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Long story, but I'll keep it as short as possible.

We got our Siberian husky at 8 weeks old, about 9 months ago, from a family who just decided to let their huskies have puppies. They were not breeders - should've known right then. I know they meant no harm but it was obvious they just wanted to sell the dogs rather than ensure they were all in a good place to be sold. Breeders would look out for personality or anxiety issues as well as ensure the pups in the litter are all treated the same. Not our case.

The day after we brought him home we realized he was eating way too quickly and would have bloating spasms where he would scream in pain from eating too quickly. We understood bloating was serious so we immediately started doing stuff to help this. He also showed anxiety very early on. I've dealt with huskies before and their separation anxiety, but Agro (our dog) showed mental disability issues which I only recently realized is a medical issue.

Going forward he was also food aggressive as soon as we got him. We believed he was either the last one to eat during those first 8 weeks of life or would be forgotten about. He also cried constantly. He even continues to cry and whine whenever he wants something even though he knows he's going to get it. For example, he is extremely impatient and cries when I ask him if he needs to use the bathroom (he is really smart and knows a ton of commands). Mind you, he knows we're about to go outside so there's no need to cry for it. Super impatient.

Anyway, for his food aggression, we tried so many different things. That included hand feeding for 4 months straight (super annoying), bowl feeding while holding the bowl, trade-up system by giving a treat while he's eating, puzzle feeder, electric collar, slip lead and some more I can't remember. We even got him neutered when we had no intention to because we were afraid he was going to get too aggressive.

Agro is about 11 months old - flashback to one month ago. He actually bit me, and hard. He even bit our kitten when we first got her because she got a little too close when we were looking. She was bleeding, that's how bad he gets during food aggression. He also bit my fiance which is a huge no-no because my fiance is the one he sees as the ultimate alpha.

Understand that Agro is well trained and he understands that my fiance and I are alpha. He is not allowed on furniture, cannot be around us while we're eating, must stay on his bed when we tell him to and must stay by our side while walking. I admit we were not great at the beginning. We didn't socialize him well outside of our living community and didn't take him to stores or many public settings like home depot. However, now that is all I'm doing. Not that he's great at walking on the leash I am comfortable taking him out and about while avoiding going to the cash register so he gets more comfortable with human interaction.

Sorry, my story is all over the place, but we're in desperate need of help. My fiance is inches away from cutting him loose and giving him away. But Agro has become apart of our family and it breaks my heart to think about giving him away. Plus I wouldn't want another family or person to get bit during his food aggression. I want to do everything I can to help him.

As of yesterday, I was starting to get up and prepare his food when he started to get cautious and stiff (bit warning sign that he's about to be aggressive). My fiance went up to him, not knowing I was serving food and asked Agro what was wrong while petting him. Out of nowhere Agro snapped and bit my fiance. We both have scars on our hands from Agro biting us severely as he bites so hard your hand is sore for the entire day along with flesh wounds. Outside of food, he is a great, tolerable, well-trained dog. But he clearly has some form of anxiety that heightens at mealtime.

I've started to give him CBD oil for his anxiety which seems to help with other things but at mealtime, he's still aggressive and impatient.

Now, I'm not necessarily looking for training advice, but I would like to know if anyone else has gone through something similar and what they did to treat it. Thanks for taking the time to read this because I know I was all over the place with details.
 

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This is a job for a professional. This kind of behaviour can be treated but it takes time and it take experience. I'm not sure that any "tips" you get from us are going to help you as much as just biting the bullet and getting a pro to look at your dog.

In general I think it's safe to say that these kinds of behaviours are never all "the dog". I believe that just as behaviours we find "positive" are a result of conditioning, so are behaviours we find "negative". A trainer will be able to point out what the dog is doing (and why) and what you are doing, or shouldn't be doing, that will help. If you want advice from us it might be useful to make a short video of you feeding him. Maybe something will ping.

