How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

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minimon
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Joined: Tue Nov 20, 2018 4:15 am

How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by minimon » Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am

Our 11 year old Jack Russell terrier has a range of behavioural problems. We've had her since a puppy. She can be aggressive towards other dogs and humans. Food is nearly always the trigger for aggression. Although pain (e.g. back pain) or feeling off colour makes her more aggressive. We consulted a Positively trained behaviourist and she gave us lots of good advice and various strategies to manage our dog's environment and avoid situations and things that make her stressed. More info here: https://www.dogidog.co.uk/stress-its-al ... to-stress/. We have also checked for medical issues with our vet.

One thing I am really struggling with is how to positively reinforce good behaviour with a dog who is food aggressive and becomes tense around food. A recent example is putting her harness on before a walk. She started to anticipate the kibble she gets when the harness had been put on successfully, so became tense and aggressive before the harness is put on. This situation was intensified because she knows she gets some food whilst on the walk. She is fearful on walks so I have used kibble and wet food to reward her decision to to follow me while on a long, loose leash. Often the fear is mostly at the start of the walk (lifting paw, stopping, licking lips, ears back) but then she then visibly relaxes and has a good sniff around.

When putting her harness on she has attacked both the harness and me (the bites are inhibited, but still painful and cause bruises). I no longer put on her harness, but instead give her the choice to have her collar on. I sit calmly, not looking at her, holding the collar out. If she wants to go out she approaches me and puts her neck into the collar and allows me to do it up. I praise her verbally afterwards.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how best to reward good behaviour without using food or in a way that doesn't cause aggression and tension in future, I would appreciate it.

JudyN
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by JudyN » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:36 pm

Is there anything she likes other than food, such as a ball, a bum scratch, and so on? Does she seem to like praise generally? What makes her happy (apart from food)?

Also, is there any behaviour you particularly want to reinforce and that you need her to do? If she gets to choose whether to put her head in the collar that sounds like an excellent way of doing things. It might be a lot less stressful for her than if she was just doing it in anticipation of a reward ('I'm doing this because I want to' vs. 'I don't want to do this because I want a treat TREAT! TREAT!!! AARGH, FOOD!!!')

My dog is food aggressive, but only once he has it and feels threatened - he's not a problem when anticipating food. So I don't feel qualified to make suggestions about working around changing her relationship with food. Hopefully others with more experience will have some good advice.
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

jacksdad
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by jacksdad » Wed Dec 05, 2018 9:55 pm

big red flag here is the pain.

is the pain being managed? is something being given for the pain? does the harness contribute to the pain because of where it sits in relation to where the pain is?

anytime there is a medical issue such as pain, that MUST be addressed before training can be effective. the pain will always be a factor getting in the way of any training until the pain is addressed.

health issue have to be addressed before training/behavior modification can be successful.

pain is a significant cause for aggression, and lots of times it hasn't been found yet. you are ahead of the game knowing it's there.

minimon
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by minimon » Thu Dec 06, 2018 4:58 am

Thanks JudyN and jacksdad for your replies.

Noodle does like some toys but can get possessive about new toys. Food of any kind is always the favoured reward and more valuable than toys.

I agree pain is a red flag and she is always more aggressive when in pain. I've had some issues in getting a medical diagnosis in the past. When I took her to the vets last year after a particularly aggressive phase, the Director of the veterinary practice told me to have her put down. Just 2 weeks later when we returned to the vets, Noodle was diagnosed with a temperature and the back problems for which she had a thorough investigation including x-rays by another vet at the practice. There was no long-term or serious problem, but she was treated with anti-inflammatories, pain killers and K-laser sessions. Unfortunately despite having steps and footstools we can't stop her from occasionally jumping off furniture.

The harness may have caused some pain on a walk when her back issues flared up a bit again recently. Although she hasn't been showing the familiar signs of stiffness or arching recently which indicate inflammation and pain. She also has intermittent digestion problems, but her current diet is the best we've ever had her on and she has been much more stable.

JudyN
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by JudyN » Thu Dec 06, 2018 6:02 am

Is she on any long-term pain meds and if not, would it be worth considering? You could trial some for a while and see if it makes a difference even when she's not showing signs of pain.
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

minimon
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by minimon » Thu Dec 06, 2018 10:17 am

No the vets never seem keen to prescribe anything long term. I suppose I can ask again and see what they suggest.

