It may shock you to observe your usually sweet doggie growling at any human being or animal in his vicinity while food is in his bowl, although the behavior is 100 percent normal and natural in the canine species. "Food guarding" essentially is a protective mechanism for many dogs.
About Food Guarding
For a dog, guarding food is instinctive and in his blood courtesy of his ancestors. Out in nature, the goal is always staying alive, and the savvier an animal is at maintaining food and shelter, the better chance he has for thriving. Although your doggie may indeed have an enviable and comfortable life indoors, this type of protective behavior is still very much inside of him, strange as it may seem to you.
If your dog completely ceases eating and begins growling as soon as another pet -- or you -- comes near him during mealtime, he's basically warning you to back off and stay away from his sustenance. If he's not eating, he can better protect his resources. The possessive and territorial behavior results from the worry that a competitor is going to take the precious food away -- uh oh. Apart from simple growling, some canines may "food guard" by running off with the valuable food in mouth, chasing or even biting -- yikes.
Preventing Food Guarding
Food guarding is by no means a "friendly" behavior, and sometimes can even lead to aggressive physical attacks between fellow household pets. Thankfully, a few simple preventative measures may be able to greatly reduce this troubling behavior. Consider establishing a "happy" link between your going near the food bowl, for example. Eliminate your dog's fear that you're going to snatch away his food. You can do this by actually giving him something even more enticing -- say a small chicken treat. Also consider giving your pet only tiny portions of food at one time. Continually remove his plate to add in more. By doing this, you may train your dog's brain to connect the removal of his plate with a good thing -- more food! Lastly, think about your doggie's dining locale. A small and cramped location may encourage your pet to feel territorial about his meal. If he is in a wide open space, he may feel more comfortable and less inclined to vehemently defend what's in front of him.
Never loudly scold your dog for his food guarding behavior and growling. By doing this, you may actually just achieve the total opposite result of what you want. If you seem forceful to your pooch, it may train him to believe that he has to be even more defensive of his prized bowl -- yikes. Focus on techniques for eliminating the problematic behavior rather than on stern discipline.