Is your normally mild mannered pup all of a sudden growling and snarling at you during mealtime? Does a raw hide bone send him/her scampering under the table with a snarl and/or growl? If so, then your canine friend is showing signs of Possession Aggression or otherwise known as food or object guarding. In most cases, your furry friend no longer views you as the provider of fun and good things, but rather the person who takes away any hard earned treasures such as meals, treats, toys, and even those items that are deemed forbidden such as socks or shoes. In order to re-train your dog to know that you are his leader and not the other way around it takes patience, persistence, consistency, dedication and love to turn things around again. This is a step by step process that takes persistency on your part. Do not give up and always show praise when your dog responds positively to your training. I recommend positive reinforcement through the use of Clicker Training, and food rewards and will have resources at the bottom of this article for further reading.
Begin with taking away all food bowls. For the next two weeks or so, your pup will be dining out of your hand a little bit at a time. Praise him/her every time he/she gently takes the food from your hand. As you praise him/her click the training clicker and hand him/her a few more pieces of his/her food (be careful with the clicker and ONLY click when he/she has done what you asked and rewards are given since your dog will now relate to getting a reward every time that clicker is pressed).
After the two week period has ended, you will re-introduce his/her food bowl. It should remain empty until you place little bits of his/her food dropped in at two minute intervals. Do this until the entire meal is finished all the while using your clicker (if you should decide to use one) after every interval of food given. Press the clicker when your pup has gently responded to receiving his food.
As your dog begins to respond favorable to this, put a semi-filled bowl on the floor of his/her food and as you pass by, drop in a few special treats into his/her bowl. Then add the remaining food as you pass by again. This will begin to show your dog that you are the giver of good things, and not the opposite, and the human hand is not all about taking away but also of giving, and rewarding.
Put a full food bowl on the floor as your dog holds a sit-stay command (look for great resources for basic dog training at the bottom of this article). Release him with a cheery *Yes* and press your Clicker. Then once or twice a week, call your dog away from his bowl and reward him with a cheery *Yes* and press the clicker for coming over to you and give him a very special treat. Use your “sit-stay,” “wait,” and “take it” commands with the dog so it is absolutely clear to your dog who owns the kitchen and the tasty treats in it.
In conclusion, if your dog has displayed possession aggression, this training will help alleviate the problem but it is you, the owner to remain consistent in order for this type of behavior to not return or you will have to go through this process all over again.
Here are some helpful books about clicker training, and basic obedience training.
Gary Wilkes Click and Treat
Karen Pryor Clicker Training