CaraN
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by CaraN » Thu Dec 06, 2018 11:56 am

I agree with everyone that says pain is part of the critical picture here. Its virtually impossible to condition a dog thats in pain. Aggression issue will be exponentially amplified by the pain as the dog is under a constant level of stress. Pain is a major reason for aggression. It makes sense. Its not like the dog can say to itself oh, my arms are chafed from my harness and justify. All he can think is to protect himself and may even be attempting to allow the harness to be put on to get the treat but then its just too much so he tries to grab the treat aggressively. My dog was in pain last week as she was sick and she was acting so weird and aggressive I just didn't understand it. But once she was on medicine for a few days, she is back to her normal self. She always will occasionally react to certain dogs (bouncing up and down, etc), but it was obvious something was seriously wrong. In fact, I strongly believe if anyone is having aggression issues with their dog, the first thing to do is to see your vet and not a trainer especially if the dog was never aggressive previously. There is a big difference between aggression and slight agonistic behaviors.

You can try practicing leave it exercise in a stress free environment. Put some food in your hand, close your fist and let your dog sniff as soon as he loses interest, click and treat and give him a treat from your pouch or from behind your back. They pick this up really easy usually!

jacksdad
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Re: How to reward good behaviour with food aggressive dog

Post by jacksdad » Sun Dec 09, 2018 12:21 pm

Sorry haven't followed up quicker. been a busy few days.
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
One thing I am really struggling with is how to positively reinforce good behaviour with a dog who is food aggressive and becomes tense around food.
To solve this, you do have to view each situation you feel your dog is being aggressive over food independently...at least at first. lets say there are 10 situations where you feel your dog is aggressive over food. you first need to look at each situation as its own stand alone. when you take this approach you may find that situation #3, 7 and 10 are NOT about food at all. Situation #2 and 6 are basically variations on the same issue etc. from there you can build your plan to change the behavior.

plans typically follow a model of management, then teach new alternate behavior or incompatible behavior or change the current association to something or what something predicts.

Example of changing association and prediction.

you are near your dogs food bowl, dog growls, lunges, shows teeth etc to you because you are close. (with the understanding I am skipping a lot of details/steps...)

so you put down an empty food bowl. if it's your approach, you back up, then approach the bowl, drop a little bit of food in, walk away. dog eats the few bits of food, head comes up, you re approach and drop in some more food, repeat. this changes your dogs association with you approaching and causes your approach to their food bowl as our approach predicts more food. since your dog likes food, their emotional state changes from one of fear/aggression/anxiety to "YIPPY my people are approaching again".

We can't ever really know what a dog feels or thinks, but but we can change/influence some emotional states such as fear, happy, relax, aggression because these have observable and measurable attributes. some without medical assistance can't be measured, but we can observe does my dog look happy when approached or does my dog take an aggressive posture.

management is simply taking reasonable and humane steps to prevent an unwanted behavior. when your goal is to change a behavior, you don't want your dog getting a chance to practice that behavior and thus compete with the new one you are trying to change.
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
A recent example is putting her harness on before a walk. She started to anticipate the kibble she gets when the harness had been put on successfully, so became tense and aggressive before the harness is put on.
there are many possibilities going on here. the anticipation of food could be spot on. But we would also want to take into account possible past pain causing an association to wearing a harness. or simply going for a walk causes pain. maybe the pain isn't related to her medical condition. could be just discomfort because the harness is a poor design or good design but poor fit. how is the harness put on? if you are using food to get the harness on, how are you using the food? there is a correct order if you are in order to get any benefit from the food.
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
This situation was intensified because she knows she gets some food whilst on the walk.
we want to be careful about these types of conclusions, particularly given our next sentence below
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
She is fearful on walks so I have used kibble and wet food to reward her decision to to follow me while on a long, loose leash. Often the fear is mostly at the start of the walk (lifting paw, stopping, licking lips, ears back) but then she then visibly relaxes and has a good sniff around.
we know putting on a collar, garbing leash, putting on specific shoes/other clothes can all become predictors of "going on walks" to a dog. If a dog likes going on a walk they will start getting excited. so it isn't entirely unreasonable to think she might associate walks with getting food. But I am personally less inclined to lean that way. I would be more inclined to explore the possible fear when outside. OR if not fear, pain factors with walking. does she have the beginnings of arthritis? is her back flaring up? is any other health issue in play? as a trainer/owner we can suspect these possibilities, then we get our vets to rule in or out a health issue.

