Help! My Dog Is Super Possessive Of Food!

If you're scared of putting down his food bowl, it's time to get help 🙏

Dog possessive over food

Ever find your dog staring at you warily from the corner of his eye while he’s eating? Or getting angry if you get too close to his food bowl?

If that’s the case, your pup might be possessive of his food — in other words, he’s super concerned about protecting what’s his.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Andrea Y. Tu and Dr. Vanessa Spano, veterinarians with Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out why your dog is being all possessive, and how to stop it from turning into full-blown food aggression.

Why your dog is possessive of food

While it can be a little unsettling to see your dog get territorial over his food, it actually makes total sense when you remember that they still have instincts from living in the wild.

“[Dogs] should be possessive of their food, otherwise they wouldn’t have food,” Dr. Tu told The Dodo.

The technical term is “resource guarding,” and there are a bunch of different reasons that can aggravate this instinct — and turn it into outright aggression.

“Dogs can develop ‘possessive aggression’ … [from] a variety of triggers,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo.

Factors that contribute to a dog’s possessive behavior are:

  • Genetics
  • Early socialization period (aka experiences from when they were just little puppies)
  • Their current situation
  • Anxiety disorders

Signs of possessive behavior

Growling, lunging and biting are the three big (and sometimes scary!) symptoms people associate with possessive aggression in dogs.

According to Dr. Spano, there are also less obvious signs that your dog may be developing — or exhibiting — possessive aggression.

These subtler signs include:

  • Licking their lips
  • Yawning
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Tucking their tail
  • Pinning their ears back
  • Barking

What to do if your dog is possessive of food

Dr. Spano recommends that the first thing you do is leave your dog alone during dinnertime.

“I wouldn't want something bothering me while I was enjoying food either,” Dr. Spano said. “Allow him to eat his meals in a separate room away from everyone and everything.”

According to Dr. Tu, you should try to give your pup even more food than he already has (or needs), so he doesn’t feel like he has to protect it so severely.

“If there’s food around, and the dog is growling when you’re getting near his bowl, you know what I would do? I would throw more food on the ground,” Dr. Tu explained. “Show him there is tons of food around and there’s no need for you to fight over limited resources.”

No matter your approach, do NOT invade your dog’s space in an attempt to make him more comfortable. (Spoiler: It doesn’t work.)

“Contrary to popular belief, if a dog is showing signs of aggression while eating, it is not recommended to constantly stick your hand in their bowl ... to get them used to it,” Dr. Spano said. “Over time this may actually increase the intensity of their aggression.”

You definitely should also reach out to a vet, trainer or behaviorist, because these at-home tactics are not enough.

Often, treatment for the underlying trigger that causes possessive aggression requires supplements, medication or training, so make sure you’re consulting a professional who can help figure out the best approach for your dog.