As for what we did/do with our dog that really helped him not "claim" the food bowl: When it's feeding time we prepare the food and then walk across the room with it to the spot where he eats to put the bowl down. He is instructed to "sit" and we don't put the bowl down until he does. When he's sitting, we put the bowl on the floor and count out loud to five. If at any time during the counting he stands up, we pick up the bowl and start again. When we get to five then we say "OK" and he can eat. At this point we clear out and let him eat in peace.

I started doing this early on with the dog even though he didn't show signs if food protecting because I had a dog in the past who was very protective of his food and this ritual helped him become less aggressive about meal time. The first few times I tried this with him it took a LONG time before he would sit for a 5 count. After a while he would sit when we started to prepare the food and remained sitting until he heard "OK". This process took a long time, btw, so don't expect instant gratification from this approach if you try it.

Second thing you need to understand is that for now this dog is going to be hard to handle when his brain is in "feeding" mode. That's a bad time to try interacting with him so .... simply .... don't! Don't pet him, play with him, or even look at or talk to him during feeding time. Any stimulation you give at feeding time is going to (forgive the pun) "feed" the nervous energy. Simply make the food, avoid eye contact, do not talk, do not look, do not touch him..... then do the 5 count ritual before putting the bowl down and clear out to let him eat in peace after that.

The 5 count ritual, btw, is something I picked up from my mother. What it does is make it clear to the dog that YOU own the food and YOU are giving it to him.... he is not "taking" it. It takes a while but in my limited experience, the dog does get it and it does help them calm down about it.

finally, I want to repeat that you really should consult a pro. I'm a well meaning amateur but I obviously don't know your dog and I don't have a lot of experience with rehabilitating this kind of behaviour. My experience is more geared toward avoiding getting into that situation to begin with.

If you want to read more about this kind of thing you can check out the book, "MINE!" by Jean Donaldson. It's written very pedantically but once you get your mind around her use of English it's very informative and you might be able to glean some tips from that as well.

Good luck.
 

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Get a decent trainer and forget the alpha human rubbish that theory has been de-bunked a hell of a long time ago and only machos still train like that
 

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Theres a lot to unpick here and I agree when a bite is involved a professional is needed. However - for the food aggression, suppose you were in a lovely restaurant eating a favourite meal and someone gave you an electric shock. How do you think you would react? You would likely be pretty ticked off, and if you saw that person again you would be telling them in no uncertain terms to back off and keep their distance.

And that brings me to the second point. Dogs give a series of signals that they are unhappy. Unfortunately most people don't recognise them because they can be quite subtle. To begin with there is often wide eyes, lip licking and yawning. There is also muscular tension in the body. Then the ones we sometimes do see - growl, snarl, nip then bite. If the early signals are not seen (or, in the dog's view, ignored) he won't bother with them because us stupid humans pay no attention anyway; so he may go straight to the bite. So it's important never to ignore the early signals. As a friend says, she would rather be told verbally to sod off than be smacked in the face with no apparent warning. I wonder if your dog has bitten as his early signals were not listened to.

The third thing is that the alpha dominance pack leadership theory has been thoroughly disproven and widely discredited, even by the person who developed it. It was based on flawed conclusions drawn from poorly observed evidence. The wolf pack (and dogs are not wolves anyway any more than we are chimpanzees) was not a real pack, and the situation (captivity rather than wild) skewed the data as their behaviour was not natural. In a true pack, the leadership is fluid depending on the circumstances. This article explains it quite well. Debunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal
 

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The third thing is that the alpha dominance pack leadership theory has been thoroughly disproven and widely discredited, even by the person who developed it. It was based on flawed conclusions drawn from poorly observed evidence. The wolf pack (and dogs are not wolves anyway any more than we are chimpanzees) was not a real pack, and the situation (captivity rather than wild) skewed the data as their behaviour was not natural. In a true pack, the leadership is fluid depending on the circumstances. This article explains it quite well. Debunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal
I disagree to a point on this but there is a nuance to this so I hope you read my post before you just declare me to be an idiot.

