6 Ways to Reduce Food Guarding in Puppyhood

Food is the ultimate resource for an animal; after all, food means survival.

Some puppies are born with the tendency to protect their food and often, if handled well, this tendency can be lessened. The suggestions in this post are for those puppies. If you have an adult dog who guards his food, his people, or toys; do not use these techniques and try to solve the problem on your own. Unfortunately, there is always the potential for these dogs to bite. Instead, please contact a behaviorist for guidance.

Hand Feed your Puppy

As soon as you notice that your puppy seems to be uncomfortable with people around his bowl as he’s eating, begin hand feeding him. For the first couple of weeks, he doesn’t get any food unless it’s from your hand. This teaches him that you’re the source of his food and therefore it’s wonderful when you have his food. After a couple of weeks, if he’s showing signs of relaxing while you’re hand feeding him, then feed him half his meal and let him eat the second half by himself. Do this for several months (yes, months!).

Feed Scheduled Meals

It’s important not to leave food out and available all the time. This just causes the puppy to be alert and anxious all the time. Instead, feed scheduled meals and when your puppy is done, his bowl is to be picked up. If he walks away and food is left in his bowl, pick it up as well. If he is guarding the bowl with leftover food, don’t create a fight with him to get the bowl. Instead, call him from another room or use a toy to distract him. Then pick up his bowl.

Do Not Mess with His Bowl and Food

Contrary to what you may have seen on TV, do not mess with your puppy’s bowl while he’s eating. Don’t put your hand in his bowl and mix up his food and don’t pick up the bowl and put it back down. As I understand it the theory behind this is to teach your puppy that you control his food. What happens in more cases than not is the puppy gets even more anxious about his food. The bad behavior escalates rather than gets better. Once you give him his bowl of food leave it alone.

Feed Him in a Quiet Place

It’s important to make sure there is no stress or anxiety around food and eating, so don’t ask your puppy to eat in the busy kitchen or right next to the back door where people come in and out. Instead, feed him in another room where it’s quiet and he can eat undisturbed.

Prevent Guarding Behaviors

Pick up and put away any other items that cause guarding behaviors. If your puppy has a bone or toy that he treasures so much he’s willing to guard it, put it away. He doesn’t get that in situations where’s he’s prone to guarding it. This might be when people come to the house or perhaps when the kids come home from school. He can have that item when he’s by himself and calm. However, if he treasures it so much he’s always on edge when he has that item, then he’s never to have it.

Start Training Early

Obedience and socialization classes are great for all puppies but they’re even more important for puppies who guard food and toys. Start a class as soon as you can so you can build a relationship of cooperation with your puppy. If the two of you are a team and not adversaries, then the puppy’s need to guard his treasures will be significantly lessened.

A tired puppy is a good puppy and that applies to both his body and his brain. Age appropriate exercise, play times, and puppy training will use up some of his excess energy that might otherwise go into guarding behaviors. In addition, rotate his toys often so he doesn’t get overly attached to any one toy. Puppies with the tendency to guard shouldn’t have a toy box full of toys freely available to them; instead give him a couple of toys to play with but rotate them every day or every other day. If at any time you become concerned about your puppy’s behavior, call a trainer or behaviorist for help. Don’t ignore this and hope it will go away.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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