Hi Cindi. I'm glad that method worked for you, and I do know there are trainers who recommend it. Just as a caution, though, some dogs escalate if you do this (move from growling when you go near their dish to growling when you come in the same room, for instance, and growling when you go near toys).
One thing that helped me understand was reading that in a wolf pack or group of free-ranging dogs, even the lowest ranking dog has the right to defend what it already has from higher-ranking animals. Food-guarding is NOT a dominance issue.
Think of it: if your boss at work came and took your lunch, you certainly wouldn't think it was her right because she outranks you! :) Heck, my guess is if your spouse kept taking food off your plate, you'd growl too. :)
Food-guarding is perfectly acceptable behavior in a civil dog society, and for reasons of our own safety and the dogs' we demand they allow us to approach food. That's why I like desensitizing (by getting them to associate my approach with better food) as opposed to punishment (removing food). From the dog's point of view, our getting mad about the growling makes no sense, and a sensitive dog can come to see us as unpredictable for this. Desensitizing keeps everyone happy and accomplishes the same goal. I got Jack (as a puppy) to stop growling in two days using the cheese method.
Look down. :) I posted it below and then later responded to this one.
If you would like more detailed info than what I have below, feel free to send me a friend request and I can then send you a private message.
Handfeeding is good. Another option is to get something really yummy, like cheese, and toss it on the floor near her bowl as she eats. If she doesn't react, progress to asking her to sit (she should be able to clearly see the cheese) and handing her the cheese while she eats. From there you can ask her to sit, put the cheese in her bowl while there is food in it, and finally ask her to sit, pick the bowl up, put in the cheese and put it back down (quickly). What this does is show here that when someone approaches her while eating, they are not there to steal her food but rather to give her something even better. For this reason, don't use regular treats. Use something really good that she rarely gets.
After training, other than the occasional refresher she should be left in peace when she has food.
Don't let her get away with it, or it will get worse. Ella had started doing this as a youngster, and I did the hand feed thing for like a month. It worked. Also feeding a small amount at a time, helps. I make Ella sit first and then give her maybe 1/3 of her food, and repeat with like 15 minutes in between sit/food cycles. It takes a little longer, but no growling anymore. She's just happy that the food goes in the bowl.
With a puppy, you can also use food time as play time. We played a "go get it" game with her food for a while. Sit on one side of your kitchen/dinning room/place dog gets feed, take each piece of food and roll it across the floor, dog runs after food piece and comes back. Repeat. Forces dog to each slow and gets puppy energy out. Works best if you sit on the floor, but keep food off the floor.
Ok, this one can get really, really bad if not taken care of now.
Lets shall we play a game with the pup, I like to call it the trade game....
Take a couple of those condiment cup lids, like the ones you would find at your local McDonalds to cover sauces and such. Put some yummy peanut butter on a few, some maybe cheese on another. Make sure its high value food items and sticky.
The game starts with you lureing the dog over, drop it at your feet nearby, before the treat is finished then toss another one...carefully pick up the one that was previously used. You will know that its working when you can trade out the lids while there is still food left on them which there should be for this to be effective. An empty lid is just training that " oh, I finish food and I get more".
This works only if the food on the top is of high value and enough quantity to do this quickly, what it teaches is that if you don't growl at me, then good things happen.
Any agression, growling, snarling and the game is in time out...to be resumed when a calm is reached. This means no attention as well from you or anyone. Once calm is reached the game starts again.
You should be able to at the end be able to hold the treats and switch them out...or pull away the food and return it without any agression.
Hand feeding at the end of this lesson is a good idea, remember small quantities. If any agression happens then the game stops for a period of time.
Please don't with hold food, yes this escalates this issue. Also making a dog wait for their food will help this out some. It defines that you are holder of the food, you control the food and you say when its ok to eat...much like the pack leader of a dog pack.
Durring this time, no outside treats, no sneaking food, nadda, the treats come from you or another family member in hand. If any aggression then the treats are removed.
Hope this helps.
Don and Crew