Any dogs, including cockapoos, may at some point display something called food aggression. Food aggression is basically when a dog snarls and bares his teeth when you go near their food bowl. Extreme food and resource guarding is when your cockapoo may even come running to guard their food bowl, barking, snarling and standing between you and the food bowl. Now, the good news is that there are some easy steps to take to solve this. That said, there is also one sure way to make food aggression worse, and it’s a mistake we made ourselves and we would like other cockapoo owners to avoid!
What causes food aggression in dogs?
Food aggression is primarily caused by a dog feeling as though they need to protect their food source from a competitor. In the wild, this competitor may have been another dog in the pack. At home, it may be you or a family member.
Of course, there are then lots of things that then cause a dog to feel as though they need to protect their food. If you have a rescue dog, however, it’s important to note that recent scientific studies show that past experiences of starvation doesn’t increase the likelihood of having food aggression. Generally, things that may increase the chances of food aggression, include:
- Having a reduced diet and feeling like there is not enough food
- Having food taken away
- Being interrupted while eating
- Other pets in the house coming near the food bowl
In addition, poor training practices with dogs while they are puppies can also lead to food aggression. This is often the case when an inexperienced owner may use the presence of the food bowl as an additional training reward. In these cases, the food bowl is used to get the dog to do tricks before feeding.
Now, it’s always good practice to use the food bowl to enforce a feeding routine (such as sitting and waiting while the food is put down). However, using the food bowl to get your pooch to do a “show” trick is kind of unnecessary. If you had to guess whether you needed to roll over, spin around, or whatever time you wanted to eat, then you’d get pretty protective over your food too.
Our mistake with food aggression and resource guarding
When our cockapoo was a puppy, he started to display some mild food aggression whenever we came near his bowl. Ziggy would growl and bare his teeth, and basically tell us to go away!
Now, despite having owned dogs in the past, this had never happened to us before. And, unfortunately, we made a crucial error when we first tried to stop his food aggression.
We tried to show him that we were the boss!
This, basically, went against every part of our own dog training philosophy – positivity, praise and patience. For some reason, we decided that when it came to combating this really negative behaviour it was time to get tough!
First, we would purposely walk over to his food bowl and stroke him while he was eating – cue some growls.
So then, we would purposely move his food bowl while he was eating – cue the snarling.
Finally, we would purposely take the food away as a punishment for the growling and snarling – cue the barking.
All we can say now, looking back, is doh! Pretty much, the reason for doing this was based on the idea that it would teach our cockapoo that we were the bosses, and to eat he would have to respect us.
What a silly way of thinking that was!
Why? Well because what we were doing was just winding him up even more. We were just reinforcing the idea in his head that he needed to protect his food.
Think about it: if someone came and started fiddling with your food EVERY TIME you ate – well, you’d get pretty annoyed. Over time, you’d double down and get tense. You’d probably even start to get annoyed before the food came because eating wouldn’t be a nice experience.
Then, you may even start hiding your food, or start some other strange habits just so you could eat in peace.
Luckily, we clocked on to the fact that what we were doing was stupid fairly quickly. The key thing we noticed was that after about three or four days of this approach, his aggression was getting worse.
When we realised that what we were doing was having the opposite effect, well, we kind of kicked ourselves. Instead, we then adopted a much more positive approach to stopping food aggression in our cockapoo – and it worked!
How to stop cockapoo food aggression
To stop cockapoo food aggression, owners need to adopt a positive and patient approach to training. The way to approach this training is to make every human interaction with the food bowl a rewarding and calm experience.
You’ll need to have some high value food rewards, and you’ll want to make sure that all of the family are on board with the approach below.
Use higher value food as rewards
The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure that you being near the food bowl is seen as a good thing. This is easily done by using food rewards that are higher in value than the stuff in the bowl.
Then the next step is simple – make sure to visit your cockapoo while he is eating and drop the reward into the bowl. If your cockapoo is like ours the first time you do this you may still get a growl. However, the more you drop these random rewards in the bowl, the more you’re cockapoo will learn that humans add tasty things to the meal.