My wife is a child development and behaviour psychologist and she's involved in training her first dog over the last 2 years. We took the dog to puppy training when he was little, We watched a lot of videos from Zak George (how his dogs are not all obese is beyond me) and other available resources, we read a dozen or so books on the topic, INCLUDING two books (well, actually I read them but she didn't) from Cesar Milan.

Here is what I learned and can synthesize from all of that: What my wife tells me, and I believe, since she is a bona fide expert in this, is that the current approaches to training dogs closely approximate how psychologists deal with "behavioural modification" in young children. Young children are not able to really master logic so approaches that work on adults, like CBT, can't really be applied, especially when the child is very young or has certain developmental handicaps.

So what psychologists do is basically analogous to training a dog. On the scale of [positive/negative] [reinforcement/punishment] positive reinforcement is the preferred approach as it is with dogs, and studies have shown it to be the most effective (in children and in dogs). However the other options on the operant conditioning matrix are never off the table. Even a trainer like Zak George who claims to be 100% postive reinforcement, simply is not.

The key is to understand what the options on the operant conditioning matrix are so you can recognize them when you see them. Let's take leash training as an example. If you want there is a video from Zak on youtube with extensive depth into how he does this. I don't want to pick on Zak here because from what I can see he's a very committed and accomplished trainer. His example, however, is very illustrative to debunk the debunking as it were.

So what Zak would do (and does -- watch the video) with leash training is this:

1) positive reinforcement. That's pretty obvious. The dog walks calmly beside you, which is what you want, and you give it a treat. That's positive reinforcement. Positive is adding something (the treat) and reinforcement by allowing the animal to continue doing that behaviour.

What Zak ALSO does is

2) Negative punishment. The word punishment in the way used by psychologists is deeply misunderstood. What it really means is simply the opposite of "reinforcement". Instead of trying encourage a behaviour, "punishment" tries to condition decreasing the behaviour. Punishment does NOT mean being unpleasant or violent as is widely misunderstood including in the article you linked.

So what Zak does is this. The dog pulls so he stops walking and/or changes direction until the dog stops pulling.

This is "punishment" because it is designed to DECREASE the behaviour (i.e. stop the pulling) and it removes a stimulus that the dog likes (ie, getting to where ever the nose was going). So you when you REMOVE something that the dog LIKES it's negative punishment. Zak, however, and a VAST number of trainers see this as positive reinforcement and this is a common mistake made by dog trainers (and parents). It is a two step CORRECTION. First the negative punishment (I stop walking until you stop pulling) and then-and only then--the positive reinforcement reward for stopping the pulling (or returning to healing). A Two step process.

At the bare minimum, these two things are widely used but both are called positive reinforcement by trainers who then rail against "punishment" as a training strategy. If psychologists had only called "punishment" a "correction" then people wouldn't assume that it means beating the dog.

It's a correction. It doesn't mean beating the dog.

And this brings us to the third point, which is that what you see Cesar Milan doing on his TV show and what he discusses at great length in his books is also a combination of positive reinforcement (give affection when the dog did the right thing... I don't think Milan uses treats) and in the case of Milan a "Positive Punishment" (adding something to make a behaviour stop.. .namely his trademark CTHHISSSS often in combination with a jerk on the leash. This is adding something, the unwanted stimulus, to stop a behaviour. In terms of operant conditioning it is no different than Zak George stopping the walk and waiting for 1/2 hour for the dog to get it's head back down to earth before going further. Where I believe Milan can correctly be criticised is in not understanding (or having learned) that his balance of reinforcement vs. punishment is skewed far to much to punishment (and again when I use this word I mean a correction). This is still effective as you can see from the results he gets but it is also more time consuming according to studies.

