Food and Bowl Guarding.

Food and Bowl Guarding.

 Food and Bowl Guarding Aggressive Dogs

Food Bowl Guarding Aggression Dogs We work very hard training our dogs to fit into our lifestyle and our family unit. We believe we have done a great job, then just as we are congratulating ourselves on a job well done, the growl starts.

It may be as we pass the bed, food bowl, or pig’s ear, or even as we remove a toy or tissue. This is a common problem, often called food guarding, or resource guarding.

In reality, it is a natural innate tendency for dogs to protect what they perceive as theirs. Possession to a dog is 9/10ths of the law, some dogs will resource guard anything, and that includes us.

This article will cover the area of bowl or food guarding,

I have written another in-depth article on (1) Possession Aggression Object Guarding which is a very different problem than bowl guarding and far more difficult to eradicate..

Bowl guarding happened to me. Kai, my rescue white German Shepherd, They are also known as the Swiss Shepherds, he was about nine months old, lovely temperament nice nature.

Just after rescuing him, he growled as I walked past his food bowl. I have never owned a resource guarder or possessive aggressive before getting Kai. I have treated dozens but never actually owned one, so this made for a good exercise as I knew exactly what to do.

Kai was a rescue after having a few homes in his first eight months. My daughter who owns a dog-themed Cafe called (2) Paws for Coffee was asked if she could re-home him by the last owner and he ended up with me

Not exactly the best of starts, he had a bit of baggage but nothing more than a bit of TLC and training could not put right. Unfortunately, I had no impact or influence on his previous owners, or what they did or believed with regard to feeding, possessions and training.

The myths and beliefs that surround this common problem are numerous. There is the “let him know who is boss brigade” and the “if he had done that to me I would have belted him” Others that will tell you he is dominant. Dominance and dominant behaviour is a somewhat outdated term in modern canine behaviour therapy.

That does not mean that dominant behaviour does not exist it does. But where the mistake happens is people relate dominance to aggression and that is in nearly every case totally incorrect.

It is too easy and simplistic to label everything as a bid for power and control. The term suggests that the dog is personally threatening you in a bid for the top dog slot. Which I assure you is not the case with possession aggression.

These beliefs and myths probably get more people bitten every year than any other single behavioural problem I encounter. The belief that the dog is being disloyal and biting the hand that feeds it is, unfortunately, commonplace.

Once again anthropomorphism raises its ugly head. This problem is also one of the key reasons why some dogs are euthanised.

Kai My White German Shepherd. Bowl GuardingBack to young Kai. When he growled just a low grumble but a subtle threat no less, I did not react or even look at him nor chastise him in any way.

To challenge him at that time would have suggested that the growl wasn’t sufficient to warn me off.

So lets up the ante and perhaps a snarl or a snap would be in order.

I am of the belief that violence begets violence, therefore, why do we challenge the dog if there is no need to. watch the video below.

I waited until his next feed time; I feed my dogs twice a day. Instead of using one bowl, this time, I used two. I prepared his food as normal in one bowl and then got him to sit and wait. I then put the empty bowl down.

The look of confusion on his face was classic, he looked around the bowl nudged it to see if his food was underneath then was totally flummoxed looking at me totally bemused.  It was at that time; taking a long-handled wooden spoon, I tossed a small portion of his food into the bowl.

The reason for the spoon is if he were to grab at anything, he would grab the spoon and not my fingers. I proceeded to feed the whole meal in spoonfuls, what I was telling him was that by me getting access to his bowl was a condition of him being fed.,

I continued with this method for three days. Sometimes this may take longer depending on the severity of the guarding. After the three days, I could tell by his posture and body language that he was relaxed and comfortable with me near his bowl. I gradually decreased the distance between myself and the bowl on every spoonful until I was standing next to it.

I then started to put a small amount of his food in the bowl before putting it down rather than spooning it in, then gradually increased the amount over a few days until I was putting all the food in at one go. Once I had reached this stage, I add a very tasty titbit whilst he was eating,

I usually use my own brand of totally natural air-dried products including ones you can use as special training treats, Some may need cutting up into small pieces with scissors if they are to be used as a training treat rather than a tasty titbit dropped in the bowl.

