About 5 months ago, my family adopted a 1 ½ year old neutered jack Russell/poodle mix (we think!) named Jack from the SPCA. He has proven to be a challenge, but until recently we have not had any issues that aren’t fixable through simple training. On Thanksgiving day, Jack somehow got a hold of a cotton swab and took it into his crate with him. I idiotically reached in to get it from him, and he left some nasty bite wounds on my hand. Yesterday, my dad had the leftover turkey on the kitchen counter, and when he left the room for a minute, Jack managed to grab a turkey leg and bring it into his crate. My dad had to use a garden rake to retrieve it, which Jack proceeded to bite and attack the rake throughout the process. Today, my mom had the turkey out on the counter, and when I stepped in front of Jack in attempt to get him away from the turkey, he immediately went into attack mode; if I had not been wearing plush slippers, there’s a good chance I’d be in the emergency room right now. Other than this newfound aggression over turkey, Jack is a sweet, affectionate and playful dog. It would be my worst nightmare to have him put down over this. I understand that there are no quick fixes to such severe behavioral issues, but my family and I obviously cannot go on living in fear of Jack attacking every time we eat. PLEASE HELP!
Let me start by saying that this is a VERY serious issue. Biting of any kind is concerning, but the fact that he's biting to the point of breaking skin and possibly needing stitches is worrisome. So, what should you do?
The first thing I would do would be to take away any possibility of him getting anything he shouldn't have. How do you do this you ask. Well, you have to make sure you can monitor him at all times. The best way to do this is to utilize two different tools: The leash and the crate. When he's with the family have him on leash, attached to someone who can keep a good hold of him. When no one can watch him, put him in a crate.
Next comes training. He needs to learn how to listen to you. Even just one command will go a long way. For this instance, I would teach him a solid recall (come) or a sit. That way, if he does happen to get a hold of something he shouldn't have, you can give him a command to call him away from it. Ideally, though, you would put him through a good, solid training program. I like to make dogs work for all the things they really want in life (to go outside, to eat, to play, etc). Essentially, he'll learn that everything good comes from you and he has to work for it.
After that, we need to work on desensitization. I'd start when he's eating his food. Start by giving him his regular food, and every few seconds drop a high-value treat in his bowl (hot dog, cheese, etc). Don't move around him or pet him. Just drop the treat in his bowl. After a while he'll start to recognize that your approach of his food is a good thing. He may start to wait for you to give him the treat, or he may just start wagging his tail when you approach him. At that point, you can try moving away from him and returning to him before dropping the treat. When you get tail wags for that, try taking things up another notch. Try approaching from different directions, then try touching him, all while giving him treats. This will help him learn that your approach does not necessarily mean he's going to lose something good. Rather, he may gain something better.
Lastly, if he does happen to get something he shouldn't, don't just try to take it away. Try to trade it for something better. Offer him a toy or a better treat. See if there's something special enough for him to give up. That way, it's no longer a fight over who gets the treat, but rather an opportunity for him to have something better (in his eyes anyway).
I will recommend that you consult a professional trainer as well (more than just on this blog). It's hard to diagnose and treat an issue without meeting the dog or knowing the family dynamic, so it's best if someone is able to meet with you.
Good luck with Jack. I know it's a lot of hard work, but having someone who is willing to work with him is extremely important for Jack right now. Many rescues won't spend much time with a dog who shows severe aggression, and even if they do work with him, it becomes difficult to transfer his good behavior into a new home with new rules. I wish you the best!