because there are health issues, I would strongly urge that you let her guide you a bit. you can always override if she tries to do something not in her best self interest. But if she isn't particularly interested in a walk, that is fine. it is OK to listen to your dog.
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
When putting her harness on she has attacked both the harness and me (the bites are inhibited, but still painful and cause bruises). I no longer put on her harness, but instead give her the choice to have her collar on. I sit calmly, not looking at her, holding the collar out. If she wants to go out she approaches me and puts her neck into the collar and allows me to do it up. I praise her verbally afterwards.
if she doesn't pull, lunge, etc. and is more comfortable with a collar, there shouldn't be any issues.
minimon wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:05 am
If you have any suggestions or tips on how best to reward good behaviour without using food or in a way that doesn't cause aggression and tension in future, I would appreciate it.
without being there to do an evaluation I am not really able to give specific guidance. too many questions/variables. based on your posts and that of your trainer, it is entirely possible that you do not have as big of a food aggression issue as you think. some of what you might be thinking of as aggression might actually be a sign of pain or over arousal or fear/anxiety vs food aggression depending on the situation.

I am going to disagree with your trainer a little on stress(or maybe not. I wasn't clear if she was advocating elimination of all stress). Stress to a point isn't the "enemy" and it isn't to be avoided at all costs. life is full of moments of stress. sometimes we get stressed because something unwanted/not fun/maybe even a little unpleasant is happening. but sometimes we get stressed even though we are having fun because of the fun. For example your playing a sport/game and we want to win or do well. So we are focused on figuring out our next move/step/action etc. during these moments we can be under a lot of stress. but when it is over, we have a corresponding period of elation, relaxation etc. BUT because it was something we found fun, interesting, a challenge, we repeat the experience even though there is elements of stress in the experience.

I have found nothing to date that suggests life isn't that different for dogs. so to a point, trying to avoid stress in our dogs life isn't a good thing. to a point. having said that, I do 100% advocate that the training process be as stress free as is reasonable. life and the learning process no matter how careful we are WILL cause stress. So I don't create as a planning part of training, but in some situations if it is a by product I don't avoid or freak out about it either.

The exception is distress or prolonged states of being under stress (which is basically the same as being in distress) are to be avoided, addressed, action take the relieve and NEVER, EVER created by intention during training. distress should be treated like an medical emergency even if a trip to the vet isn't required, but simply holding your fear/anxiety ridden dog once you get them to a safe place.

An example of a time I didn't worry about the stress a dog was showing during training. I was working with a fearful dog, that had impulse control problems and very demanding for attention....non stop. this was also a VERY smart dog. I first worked with this dog to learn a behavior that could be used to get attention vs the rude and somewhat dangerous behavior that had been used.

Then...I stopped asking for the wanted behavior. and just sat there. she threw here self at me, climbed on me, you could see the frustration. soon as her bottom hit the floor in a sit...PARTY TIME! LOTS and LOTS of attention.

I first taught her another option. then gave her the chance to choose. she of course tried the old way...it worked. it had lots of reinforced (even if that wasn't the intention) history so of course she tried it again. BUT when it didn't work (which was stressful), she tried the trained behavior....which did work. This approach only worked because the dog had first learned behavior that would get attention AND because attention was this dogs "hot dog" in some contexts. I also used it because this dog was very smart and need to work her brain some as part of helping her be calmer in life.

this approach will NOT work with every dog. in fact I don't use it with most dogs because it can too easily tip in distress. BUT it is an example of how stress in of it self may not be something we need to worry about directly, but rather we need to focus on the training what the dog should be doing, then applying the trained behavior.

When you are dealing with bossy behaviors, dogs being pests to get what they want, there WILL be some stress experienced as they work though learning to do X vs Y to get what they want. this is normal and as long as it doesn't' tip in to distress won't cause an problems.

on the "treat for barking". if setup right your trainer is correct. it won't increase the barking. few dogs will have a dramatic change to no or little barking right away. most have incremental decrees in duration of barking and intensity of barking over time. how long depends on how ingrained the behavior is, how good the plan is, how consistent you implement the plan. this is an issue you can't let slide "this time" because your not in the mood to train.

Sooo.... long novel short...

Break each issue down. don't assume for example that all barking is just barking. and treat each issue as it's own until you fine otherwise.

Focus on training what to do. how to ask for attention. what to do when it is time to put the food bowl down etc.
separate fear from pain. A qualified trainer can do this.

work with your vet to manage health issues. if need be, get a second opinion.

if your dog has health issues that affect physical activity, your trainer should be able to help your find mental actives for your dog that will provide enrichment.

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