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Are Underweight Shelter Dogs More Likely to Display Food Aggression toward Humans?

By Katherine A. Miller, Emily D. Dolan, Victoria A. Cussen, Pamela J. Reid

Category Journal Articles

It is commonly believed that underweight or emaciated dogs are predisposed to food aggression toward humans. Each year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) receives hundreds of dogs from criminal cruelty cases. The dogs range from emaciated to overweight. We analyzed existing data from 900 such dogs to examine the relationship between body condition score and food and chew item aggression toward humans. Across all types of cruelty cases, 9.2% of dogs were aggressive over the food, chew, or both, which is a lower prevalence than that previously reported among shelter dogs. Dogs from cruelty cases originating in New York City were more likely to show aggression over food (z = 3.91, p < 0.001) and chew items (z = 2.61, p = 0.01) than dogs from large-scale cruelty cases, although it is unclear why. Female dogs were less likely to show food (z = −3.75, p < 0.001) and chew item (z = −2.25, p = 0.02) aggression compared to males. Underweight dogs were not more likely to display food aggression, but when they did, the aggression was no more severe than that of normal-weight dogs (Fisher’s exact tests = 0.41 and 0.15 for the Food Bowl and Chew Item scenarios, respectively). Breed type was not a significant predictor of aggression. Canine food aggression does not appear to be an aberrant behavior caused by a history of food scarcity but may be related to biological factors such as sex. These findings could prove useful for animal behavior subject matter experts testifying in court or consulting on cruelty cases, as they could speak with scientific validity to the question of whether there is a link between previous food scarcity and the likelihood of food aggression in dogs.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2019
Publication Title Animals
Volume 9
Issue 12
Pages 10
Publisher MDPI
DOI 10.3390/ani9121035
URL https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/12/1035
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animal shelters
  4. Body condition
  5. Cruelty
  6. Dogs
  7. food aggression
  8. Mammals
  9. open access
  10. Pets and companion animals
  11. Resources
  12. starvation
  1. open access