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I have a Malamute puppy 4.5 months old. He goes to puppy school regularly, mixes well with other dogs and has learnt a pretty good range of commands, however, we are having a major issue with him becoming extremely aggressive over "stolen" food.

We keep him out of the kitchen, but accidents happen and he sneaks his way in sometimes. As soon as he gets in, he makes a beeline for the rubbish bin and starts tearing into anything he can get his teeth into. Any attempt to remove him results in a lot of growling and some pretty nasty bites if he manages to get an arm or a hand. This evening he got my hand hard enough to soak a kitchen towel with blood.

He is a lovely dog all other times except when he manages to steal some human food.

All training I'm doing is food reward based, mostly using small biscuits and pieces of sausage, and aside from cheekily trying to sneak extra when I'm not looking, he waits patiently for his rewards and I can retrieve a stolen pot easily in this context, he just seems to lose his head over people food.

In an effort to try to fix it, I've returned to hand feeding him all his meals and have started some simple boundary training but it is still early days and every slip feels like a huge step backwards. Apart from training rewards, all his feeding is done outside and he goes outside whilst we eat.

I would really like some help with how I can address this aggression over the trash.

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    Malamutes are forward dogs and need to be well trained to stay on top of any potential unwanted behaviour. It's really important to try and solve this food aggression problem while he's young. – user6796 Mar 8 '18 at 8:42
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When a dog shows aggression to protect his food, it can be a serious issue. Not only is there the danger of other dogs or humans in the house being bitten, but over time it can lead to the dog becoming possessive over everything.

In a dog pack, the alpha dogs always eat first after a successful hunt, and then the other dogs get what’s left according to their pack position.

For an alpha dog, showing food aggression is a form of dominance, but for dogs with a lower pack position, it can be a sign of anxiety or fearfulness. Remember, in the wild, dogs never know where or when their next meal will be, so it’s very instinctual for them to gobble up whatever food there is whenever they have it — and to protect it from anything that approaches.

Also assess your dog’s overall confidence and behavior. If he is naturally a dominant dog, then you will need to assert yourself as the Pack Leader in a calm and assertive way. On the other hand, if he is timid or fearful, you will need to build up his confidence and teach him that his food is safe with humans around.

For severe cases, start off by consulting a professional until you can get the dog down to a moderate level.

If the source of your dog’s aggression is fear or anxiety over when the next meal is coming, then be sure that you are feeding your dog at the same times every single day.

Dogs have a very good internal clock, and with consistency, they quickly learn how to tell when it’s time to get up, time to go for a walk, or time for the people to come home. Mealtime should be no different. Be regular in feeding to take away the anxiety.

Before you even begin to prepare your dog’s food, make her sit or lie down and stay, preferably just outside of the room you feed her in. Train her to stay even after you’ve set the bowl down and, once the bowl is down, stand close to it as you release her from the stay and she begins eating, at which point you can then move away.

Always feed your dog after the walk, never before. This fulfills his instinct to hunt for food, so he’ll feel like he’s earned it when you come home. Also, exercising a dog after he eats can be dangerous, even leading to life-threatening conditions like bloat.

Pack leaders eat first Remember, when a wild pack has a successful hunt, the alpha dogs eat first, before everyone else, and it should be no different in a human/dog pack.

Never feed your dog before or while the humans are eating. Humans eat first and then, when they’re finished, the dogs eat. This will reinforce your status as the Pack Leader.

“Win” the bowl Food aggression can actually be made worse if you back away from the bowl, because that’s what your dog wants. For every time that you do walk away when the dog is showing food aggression, the dog “wins.” The reward is the food and this just reinforces the aggression.

Of course, you don’t want to come in aggressively yourself, especially with moderate to severe food aggression, because that is a good way to get bitten. However, you can recondition the dog until she learns that she wins when she lets you come near her while eating.

Here are some of the techniques you can use:

Hand feeding: Start your dog’s meal by giving him food by hand, and use your hands to put the food in the bowl, which will give it your scent. The goal is to get your dog used to eating while your hands are around his face, and to have no aggressive reaction if you stick your hands in or near the bowl while he’s eating.

Treat tossing: Drop your dog’s favorite treats into the bowl while she’s eating so she’ll learn that people approaching the bowl is a good thing and not a threat. You can also put treats into the bowl when you walk near it and she’s not eating. This reinforces the connection in your dog’s mind that people near her bowl is good.

“Trade-Up”: When your dog is eating their regular food, approach them with something better, like meat or a special treat. The goal here is to get your dog to stop eating their food to take the treat from you. This teaches your dog several things. One is that no one is going to steal his food if he looks away from it. The other is that removing his attention from his food when people come around leads to a reward.

The key, is to be calm, assertive, and consistent.

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First of all that's completely normal. We've had it too, although less aggressive.

  • Your basic steps sound fine already.
  • Whenever the dog hurts you - no matter whether it actually hurts or not, blood or no blood - make a high pitched noise, take a step back, and show the dog the wound. If the dog is healthy, you both have the proper vaccinations, and it's just a scratch, let it also treat the wound. More sooner than later the dog will make the connection.
  • Get some bigger treats the dog likes but takes some time to eat. Give it the dog, a moment later take it again, look at it, give it back. Keep repeating. Over time the dog will learn that you'll give the treat back, so there's no need to be overprotective.
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