked if se could give Oakley a treat. I agreed and as soon as she extended her hand out and Oakley realized the treat was offered tO him he snarled at poor innocent, unassuming Remy. He would not eat the treat but defended the area it was at. I corrected Oakley the only way I knew how which was to tell him no and step back while removing the treat. The woman thought Oakley was Correcting her puppy for inappropriate behavior but I told her that he was being possessive. My question is how do I address this problem before it escalates to violence? I know the time of year might not be helping his attitude but this is definitely an issue he has with other dogs... The only time it transfers to humans is when he got into something he shouldn't have and I take it away ( very very rare). For example, he got into my work bag just after I arrived home and I come out of the bathroom to him eating my jalapeno pistachios with the shell on!! He was none too thrilled to be interrupted!

  • He needs to see a gentle trainer for this issue..IMO.

  • First, food aggression is normal for dogs, so please don't think there is something wrong with him. Our jobs are to change the behavior. Of all aggressions, I'll take food aggression over anything else. 🙂
    Fortunately my friend Deb has a great article 🙂 http://k9deb.com/foodguar.htm

    Kathy Diamond Davis is superb with timid dogs, good with aggression. Her article is also helpful on tips::

    If you follow Deb's article and you don't see results, I agree a trainer is in order. But most of the time, unless your dog goes Cujo with people over food, early intervention can retrain food guarding.

    That said, take a look at the whole picture. You also need to work seriously on obedience, particularly the "LEAVE IT" command. I pair LEAVE IT with "LOOK AT ME". When a dog is taught to STOP and look you in the face, it breaks their fixation on whatever the issue is, gives their brain time to engage, and you time to intervene. Few sites (actually none I have found) are more simple and gentle than Mary Woodward, and no you don't have to use a clicker to do them. : : http://www.clickerlessons.com/

  • Bringing up this thread again,

    Since this post I have had to host a ten week old puppy for a month at our house; things were rocky in the beginning..when it was feeding time he would growl and sometimes go after the pup when I got the food out to put in bowls, as if he didn't know he would be getting fed first or not at all! They never ate near each other..after a week things got better..Oakley seemed to tolerate the puppy at feeding time even enough to put them ten feet from each other..if I was eating I would have to crate Oakley because he would guard MY food which was silly bc the puppy didn't have any interest in my food, she just wanted to be a tiny little silly bean..
    Oakley has always been clicker trained, is NOT food aggressive with me whatsoever, since this post I took advice and we worked intensively on me taking stolen objects or food from him; it has not ever happened since…and as an only dog I have rarely been put in a position that affirms the "food aggressive" label ( until NOW). With that being said, there have been enough occasions as of late to say that it's becoming a problem. When a treat is given to a dog in front of him he is tense, if the person holding the leash to their own dog is close to Oakley when that owner gives oakley a treat he lunges. If I am at a BBQ and there is food in the atmosphere he can't be trusted not to attack another dog just because its around...and as of last night..for the first time ever, I was sitting at a fire with a bunch of neighbors..and a lady asked if she could give Oakley a chip...( I said ok)..he took it fine and I had no reason to think he wouldn't..apparently he dropped the chip before eating it and when she went to pat him after giving it to him he growled and snarled his teeth. I immediately held his mouth as an instant reaction until her hand was away and when I looked the chip was there..and even after he ate it and she was standing there he was still upset or rattled that he tried to "nip" her pants...I've never witnessed his food agression translate to people and it was disconcerting..I've read the articles in this thread again but my issue is that he isn't aggressive with me and so idk how to train for these issues. I've decided to avoid him being given food by people but its a hard thing to avoid in life that when we are in public there is food.
    Another concern is that the same ten week old puppy I watched for a month I am going to be watching again for a week, only this time she's not a puppy- she's 9 months... And while they really transitioned into being close and good the last time they haven't seen each other since and it will inevitably be back to square one. Any advice or insight into this would be helpful. I am trying to understand this, he's been this way since puppyhood...he's never been starved, never had his food stolen by another dog...I just want to be able to bring him to things and not have the outbursts...for me, I can't accept last nights incident..people are a far different story for me then dog aggression over food possession. My dad came over today and I was cutting up chicken and my dad was leaning in the doorway and Oakley decided to growl at my dad just for being close to the chicken I was cutting up..I mean, enough is enough with the brattiness..

