If you came upon a wolf eating a fresh kill in the woods, do you think it would be a good idea to leave him alone while he eats? Maybe give him some extra space and make sure he doesn't feel your presence?
The same rules should apply to your dog and his bowl of kibble, but in mainstream training this doesn't seem to be the case. So why do people feel the need to take their dog's food away while he's eating? Have they been taught to "desensitize" the dog around food? Have they learned that showing dominance over your dog includes resource guarding and that this is a good thing?
The problem is, if someone stood over you while you ate your dinner and randomly took the plate out from under you, do you think you would learn to tolerate or accept this practice? Or do you think, over time, it might make you extremely anxious about dinnertime? And eventually that anxiety may turn into fear or even anger.
Whatever the paradigm is behind these practices, the outcomes they produce are actually the opposite of what's intended. Dogs who have absolutely no issues with food and are exceptionally good-natured probably won't develop any serious behavioral issues even if you do try these "desensitization" practices. But if you take a strong-willed dog and one who has even a slight food issue, you can blow this up exponentially by trying to exert your dominance at dinnertime. And this can be downright dangerous.
I recently did a behavioral assessment for a five month old rescue puppy. This pup had been abandoned by the side of the road at 4 weeks old, and was most likely already prone to food issues due to this abandonment. The owner thought she was helping him by standing over him while he was eating, even petting him while he ate his dinner. Eventually he started growling, lunging, and resource guarding not only food but random objects like a piece of plastic. This behavior began to scare the owner, so she put a shock collar on him and started shocking him to teach "leave it."
By the time she called me, this little dog had already bitten her and her roommate and the situation was quite serious. It was actually one of the most serious cases of food-aggression I had ever seen, and I myself ended getting bitten during the assessment which hasn't happened in a VERY long time. I attribute this to the e-collar training. It literally makes the dog electric, and WHAM!, like a lightning bolt, you get a bite on the hand.
What do I suggest for a case like this? Hand feed ALL meals! Hand-feeding could have prevented this behavior from the get-go, but alas we have to start where we are. In this case the dog's level of aggression was already so high I wasn't sure if she would even be able to hand feed him due do his electric training and her own level of fear and overwhelm. So for the first few days I suggested that she feed him in his crate, shut the bedroom door, and leave him alone with a 1.5x portion of what she normally feeds. I felt that would help soften the charge around food and get them to a point where she could hand feed him.
After a few days of crate feeding, she was able to take him outside and start the hand feeding, and although he was still growling, he wasn't biting. I'm waiting to get the next progress report, but it will probably be slow going. It's very easy to create a behavioral issue like this, and pretty difficult to fix it. So prevention is key!
My tips for feeding your dogs in a way that makes them feel safe and secure:
1. Leave your dog alone while he's eating.
2. Feed in a crate with the door shut, or in a separate room, or outdoors on a porch or patio.
3. Make sure no else is going to bother the dog while he's eating, especially children!
4. Always feed multiple dogs completely separately so they don't develop dog-to-dog food aggression.
If you think your dog may be developing any type of guarding issue, please contact a professional trainer. And never use an e-collar to try and fix this problem!
Still need help? Click this link to reach me: contact page or email me with your questions. We can work virtually if you don't live local. The sooner you address these types of issues the better, as they can get out of control quickly.