• Michael D’Abruzzo

    January 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

    There are a few reasons why I don’t handle food aggression the way you see with Rocky anymore.

    1. Safety – Any training that i do is going to stick best if it can be followed through with by the client. A large enough dog can break the bones in your hand despite the glove. I was very sore and injured every time I did that exercise with anything over the size of a puppy. None of my clients were willing or would I expect them to follow through with the exercise, so even if i got results with ME it is next to impossible to have the owners join in safely and willingly to give the dog a chance to generalize.

    2. reliable – Even with a lot of work, it isn’t going to be 100 reliable to justify all the effort. Technically you would have to then add a consequence for the bite after taking the time to show the dog that the bite doesn’t work and isn’t necessary. Now we would be working all quadrants of operant conditioning and the most complete learning is taking place. I have done this and it DOES work with ME, but again going back to point 1, this will not generalize to the owner and it is so much work to do the right and is so stressful to the dog and trainer it is, in my opinion, not worth all the effort. Almost anything is possible in a controlled environment if you really pay attention to all angles of learning, but very difficult in the client’s home.

    3. Counter productive if transfering the dog to other people/situations (unless there has been generalization which is next to impossible in reality) – When I would transfer the dog to the owner I would mainly have them work on the counter-conditioning part (like you see at the end of the video) of the exercise and not expect them to do anything with the extinction or punishment phases (if i did any). Since I don’t expect them to do the “other stuff” I would rather them just work on ‘conditioning’ and desensitizing. We have to “counter-condition” to make up for the stress of past encounters. Whether it was the trainer or dog that came out on top of the “food battle” it is still stressful to the dog and can still result in aggression if the dog thinks they may be able to overcome the new “threat”.

    4. better long term success with other plans – what it has all boiled down to is it has been better to work with mother nature than against it. Majority of food aggression cases are easily managed with a simpler plan that recognizes that the dog is genetically predisposed to this behavior and a smaller amount can be worked with a slightly more complex but still easier plan than what you see on Rocky. Rocky and a small amount of dogs are genetically predisposed to the behavior AND skip or cycle through very quickly normal steps in the aggression cycle.

    Understanding this and accepting the fact that I can go through life without sticking my hands in a dog’s food bowl while they eat, just like I can accept the fact that I don’t have to stick my hands in my sons cereal bowl while he eats makes the plans much easier. You have to remember that dogs, people, or any animal for that matter generally don’t mess with each others food when it is in process of being eating. It is more natural to take the approach that we will act as the protector of the food so they don’t have to worry about the role. My son doesn’t have to worry about keeping his brother at bay from his pudding and my dog doesnt have to worry about the cats or people taking her food away. Aggression is not shown toward me because I am seen as on the same side as them. Everything i need to do with taking food away, preventing incidents, etc can be done through obedience and the “dog training trinity” without ever having to correct aggressive behavior. Only obedience has to be rewarded/corrected.

    I have actually changed the way I do things after working with a wolf and one of the worst food aggression cases I came across in my career. Figured if it works with them i can apply it to most cases.

    This all being said I will stick my hand in a new pups bowl to “condition” if there is not an active problem. But, for active behavior problems (meaning the behavior is a problem in the owner’s eyes) I work with an approach that is more natural to the dog.

    We will be setting up “webinars” soon with Q and A. This is, by chance, the first subject we will cover. I think it is an important one.

    This dog (in the video below) latched on to a couple people for going near his food bowl before we got him. This gives an idea of how we start with a dog that has no trust whatsoever of people around their food. This dog will lie under my feet now and chew on a bone while i work on the computer. Start making a dog stay on a “place” while they eat and plan starts to evolve. Lots of options – the sky is the sky is the limit… recalls from the food, “leave it/ok’s” with the food, etc…