Name of Conference

Association of Professional Dog Trainers

Location of Conference

Dallas, TX

Date of Poster Session


Document Type

Poster Session


Psychological Sciences


Among shelter dogs, food guarding behavior is the most frequently cited reason for considering a dog unadoptable (Mohan-Gibbons, Weiss & Slater, 2012). However, the specific variables that affect food-related aggression are not well understood. Degree of access to food in the shelter environment may be a relevant variable and one of the easiest for shelter staff to modify. In this study we measured the effect of food access (unlimited access versus scheduled feedings) on the food guarding behavior of dogs. Dogs were assessed using the using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) SAFER® Aggression Assessment (Weiss, 2012) and those who scored a 3, 4, or 5 on the food bowl component were randomly assigned into one of two groups. Dogs in both groups were exposed to three days of free feeding prior to assessment as well as scheduled feedings in the context of a multiple baseline and reversal design. A third group of dogs that exhibited no food aggression at the initial assessment served as a control group to assess the impact of repeated SAFER assessments on guarding behavior. Change scores across assessments were compared for each group. SAFER scores for dogs in the experimental groups decreased (i.e., improved) in one situation when free-feeding was implemented. Dogs in the control group showed a small increase in SAFER scores from initial assessment to assessment two, which may be an artifact of the scoring system. Discussion will include follow-up studies in progress and the implications of findings for shelter management. Mohan-Gibbons, H., Weiss, E., Slater, M. (2012). Preliminary investigation of food guarding behavior in shelter dogs in the United States. Animals, 2, 331-346. doi:10.3390/ani2030331 Weiss, E. (2012, November). Canine Assessment: ASPCA SAFER Overview. Retrieved from