As pack animals, dogs can show possession aggression over food at mealtimes when vying for the top position in the pack order. This instinctive behavior can be triggered when dogs are fed different foods, or if one dog just feels entitled to more food than the other. If you don't take steps to stop it, food aggression can result in injuries -- not to mention one fat and one underweight dog!
You'll need to train them in phases lasting a few days each, so be patient, firm, and consistent and your pups will have peaceful meals in due time.
Phase 1 - Place each dog in a separate room to feed them at the same time. Close a door between the feeding areas so they cannot see each other as they eat. If the dogs don't see each other and cannot reach each other, they will not fight over food. Feed the dogs separately for a few days.
Phase 2 - Open the door separating the dogs at mealtime and stand in the doorway. Do not allow either dog to leave his bowl and go toward the other dog. Praise each dog for not reacting toward each other and give each a dog treat after his meal to reinforce positive behavior. If one dog approaches the doorway and will not stop, close the door between them. Transition the dogs into eating in this manner for a few days.
Phase 3 - Move both dog bowls into one large room, but place them as far apart as you possibly can. Praise the dogs for not interacting with each other while eating. Arm yourself with an automatic opening umbrella or a large metal cookie sheet. Stand between the dogs and watch for signs of possessive aggression, which include a long stare, growling or showing of teeth. If the aggressor exhibits any behavior that can become threatening, open an automatic umbrella in front of him to startle him. Bang loudly on a large metal cookie sheet or place it directly in front of his nose to stop him from approaching your other dog.
Phase 4 - Move the food bowls closer together in the room day by day to train the dogs to eat their food and not argue over it. If they fight again, move the bowls farther apart.
If at any time during these training phases your dogs return to their previous argumentative behavior, you may have to start over with each in a separate room and a door between them.
IMPORTANT: Be firm, but keep your cool. Don't angrily reprimand or punish your dogs for fighting. Aggression on your part could escalate their aggression toward one another -- and toward you also! Instead, reward them for proper behavior and being calm toward each other at mealtimes.
By Mary Lougee
The Humane Society of the United States: Dog Aggression
Partnership for Animal Rescue: Fights Between Dogs—How to Avoid and Stop Them
Veterinary Partner: The Canine Behavior Series
WebMD: Aggression in Dogs
About the Author
Mary Lougee has been writing since 2004 and specializes in pets with publications in "Modern Dog" and "Pet Planet." Lougee gained extensive pet knowledge and expertise in care and rehabilitation, built a farm, and cares for rescue animals from small to large. She holds a bachelor's degree in management.