They include Air Dried Sprats, Chicken Hearts  Dog Spaghetti, Cows Udders, Chicken Stomachs, Beef Lung and Chicken Wing Tips (3) Large Range of Air Dried Dog Treats (Scroll Down)

When you start dropping in the special treats start from a little distance away and gradually decrease the distance.

What he learns during this exercise is your approach to the bowl is no threat, in fact, quite the opposite it is positive as it means he is going to get something really special and tasty.

This is a positive reinforcement type technique that requires no aggression, threats, or force; these rarely if ever work in the case of possession aggression. You must make sure your dog is relaxed at all times.

If you hit a problem then you have gone too far too fast. Go back a couple of stages and work back up to the area where the problem or behaviour was being displayed, take your time there is no need to rush, it’s not a race

At the end of this article, there is a video of Cesar Milan effectively doing just about everything wrong, whilst working with a bowl guarding dog. He does get bitten though I cannot sympathise he clearly did not read the dog and he certainly did not understand the problem.

If I wanted to analyse why Kai growled in the first place I would only be guessing at the trigger. Without talking to all the previous owners to see what they had done then it’s pure conjecture, though I can imagine a number of possible scenarios. As an educated guess, someone probably thought it was right to take his bowl away whilst he was eating, just to show the dog that he could.

This can often create a seed of doubt in the young dog’s mind that his food could be stolen, and he may, therefore, start to feel threatened or uncomfortable when you are in close proximity.

This seed of doubt could germinate with the onset of maturity and could blossom into full-blown food guarding. If I had lashed out or acted differently to the first threatening growl then things may have turned out very differently. As it happens Kai has never growled or shown any inclination to guard since.

If you are training a puppy not to guard then start training him not to touch the food until you give permission.

To achieve this start with the pup on the lead and a Jingler (5) The Jingler Further Information. 

You will need to set the “OFF” command for this.  Put the food down as normal, then as the head goes to the bowl give a slight check on the lead and say “OFF” this may take a few checks.

Make sure this check is really light and gentle, then as the dog looks to you for permission, immediately praise by using a trigger word such as “Good Take It”

Continue with this training until you can do this whilst off lead.

The object of this exercise is to train him not to touch on command, once you have done this you can then stop him eating on command by using the “OFF” command Once you have reached this stage then occasionally approach his bowl and put in a tasty treat, he should never have, doubts that your proximity to his bowl is positive never negative.

Below is a video showing Cesar Millan working with a bowl aggressive dog. Note that he hits the dogs and makes it far more fearful. He stands over it and does his macho posturing. I’m afraid he just looks ridiculous. This is an easy problem to overcome, what you do not need, is to try and dominate hit or threaten, it is not a dominance issue. I am afraid this man is adored and supported by millions of people that believe he is a credible dog trainer or behaviourist.

He is nothing of the sort. Just from this clip, his behaviour against a fearful and nervous dog could have been turned around in a couple of days maximum without punching or kicking the dog. He has shown himself as a bully, and totally ignorant of why the dog was behaving in that way. He got bitten because of his one-trick pony techniques. Amazingly he says “I did not see that coming” Well I did, a mile away. If he could not see it he should not be working with dogs.

©Stan Rawlinson May 2005 regularly updated

Last Updated 2022

(1) Possession Aggression Object Guarding

(2) Paws for Coffee

(3) Large Range of Air Dried Dog Treats (Scroll Down)

(4) The Jingler Further Information

(5) The Dog Store Hampton Hill

Comments (10)

  • Spyoung_251457

    Food guarding
    Hiya we have a tri colour cocker spaniel he has suddenly started growling & snapping at us around his bowl & bed which are both side by side in our hallway so we walk past them all the time just looking for advice he’s just turned 1 yr old & hes our first dog , it’s so out of character for him he growls but tail is wagging 2 mins later he’s all soft n cuddles again …. help

    September 13, 2017 at 2:17 pm
  • Doglistener

    Food Guarding

    This could be the onset of Possession Aggression Resource Guarding. Which is an article I wrote which is first on Google. It is mainly Cocker Spaniel that have this problem, and mostly solid colour, though not always. Sometimes it is triggered by neutering especially if done before maturity.

    Type in Possession Aggression Resource Guarding into Google and see if that describes your dog.