    He gets the drop it command, leave it and when it's him and I and any food object it isn't a fight or a challenge so I just don't know how to desensitize him to this if I can't provide an environment with another dog or person..it's just Oakley and I at home...

    Lastly, because someone might ask; he is in good health. It's been almost two months since his surgery..and while we struggle for a month afterwards with stool issues and him dropping to 19lbs..he's been on the ID diet for two weeks, finally off Flagyl and finally gaining some weight..his ribs are less visible and I would guess he's up to about 21.5 lbs ( should be at 23.5 min).. But he's had fecal analysis's, blood tests..you name it so I know his thyroid is in check and he is doing well health wise.

  • Is this an issue that can really be eliminated via a trainer? I like trainers but I've just been skeptical that with this issue it can be resolved..I don't want to hire someone just to manage the problem…

  • I don't think this is an easy one, and with the pup coming to stay for a bit it might be as well to just avoid the situation and feed them in separate rooms. Or with Oakley in his crate. (you could make "crate" or whatever word you use as a cue he is going to get food.)

    I am not sure what approach I would take at this point, but I definitely would not allow anyone to feed him treats. I see this as a potential problem with dogs trained with food rewards. There are always some that will be greedy and want any food they see, especially if another dog is getting it. It's also one reason I am dead against ever letting a dog accept food from strangers, especially children! (although some people advocate this as a way to accustom shy dogs to other people). You set your dog up to expect that any visible food may indeed be for him. I think you want to send the opposite message, so perhaps no food at all except in specific circumstances. If he doesn't expect to have any of it, perhaps he won't feel compelled to guard it…....but at this point it will be a long process to turn around.

    Growling at people should attract consequences. However, this can be tricky because with a dog that is already showing aggression any disciplinary action could exacerbate the problem. Without knowing your relationship, it's hard to determine the best course of action. Ignoring the growling (and him!) can work, if he understands that such behaviour gets him ostracized for a time. If I were preparing food and he growled (at anyone!), he would obtain no food from me, even if it were his customary mealtime. I would wait a bit, then possibly send him to his crate or mat, order him to stay, then if he complied I would bring his food to him there. Make his eating place his own private spot, and don't feed him anywhere else.

    And perhaps lay off the treats in training. At home, you can still click with a delayed reward. I do it all the time. Get the behaviour I want, and hand out a "promissory note", and quickly go to the "food" area for the reward.

    As far as a trainer goes, this would work best in a "live in" situation, if you know someone you can trust. The problem is, the trainer may get wonderful cooperation but not manage to change how the dog is when he is home with you!

  • I'm wondering if the It's Your Choice game would help. Certainly could not hurt. Maybe play it with him, when he gets good at it, have a dog-savvy person play it with him. Here are a couple of links I found. I haven't read them closely and don't have time right now, but there are other links if these don't answer all you Qs.



    I don't think it is the total answer, but maybe part of the answer.

  • @agilebasenji:

    I don't think it is the total answer, but maybe part of the answer.

    Agree. I particularly like this quote from the first link, "It's great for dogs who tend to overfocus on treats or who don't understand the concept of earning reinforcement by doing behaviours." The key here is earning reinforcement. Handing out food indiscriminately IMO often leads to problems. Makes for pushy, entitled animals…..this problem is particularly bad with horses! Maybe Oakley would benefit from a "NILIF" regimen for awhile?

  • Read Jean Donaldson's "Mine". There is a protocol there for resource guarding. It mainly applies to humans in that book.

    For now you have to manage. So crate the dogs while they are eating, even if it is a treat. Or at least one of them. And no one can give him food except you. You will just have to be mindful of that.

