The Labrador Retriever is widely known for being one of the gentlest and friendliest dog breeds out there. All dogs, however, are prone to developing certain bad habits based on their socialization and upbringing. One of the most common behavioral problems seen in dogs like the Lab is food aggression. Fortunately, you can work with your dog to reduce and even reverse this behavior.
What is Food Aggression in Dogs?
If your dog becomes defensive when you or another member of your family approaches him while he is eating, it could be an indication of food aggression. Dogs with food aggression can growl, bark, or even snap at people or other dogs that approach while they are eating. This kind of behavior can occur even in the gentlest of dog breeds (like the Labrador Retriever) if they have reason to feel protective or threatened while eating. In most cases, this is a behavior that dogs develop while they are puppies. If they were raised with a large litter they may have had to compete with other puppies for food and they learned to protect their food when they have it. When the dog gets older and moves to a new home, this kind of behavior can travel with him and it may take some time and training to deal with it.
Tips for Dealing with Food Aggression
It is possible to reduce or reverse your Lab’s food aggression but it will take time. The key is to desensitize him to the threat – if you can work with him so that he no longer feels threatened by the presence of people or other dogs while eating, you can eliminate his aggressive behavior. One thing you can do to reduce this type of behavior is to maintain control of feeding time and to make him earn his dinner. Stick to a regular feeding schedule and make your dog earn his food by telling him to sit or lie down before you put his bowl down. You can also try hand-feeding him treats throughout the day to get him used to being in proximity to you while he eats.
To desensitize your dog to the presence of other people while he eats, you will need to work with him over a period of several weeks or months. Start by standing a few feet away from your dog while he eats and speak to him in a calming voice without approaching him. Toss a treat into his bowl from a distance once in a while to reward him for remaining calm. After a week or two of this you can start taking a step or two toward your dog, still speaking to him in a calming voice and tossing treats. Eventually you should be able to come right up next to your dog without him becoming aggressive – once you can do that, you can start stroking his back while he eats and eventually touching or lifting the bowl. If at any point your dog regresses to his aggressive behavior, take a step back and keep working with him a little more before you move on to the next step.
Reducing or reversing your Labrador’s food aggression can take time but it is definitely something you can achieve if you remain consistent. For particularly tricky cases of food aggression, however, you may need to consult an animal behaviorist for help.
Photo credit: Chris Turner/Flickr