What Does It Mean When Your Dog Rolls in His Food Before Eating It?

Buffy's owners didn't know if they should be worried about her eating habits.
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All dogs participate in behaviors their owners perceive as quirky or abnormal. Sometimes, these behaviors are comical, like the actions of Buffy, a 4-year-old boxer known for rolling on top of her food. The ASPCA defines this behavior as possessiveness, but it may also be a sign of food aggression.

Marking Territory

According to the experts at Mostly Mutts, a comprehensive information source for dog owners, dogs roll in their food to keep other animals from eating it. Buffy is leaving her scent on her food when she rolls or grinds her back into the kibble. A dog rolling in her food, may look comical, but it’s all serious for the dog. Dogs instinctively want to leave their scent on things, especially because their scent is a sign of ownership. It tells other creatures, “No, that’s mine.”

Instinct or Aggression

Buffy isn’t trying to make her owners laugh when she rolls on top of her dog food, although that is a common side-effect. Buffy is being territorial over her food, because her owners recently introduced a cat into the home. The thing that concerned Buffy’s family was the way she growled, while gobbling her food.

In general, dogs are territorial creatures. It’s important to determine whether yours is being mildly territorial or aggressive. If your dog acts aggressively while you are pouring food or touching him while he's eating, contact your veterinarian to discuss ways to curb aggression.

Diagnosing Aggression

A dog, rolling in his food, is outwardly warning all others that only he possesses his food. The ASPCA website, noting possessiveness was a survival trait of domestic dogs' ancestors, says, "Even though our pet dogs no longer face such harsh realities, many still show the tendency to guard their possessions from others, whether they need to or not." A dog rolling in its food isn't dangerous unless it's coupled with snipping or growling. Other signs of food aggression include excessive barking at meal times, lunging and biting.

Reasons for Food Aggression in Dogs

Dogs will sometimes exhibit the characteristics of food aggression, because they’re not fully trained on how to properly interact with other pets and humans. Negative eating behaviors are often prevalent in rescue dogs who were subjected to abuse or neglect in their previous homes. Underfed dogs may also feel territorial over their food.

Treating Food Aggression

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Speak to your veterinarian about food aggression to eliminate medical reasons. Perhaps your dog is ingesting a medication that is increasing his aggression. This was the case with Buffy. Buffy was taking medication for an unrelated issue, when her owners brought a new cat into the home. This triggered Buffy’s need to mark her food and growl while eating it. Her veterinarian was able to eliminate these behaviors by switching her medications. In some cases, a behaviorist is necessary.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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