Slicks and her FOOD Aggression
As I said in the previous blog my biggest and most worrisome problem with Slicks was her Food Aggression. I saw it first on the first Meet and Greet we had with Sprocket where I accidentally dropped a treat, and she resourced guarded the ground where it had dropped (I had picked it up before either dog got it.) But she was snarling and snapping and continuously patrolled the ground for a good long while. From that point on I knew I had to be super careful. The unfortunate problem with her food aggression was that I was training Sprocket multiple times a day with treats, and I would also give him a treat when he came in from the backyard- his recall before Slicks was impeccable, he came every time he was called. This is an important fact for later on. Also, on a side note – I most likely was nervous and overly watchful of situations which may have contributed to some other trust problems between her and me.
So, from what I understood the woman who had adopted her was feeding her in her crate so there had been zero training regarding feeding time. The foster mom also saw some intense aggression the day she accidentally dropped a bag of dog food on the kitchen floor, Slicks can be nasty- she spins and snaps and grabs whatever she can grab until the food is gone and then guards the area for a while longer until she sure it’s all gone. When there is another dog in the house obviously a dangerous situation when there is a second dog in the home.
Some of you might be wondering why I said in the previous paragraph that there was no training because she was fed in a crate and yes, the smartest way to deal with food aggression is management, (which crate feeding is the safest management tool) however, one of the biggest issues I found with Slicks is she was pushy and super ramped up about food – likely because she had to fight for her food in her early upbringing. She has zero manners, zero self-control, and zero capabilities of taking a treat nicely. On another side note, Slicks has a lot of trouble with eyes to-nose coordination – it is almost like she can’t see the food, or sense where her mouth is, she seems to not be able to take a treat with the front of her mouth. If you use your fingers to feed, she will most likely take it with her back teeth…lol which sometimes ends up making you drop the treat as it is a very awkward way to feed, which then leads to the guarding of the floor – again I had to be very careful with all food feeding.
Ok back to why I chose to not feed Slicks in a crate: first off Sprocket has great skills in not touching another dog’s food we worked on that from the day I brought him home, so I was not afraid of him going for her food. The first few weeks my routine became, I would put her in her crate with a leash on. I would prepare the food and feed Sprocket, then I would go to her crate and get her and take her to her food. We had to pass by Sprocket to get to her dish and at first, there was a lot of lunging, screaming, and spinning. (The spinning has never stopped I will get a video of her making her way to the food bowl now, however now it is a pretty funny dance because she is sooo excited to get to her food) Once I gave her food I would stand holding the leash until she was finished and I would then immediately pick up the empty bowl and then go get Sprocket's empty bowl so there were no issues involved licking/cleaning bowls.
Our first training started at the food bowl. During feeding time, once I got her to her bowl (on leash) I began getting her to sit for her meal. This took quite a long time for her to figure out. I would kneel and hold the bowl up high – she (in the beginning would sit for seconds) I would try to lower the bowl – if she dived at it, the bowl goes back into the air, and we would start from the beginning, waiting for her to sit and then again lowering the bowl. If she sat until the bowl hit the ground, I would break her to get her dinner. This took many many weeks of a very short sit but gradually got better and longer sits. Once that was accomplished then I started asking her to look at me. This involved me getting her to sit, I would lower the bowl and then ask for her to “look” when she made eye contact then she got a “break” command. This did take many months of daily work, but we have finally gotten there. I was working on “look” throughout the day which she really struggled with.
As we progressed through all these steps - the food aggression started to improve especially with Sprocket. One day I was on the phone, leash in hand not really paying attention to her and I suddenly realized Sprocket and her were licking out of the same bowl. Dinner was completed- Sprocket was just licking up the crumbs and she was ok with him being there… that’s when I knew we were finally making some good progress.
I am not going to get into too much about how I trained Slicks as I think anyone who is dealing with a dog who has food aggression and resource guarding should reach out to a qualified trainer (please do your research on hiring a trainer as there are many “trainers” out there who have had a dog, or is walking dogs and think themselves as trainers they throw up a website or Facebook page and call themselves a trainer and this may put your back with your dog) In saying all this don’t think that you have be ALFA to your dog, don’t punish your dog (you will just create lack of trust and we don’t need that, especially with a dog who’s lacking confidence) start the training with positive reinforcement and work slowly at your dog’s pace.
What I can say about what I did was management – leash on and/or barriers - make sure everyone is safe including yourself – Slick was not resource guarding to me or anyone else but some dogs can be very dangerous so be cautious.
Slicks can be very tricky as she seems to be ok in some circumstances, however, suddenly she will not be. So, when feeding treats around other dogs, I make sure everyone is in a sit – on hikes she gets very upset if everyone is sitting and I hand her a treat- if a dog moves forward towards her mid handover there will be a problem, she is always watchful of who’s there, who’s coming, what’s happening. I am also very watchful, and I tend to only treat her if the dog is sitting and maybe at a bigger distance away. I definitely won't feed her if I have a young pushy dog on the hike who I know will bud in. Sprocket who has had a few bad experiences with Slicks seems to know and he sits a distance away and he waits his turn to get his treat. I don’t worry too much about the 2 of them anymore, I have even gotten to the point where I can play games and throw food on the floor. And just as a side note Slicks LOVES frozen blueberries – she bounces around the house throwing the blueberry in the air and I have not had any issues with Sprocket in the room when this little play is happening.
Slicks has improved so much in the last 10 months, and I am very proud of her. I have made some very big mistakes – not thinking and doing something she was unhappy about so poor Sprocket got a few big scares but the 3 of us muddled through it all. I had to learn what exactly her triggers were, and I suggest anyone who is dealing with this be sure to manage situations as best you can to avoid fights. One of the biggest issues I had was when Slicks attacked Sprocket and it was completely my fault. I was very tired and wanted to get to bed – I called the dogs in from outside and Sprocket was delayed coming (I think because I had stopped giving him treats in this situation) this happened a couple of weeks after I got her and I made the mistake of shaking a treat bag and she thought I had a treat which I did not – so when Sprocket came through the threshold Slicks did attack him which did create a bigger problem, Sprocket would not come in from outside. That can be another whole blog post on how I got him to come inside after that incident.
All in all, Slicks doesn’t have many outbursts anymore – when she is unhappy about a situation she doesn’t attack, she will grumble with a weird little growl that she makes that is more like a quiet howl, hard to explain- but I know she is uncomfortable and I will move the other dog away or move her away from the situation before it escalates. We are doing very well and I understand and I want you to understand that this is a process and can take a long time to fix. There is a lot of bad advice out there so be cautious about who you take it from. There is a very good book called “Mine” that is helpful or again contact a qualified trainer to help you.
I hope you all are finding these posts helpful and interesting to read.