Does your dog roll in her food? Mine does. Alabama purposefully spills the food from her dish, then rolls in it. Although funny, this behavior is pretty messy and dirties up her coat. I didn’t want her eating kibble that had fur stuck to it, so I did what any rational dog owner does, I consulted the web. I learned the action was either scent related, or instinct.
Scent Spreading or Resource Guarding
Scent spreading is the theory that dogs roll in food in order to tell other dogs about the food source. Dr. Stanley Coren, animal psychologist, theorizes that dogs in the wild used this behavior to alert their packs to food sources. “Another theory is that dogs do this simply as a means of basic communication.” Reports Cuteness.com. “Rather than say, ‘Hey guys, get it while it stinks,’ the dog is simply saying ‘smell where I’ve been.’”
I’m not entirely sure this is why my dog is rolling in her food. We don’t have other dogs in our home, but perhaps it’s for my neighbor’s Chihuahua who she frequently sees on her trips to the backyard.
Resource guarding made a bit more sense to me. According to Cuteness.com, this action is akin to burying bones in the backyard and barking at the mailman. Alabama participates in both of these actions, so it makes sense that she would scent her food by rolling in it. “…by leaving their scent over their food, they are saying to any would-be food thieves ‘back off, this is mine.’…it is the fulfillment of a natural urge to mark anything valuable as theirs that drives this behavior.”
Could it be Aggression?
In general, Alabama is a kind and passive dog. She was easy to train, and is great at following commands; however, she is not friendly to strangers. She barks. She growls. She isn’t approachable until she has met someone a couple of times. I don’t think she’d bite, but I frequently warn strangers to keep their distance until she’s comfortable in their presence.
She’s territorial for sure; most dogs are. Although we giggle when she rolls in her food, my research warned that this instinct could be a sign of food aggression. The signs of food aggression are fairly obvious: growling, barking for food, biting, and lunging for the food dish.
Although Alabama didn’t growl while I poured her food or bite or bark or lunge, I couldn’t rule out food aggression until I tested for it. I tested her level of aggression by touching her food after I poured it and after she started eating, and sure enough she growled at me. I don’t recommend using this method because it could be dangerous. Instead, contact your vet to diagnose this issue. I called her vet, and was given these tips to help cure her mild food aggression:
- Confidently assert yourself as Pack Leader
- Determine if the aggression is mild, moderate, or severe. Alabama’s was mild, as she did little more than show her teeth when I touched her kibble. Moderate and severe aggression requires veterinarian or behaviorist intervention.
- Retrain her to sit and stay while you’re pouring her food. Cesarsway.com recommends that you stay near the bowl even after you’ve released her to eat. “Once the bowl is down, stand close to it as you release from the stay and she begins eating, at which point you can move away.”
- Cesar always recommends that you wait to feed her until after a walk, never before. “This fulfills his instinct to hunt for food, so he’ll feel like he’s earned it when you come home. Also, exercising a dog after he eats can be dangerous, even leading to life-threatening conditions like bloat.”
- Feed her after we have our meal because the pack leader always eats first.
- Finally, be consistent.
If your dog is rolling in her food, it may not be a sign of aggression; however, if it is aggression, you should talk to your vet to diagnose the aggression. The vet may ask that you speak to a canine behaviorist or trainer; or, your vet may want to examine your dog for an underlying health issue. If it’s a health ailment, your vet will create a treatment plan and hopefully the treatment will eliminate the aggression.