    Starting just by yourself with Oakley is how you should start with any of the behaviors and then move up to having a trigger present. You can certainly make the situation better but I don't know if you can completely fix it, that is likely dog and situation dependent.

  • And a trainer can help you set up the situations to desensitize and countercondition if you aren't able yourself to do it. Just be clear in what you want from them up front. You want modify his behavior not just manage it. Although you will always have to do some level of management.

  • Thanks guys, it definitely feels like a greed thing, he guards food….I will crate him when I eat and when it's feeding time especially with the puppy. I agree the NILF method is in order... I feel completely comfortable with correcting him because he doesn't cross that line with me anymore..and as said, I grabbed his muzzle immediately upon the growl with the neighbor as a gut reaction to prevent a bite and he allowed it, and after he calms he acts really sorry. I also have a gut feeling as said that even if I can get it better I still don't feel it will be reliable with all dogs. I rarely clicker train with treats anymore, the click and praise tend to be enough..plus with the ID diet I've limited outside food intake ( the chip was the first indulgence he's had in awhile).. My worry is that while I appreciate the growl as a warning I know he is the type that wouldn't hesitate to escalate that to contact, so even if I can't eliminate the behavior I'd like to modify it to just the warning. I'll look at the links and check out the tools suggested. I feel like is main issue is tension with other dogs in the presence of food and that translates into transferred aggression to people when they feed him...when he growled at my father he immediately went in his crate...he wasn't happy to do so but he knew he was out of line..I agree eeefarm, he has been indiscriminately fed and has led to him being entitled and pushy...I created it so now it's time to undo it.

    Some things I thought I would try:

    1: when I'm cooking not allow him in the kitchen
    2: when I eat he gets crated
    3: when he eats crate him (but will this hive him a complex about food in open situations?)
    4: not bring him to public events like bbq's with family or friends because of food and other dogs..although that is what I've always tried to avoid I can almost guarantee a squabble every time..

  • Good suggestions above, but let me add a few thoughts.

    First, calm down. 🙂 Remind yourself it is a problem, but food aggression is normal. Your dog is not cujo, your dog is not insane, your dog is exhibiting a trait that is, well, normal. Sometimes it is overwhelming. I have seen people confused that a dog that was far from the alpha in their pack fight the alpha over food. Food is survival. The instinct to get food sometimes is hardwired in so strongly that you have dogs that may be perfectly in control in every other way, submissive, that will bite/fight for food.

    In addition to working for food, crating during all meals and preferably when the other dog is visiting during even training/treat times (I frankly wouldn't give any treats while the dog is visiting), I would work on dropping treats at home and the LEAVE IT command. I would then work on doing it in public around others. I would engage people you trust to drop food. The more you can train that food is NOT his unless specifically given to HIM, the better. Is it foolproof? No. But it does help decrease it and it does usually give you a moment warning as he contemplates breaking the rule so you can stop him. And if you are going somewhere with lots of people with food, leave him home or use a basket muzzle. It is not worth the risk.

  • Thanks Debra, it's disappointing is all. He really has come into his own and become wonderful with a lot of things. I get that it's instinct but its hard to see his disposition change when food is around. I see other dogs who care less and then there's my Oakley, reeling at his leash to get to another dog who is walking past the grill… I could try the basket muzzle, but likely he will just stay home..it's not ideal but better than the alternative. And I do have someone I trust who also has a dog Oakley gets along we'll with (barring food of course but he still gives him more leeway than others) who would be happy to help train with Oakley and I.

  • Don't discount the basket muzzle use completely. Sometimes it does help to have NO OPTION to help retrain the mind set that all food must be protected.

