Our adorable dogs do all kinds of quirky things, and one of the funniest is when a dog barks at their food or at their food bowl.
We may never fully comprehend why some dogs bark at their food dish. However, we do have a few theories to explain this seemingly bizarre dog behavior.
In this article, we will delve into a few possible theories to understand why certain dogs vocalize while they are eating.
Let’s get started!
Note- If your dog is displaying extremely abnormal or worrisome behavior, please do not hesitate to contact your vet ASAP. A sudden change in behavior could be an indication of a medical problem.
Food guarding (aka resource guarding) is one of the most prevalent theories as to why some dogs vocalize while eating.
If you hear your dog barking, growling or grumbling into their dish while they are eating, you might be witnessing resource guarding behavior.
Here are some other indications of resource guarding:
- Stiff body
- Body hunched over bowl
- Tail not wagging
- Whites of the eyes are visible
- Lips pulled back
- Wrinkled snout
- Piloerection (fur standing up)
To give you a better idea of what to look for, here is a video of a dog vocalizing while guarding its food bowl.
You will notice that in the video the dog’s body is stiff, its head is down, and it is barking and growling—especially when people approach its food bowl.
Food guarding is a pretty common and understandable behavior. It is also something that can be improved with positive behavior modification.
Let’s take a look at how to do that!
Behavior Modification for Resource Guarding
It might sound counterintuitive, but you should NOT scold or punish your dog for resource guarding.
Doing so will actually increase your dog’s insecurity about food. Likewise, you should NOT try to show the dog that you are the boss by forcefully taking his food or “messing with his food” while he eats. This will make the behavior worse.
Instead, you want to change your dog’s emotions about a person coming near their bowl.
You want to change their reaction from fear and anxiety to excitement and joy because they know that something great is about to happen!
If your dog has severe food aggression, work with a professional positive reinforcement trainer to modify this behavior to make sure that everybody stays safe in the process.
If your dog’s resource guarding behavior is fairly mild, here are some fun daily exercises that you can do to change your dog’s behavior when it comes to guarding the food bowl.
Double Bowl Feeding
Place an empty food bowl on the ground.
Hold another food bowl with your dog’s dinner in your hand.
Grab a handful of your dog’s dinner from the bowl in your hand and place it in the bowl on the ground.
When your dog finishes the first bite, he will probably look at you for more.
Reward him with another handful. Continue until gone.
This teaches your dog that a hand coming toward his bowl is a great thing, not a scary thing!
It also rewards your dog for looking at you during mealtimes. Therefore, reinforcing the notion that having a person around during feeding time is awesome and not a threat!
The Hot Dog Tossing Exercise
Fill your dog’s bowl with his boring dry kibble.
Place it on the ground and walk away.
Let your dog dig in for a few seconds.
Then walk by and casually toss a chunk of something delicious towards your dog’s bowl!
We recommend using a small piece of hot dog, roast beef or chicken. It should be a very special treat that your dog never gets under any other circumstance.
Practice this exercise at least once per day. Make sure that everyone in the household (and even some guests if possible) take turns tossing the treats.
Over time, start getting closer to the bowl.
You will notice that your dog will start to lift his head, wag his tail and get excited when he sees you coming because he is learning that people coming towards his food bowl is a good thing.
Eventually, you will get to the point where you can place the goodie straight into his food bowl!
What Not to Do
Some people believe that you must “exert your dominance” over your dog and punish him for guarding his food.
Do NOT do this. It is dangerous and counterproductive.
It will increase your dog’s anxiety about having people around his food. The guarding behavior will intensify, and eventually, someone may get bitten.
You may even encounter some trainers who tell you to “correct” your dog for guarding his food. Do not work with this trainer. Take your business to a positive reinforcement trainer instead.
If you would like to get even more information about resource guarding, check out this article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal or this blog post by respected dog trainer, Patricia McConnell.
Another reason that a dog might bark at its food bowl is because of fear.
Some dogs have had bad experiences and may be fearful of certain objects.
For example, some dogs may be scared of shiny, metallic objects (like metal food bowls).
Puppies may also be scared of food bowls the first time they encounter them. After all, they have never seen them before! Puppies usually get over this fear pretty quickly once they realize that there is delicious food inside the bowl!
If you think fear could be the problem, try feeding your dog with a different type of bowl, such as a plastic or ceramic bowl.
You could even ditch the bowl entirely and feed your dog from a food puzzle or enrichment toy like a Kong.
You can help your dog overcome his fear of an object with desensitization and counterconditioning.
