As with most pets, food is high on your dog’s priority list. In fact, it’s probably the top priority, even more so than the need for affection and attention. This explains the tendency on the part of many dogs to be very possessive when it comes to their food. This also means that in order to embark on an effective training program for your dog, and to establish yourself as the ‘alpha leader’ of your dog’s ‘pack’, you must show him that he is totally dependent on you for food and gets it when you let him have it.
While food possessiveness is not a problem with some dogs, for others it can become a large problem that can lead to possessiveness and aggressiveness with other objects or perhaps even people. Sometimes this possessiveness can be the result of your dog having been part of a large litter. He may have found that the only way to get a share of the food was to be aggressive towards his siblings. If this was successful, he may very well try this approach with you or with others.
Before you start, you should avoid offering your dog toys or other treats, as they frequently be possessive of these things much like they are with food. Once the food possessiveness is under control, you can offer the toys but be sure to make it clear that they are your toys and you are letting your dog play with them with you. When playtime is over, take the toys with you.
If you do an Internet search, you’ll find several methods for addressing food possessiveness and here’s one method that we’ve found particularly effective and simple enough for any dog owner to follow.
For the first week or two, measure out the proper portion of food for your dog but feed him by hand. This demonstrates that he is completely dependent upon you for his number one priority and highest need: food. This will also greatly reinforce that you are his pack leader.
After a couple of weeks, put the food in a bowl and place it on the floor for him to eat out of – but after a few seconds take it away while giving a command such as ‘leave’ or ‘stop’. Keep the bowl for several seconds and if your dog displays no hostility when you take the bowl away, praise him generously, give the bowl back and let him continue to eat.
After two or three weeks, you should see little or no food possessiveness and you can simply put the bowl down and let him eat undisturbed.
For particularly stubborn and possessive dogs – and there are some! – you may have to go back to the first step of feeding by hand and repeat the entire process until the possessiveness subsides. Yes, this can be very time consuming and frustrating for both of you, but the long term benefits are absolutely worth it. Future training in other areas will be much easier and both you and your dog will be much happier!