Finally the "pack leader" thing. Read... his ... books ... What I am SURE of having read his books (I do not know him so I haven't verified this) is that what Milan means by being a "pack leader" is only in part demanding obedience from the dog (which, by the way, EVERY TRAINER regardless of the conditioning approach is trying to achieve) but it is mostly (80%) about what he calls "calm assertive" energy. What he means by this is simply being a role model to your dog. If you stiffen up when a strange dog comes close then your dog has a HUGE radar for that and your dog will stiffen up too.

THIS is what he is talking about. He's talking about being relaxed, both physically and mentally, so that your dog will feed off of and emulate that "vibe". And it works. And it works really really well. On example. My wife and I often walk the dog together. If I'm holding the leash and another dog approaches to greet our dog I hold the leash slack, focus on/address the owner of the dog with a greeting, pay little attention to the dogs provided my dog feels at ease etc. Greetings go smoothly. My wife, however, has had to learn not to be afraid of strange dogs. When a strange dog approaches for a greeting and she is holding the leash then she holds the leash taught, stiffens up and focuses her attention on the dogs. The obvious result of this is that the dog also stiffens up and greetings are not smooth even thought we have an an exceedingly well socialized dog.

This, if you read the books, is what Milan talks about when he says "pack leader" about 80% of the time. Getting to that calm assertive state of mind. While he takes a lot of bad press for this term -- and I believe the term was poorly chosen to convey what he means -- I thoroughly endorse the message of learning how to relax and model positive behaviours/energy to your dog in exactly the same way that you should do that for your children in the role of parent. Be a positive role model. This is 80% of his message behind the poor choice of words.

This turned out to be a long post but I still hope you (or someone) reads it so I don't feel like I'm just screaming into a tornado :D Have a good weekend.
 

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I disagree to a point on this but there is a nuance to this so I hope you read my post before you just declare me to be an idiot.

My wife is a child development and behaviour psychologist and she's involved in training her first dog over the last 2 years. We took the dog to puppy training when he was little, We watched a lot of videos from Zak George (how his dogs are not all obese is beyond me) and other available resources, we read a dozen or so books on the topic, INCLUDING two books (well, actually I read them but she didn't) from Cesar Milan.

Here is what I learned and can synthesize from all of that: What my wife tells me, and I believe, since she is a bona fide expert in this, is that the current approaches to training dogs closely approximate how psychologists deal with "behavioural modification" in young children. Young children are not able to really master logic so approaches that work on adults, like CBT, can't really be applied, especially when the child is very young or has certain developmental handicaps.

So what psychologists do is basically analogous to training a dog. On the scale of [positive/negative] [reinforcement/punishment] positive reinforcement is the preferred approach as it is with dogs, and studies have shown it to be the most effective (in children and in dogs). However the other options on the operant conditioning matrix are never off the table. Even a trainer like Zak George who claims to be 100% postive reinforcement, simply is not.

The key is to understand what the options on the operant conditioning matrix are so you can recognize them when you see them. Let's take leash training as an example. If you want there is a video from Zak on youtube with extensive depth into how he does this. I don't want to pick on Zak here because from what I can see he's a very committed and accomplished trainer. His example, however, is very illustrative to debunk the debunking as it were.

So what Zak would do (and does -- watch the video) with leash training is this:

1) positive reinforcement. That's pretty obvious. The dog walks calmly beside you, which is what you want, and you give it a treat. That's positive reinforcement. Positive is adding something (the treat) and reinforcement by allowing the animal to continue doing that behaviour.

What Zak ALSO does is

2) Negative punishment. The word punishment in the way used by psychologists is deeply misunderstood. What it really means is simply the opposite of "reinforcement". Instead of trying encourage a behaviour, "punishment" tries to condition decreasing the behaviour. Punishment does NOT mean being unpleasant or violent as is widely misunderstood including in the article you linked.

So what Zak does is this. The dog pulls so he stops walking and/or changes direction until the dog stops pulling.

