Puppies look so sweet and innocent that it can be a major shock to the system the first time yours growls at you -- yikes. If your little one gets a little testy when she's eating, she's probably exhibiting some classic food guarding behavior, which isn't at all uncommon in the youngsters.
Food guarding is a form of resource protection among canines. Because of dogs' wild ancestors, they often feel the innate urge to protect their valuable "belongings," whether precious meals, chew toys, sleeping spots, bones or anything of that ilk. Even if your puppy has a comfortable life at home with you, she instinctively understands the value of her food and knows it can be hard to come by. Therefore, she feels the need to protect it from you -- even though you're the one giving it to her.
Resource guarding behaviors aren't exclusive to seasoned and mature dogs. These patterns are prevalent in adult canines, but also in wee puppies, too, according to the RSPCA's World of Animal Welfare Organization. Your puppy isn't too young to feel defensive about her food, so don't ever rule out resource guarding.
Growling isn't the only indication of food guarding in canines. Dogs can display it in a variety of other ways, including barking, exposing their teeth, unusually slow or rapid chewing, extended staring at the "intruder," pulling their lips back, snarling and displaying the white portions of their eyes. Some dogs even bite and pounce others when they resource guard, so be extremely careful. Do not approach your puppy -- or any dog for that matter -- if you have any reason to think she might get aggressive. Also make sure no children or fellow pets go near the possessive pooch.
If you train your pup to establish a positive association between your presence and food, then her food guarding behavior likely will stop. By growling at you whenever she's eating, she's showing that she thinks you're about to snatch up her food. Stop this pattern of thinking by making her understand that you give her food -- and that you don't take it away from her. One way to do this is by offering her meals in tiny "installments" rather than all at once. Once she eats the small portion in her bowl, pick it up and promptly add the next amount of food. By doing this, your puppy might start to understand that you are no risk to her meals. You can also try to establish this pleasant link by offering your pet a few yummy treats as she chows down on her main food. If these methods prove ineffective, or if you have any reason at all to think that your pet might get fierce, seek the assistance of a professional canine behavioral expert immediately. Never try to fix the behavior of an aggressive dog without professional help, even if she's just a puppy. Safety is important.
- Seattle Humane Society: Resource Guarding
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Guarding and Showing Aggression Over Resources
- ASPCA: Food Guarding
- RSPCA World of Animal Welfare: Resource Guarding in Dogs
- Maddie's Fund: Taking a Bite Out of Food Bowl Aggression
- The Humane Society of the United States Animal Sheltering: Food for Thought
- Tri-County Humane Society: Resolving Food Aggression
- DogChannel.com: Seek Help With Dog Food Guarding
- DogChannel.com: Guarding Food and People
- Jupiterimages/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images