Start with the object at a safe distance and reward your dog with treats for simply being in the vicinity of the scary object.
Over time, encourage your dog to get closer and closer. In time, your dog will realize that the scary object is not a threat, in fact it is a source of treats!
Never force your dog to get over his fears by chasing him with the object or making him interact with the scary object before he is ready.
Counterconditioning takes time and patience.
Another possible explanation for why dogs bark at their food is that some dogs are simply so excited about food! They express their excitement by barking or howling.
This is especially common in breeds that are known for being vocal breeds.
Some examples of particularly vocal breeds include:
- Siberian Husky
- German Shepherd
You will probably be able to tell that your dog is excited because he will display other excited behaviors such as:
- Jumping around
- Play bowing
- Wagging tail
- Open Mouth
- Lolling tongue
If you do not mind a little bit of excited yapping at mealtimes, you can simply ignore this behavior. Some dogs are just naturally happy, bouncy and full of life! It can actually be pretty endearing to have a dog that is full of so much joy and takes such pleasure in the small things.
However, if it really bothers you, you can encourage your dog to be calm at mealtimes with a little bit of training and behavior modification.
Follow this training plan to reduce barking at mealtimes
This training plan requires patience so you might want to have a book or a magazine available near the feeding station.
Scoop your dog’s food into his bowl and hold it in your hand or place it on a counter out of his reach.
At this point, your dog will probably start barking and going crazy for his food!
Ignore your dog completely while he is barking. Read your magazine and pay no attention to the yapping dog at your feet.
Do not yell at your dog or tell him to “be quiet,” this will probably just get him more amped up.
Simply ignore his antics.
The moment he stops barking, calmly say “good boy,” and place the bowl on the ground.
Repeat this process at every meal.
Over time, your dog will learn that only calm, quiet behavior gets him his dinner. Barking gets him the opposite of what he wants.
Note- It is extremely important that all members of the family be consistent with this training plan. It will not work if one person sticks to the training plan, but another person gives in and gives the dog food when he barks.
Teach your dog an alternate behavior
Another option is to teach your dog to offer a different behavior to get what he wants.
Here is what that would look like.
Scoop your dog’s food into his bowl and hold it in your hand.
Your dog will likely start barking and hopping around in anticipation!
Calmly ask your dog to do something else such as sit or lie down.
The dog will most likely stop barking to follow the command.
If he does, say “good boy” and place his food on the ground.
If he does not, say “too bad” and turn your back and walk away for a few seconds. Then come back and try again. Repeat until your dog gets the hang of it.
You can use this same training plan if your dog gets overly excited about other things as well—like going for a walk or going for a car ride.
Obsessive Compulsive/ Neurotic Behavior
Some dogs may bark at their food because of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or neurotic behavior.
Thankfully, this is not too common, but it can happen, especially in certain breeds that are prone to neurotic tendencies. Some of these breeds include:
- Border Collie
- Australian Shepherd
- Welsh Corgi
- Springer Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
If you have a dog with OCD or neurotic tendencies, you might see some other examples of neurotic behavior in addition to barking at food.
Other examples of the most common canine OCD/ neurotic behaviors include:
- Barking at shadows or chasing shadows
- Barking at ceiling fans
- Spinning or pacing
- Tail chasing
- Obsessive licking
- Air biting/ fly biting
- Pica (eating inappropriate objects)
Managing Neurotic Behavior
If your dog has a mild case of one of these behaviors, try increasing his exercise and mental stimulation.
Also try to reinforce calm, settled behavior with treats and praise.
Give him other activities to keep him distracted, such as food puzzles, frozen Kongs or other brain game toys.
If your dog has a severe case of OCD, you are going to need to consult with a professional.
Work with a professional positive reinforcement trainer to come up with a plan to modify your dog’s behavior.
Also talk with your vet to see if an anti-anxiety medication or another type of pharmaceutical might be beneficial for your dog’s condition.
Finally, your dog could be barking at his food due to some kind of medical issue.
For example, if your dog is suffering from painful dental disease, he might be vocalizing at mealtimes because he is confused and upset.
He probably wants to eat his food, but the act of eating is causing him pain. Therefore, he feels conflicted, and he demonstrates his uncertainty by barking.
If your dog is displaying any new abnormal behavior, we highly recommend making an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out underlying medical issues.
If possible, try to get a video of your dog demonstrating the odd behavior. This will help your veterinarian reach a diagnosis.
We hope that this article has shed some light on a few of the reasons why dogs might bark at their food.
However, if you have any lingering questions, please consult with your veterinarian or a professional positive reinforcement dog trainer.