This is "punishment" because it is designed to DECREASE the behaviour (i.e. stop the pulling) and it removes a stimulus that the dog likes (ie, getting to where ever the nose was going). So you when you REMOVE something that the dog LIKES it's negative punishment. Zak, however, and a VAST number of trainers see this as positive reinforcement and this is a common mistake made by dog trainers (and parents). It is a two step CORRECTION. First the negative punishment (I stop walking until you stop pulling) and then-and only then--the positive reinforcement reward for stopping the pulling (or returning to healing). A Two step process.

At the bare minimum, these two things are widely used but both are called positive reinforcement by trainers who then rail against "punishment" as a training strategy. If psychologists had only called "punishment" a "correction" then people wouldn't assume that it means beating the dog.

It's a correction. It doesn't mean beating the dog.

And this brings us to the third point, which is that what you see Cesar Milan doing on his TV show and what he discusses at great length in his books is also a combination of positive reinforcement (give affection when the dog did the right thing... I don't think Milan uses treats) and in the case of Milan a "Positive Punishment" (adding something to make a behaviour stop.. .namely his trademark CTHHISSSS often in combination with a jerk on the leash. This is adding something, the unwanted stimulus, to stop a behaviour. In terms of operant conditioning it is no different than Zak George stopping the walk and waiting for 1/2 hour for the dog to get it's head back down to earth before going further. Where I believe Milan can correctly be criticised is in not understanding (or having learned) that his balance of reinforcement vs. punishment is skewed far to much to punishment (and again when I use this word I mean a correction). This is still effective as you can see from the results he gets but it is also more time consuming according to studies.

Finally the "pack leader" thing. Read... his ... books ... What I am SURE of having read his books (I do not know him so I haven't verified this) is that what Milan means by being a "pack leader" is only in part demanding obedience from the dog (which, by the way, EVERY TRAINER regardless of the conditioning approach is trying to achieve) but it is mostly (80%) about what he calls "calm assertive" energy. What he means by this is simply being a role model to your dog. If you stiffen up when a strange dog comes close then your dog has a HUGE radar for that and your dog will stiffen up too.

THIS is what he is talking about. He's talking about being relaxed, both physically and mentally, so that your dog will feed off of and emulate that "vibe". And it works. And it works really really well. On example. My wife and I often walk the dog together. If I'm holding the leash and another dog approaches to greet our dog I hold the leash slack, focus on/address the owner of the dog with a greeting, pay little attention to the dogs provided my dog feels at ease etc. Greetings go smoothly. My wife, however, has had to learn not to be afraid of strange dogs. When a strange dog approaches for a greeting and she is holding the leash then she holds the leash taught, stiffens up and focuses her attention on the dogs. The obvious result of this is that the dog also stiffens up and greetings are not smooth even thought we have an an exceedingly well socialized dog.

This, if you read the books, is what Milan talks about when he says "pack leader" about 80% of the time. Getting to that calm assertive state of mind. While he takes a lot of bad press for this term -- and I believe the term was poorly chosen to convey what he means -- I thoroughly endorse the message of learning how to relax and model positive behaviours/energy to your dog in exactly the same way that you should do that for your children in the role of parent. Be a positive role model. This is 80% of his message behind the poor choice of words.

This turned out to be a long post but I still hope you (or someone) reads it so I don't feel like I'm just screaming into a tornado :D Have a good weekend.
Steady. Nobody is declaring you to be an idiot. FWIW I am familiar with Zac George (I'm not a massive fan of his body language in relation to dog training but he isn't awful) and Cesar Milan. I find CM to be more tv personality than trainer, his training methods are IMO outdated and I have seen some of his practice that hasn't made the tv shows and it makes for quite unpleasant viewing.

I get the operant conditioning model and in training there is a time and place for all four quadrants although of course P+ is seldom and at the lowest level. Functional analysis of behaviour in children and animals (your wife may be aware of Iwata) shows there are more effective ways of dealing with unwanted behaviour.
 

