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Hello everyone. I'm new to this forum. I have three dogs: Ripley, my 5 yo Boxer, Lilly, 3 yo Sheltie mix rescue and Piper, 10 week old Mini Aussie. Ripley has had MAJOR food aggression since he was about 9 months old. He suddenly would go into red zone mode and attack any animal that was near food.

No one I've worked with has been able to come up with an explanation for it, nor have we been able to correct it. Other than that, he has always been a great dog. He's very well trained (as all of my dogs are) and extremely smart.

The food issues have been controlled with management. He goes outside, into his crate, or into another room when there is food out. In the past, when he would attack Lilly or the cats and I would get him away from them, he would NEVER even attempt to get me, no matter how frenzied he was. Also, he has always been GREAT with puppies. Very gentle and understanding. When Lilly was a baby he would have bite marks all over his face from where she would use him as her own personal chew toy. Today, he and Piper were playing and she jumped up and nipped his face, the way puppies always do. He suddenly went crazy and tried to attack her. I was next to them and when she ran away (he wasn't able to get her) he tried to turn on me.

I am at a loss. I just don't know what to do. I have said that if I couldn't get the good aggression under control I would do the right thing for him and find him another home where he would be the only animal, because there's never once been a time where he lost it over anything other than food, and never at a human. Now I don't know what to do. It makes me wonder if there's something physically wrong with him to make his behavior so strange.

Any thoughts?
 

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I would have a thorough vet exam including blood work.
And specifically ask they run a full thyroid panel.
If something is off with the thyroid it could cause behavior issues.
So, I would start there and then see what happens.


:)
 

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I agree - I'd start with a full medical work up.

You said that no one you've ever worked with has been able to explain his issues or correct them. Who have you worked with? Trainers? Behaviorists? Veterinary behaviorists? What have they tried?

For now I would suggest you keep Ripley away from the other two dogs (the puppy especially!) and would handle him with care. Establish a routine & stick to it, making his life as predictable as possible. Be sure he gets plenty of exercise as well as training time.

Above all else please know that this kind of issue is not one that should be handled by just anyone. You will need help from a professional who can physically be there to see Ripley in action. We can (and will) give you our opinions on what has been done with him previously & may make suggestions of things to try, but please just be very careful in following any of those suggestions. While many of us here are experienced dog owners & some may be great trainers this is not an issue you can afford to accidentally make any worse, and doing the wrong thing could absolutely do just that.
 

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Thanks for the tips so far. I have worked with trainers and behaviorists. I also have a moderate background in training and behavior.

Many different techniques have been attempted, such as distractions, cues such as leave it, attempts at reprogramming his response to food, etc. The problem is his intelligence. He is 100% aware when he is under physical control, so even if he just has a leash dragging, he knows he is under physical control and won't even attempt it. The only time he does attack is when he is not restrained in any way, and it is always when we least expect it because we don't realize there is a food item out. It is rare since I have been so diligent about keeping him away from food when the other animals are around.

When it happens, there is VERY little warning. It's not like typical resource guarding or food aggression where he may show teeth, growl, snap, then attack. He freezes for about one second and then goes into full attack and kill mode. Fortunately, Lilly is much smaller and quicker than him and has almost always been able to get away. The few times he has made contact, yes he has broken the skin. The last time he got her she had a couple of wounds on her muzzle, but he was barely able to get contact with her. If he were ever to actually get a hold of her, there is no doubt in my mind he would kill her as quickly as possible.

This has only ever happened because of food, until the episode with the puppy. There was one time where I foolishly jumped in front of him as he lunged at Lilly and he accidentally bit me. It was a serious bite, with a crush so strong it nearly ruptured a tendon in my hand, but the second he got me, he immediately let go and dropped to the ground, before I could even react. This time was different. He was actively TRYING to get me.

The reason that trainers and behaviorists have had difficulty pinpointing the cause and therefore putting a stop to it is because of the fact that he is SO well behaved in all other respects, and his aggression is triggered so suddenly, with hardly any warning at all. I know all of his history, because I've had him since he was 8 weeks old, and nothing in his life could have accounted for this behavior.

I'm not confident about the possibility of hypothyroidism, as he has NO symptoms at all (I have a medical background so I'm very familiar with the symptoms.) However the possibility of a neurological disorder is concerning.

Another big problem that I have is the fact that I am now disabled. I have a bad hip, so I'm not able to exercise him anymore, other than play in the backyard. We do frequent training sessions, though, and he is always 100% attentive and respectful and learns very well.

The current behaviorist I have consulted concerns me a bit. He wants to use more "assertive" methods of interacting with him and said that the only real suggestion he has is aversion training with an e-collar. Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to the safe, humane use of e-collars in certain, very specific situations, but all of my knowledge and research has shown that aggressive methods can breed more aggression.

Do you all agree?
 

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I totally agree with you. I don't like e-collars to begin with, but I absolutely would not use one on this dog. Treating aggression with aggression will absolutely cause more problems...and may eliminate the little warning he is currently giving you.

Have any of the behaviorists tried medications in conjunction with behavior modification?

Much as I'd love to blame this on a neurological disorder I think the fact that until this most recent incident he has only ever shown aggression around food probably eliminates that possibility. It's still worth investigating, but I think odds are slim.

Is there someone who can exercise him for you? I would think that a lack of exercise may also make things worse.

Personally I'd try medications (if you haven't already done so). If those don't work it may be time to either try to find him a really experienced home where he can be the only dog. If the right home can't be found you may need to consider euthanizing him. It's not what anyone wants to hear, but the last thing you want is for you or one of your other dogs to get seriously injured. :-(
 

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I agree with the others, get a full work up done. I just got back from a behavior conference over the weekend and a point that was made over and over again is that 90% of the time physical issues and behavioral issues go hand in hand. Physical illness will eventuall y cause behavioral problems and behavioral problems will eventually cause physical problems.
 