Importantly, don’t try and feed your pooch the treat from your hand. While this will still build some positive feelings, it’s not making the direct link in their head that needs to be there. Namely, that a hand near the bowl makes what’s in the bowl better.
Give them peace and quiet
If you’re regularly adding tasty treats and leftovers into your cockapoo’s bowl, then you should start to see the more “extreme” parts of cockapoo food aggression fade away. The next thing to consider is just how peaceful their eating experience is. There are two things to consider with this one:
- The location of the food bowl
- The presence of humans near the bowl
If their food bowl is located in an exposed, open environment (such as an open plan kitchen), then that’s not the most relaxing place for your cockapoo. This is because they will naturally feel a little vulnerable while they eat. Having their back turned to a large open environment just makes it a little worse. A simple way to solve this is to move the food bowl to either a quieter position, or to a position that allows them to easily look up at their surroundings (rather than facing a wall).
The presence of humans near the food bowl can also be something that causes your cockapoo some mild stress. This is because they will naturally focus on every movement and every noise a human makes. And, the nearer these noises are, the more it will feel to your cockapoo that there is something to worry about while eating. As a result, make sure that the humans in your family (especially the little ones), give your cockapoo some space while they eat.
Give them time
So now you’re at a point where you’re rewarding your cockapoo when you come near the food bowl, and they’re having a nice and peaceful eating experience – great! The next thing to consider is how much time you actually allow them to eat their food.
Some dog owners, particularly those with fussy eaters, will set food down and take the bowl away at preset times. The thinking behind this is that it encourages your dog to eat at present times, which is both convenient and a good way to get picky eaters to actually eat something.
Owners may also do this if feeding wet or raw dog food to their pooch (mainly for hygiene reasons).
If your cockapoo displays food aggression, however, one thing you may wish to consider is making food much more available. The thinking here is really simple – the more available food becomes, the less valuable it will seem.
If you have decided to feed your cockapoo a raw or wet food diet, then this may naturally cause you a little bit of a headache when it comes to horrible dog food smells. If that’s the case, you may then wish to give them smaller meals a little more often.
Either way – aim to get it into your cockapoo’s head that food is always around if they need it. This, ultimately, will lead to them not really worrying about it.
As we feed Ziggy dry food, we do this and only ever take his bowl away to either clean it or fill it up with more food. As a result, he has learnt to never really worry when we go near his bowl as he’s never really that hungry!
That said, he has become a natural “grazer” and eats when he wants throughout the day. This could prove inconvenient to some owners – so perhaps only consider this step if the trade off feels right for you.
Give them good food
The final step to stopping food aggression is to focus on what you are actually feeding your cockapoo. The simple fact is, if you’re feeding them the cheapest food around, then your dog may not be the healthiest, or the happiest.
In fact, a lot of cheap dog foods contain all sorts of horrible additives and food types that release energy in a quick burst. This can lead to mood swings in your pooch, as well as feelings of not being completely full.
Think about when you eat a chocolate bar – sure they’re amazing and truly delicious – but do they really fill you up?
If you feed your cockapoo on a poor diet, then you may end up with lots of poor behaviour, which may worsen their food aggression. So, make sure to feed them on some proper dog food. We have a guide to all of the best foods we’ve tried with our cockapoo over the years, which may be worth reading if you want some more pointers on this topic.
Hopefully this article has helped you to think of some ways to prevent food aggression with your cockapoo. More importantly, we hope it also helps you to avoid the mistake we made with our cockapoo! The bottom line with food aggression is that, if treated early, when behaviours are mild, then it isn’t really an issue. If you’re in the position where you’ve already tried the above, and the food aggression is getting worse, then please consult with your vet or a dog behaviourist for specific advice. Don’t worry – these things are always solvable!
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We love: This genius doggy towel bath robe – super cute, and a life saver after a muddy / wet walk!
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