Why do dogs guard their food?
|Why do dogs guard their food?
Why do some dogs growl when someone approaches their food?
Are you afraid to approach your dog while it's eating? Do you see it growling or barking when someone touches its toys? And do you worry about your children getting close to it while it's eating? Hence, we come to the question: why do dogs guard their food?
Why do dogs protect their food without any apparent reason? Do they feel threatened and unsafe? If your dog exhibits this behavior, it is a common behavior in some dogs known as "resource guarding." But where does this behavior come from? Resource guarding is an instinctive behavior based on fear, where dogs fear for their resources or possessions. The biggest resource for them is food, which is the most crucial factor for their survival.
While resource-guarding behavior is natural for dogs, it can sometimes be dangerous. If young children are in the house and your dog exhibits this behavior, the consequences can be severe if someone approaches it while it's eating. Therefore, it is essential to understand the reasons behind this behavior and how to address it. Here, we will discuss the causes and motivations of this behavior in dogs.
How dangerous is this behavior in dogs?
Although "resource guarding" behavior is employed by wolves and wild dogs in the wilderness to protect their food as a preventative measure, it is perplexing why domestic dogs exhibit this behavior when they are not in any danger or threat while eating. Does the instinct overpower them?
The degree of this behavior varies from one dog to another. Some cases are mild, where the dog stiffens when someone approaches its food bowl. There are more severe cases where the dog starts barking or attempts to bite anyone who comes near its food bowl.
To address this behavior, you need to first understand that "resource guarding" behavior is not aggressive behavior from the dog, nor is it an attempt to dominate or resist control. It is an instinctive behavior stemming from the dog's fear of someone taking away its possessions and food. While it is unclear why some dogs guard their food while others do not, the good news is that "resource guarding" behavior can be managed and treated.
Causes of dogs guarding their resources:
Some experts attribute the reason for dogs guarding their food to several factors. One of the reasons behind "resource guarding" behavior is dogs do not feel secure, so they protect their food to prevent others from taking it. The environment and genetics also play a significant role in the development of this behavior. The nature in which a dog is raised can greatly influence the acquisition of this behavior. Additionally, some common theories attempt to uncover the secret behind why dogs guard their food. Some of the most important theories include:
Competition with littermates and the reward theory:
Some experts believe that acquiring resource-guarding behavior starts very early in dogs. It begins when the young puppies compete with each other to get a little bit of their mother's milk or to take a portion of the food in the bowl.
The puppies that eat more tend to grow faster. This is where the reward theory comes into play, which is based on the idea that these puppies are rewarded by consuming a larger amount of food due to their ability to monopolize it. This, in turn, reinforces the resource-guarding behavior, as the puppies learn that guarding and protecting food is rewarded by being able to access and consume it later.
Some speculate that resource-guarding behavior may result from a lack of security in competing for food or deprivation. However, what casts doubt on the validity of this opinion is that some dogs that exhibit this behavior have not been deprived of food or subjected to mistreatment and neglect.
The impact of the environment on resource-guarding behavior:
The environment can play a significant role in the acquisition of resource-guarding behavior. One of the biggest examples of this is the emergence of this behavior in shelter dogs at a higher rate than usual, reaching up to 25%. These dogs are unaware of the timing of their meals or whether they will be provided with food or not. Therefore, their anxiety about food consumption increases, which is a major factor in the development of food-guarding behavior in them.
Many shelters have developed feeding programs aimed at reducing this behavior in dogs. These shelters have provided free meals for the dogs and granted them access to a full bowl of food at any time they desire, emphasizing that their access to food is a constant right.
Although the shelter environment can be challenging and stressful, it is not expected to be the sole determinant of resource-guarding behavior in dogs. Studies have shown that this behavior is no longer present or observed in dogs when they are placed in homes.
Many shelters have reported a success rate exceeding 90%, where food-guarding behavior disappeared in dogs within less than three weeks of being placed in a home.
The impact of genetic factors on dogs' food guarding behavior:
Genetic factors in dogs likely play a role in influencing their behavior. Unfortunately, food-guarding behavior in dogs has not received a significant amount of scientific research to understand the cause.
While some studies have shown that certain breeds, such as Border Collies, have genes that contain the natural herding instinct, where they guard livestock similar to how they guard their herds against predators, scientific studies have not yet shown the presence of a specific breed that is more prone to exhibiting resource guarding behavior in dogs.
We have answered the question of why dogs guard their food. Therefore, if your dog exhibits food-guarding behavior, especially if their response is aggressive, they may be experiencing this behavior. However, when you understand that this behavior is instinctual, you can become more understanding when dealing with your dog. You can learn methods to address this behavior in dogs. And don't forget that the key to success in changing any behavior is patience and gradual change.