How I treat food-related aggression in dogs - Veterinary Medicine
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How I treat food-related aggression in dogs
Dogs that protect their food by stiffening, growling, and even biting can be a danger to family members and other people in their vicinity. But you and owners can implement various techniques and treatments to relieve dogs' anxiety and keep everyone safe.


VETERINARY MEDICINE


If the dog's aggression threshold is inadvertently triggered during training, the owner should calmly retreat and, at the next training session, adjust the distance to keep the threat below the dog's threshold.

Ancillary treatments

Households with minimal structure may benefit from providing clear direction to the dog by using command-and-reward-based interactions. Make sure owners know that adequate exercise is important for every dog's health. In addition, dogs with anxiety may benefit from synthetic pheromones (Dog Appeasing Pheromone [D.A.P.]—Ceva Santé Animale) and serotoninergic drugs, although neither of these treatments has been systematically studied in the context of food-related aggression. Since avoidance can be such a successful tool in managing this condition, drug intervention may not be warranted. Also, it is important to note that any drug that causes an increase in appetite may aggravate food aggression and should be avoided if feasible.

INAPPROPRIATE INTERVENTIONS

Owners should avoid direct confrontational intervention (hitting, yelling, physical restraint) when the dog exhibits aggression. While this action may interrupt the aggressive behavior at that moment, it is unlikely to resolve the problem in the long run, especially if the dog is anxious. In fact, direct confrontation may lead to intensification of the aggressive display both at the moment of confrontation and in the future. If people approaching a dog's food item becomes a predictor of confrontation, the dog may become more anxious and dangerous, so direct confrontation must be avoided.

CONCLUSION

Food-related aggression is a common problem that owners may inadvertently aggravate. Thus, veterinary staff members should provide owners with information during puppy visits about how to avoid exacerbating this condition. If a dog presents with food aggression, simple avoidance can be a successful tool in managing the problem behavior.

Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB
Animal Behavior Clinic
809 S.E. Powell Blvd.
Portland, OR 97202

REFERENCES

1. Beaver B. The veterinarian's encyclopedia of animal behavior. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1994;6-7.

2. Resiner I. An overview of aggression. In: Horwitz D, Mills D, Heath S, eds. BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. Gloucester, England: BSAVA, 2002;181-194.

3. Landsberg G, Hunthausen W, Ackerman L. Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co, 2003;110-111.

4. Mugford RA. External influences on the feeding of carnivores. In: Kare MR, Maller O, eds. The chemical senses and nutrition. New York, NY: Academic Press, 1977;25-50.


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