Oakley has food aggression in the presence of other dogs

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.


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.


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.


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!

In general, unless a dog is charging to attack, I try to avoid ever giving physical corrections. HOWEVER, working hard on the look at me/leave it command til you get 100 percent at home, then going to a park or having a friend help with dropping food or toys or whatever and work on it there. Animals build neural paths to behaviors and the more you work, the more situations you introduce where you can get Oakley to put his eyes and attention ON YOU no matter what is going on, the better.

Sonnyboy- I remember you saying you got in to see Dr. Dodman, I have heard good things about him. Certainly I am looking for certified behaviorists/ professionalisms who specialize in food directed aggression/ possession. I want to have names and numbers in my pocket for sure, especially because I know this is going to be a long turnaround process. Eeefarm and Debra, good suggestions: I did take him home after the chip/person incident, it was late and we were there at least 1.5-2 hours at that point and you could tell being "over it" had something to do with the how far he took it. The physical correction is one I'm not comfortable with, I have in the past grabbed his muzzle (like the other night) to close it during a growl and saying no..but I don't think it's the correct response, as he then seems to use that as spite the next time..besides taking him from the situation is it appropriate to raise tone and say "no" or "leave it" ?

Very appropriate to say a stern no and leave it. For some, holding the muzzle is also okay, but if it escalates his behavior, obviously not for him.

I just feel the more you work with him consistently that food is NOT his, not at home, not on the street, not out, the less he will react to it. Once you reset his mind to "the only food I get is what I am given" the better it will be. And although not an issue at home generally, starting at home all the time with work for food, well it will lay the foundation.

Working with Oakley..progress is slow but had promising results during our "boarder stay"…he instantly remember the dog who we had as a 8-12 week puppy...he had moments of snarkiness which are very typical for him, coming too Close when he's sleeping, after he's played for awhile..as far as the food goes it was better than expected. He seemed ok to eat in the kitchen with her as long as he ate first...the only troublesome moments were in anticipation of the meal as I was fixing their bowls, he would go after her and snark and bite but not viciously..it was stern, don't get me wrong but he seemed not to take it to the next level which he would have done with a dog he didn't know. The bigger issue was when "I" was eating..my food sparked definite territorialsm, he would get aggressive but still with a stop filter..he wouldn't allow her near me and she knew to backoff and stay alway. I did end up crating him during my meals when he got too stimulated. Overall, I was surprised to see he didn't viciously try to hurt her but he definitely displayed inappropriate behaviors (for what I'd want to see in the future). I'm pleased it was better than expected and have a better direction in training

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