Successfully managing food bowl guarding behaviors in your new puppy

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Are you welcoming a new puppy into your family in 2017? Good Dog in a Box is here to help you every step of the way. There are several things that every puppy parent can do to set your new puppy up for success before your puppy comes home with you. One of the most essential issues to address, especially if you have children, is managing and modifying food bowl guarding behaviors.

Guarding behaviors can include eating faster, freezing, or vocalizing/growling when people approach while the puppy around the food bowl. It is important to address the issue as early in the puppy’s life as possible and never punish these behaviors. Puppies that are punished for growling grow up to be dogs that bite without warning. The behaviors we don’t like are precursors to more intense reactions. We want to address the root causes of the guarding behavior with an understanding that these guarding behaviors are normal in the canine world and can be modified without punishment.

Puppies must be taught from an early age that guarding things from people is not appropriate and that people approaching them when they have something is actually a good thing and that guarding isn’t necessary. Here are the steps to help your puppy relax around their food bowl:

  1. Hand feed your puppy their meals. No dumping the whole meal into the bowl at once. Have your puppy work for her food by doing commands like watch me or sit in exchange for handfuls of food for several minutes.
  2. The rest of the meal is placed in a bowl. As long as your puppy waits calmly, lower the bowl to the floor. If they begin approaching the bowl before it touches the ground, life the bowl back up. This may take several tries before the pup learns that the bowl is off limits until it hits the ground and you give an “OK.”
  3. Once your puppy begins eating, approach the bowl, putting something better into it (like a small piece of cooked chicken breast.) Approach from different directions, at different speeds, always adding goodies to the bowl in the process.
  4. Add in a gentle touch on your pup’s back as you place the higher value food into the pup’s bowl. Only do this when your pup has made progress and is relaxed around her food dish.

Working with your puppy consistently and kindly will go a long way in reduction of food bowl guarding issues. With practice, a person approaching predicts something really good. So your pup will look forward to people coming up to her food bowl. Your pup will need to practice with other adults. It is very important that adults are always in charge of every process of reducing food bowl guarding behaviors. This is one area of training that it is not recommended to involved young children.  If you continue to have guarding issues with your young puppy or older dog, consulting with a force free, reward based professional trainer is recommended.

Three tips for reducing guarding behaviors in your new pup:

  • Hand feed

    Teach your puppy that cooperation leads to good things

  • Help your pup develop impulse control

    Work on a solid wait behavior before the food bowl is placed down

  • Reward the approach

    Always add good things to the food bowl when you come near

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