How to Deal with Cocker Spaniel Food Aggression

July 28, 2022

Aggression is not something any dog owner wants to see from their Cocker Spaniel. This isn't a behaviour you would commonly associate with the breed known for its loving and friendly nature. It can really take owners by surprise when it happens.

In this article, we will be focusing on food aggression. This is a type of resource guarding where your dog is overly protective about food as if someone was going to steal it from them or it would be their last meal.

If you have a dog that you suspect could be showing signs of this and want to know what they are or are looking for how you can deal with it, this is the article for you.

Let's get started!

What is Food Aggression?

Food aggression is a term used to describe a dog being protective of food and becoming quite defensive while eating. While food is around a dog with these behaviours will exhibit threatening behaviour towards other dogs and even people.

How this presents itself in your dog can vary quite a bit depending on the dog. Some examples of this include growling and snapping, showing their teeth, or even biting in more serious cases.

For some dogs, this form of aggression can be a way of showing they are an 'alpha'. This is more common in males with higher testosterone.

In the wild, the pack leader would always eat first. Even though they are beloved domesticated pets now dogs still have instincts that can shine through from time to time. We see this a lot in Cocker Spaniels with their high prey drive when they dive on a toy like it was being hunted.

Is Food Aggression the Same as Resource Guarding?

Not quite. Food aggression is a form of resource guarding. However, a resource guarder could be referring to a dog who acts protective about anything. It could be a toy, their bed, a space on the sofa, or food as we are discussing in this article.

Identifying the Signs of Food Aggression

Now that we have an understanding of what food aggression is let's move on to how to recognise it.

Signs to look out for:

  • Body stiffening as they eat food.
  • Head close to the bowl
  • Eating food very quickly
  • Lowered tail at mealtime
  • Growling if a person or another dog comes close to their food.
  • Snarling or showing their teeth
  • Lunging
  • Biting

These signals of food aggression progressively get more serious as you go down the list. Earlier signs should not be taken in isolation such as a dog gulping down food in two seconds flat. Cockers love food and I've never seen my dog spend that long eating her meal. Usually, it's gone in seconds!

There are dog bowls that are designed to slow down how fast your dog eats.

Once you reach growling and snarling it begins to make dog owners a bit worried about approaching. This is the point where you may want to consult a dog trainer. You will not want to let this behaviour continue unchecked.

What Cause Food Aggression in Cocker Spaniels?

There are many reasons that a Cocker Spaniel may become aggressive around food as a puppy or adult dog.

I'll cover the two main reasons this can occur.

The first reason is your dog could be overly confident and think they are the 'alpha'. In this case, you will need to work to assert yourself as the pack leader in your home and show your dog they do not have the status they believe.

The other reason for food aggression is at the other end of the scale and presents itself in timid or scared dogs who don't understand that their food is safe and treat their meals like someone is going to steal it.

If this is the case you will need to build your dog's confidence and show that nobody will steal their food and there is no need for this behaviour.

How to Stop Food Aggression

The best way to deal with food aggression in Cocker Spaniels is to nip it in the bud. By not letting it get out of hand you can stop any bad behaviour from becoming a serious problem that you need professional help to resolve, or worse your dog bites someone.

Here are our top tips on dealing with dog aggression around food.

Start Early

This tip only works if you have a puppy. A young puppy will pick up a lot of behaviours which can define how they act as adult dogs. This means you want to set the tone early before bad habits emerge.

Build Comfort with People Approaching their Food Bowl

This method will help with dogs who are already quite defensive about their food and growling or snarling.

When feeding your dog you will want to slowly approach and lay a treat close to the food bowl. As this is far more interesting than standard kibble you would find in a Cocker Spaniel diet your dog will stop and eat this tasty treat.

Continue to do this and you will find that your dog becomes more at ease as you approach their food. They will understand that you are not a threat and associate you with those yummy treats.

Try to get closer to the food bowl over time as your dog becomes more relaxed.

Alpha's Eat First

Remember how we talked earlier about how in the wild the pack leader would always eat first? This is actually still applicable. Basically, you should not feed your dog before or while you eat.

This might appear a little mean but it does reinforce the pack order.

Food is Earned

Try not to just give your dog free meals. I'm not talking about hard labour here but more just making them sit, stay, lie down, or wait until they are told to eat.

We use 'wait' as our command for this one where my Cocker will eagerly sit staring at her food until I say 'go'. This also plays into the whole 'alpha' structure outlined above.

Show your Cocker you are the Source for Food

This method starts by placing an empty bowl down on the ground. Your dog will look up at you confused wondering 'where is my dinner?'.

At this point, you should add a small amount of kibble to their bowl, which they will scoff quickly and look at you again, still hungry. Repeat this process until your Cocker has had their full meal.

If you stick to this method over time your dog will recognise you as the source of food and not someone who is only interested in stealing it from them.

You could also try this method with a hand feed instead of putting it in the bowl. Both options work to the same outcome though.

Consistency is Key

No matter which of the above tactics you choose to employ to curb your Cockers food aggression, you need to be consistent. Some of these may be used together if they don't interfere with each other and that is okay.

What you want to avoid doing is swapping strategies each week as you have not seen results yet. Dealing with food aggression can be a long-term commitment. It may take a few months before you see a big change in a dog's aggression.

Make sure Everyone is on the Same Page

When it comes to any form of dog training everyone who lives in your household or interacts with your dog needs to follow the same script.

You can undo all of your hard work quite quickly if your partner were to just ignore the guidelines above while you try to implement them.

If you have any friends coming over make sure you brief them beforehand.

What Not to Do

Now that we have covered what you should do for food aggressive dogs we should talk about what not to do.

These are things that will wipe out any progress you make in dealing with this behavioural problem.

Don't Back off When your Dog Snarls or Growls

If you have a particularly bad case of food aggression and your dog growls or snarls at you as you approach their bowl and you back off all you are telling your dog is 'you win'.

And this is how they will interpret this action. They are the boss and next meal when you approach them again they will do it again because it worked last time.

Instead, you should remain firm but not conformational and use one of the methods outlined above.

Don't Treat your Cocker Spaniel Harshly

Cockers are known for their affectionate, loving nature. And this delicate temperament also means they don't deal with harsh treatment very well.

It's actually the worst way to try to train this breed.

You need to have patience and use positive reinforcement when dealing with a Cocker. They may slip up during the learning process but stay firm and positive and they will get there.

Is Food Aggression Common in Cocker Spaniels?

Unfortunately, this breed has a reputation for resource guarding. This also extends to food aggression seeing that it is a form of resource guarding.

That is not to say every Cocker will show signs of this. Personally, I've never had a problem with it. But one dog owner is a fairly small sample size!

While some dogs will just fall into this no matter what the owner does I believe a lot of this can be avoided by actively taking steps when the dog is still a puppy.

It really is case by case though.


Food aggression is not a sign any Cocker Spaniel owner wants to see in their dog. It's a behaviour that can be frightening to witness and take time to remedy once set in.

The good news is that there many ways to fix this bad behaviour. We've outlined quite a few methods you can follow along with a couple of tips for getting there a bit faster.

Follow this advice and you are sure to have a well behaved Cocker in no time.

And remember, there is always help available with a local dog trainers or behavioural specialists if your having a hard time correcting the behaviour or have some of the more serious signs presenting themselves.

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
I hope this article was helpful for you! 
Spaniel Advisor aims to be the top online resource for sharing information about all Spaniel breeds. 
Copyright 2022 - All Rights Reserved.