How To Stop Food Guarding Without Taking Stupid Risks - Step by Step Instructions
By the time resource guarding becomes a problem it is learned behavior. It starts off as an insecurity, the pup is insecure about losing the resource, so maybe he growls. The pup or person who looked like he was about to steal his food backs off.
This is "negative reinforcement", the aversive (dog about to steal his food) goes away when he growls.
One might think that the best approach is to not reinforce growling by standing your ground. That may or may not be safe. Frequently, not reinforcing something that has been reinforced in the past results in an "extinction burst" - a temporary escalation in the behavior. i.e it gets worse before it gets better.
The problem with this is that the next step up from growling and baring teeth is an actual bite - and this is a very real possibility!
Most people will back-off before they get bitten. That presents another problem because now you have reinforced more intense growling and made the behavior even more resistant to extinction.
So while standing your ground might work - the risks of getting bitten or making the behavior worse are too great.
Thankfully, there are alternatives.
Doggy Zen: "grasshopper, to get what you want, you must first give it up"
Step 1: If you are confident that this is not a dog who would bite you when YOU have the food (i.e pup is not in possession of the food) then place a small treat in your closed fist. Present your fist to pup.
Pup will lick, nudge, or paw at your fist. At the instant that pup stops licking, nudging or pawing and backs off half an inch, open your first and let the treat drop onto the floor. Repeat several times. It's very easy beginnings, you're not asking pup to sit or down or any of those things (but if he does them, that's fine). You just want him to back off half an inch.
Step 2: Put the treat on a low stool or coffee table covered by your hand. Ask pup to 'sit' (presuming pup already knows 'sit') and to "leave it". Remove your hand slowly while pup remains sitting. If you can fully remove your hand say "good!" and let pup eat the treat. If pup goes for the treat before you give the release ("good!"), cover the treat up again and say "leave it" in the same tone of voice you used the first time (don't get stern).
Step 3: now that pup has learned a little self-control around food, and that the best way to get it is to tow the line, you are ready to up the ante. Put some food in pup's bowl and ask pup to 'sit' and 'leave it' while you slowly place the bowl on the ground. If pup breaks his 'sit', lift the bowl up, wait a second then ask pup to 'sit' and 'leave it' again. When the bowl touches the ground, pause, then release with "good!" and let pup eat.
The reason for putting a small amount of food in the bowl is so that you can practise several trials per meal.
Step 4: The hand that gives - while pup is eating a small amount of food from the bowl, toss yummy treats into the bowl one at a time. Gradually get closer without eliciting a growl, don't move ahead too fast. You will use a lot of treats completing this step.
Step 5: The hand that giveth and the the hand that stayeth - when you can drop the treats into pup's bowl with your hand at the bowl, pause a little with your hand. Remember, we're setting pup up for success here. If there is ANY doubt about the safety of this exercise you have moved ahead too fast and are setting pup and yourself up for failure. Pup should be looking forward to your hand approaching the bowl before you attempt this step.
Step 6: The hand that giveth also taketh away - take a little food from the bowl while pup is eating, leave a treat in it's place.
Step 7: The hand that swapeth - give pup a chewy treat, but then present a second chewy treat. Don't give pup the second chewy treat until he has dropped the first one. When pup learns to drop the first chewy treat reliably when you present the second chewy treat, put it on cue - "leave it" or "give it".
If you haven't rushed things and have completed all preceding steps this should be fairly easy. If it's hard, back up a few steps. Reading this today it probably seems impossible! It's not.
* Please seek help from a competent veterinary behaviorist if you are inexperienced with aggressive dogs or not confident with this procedure. It is by it's nature risky unless attempted by someone who fully understands it's application.