Dogs love to eat, so it’s surprising when your dog doesn’t want to eat. It’s even more confusing when they are guarding their food, but they aren’t eating it. What’s going on, and what can you do about it?
Why is my dog guarding its food but not eating?
You notice your dog is guarding their food, but they aren’t eating it. Perhaps they stop eating and begin growling when you are nearby. Perhaps it occurs when other dogs or animals are nearby. Perhaps your dog even runs away with their food, or hides it.
Food Guarding Signs
Before we get into why your dog is guarding their food but not eating it, let’s take a moment to understand what food guarding looks like.
The most obvious sign is your dog growling. Some dogs may also snap or even bite when approached. Some will leave their food in order to get the intruder, including you, to leave.
Other signs of resource guarding include covering their food with their paws or head. Some dogs will even lay on top of their bowl. Hiding with the food or attempting to hide the food are also signs of guarding.
Your dog may freeze when approached. Some dogs will eat faster in an attempt to prevent their food from being stolen. Lastly, some dogs will steal food from other dogs, or your plate, and then guard that as well.
First, you should know that food guarding is instinctual. In the wild, a dog’s survival is dependent on their ability to protect their food. If their food is stolen, they will go hungry. For dogs in the wild, this can lead to starvation.
Domestic dogs don’t have to fight for their food. However, this doesn’t mean that the instinct goes away. It is present in all dogs to an extent, but some dogs retain a stronger food guarding instinct than others.
Why Don’t They Eat When Guarding?
A dog guarding it’s food typically don’t eat because they are focused on guarding their food. When your dog is eating, they must take their eyes off of their surroundings and look down at their food.
They can’t guard their food properly when doing this. So, the dog will avoid eating until they are absolutely sure no one will steal their food.
The other reason a dog may not eat while guarding their food is that they aren’t hungry. Dogs who are strong resource guarders may guard food to hoard it, instead of consume it immediately.
It can be difficult to determine which of these is causing your dog not to eat. However, if they begin eating when they feel like there’s no threat to their food, this means they are simply focused on resource guarding.
If they don’t eat after they’ve settled and stopped actively guarding, then they may have more food than they need. They may simply be saving the food for later.
Pain or Illness
Pain or illness can also cause your pooch to guard their food but not eat it. In this case, they may be hungry but unable to eat due to pain. Have you ever been in pain, which made you lose your appetite? This can also happen to your dog. This is particularly true if they have a toothache or other mouth issue.
If they have any type of illness, this can make them cranky, just as it can for humans. This can cause them to begin guarding, while not having the appetite to eat because they don’t feel well.
Negative experiences can also trigger resource guarding. If your pooch had to fight for or protect their food as a puppy, they will keep this behavior in adulthood. They’ve simply learned that they must protect their food in order to eat it.
This can also occur in adult dogs. If your pooch had food stolen from them as an adult, this can also cause them to begin resource guarding.
Some dogs will be more prone to food guarding than others simply due to their personality. These dogs have a stronger resource guarding instinct.
It’s good to understand the affect your dog’s personality has on its food guarding. If your pooch is prone to resource guarding, they may require more time and training to solve the issue.
Some dogs guard their food because they are naturally dominant. Others resource guard because they are timid or fearful.
What to do if my dog guards its food but does not eat it?
If your pooch is guarding their food but not eating it, there are some steps you will need to take. The good news is, like any other behavior, you can change it with patience and effort.
Understand Your Pooch
The first step to solving the guarding issue is to understand your pooch. Take some time to understand why they resource guard. Is it because they have had negative experiences?
Is it simply a part of their personality? Do they have a strong guarding instinct?
Put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Imagine how they feel. How would you feel if you had to protect your meals from others? Understanding brings compassion, which brings patience.
Determine the Severity of Guarding
You’ll need to determine how severe the guarding is. Does your dog growl or snap when you go near their bowl? Do they simply stop eating and cover the bowl? Do they freeze, but show no signs of aggression?
If your dog’s guarding is severe, you’ll need to work with an expert. If they are aggressive, this is a sign you need help to train your dog to relax and eat.
An animal behavioralist is the best person to help. However, your vet can be a good first step if you don’t know of a behavioralist in your area.
When working on resource guarding issues with your dog, it’s important to start slow. Triggering their guarding instinct will only make the problem worse.
You’ll need to begin desensitizing your dog. To do this, you’ll start by staying far away from their bowl. Approach until you see the first signs of agitation. Back off a bit.
Over time, you should be able to get closer and closer, without upsetting them. The goal is to eventually be able to approach the bowl, or even pick it up. This can take a lot of time, however.
Approach and Reward
The best way to handle the situation is to create a positive association. To do this, when you approach them, give them a treat. Do not get close enough to upset them, as mentioned previously.
Instead, toss a treat into their bowl, or as near to their bowl as you can. This will give them something to look forward to when you approach. Over time, they will begin to see your approach as positive.
If your dog is food guarding because they are timid or fearful, they may have a submissive or fearful personality. To work on this, earn their trust. Simple training exercises like teaching basic commands can help improve their confidence as well. As they become less fearful, their resource guarding should abate somewhat as well.