    September 27, 2017 at 12:05 pm
  • [email protected]

    food guarding
    My dog does get twitchy if we get to close to her whist she is eating, and will warn us to stay away – I will certainly try this method and see if it helps, but the other behaviour she does is that she leaves her food to come and see what i am doing and if i follow her back towards her bowl she does give me a warning that she does not want me to, I have never removed food from her or taken it from her, except when she started possession guarding with rawhide, which i did remove from her and we have not reintroduced. I am also working on the possession guarding after having read your possession aggression resource guarding article. got off to a rocky start with a sock, thought it had gone well but later found her guarding said sock, when she moved away from it I picked it up and started to play pulley with her and she now just considers it another toy that we can all play with – confused!

    August 6, 2018 at 2:43 pm
  • Doglistener


    You haven’t mentioned what breed she is? It is unusual for dogs to react to both bowl guarding and resource guarding. Though I have seen it twice before out of many hundreds of dogs I have treated for these problems. The bowl guarding is easy to resolve resource guard takes far longer if at all.

    August 18, 2018 at 1:21 pm
  • walkaboutdogsinoz_259022

    Food Guarding vs Resource Guarding
    Hi Stan,
    I am wondering how you tell the difference between resource guarding and food guarding – as to me both these situations are the result of a dog guarding a treasured resource – and food is very high on the list! I have seen some dogs that guard both their bowl and their toy or bone or favorite spot on the sofa, and some who only guard one particular thing. Can you please enlighten me as I’m a little confused :)

    Also – that video of CM is shocking. It’s so sad that he is on international TV and so many look up to him. That poor dog :(

    January 16, 2019 at 12:10 am
  • Doglistener

    Food Guarding and Resource Guarding

    Strangely enough, it is very rare that a dog does both. Bowl guarding is very simple to overcome resource guarding is not easy and people rarely get a full recovery from Resource Guarding. Resource guarding tends to be genetic and food guarding doesn’t. Resource guarding can be anything from a sock to the dog’s body space or bed it is not often about food it is possessions it had found rather being given them. Read my article that is number one on Google type in Possession Aggression Resource Guarding Dogs into Google and it should come first after the overview.

    February 17, 2019 at 12:57 pm
  • [email protected]

    Bowl guarding
    I’ve just read your article about bowl guarding, but my dog doesn’t growl at humans and I am able to take his bowl away from him with absolutely no problem. What he does do though is curl his lip up at any other dog which goes near his bowl when he is eating (although I do try to separate them all when I feed them) and he has also started getting as close as he can while I am preparing his food and if any dog gets near to me or my dog while I am preparing food, his lip curls again and he snarls. I’m not sure if he would physically attack another dog as this is as far as he has taken it (and I do discourage him) but it’s a real pain as I home board dogs on a regular basis (which he is very used to) and I would hate to see him become aggressive towards my guests. Any feedback would be greatly received. P.S. He is a 15 month fox red lab who is obsessed with food!!! Thanks.

    March 7, 2020 at 9:58 am
    • Doglistener

      Bowl Guarding against oher dogs

      Unfortunately, this is very common and in your circumstances you have other dogs coming to the house on a regular basis, therefore, you must feed your dog in a room where no other dogs are present. Normally if dogs live together permanentl,y they just go and check the other bowls out but in this case you must allow him his own space whilst eating.

      April 11, 2020 at 10:42 am
  • [email protected]

    Food guarding
    I recently had incidents of food guarding with my two and half year old black working cocker. I had trained him to wait to go and get his food after I had put it down and this worked fine for a couple of years, then suddenly he started growling at me if I came near while he was eating, particularly during his evening meal.
    I seem to have solved the problem by bringing forward his evening meal, as I thought he might be hungry. I bought a new bowl and changed the place where I put it, next to his water bowl. Then just started putting it down at the same time every day and he could choose when he ate it. He has fallen in with this routine, he often eats a bit of his meal and comes back later for the rest. He still looks at me for permission to go to his bowl to eat but the whole thing seems to have relaxed him and he lets me take his collar on or off which he is eating and doesn’t get fussed if I walk past him.

    March 8, 2020 at 5:29 pm
  • Stan Rawlinson

    Sorry, I have just seen this yes changing routines can help but leaving food down all day can, unfortunately, be a stimulant for this behaviour. I would definitely not leave the food all day as an incident could happen with visitors.

    January 19, 2022 at 10:16 pm

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