  • First Basenji's


    Is this an issue that can really be eliminated via a trainer? I like trainers but I've just been skeptical that with this issue it can be resolved..I don't want to hire someone just to manage the problem…

    here are a few links to help you out on the food aggression/possession aggression. Anyone who inherently tells you that food aggression is normal does realize that dogs have been domesticated and need to live with us with rules that provide a healthy environment in our homes and when they are with us. Dr Ian Dunbar is the author and a well respected 'trainer' behaviorist in his field. He will concur that food aggression is not 'normal' in dogs; there are many people trained to help owners with dogs with this behavior. Aggression is not normal, however, resource guarding is-as long as it does not lead to a bite. (a quote from a blog at Dog Star Daily:) Resource guarding is a very natural behavior for dogs. It?s very important that you take the time to teach your dog that they have no need to guard objects from humans. Otherwise, you?ll have a ticking time bomb that?s eventually going to scare or hurt someone. Meanwhile, they?ll live a life filled with unnecessary stress and anxiety. Fortunately, training your dog to enjoy surrendering objects couldn?t be easier.



    hope this helps, keep an open mind, your eyes on the look out, and patience-persistence-consistency!

  • I respect Dr Dunbar, but I hope you and he realize that it takes many thousands of years, not a few hundred, certainly not a few decades, of dogs living INSIDE where food aggression is not acceptable, to actually breed the trait out. That said, I went looking since I don't recall Dunbar saying it isn't NORMAL, but rather how to prevent and train at home to avoid it. And .. ding ding ding


    Guarding food bowls and other prized possessions–growling, snarling, and maybe even snapping to keep people away--is common among family dogs. It's even normal among puppies. But if you let it continue into adolescence and adulthood, it can develop into a complicated and dangerous problem.<<

    And another at which point I'll stop but wanted you to not keep saying Dunbar is so unaware he claims it isn't NORMAL, but rather that it is not okay (which we know) and should be trained to stop:

    It is natural for dogs to protect their possessions. In the wild, a wolf would hardly pop next door to borrow a cup of bones. Domestic dogs quickly learn that once something is gone, it is gone. So it is not surprising to find dogs trying to keep their possessions away from people.<<

    I suggest, just as when you read Dunbar, that you read posts more closely. No one says to allow food aggression at home. No one says it is impossible to train it elsewhere. But since this dog does NOT have to eat away from home, since the dog and owner and whoever he bites will suffer for trying to MAKE it safe away from home, AND THE DOG COULD END UP DEAD OVER IT!!, the path of most prudent/safe action is simply not allow food away from home or basket muzzle. Every person gave suggestions on training away from it… so not sure what your issue is with advice given. If someone said, oh dogs fight over food, just sit back and watch... yeah. That isn't the case. Work on any food aggression, guarding, etc at home. Protect others away from home. Not really that radical of views.

  • @DebraDownSouth:

    Good suggestions above, but let me add a few thoughts.

    First, calm down. 🙂

    this is always good advice. in any circumstances.

    I'd add

    And Breathe.


    as to if this is "normal" or not, my guess is "normal" varies a LOT from breed to breed. And really, as to if it's "normal" or not, doesn't matter. What does matter is what you do about this.

    And, Chealsie, this is really a great learning opportunity for all of us. Please keep us informed as to what works and what your plans are. I'd also suggest mat work. In CU she talks about clicking for calm behavior - deep breathing, 1/2 closed eyes, etc. So here's an idea. (and it's a free idea, so you get what you paid for <gg>) Do Dr Overall's Relaxation Protocol. Look for calm behaviors. Click/reward for those behaviors. See if you can get him to remain calm when there is food around him. (don't let him get it, put the food as far away from him as you need and he remains on his mat. don't reward him being fixated on the food. you may have to start with not-so-exciting food. celery comes to mind at least for me.) What you are teaching is that he can remain calm and chill when there is food around because it sounds like he's getting aroused (over threshold) around food. then you can move the food closer and introduce people to the scenario.</gg>

