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Dog growling when eating

(26 Posts)
Gigitree Thu 02-Jan-20 16:44:00

Hi all,

Our 2 year old lab has started growling at us if we walk near him or touch him when he's eating from his bowl. We've tried the food guarding/aggression steps of tossing him a treat when nearing the bowl etc, but he just gets over excited about the treats and then goes back to his food, as soon as there are no treats he growls.

This has also progressed to him growling when we gave him a stuffed bone to chew on. He would sit at my feet to eat it, but if my husband walks near him he growls, or if we try and touch him he tenses up and growls.

Tried all the tips I can find online but nothing seems to be helping!


OP’s posts: |
spiderlight Thu 02-Jan-20 17:04:44

Has he been to the vet? He might be developing a pain issue (neck problems can cause pain when eating from a bowl on the ground) or a sight issue. Get him checked over first and foremost.

Gigitree Thu 02-Jan-20 17:06:36

@spiderlight yeah he had his check up last week and everything was ok.

OP’s posts: |
BlackAmericanoNoSugar Thu 02-Jan-20 17:13:10

Does he eat dry food? If so then feed him piece by piece for a few meals, he has to sit quietly and take the food gently. I have to do it once or twice a year as my dog gets gradually more protective of his food over time.

Gigitree Thu 02-Jan-20 17:15:39


Yes he has dry food, thanks for that idea I will give that a try and see if it makes a difference. Thanks.

OP’s posts: |
FranklySonImTheGaffer Thu 02-Jan-20 17:19:16

The other option is to put a lead on him when being fed. Every time there is a growl the dog is led away from dinner and doesn't get to go back to it until calm. Do it repeatedly until it becomes clear growling = dinner being taken away.

Gigitree Thu 02-Jan-20 17:20:56


That's a good idea, I'll try that if we don't get anywhere with the hand feeding, thank you!

OP’s posts: |
minsmum Thu 02-Jan-20 17:37:32

I wouldn't take him away from the food if he growls, a growl is telling you he isn't happy. I would find a place where he won't be approached when eating and feed him there. I would also stop the bones for the moment.
What I would do is get small treats, cut up sausages or hotdogs and every time someone walks past him drop it on the floor. I would also speak to a behavourist it may be quite a quick fix but you don't want it to go wrong

Bobstergirl Thu 02-Jan-20 17:38:17

^^ Totally agree

All you have to do it to leave him alone when he eats.

It is common for some dogs to growl with bones so just dont give him bones or let him have it until he is finished with it.

spiderlight Thu 02-Jan-20 17:46:23

I wouldn't remove him from his food for growling - that's surely just punishing him for communicating that he's not happy.

The obvious first step here is to leave him alone to eat in peace. Step right back from the situation for a while to let any negative associations he's built up around eating dissipate. Don't give stuffed bones for the time being. See if you can find a qualified behaviourist in your area who can help you, as it's really difficult to give advice on aggression-related issues without seeing the dog and your setup.

FranklySonImTheGaffer Thu 02-Jan-20 21:44:39

I have to say I disagree with pp. most dogs have the instinct to growl and be unhappy when people pass their food as they want to protect it but allowing that is asking for trouble if someone ever passes by who is young / doesn't understand how to behave.

We used the lead with ours (JRT) and it worked quickly. He's a greedy bugger and soon understood growling doesn't mean people stay away from his food. He's good as gold now.

chergar Thu 02-Jan-20 21:53:45

Is this a new behaviour? How is he the rest of the time?
Has something happened during feeding, that he is now scared of?
I would try the hand feeding for half of his dinner and put the other half in his bowl and leave him in peace to eat that half.

I would also encourage people to stay away and not touch him when eating in case he is scared of something and has to get his confidence back.

adaline Fri 03-Jan-20 06:39:02

Please don't punish him by removing his food! All you're doing is punishing the growl, which is never a good thing to do.

A growl is a dogs way of saying "back off" and if you take that means of expression away from them (by making them too scared to growl) the next step is a snap, and then a bite.

I would just let your dog eat in peace. I wouldn't want someone walking close to my head while I ate my dinner! When we feed our dog he gets left well alone until he's finished. He's never resource guarded and I can take high value treats off him if necessary but I'd never go near him unnecessarily because, well, it's just not fair!

WatchingTheMoon Fri 03-Jan-20 06:48:02

I agree to just feed him away from where people are walking. Put it in his crate or in another room where he can eat in peace. Far easier than any other option and less stressful for him.

Don't punish him for growling by taking him away from the food, that's how you end up with a dog that bites.

Sillyscrabblegames Fri 03-Jan-20 06:50:13

Don't keep taking his food away, sorry but that's terrible advice. You can train the dog not to growl but underneath you will just teach him to be more anxious about the food being removed and the situation could escalate.

You can desensitise him to people around his food by hand feeding his entire meal. Easy to do with kibble.
Then progress to one piece of kibble in the bowl at a time, alternating with one from the hand, mix it up, he will soon learn not to fret about people near food.
Finally, give him a quiet place to eat his meals in where he isn't going to feel anxious about people disturbing him.

