QQ has resource guards his food. This isn’t an easy thing for us to say or admit. In fact, even now, this post is difficult for me to write. We don’t want to face the idea that our beloved puppy is aggressive in any way. How can we believe that this face is capable of hurting us physically?
But to fix the problem, we have to face up to it. And I do want to document all our experiences with QQ, good and bad.
QQ isn’t aggressive with everything. At least that’s what we think. We mostly see this behavior with bully sticks and marrow bones. When we first brought QQ home as a puppy, he finishes all his food within seconds, so we never had a chance to take any food item away from him. The first time he displayed aggression was when we gave him a marrow bone for the first time when he was 16 weeks old.
I bought a medium size marrow bone. Being a small puppy, QQ couldn’t reach the marrow in the center. I watched him try for awhile and laughed at his antics. I reached down to take the marrow bone, meaning to use chopsticks to help him push it out. And he snapped at my hand.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I cried. I couldn’t believe the puppy I love with all my heart could bite me.
The first time he snapped at my husband was when he tried to take away his bully stick. We restrict his bully stick chewing time to about 1 hour because we don’t want him to wear out his teeth. My husband was heartbroken. “He’s biting the hand that feeds him.” He said.
After we wiped away the tears and got over the shock, we set about finding ways to train him out of it. He’s only a puppy, barely 4 months old. We wanted to believe that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that he can be trained out of it. We talked to trainers and researched online. We tried a variety of ways, and I’m not sure if all of them worked or a combination of them worked. Or if it worked entirely.
The first method a trainer told me, which I personally think was the most useful, is to train QQ to wait for his food. When we feed QQ, one of us will set his bowl in front of him. The other one will hold on to a training leash. We say “Wait”. If QQ goes for the food, we will pull him back with the leash, until he learns to sit patiently for a “OK” command, then he gets to eat his food. We did this for every meal. And he has to sit for every treat we give him. This is so successful he now waits for an OK command before eating each meal, even if we don’t say “wait”.
Then we slowly progressed to asking him to wait in the middle of the meal. If he refuse, we use the training leash to pull him back. We did this until he learns to stop eating whenever we say “wait”, sit back, and wait for another “OK” command. In these sessions, we will also drop some additional treats or food into his food bowl when he sits back and wait, so he learns to think that waiting gets him more food. We do this intermittently, not all the time. This also teaches him it’s okay for us to go near his food when he’s eating and that it’s a positive thing.
We also taught him the “Drop It” command, so when he’s chewing on bully stick, he drops it when we want him to stop. And each time we take away his bully stick or his marrow bone, we give him a cookie in return or we take him for a walk immediately after, so he thinks he’s getting something better when he gives up his bully stick or bone.
Another method we tried was to hand feed him his meals. We didn’t do this everyday, but every now and then, we use a spoon and hand feed him his raw meal spoon by spoon. It also helped in slowing him down so he doesn’t inhale his food.
The last method might be the most controversial, but I personally think it is critically successful. One of the trainers told me I should bite QQ. He said QQ is no longer living with his Mom. And I’m the new Mom. His real Mom will not tolerate biting from her puppy when she takes his food from him, so I should do as his real Mom would, and nip him. And that’s what I did. Whenever QQ snaps at me, I pick him up, flip him over and bite him hard, right at the back of his neck. And every time I did that, he yips and flip himself over and licks my face, almost as if he’s trying to appease me.
I really think that’s effective, because since I started doing that, QQ has never bit me deliberately again. The husband however, thinks it’s awfully inhumane and refuse to do it. As a result, QQ growls at him more than he does at me when either one of us takes away his bully stick or bone. So the husband is still unwilling to take away QQ’s bully stick and marrow bones from him directly. Instead, he chooses to lure QQ away from his bully stick by using treats or walks, and retrieves the bully stick after QQ is distracted and a distance away.
There were multiple incidents and setbacks as we did the training. There was once when the husband sat a bowl of fruit down next to me when I was busy on the phone. QQ climbed on to the sofa and sat down in front of it. We only later realized that he must have perceived that the bowl of fruit was for him and he was waiting for the “OK” command. When the husband realized that I wasn’t going to get off the phone anytime soon, he reached down for the bowl of fruit, and QQ snapped at him.
There was once when I forgot to use the wait command and reached down to take away his marrow bone. QQ snapped at my hand but the snap was very gentle, more like he was mouthing my hand.
I like to think we are mostly successful. QQ is now 13 months old.
Now, when he eats something he shouldn’t, either because we haven’t given the OK command or if it’s something off the floor outside like a chicken bone (who leaves chicken bones in the grass in parks?! honestly!), we can push our fingers into his mouth and dig it out and he would never bite us. In truth, whenever we push our fingers into his mouth, he never bites down. He uses his tongue to push our fingers out.
We can take away his food bowl easily now. When we had a foster dog, we tried to feed them separately. But in the cases when they were fed near each other, QQ did not display any aggression over his food. I did avoid giving either of them bully sticks or marrow bones when the foster dog was living with us.
He still occasionally growls when he thinks we are going to take his bully stick or bone away, but he has never snapped at us for a long period of time. In fact, he rarely growls now, instead he’ll flip onto his back and wait for the command to continue chewing.
But in truth, I don’t think we can say we are entirely successful. He doesn’t snap now, but that is not to say he won’t in the future if there’s something of even higher value at stake.
Also, we do not take away his bully stick or bone from him directly when he is in his crate. He seems to be especially possessive in those cases, perhaps because he thinks of his crate as his space.
I know QQ loves us. I know he loves us so much, and it’s an unconditional love. However, I believe that snapping at us when we take away his food is an ingrained reaction built within him, and sometimes he can’t help it and it just happens. It’s part of him, and it’s something we have to try to manage.
It’s difficult not to take it personally, to not think “how can he do that to us when we love him so much”. But we will try, and learn to love and accept this part of him. We are his world and all he has. And he will always be our baby and it’s our responsibility to train and teach him to be the best he can be.