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I get the operant conditioning model and in training there is a time and place for all four quadrants although of course P+ is seldom and at the lowest level. Functional analysis of behaviour in children and animals (your wife may be aware of Iwata) shows there are more effective ways of dealing with unwanted behaviour.
Well.... what she tells me is to withhold judgement on what works. As you said, there is a time and a place for measures in all 4 quadrants. She warns against making "good" and "bad" qualifications for an approach although it's quite clear that some approaches work better in certain contexts and some approaches work better in general than others.

What makes P+ so hard to watch sometimes isn't the fact that it's P+ it's the choice of stimulus. If you see someone hitting a child in the Walmart, that's P+ and it's very distressing to observe. A finger wave and tongue-clucking is also P+ and it's less distressing to see. What people object to is most often the choice of stimulus.

I've tried P+ with my dog while leash training him by just holding the leash and letting my arm hang heavy at my side. If he got ahead the arm would go up and put weight on the leash, which I new he didn't like, especially if it was sort of jerking because of my walking gate. I wasn't pulling back on the leash but the dog didn't like the feeling and I had that figured out. It worked to a point and he started self-correcting without me having to explicitly correct him with a command, sound or jerk on the leash. This would probably come across as less disturbing to see than the way CM does it.

I also tried the R+ approach, trying to emulate what I saw on various videos. I did pick up the "look" command to see if my dog's mind was here on earth or in outerspace chasing his nose. I put a lot of hours of effort into trying to make him heal with R+ approach but didn't get the result I wanted with that either. In this period of time I dissected a lot of videos online and found the Zak George page. To be honest, I'm not his biggest fan. I find his single minded obsession with using food as a reward hard to swallow (as it were). There are many things that the dog sees as a reward. For example, I taught my dog to fetch a ball and drop it on command without ever giving him food. The reward for obeying the command was that I would throw the ball again, which he loves....

Back to leash training, where I finally got the most mileage was in the P- approach. I saw the ZG approach of standing still with the leash under tension until the dog conceded and initially tried that. What finally worked best, which is a P- approach was to give the dog a "wait" command if he starts to pull. He is very obedient with "wait". I then stand next to him and ignore him for 10 seconds, check if he is back on earth yet with "look" and if he looks at me then we start walking again. When I start walking again I give no command at all, I just walk.

That approach while quite different than ZG or CM contains elements of things that I learned from both.

So what I'm pointing out here is that while leash training my dog I tried P+, R+ and P- approaches and finally discovered, with help from my wife who helped me consciously design an approach, MY dog responded best in that context to P-.

That's why my wife says not to judge the approach but to be mindful that the stimulus is appropriate. It is also why I object to a single minded vision that ONLY R+ is effective or appropriate. It simply isn't true.

See what I'm getting at?
 

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I think you make a good point that it all depends on the dog. My last dog was very sensitive, a raised eyebrow was P+ because he recognised it as disapproval. My current dog wouldn't even notice and does nothing unless he sees what's in it for him (ahem -terrier). So he has to be rewarded for EVERYTHING. I absolutely agree that it doesn't have to be treats or even food. A nod, a word of praise, an ear rub or - yes - food if that's what pushes his buttons. It depends on the dog. But we also use P-. If he wants to nip my feet (ok, when he was a pup, not so much now) I remove (-) the source of his stimulus - me.

I think the difference between P+ and R- is tricky in relation to dogs. You described the example of letting your arm hang and the lead tightening as P+ but that specific example is often cited as being R- because reaching the end of the lead, the collar tightening, and the dog coming closer removes (-) the discomfort (R). I think it's a grey area in relation to dogs. It's easier with kids, who understand the future. If you study hard and pass the test, we will remove [ - reinforcement] the household chores for the next week.
 

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I think you're right, it could be interpreted both ways. It's nice to encounter someone who knows what I mean. Can you tell me about your background? I'm curious. (no obligation, of course)
 
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