TheGirlFromStoryville Fri 03-Jan-20 07:01:50

Our dog growls if approached when he has a high value treat (toast or his Kong.) We just leave well alone tbh, he's a big softy the rest of the time.

longearedbat Fri 03-Jan-20 07:03:17

I wouldn't touch a dog while he is eating anyway. I think I might growl if someone fussed over me while hungry and trying to eat!
Our jrt was like this with food because we had another dog for him to growl at. I simply shut him in the lobby at feeding time so he could eat in peace. If he got a bone he would be shut out in the garden alone until he finished with it. Consequently food guarding was never a problem. He did in fact become more settled as he aged and in the end we didn't have to shut him away to eat - he just gave the other dogs dagger looks, but stopped growling.

Veterinari Fri 03-Jan-20 07:24:17

Your advice is incredibly dangerous - please don't offer Advice on something that you clearly have no understanding of - your suggestion could easily result in a bite. A dog that learns that growling doesn’t Work is MUCH more likely to escalate their behaviour to a bite

@Gigitree growling is not a bad thing - it is essential communication that a dog is stressed and feeling uncomfortable - it is a necessary behaviour to create space - this is important information to know! If you punish the growl as Frank suggests then you do not alleviate the stress or need for space, you simply stop the dog communicating the stress safely. This means the dogs stress level is likely to rise as you confirm their anxiety over losing their food by taking them away from their food as stress levels rise, food guarding aggression is more likely - without the growl as a warning since you’ve trained the dog not to growl.

Please try and understand this behaviour.

Dog is growling because they are anxious of someone interfering with their food and therefore are trying to create space around themselves whilst they eat.

The WORST thing you can do is confirm their fears by either interfering with their eating or punishing their communication.

Can you feed the dog in a quiet area away from everyone? Why do you need to go near him whilst eating? I’d do this for a while to allow him to relax and realise his food isn’t under threat - he’s clearly had some experience of humans interfering whilst he’s eating and has responded to that. Give him some time alone to let his anxieties settle. In the meantime seek advice from a reputable behaviourist who can work with you on techniques to reduce his anxiety.

Throwing good (not treats) into the fish is a good first step (from a safe distance) also teaching a ‘trade’. If dogs learn that hands are for giving not for taking away then they have no need to guard anything

7Swans Fri 03-Jan-20 08:02:48

Haven't read the thread but we tend to give our two high value food when they are separated or crated and have always approached food bowls to add food (in this case maybe higher value food)

7Swans Fri 03-Jan-20 08:04:32

The other option is to put a lead on him when being fed. Every time there is a growl the dog is led away from dinner and doesn't get to go back to it until calm. Do it repeatedly until it becomes clear growling = dinner being taken away.. I'm no dog trainer but I think that's the opposite of the approach you need to take.

Savingforarainyday Fri 03-Jan-20 08:19:01

I'm not a dog behaviourist nor do I know anything, really.
My younger dog used to do that. I absolutely didn't want the dogs being overly protective of their food. My kids were fairly young, their food bowl lived in the kitchen as we didn't have any other place to keep it.
I absolutely didn't want the dogs to think they had to aggressively protect their food around the kids.

I hand fed, i took the bowl away mid feed, gave some by hand... I would pet him while he ate.

My methods may not have been right, but teaching them to be more laid back over their food was the best thing I did.

It meant if they got a hold of something they shouldn't eat, I could take it off them without fear.
It meant that when the kids were around them when they ate ( inevitable because of the size of our house) then the dogs were calm. I didn't have to worry about the kids getting snapped at.

I did it when the dogs were pups though, so may be a complete other story with yours, so you may need a professionals help.

There's absolutely no way I would want a dog in the house that aggressively guarded food. That + kids is asking for trouble ( imo)

FLOrenze Fri 03-Jan-20 09:08:59

I think this is fairly natural behaviour. I would never touch a dog while it is eating. Mine will let me be near her when she feeds but growls at DH. The simplest way is to leave her in her own place to eat.

FranklySonImTheGaffer Sat 04-Jan-20 16:29:08

@Veterinari as I clearly stated, I have experience. Have had dogs all my life, have experienced this exact issue before and this is what worked for me

adaline Sat 04-Jan-20 16:42:46

Have had dogs all my life, have experienced this exact issue before and this is what worked for me

With respect, you got lucky.

Punishing a dog for growling is one of the worst things you can do. Growling is a dogs way of saying "Stop, I'm uncomfortable" - what you need to is work to make the dog comfortable, not just say "well, I don't give a shit - if you tell me you're unhappy you just don't get to eat".

If you punish a growl, the dog is likely to move up to a snap and then to a bite.

MrsZola Sat 04-Jan-20 20:24:59

We have always left our dogs well alone when they're eating, it just semed the most sensible thing to do.

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