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Some dogs are just food aggressive and there is not much you can do about it when its an older dog. But feed them separated. The time is to work with them when they are puppys. I have two terrier breeds, mix and a min pin. Once in a blue moon they will tangle over a favorite ball, or a chew bone. They sound worst then what they are doing, but its happens for a slit second, then the next hour you will find them sleeping curled up next to each other. If you are not already doing the following I would start doing some of these things. Have your dog wait to be feed, sit till you say ok, wait and sit, you always walk thru a door way before your dog. Don't let them sleep with you at night, crate is best. Not up on the couch with you. I have been told by my trainer that dogs should not have so much freedom to choice to do these things, like up on the couch, free feeding, up on the bed, thru a doorway before you. And so on. If your dog is already sitting and waiting, and has good training. I would Rehome where he is the only dog in the house hold, never euthanize for something like that.
As far as E collar training, Yes it will work if you can see your dog go into this aggression before it happens. And you have someone trained in using it properly. Using it aggressively is not using it correctly. What most people don't understand about the e collar is you don't use it to shock your dog when they are doing something wrong. You use it to interrupt give a positive command, reward. In other words, like tap you on the shoulder, hey look at me, come sit, good boy. That's where e collars have gotten a bad rap from people who don't have any experience in using the or seen them used properly.. If used properly they are effective and positive. And yes I'm speaking from experience, I'm not just repeating something I read or heard. My boxer is e collar trained, my min pin is completely off lease e collar trained. I have never used the collar to shock my dog or use it in a aggressive way.
 

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Some dogs are just food aggressive and there is not much you can do about it when its an older dog. But feed them separated. The time is to work with them when they are puppys. I have two terrier breeds, mix and a min pin. Once in a blue moon they will tangle over a favorite ball, or a chew bone. They sound worst then what they are doing, but its happens for a slit second, then the next hour you will find them sleeping curled up next to each other. If you are not already doing the following I would start doing some of these things. Have your dog wait to be feed, sit till you say ok, wait and sit, you always walk thru a door way before your dog. Don't let them sleep with you at night, crate is best. Not up on the couch with you. I have been told by my trainer that dogs should not have so much freedom to choice to do these things, like up on the couch, free feeding, up on the bed, thru a doorway before you. And so on. If your dog is already sitting and waiting, and has good training. I would Rehome where he is the only dog in the house hold, never euthanize for something like that.
As far as E collar training, Yes it will work if you can see your dog go into this aggression before it happens. And you have someone trained in using it properly. Using it aggressively is not using it correctly. What most people don't understand about the e collar is you don't use it to shock your dog when they are doing something wrong. You use it to interrupt give a positive command, reward. In other words, like tap you on the shoulder, hey look at me, come sit, good boy. That's where e collars have gotten a bad rap from people who don't have any experience in using the or seen them used properly.. If used properly they are effective and positive. And yes I'm speaking from experience, I'm not just repeating something I read or heard. Oops didn't mean to post this twice, LOL
 

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Question.
How respectful of you is he with food?
Example: Can you take the food bowl away from him while he is eating?
 

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I'm sorry but there is absolutely nothing about an e collar that is positive based. I've seen them used "correctly" & have done a lot of reading about them, but like every other positive, reward based trainer I don't approve of them and am very sure that there is nothing positive about them.
 

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Yes, he is absolutely trained to be respectful. He has to sit and wait patiently for food, he's only allowed places once he's been invited, he doesn't sleep with us at night, etc. as I mentioned, I have a background in behavior and training, and in all other aspects he is a very well behaved, respectful boy.

People can take food right out of his mouth if necessary. He is extremely gentle with people and has never shown any sign of food aggression toward a human. It looks like I am just going to have to be diligent about keeping them separate unless he is under physical control (i.e. On a leash). If a perfect scenario comes up where someone is able to give him a wonderful home with no other animals, then I would rehome him as it would be better for him, but I will NOT consider euthanizing him unless he becomes a danger to people. At this point, he isn't.

I appreciate all of your help and advice. With regard to the e-collars, I have always been of the opinion that when used correctly and on a low, tap you on the shoulder, type of setting, they can be beneficial in certain difficult to break scenarios. However, I recently read a study that has called this into question. It showed that dogs that are trained with e-collars, even when trained and operated by professionals with a large amount of experience, tend to develop anxiety and behavioral issues with its use. Given the fact that there is generally very little, if any, warning before the aggression occurs, I do not think it is worth the risk to attempt it.

As much of a pain as it is, I will just have to continue playing musical dogs for the time being. If anyone is aware of someone in NC looking for a well trained adult dog that has no other animals, please let me know.
 

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My boy Tyson was a little bit food aggressive with other animals. He would growl and then nip but never full on attack. I have a small kitchen and have to feed him and Echo within one foot of each other. It really bothered him that she was in his line of sight and when she was a small puppy she would try to eat from his bowl. The one thing that worked for me was to swap their bowls. I did it on accident the first time and didn't realize it until I was putting their food down. They get fed once in the morning and once at night. I don't wash their bowls between these meals. After swapping the bowls Tyson let Echo lick the bowl clean after he ate which he never allowed before. I don't know if it was because it smelled like her or if he knew it was her bowl anyway. It is almost a year later and he shows no aggression to her at all anymore. Now that darn cat eating out of his bowl is another issue lol

So that was my experience. He wasn't too bad to begin with though. I hope you find a solution :)
 
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