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Canine Behavior/aggression over food


I have a very young dog but he is going to get very big. HE is only 8 weeks old but he is very aggressive about his food we have a 9 month old puppy and she can eat out of a bowl beside him but not out of the same bowl. Now I know that issue is an easy fix just feed them out of seperate bowls but my son is only 19 months old and he puts his hands in the puppy's bowl. The puppy has already bit me twice for putting my hand near his food. What can I do to curb the behavior. Getting rid of him at this point is not an option.

Your toddler has no business being anywhere near the dog bowls when your dogs are eating.  They must be fed at a time when he is in his highchair getting a treat, or napping, or otherwise distracted and out of the room.

There are many reasons why dogs develop food aggression, one of them being THE OWNER thinks s/he must be able to handle the food while the puppy eats.  At 8 weeks, this is a neonate: an infant.  He may have developed food aggression for any number of reasons I will mention only a few:

1.  His dam (mother) was too young (immature), bred at first estrus cycle, unable to adequately manage her litter and so some neonates did not successfully get enough nutrition, i.e., they were hungry, all the time
2.  The litter might have been very large (up to 14 puppies, perhaps even a few more, some of which did not survive).  Even if the dam were able to manage her litter, she would have had inadequate milk to provide adequate nutrition to all her litter.  Some would have had to struggle for the "last" teat, or even be pushed aside and excluded.
3.  The neonates were hand fed (because dam was unavailable, rejected them, or simply would not do her "job"). Hand feeding neonates is an art.  It requires that puppies be fed and slowly weaned as would their dam.  If puppies are being supplemented because dam is inadequate to the task, each puppy must be weighed daily and its lack of weight compensated.  In such a situation, weaning is especially important and must be done carefully.

The "rule" of "what is 'mine'" in the dog culture is this:  IF YOU GIVE IT TO ME (surrender it) IT IS MINE.  In the mind of a neonate which has been inadequately fed for whatever reason before your acquisition of this animal, this "rule" of "culture" must be RESPECTED.

Now, most dogs will not develop problems if an owner ignorantly handles their food (as neonates or even older) but this behavior on the part of the human is WRONG and should NEVER BE DONE.

It is fine that your 9 month old adolescent (9 months is no longer a puppy) can eat out of her bowl but not his; it is NOT "fine" that an 8 week old neonate has to compete with a much older dog for his sustenance, especially given the obvious fact that he is going to protect his food.  An 8 week old neonate needs to be fed three times daily whereas a 9 month old (and into adulthood) needs to be fed twice daily.  The food is entirely different.  If you offer a neonate food, the older (adolescent) will be more attracted to that food than its own, thereby creating a problem.

Be careful about the food you are giving both your dogs, it must be high nutrition, low in additives and proteins, acceptable fat content, and first ingredients must be what they should be:  chicken (not parts) or beef (not in-described source of beef), or lamb (etc.)  Look at other ingredients.  In fact, ask your veterinarian (providing s/he is above average and understands nutrition).  A neonate may need something "extra", like a small amount of cottage cheese, at one meal, and must be fed three times daily.  Avoid "puppy food" if your breed or breed type is at risk of orthopedic problems (again, ask your veterinarian).  Eventually, if your vet has prescribed (and I DO NOT MEAN an expensive PRESCRIPTION FOOD which your dogs will not like and do not need if they are healthy) a good source of nutrition for your adolescent dog, you will (at about six months) begin to switch your neonate to two meals a day of that food.

There is no reason to put your hand near the bowl of any dog once the food is given unless you are ADDING more food.  This must only be done after the dog is evaluated by a certified applied animal behaviorist.  In this case, that is not required.  Feed adolescent dog and neonate dog separately.  Have a small, quiet "party" as you prepare the food; put the bowl down.  Leave the room.  If the puppy follows you, give fifteen minutes for the bowl to stay in place, then remove it.  (At eight weeks the puppy might well feel it more necessary to follow you than to eat.)  The neonate WILL quickly learn to eat when the food is available.  Do NOT go near the bowl or allow the other dog to go near the bowl, let alone the toddler!  After 15 minutes, distract the neonate (take him out, after eating he may need to defecate and will definitely need to urinate), pick up the bowl out of his sight, replace it at appropriate second meal time.

Do this for two weeks.  DO NOT TEST THIS NEONATE to see if his food aggression is extinguishing, you will BE ENHANCING IT.  At the two week mark, report back using followup feature.  Your neonate will then be TEN WEEKS OLD, the PRIME AGE FOR ACQUIRING FEAR BEHAVIOR.  You must NOT repeat ANY OF YOUR BEHAVIOR that obviously stresses this puppy.

I don't know breed type or where you acquired your dogs from.  But I can tell you that this 8 week old is from a very poor whelping environment and, depending on breed type, might very well acquire "trophying" behavior if you do not manage this initial situation correctly.  

Young children SHOULD NEVER BE ALLOWED TO FREELY INTERACT WITH ANY DOG, regardless of how well behaved or trained the dog is.  Essentially, you have THREE CHILDREN in your care right now, two of them of a species that is not our own and has acquired perceptions of us as created conspecifics, and one of them (your baby) a Human with normal proclivity for curiosity and without the (yet) cognition to understand that animals must be treated a certain way and respected in a certain way.  You have a lot on your plate (don't know why you'd choose to have two such young dogs, especially unproven with children, but you might have a soft heart or be under the misperception that every baby needs to grow up with a dog who will be his/her partner for the dog's life).  Children are the first target of aggression and that aggression is often "benign" (intended only to warn) but can have serious consequences for  a Human child.  

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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