  • Thanks everyone, it's not that I'm discounting the basket muzzle, just that i know he will still get aggressive and attack another dog even without use of his mouth which makes me think he won't learn anything with it, as a safety measure in situations where I have to mix people, dogs and food I will buy one and train at home to make sure it's not a negative association. I have started hand feeding him (even though the problem never arises from or with me)..and I've introduced commands such as sit, stay directed with feeding time and give praise. As well I've also started treats only during training for the leave it command. The hard part will be trying to enlist someone to allow their dog in his presence while I start hand feeding him with commands and praise so as to start desensatizing him to the presence of other animlals in a food environment. During the puppy stay Oakley will go in the crate for any food being present because I think it'll be too soon and ahead our ourselves to start dealing with the two together. It is a threshold issue, a case of him being fed indiscriminately without having to earn it and a sense of entitlement over it. He used to be antler or bully stick aggressive until I worked with him over it and he no longer does it with me, and when the pup stayed with for a month he did get used to her and started to share with her..so I know he's capable of progress; and I know if its not continued he does revert. I've read the articles and am thinking of researching behaviorists specific to this issue; I am just skeptical of the progress he would make- he needs to be trained with other people and dogs otherwise he will fight for food. I have a friend he likes and she has a schnauzer who he gets along with better than any other dog- he is very easy going and a neutral temperament, she runs a boarding service and she knows his issues so I know she will work with me to help in the process. My goal is to impart NILF as much as I can, make him sit on the floor when I eat and not allow him near me ( if I crate him I think it'll be less effective than me asserting dominance through commanding him to sit and stay while I eat. This is new territory for me in regards to training- I don't have all the answers to what it'll take, and even if its biologically normal (and he has been like this ALWAYS so it very well is a big part), its not something I want to accept. I would like him to be able to be in social settings without getting past the threshold. He isn't good with lots of people or dogs and forget it with food but I live alone and it's him and I…it's not the norm for us to be in social situations...I will ALWAYS have to manage Oakley in public..ALWAYS! But I'm working with him for a little more reliability..I'm sure I will update this thread and continue to ask for advice, this is our biggest hurdle yet!

    One thing I am still wondering, is what the correction should be if this does happen again, either with a person or another dog? Should I correct with just a verbal, a verbal and a physical cue? A verbal reprisal with a command?? Whatever the answer..should the reaction/ correction change later on after the intensive training period?

    If I notice he starts to get aggressive or tense around another dog bc of food around but food isn't being given is the correction the same as above? Aside from re- training and desensatizing I don't want to give the wrong correction or directive if something does occur bc he will take that inch and turn it into a mile.

    Thanks everyone

  • Chealsie I took Sonny to see Dr. Dodman at Tufts. He's well known with a great reputation.

  • @Chealsie508:

    He isn't good with lots of people or dogs and forget it with food but I live alone and it's him and I…it's not the norm for us to be in social situations...I will ALWAYS have to manage Oakley in public..ALWAYS!

    I totally understand your situation, as mine is similar. Perry has had my husband and myself, and very little company, so it is hard to practice for the rare occasions someone comes to the farm. However, we have recently had a change of location, so now I am dealing with a nine year old dog who is not used to walking on leash in an area where there are many dogs and people. It will be an ongoing challenge to get him comfortable in this situation, but for the moment vigilance and discretion (e.g. crossing the street to avoid confrontations, etc.) are the order of the day. He has never had a food aggression issue, but has always been dog aggressive. Probably somewhat fixable, but avoidance may just be the easier course of action, certainly for the moment! 🙂

    As far as when to give a correction or what type of correction…..personally I don't think ignoring bad behaviour of this sort is useful. Silence gives assent, and he needs to know you disapprove of his actions. Possibly just removing him from the situation will suffice. It is negative punishment (taking him away from the fun/food) and the safest course of action to avoid a mishap.

    You might consider having the puppy available as an asset. For instance, you could crate the puppy (with a chew or something so he isn't being punished), then start at a distance introducing food into the mix. Ask Oakley for a behaviour. If he acts aggressive because of the pup, put the food away and try again later, from further away. A good response.....no growling, no aggression, compliance with your command.....gets him a treat. If you can make this work within sight of the pup, then move a little closer. Build his tolerance. Once he gets the picture......growl and no food......maybe you can gradually get close to the pup and eventually show the food and alternately give it to pup and Oakley. Again, no growl and obedience to command = treat. Growl = no treat and removal from the scene. He's a smart boy. He'll figure it out!

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