Working with aggression daily, it is very clear to me aversive methods create fearful dogs, and they learn helplessness not how to thrive. Bonds and relationships deteriorate. Aggressive dogs are aggressive for a reason. It has little to do with typical verbiage touting dominance. A recent study says it better.
Aggression begets aggression, according to a new year-long veterinary study published by University of Pennsylvania researchers, Journal of Applied Animal Behavior (February 2009). Positive reward-based trainers, such as myself, have known what the study proves all along. Now there is scientific credibility and proof.
Lead author Meghan Herron, DVM, University of Ohio, says “Nationwide, the number-one reason why dog owners take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them with physical manipulation, do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”
Often, the confusion a dog gets from constant confrontational interaction with an owner, causes confusion, anxiety, anger and learned helplessness. Although the study is recent, 2009, it is not new. Pierce and Cheney, 2004, stated “Adverse punishment causes aversive stimulation, defined as anything a dog would do to escape or avoid and is commonly described as painful, noxious or unpleasant.
Further, Chance, 2003 as referenced in Aggressive Behavior in Dogs by James O’Heare states using adverse punishment appears to have effect, but can cause problematic fallout or secondary effects. This fallout results in other bad behaviors from self-mutilation to anxieties and unreliable interactions. This means be prepared for other bad habits to replace the ones punished and often resulting in increased behaviors of reactivity, fear and aggression rather than diminished response.
The effects of adverse punishment is fallout according to Coercion and its Fallout, Sidman 2001. Sidman states “Coercion is defined as the use of punishment and the threat of punishment to get others to act as we would like and involves the basic contingencies of punishment and negative reinforcement.”
Behaviors I see run the gamut from redirected aggression to territorial aggression to dog and human aggression. Often, these are due to a lack of proper socialization, a traumatic experience and even genetic responses misinterpreted. Whatever the reason, in my experience, there is never a reason to pair aggression with aggression. It is so important to understand if a dog is aggressive, reactive to the environment or shy/fearful they need to re-learn how to respond to their triggers and stimuli. A dog cannot be in an agitated state to learn, but must be in a relaxed state to begin to process information and re-learn what to do when they are confronted with their triggers.
Herron said, “Studies on canine aggression in the last decade have shown that canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s alpha status, but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems.”
Another effect is learned helplessness discussed in Pierce and Cheney 2004. The dog learns to become almost robotic in nature and holds anxiety, stress inside to the point they are afraid to do anything for fear of repercussion. I’ve seen dogs literally shut down and sit in the middle of a yard, for instance, when electrical fences were in use, or stop and freeze when an electrical shock collar or even a muzzle was put on or lose valuable communication skills when a bark collar was used. Learned helplessness can lead to self-mutilation, excessive barking, nervousness, or depressed shutdown.
Positive reward-based training never uses pain devices. It takes a systematic approach, might take a bit longer, but has long lasting results and fallout is a simple increase in confidence. An increased confidence and clear, concise training in a positive environment is a good result. Making sure consistency is achieved as the dog begins to trust is key to changing behavior. Avoid the dangers of aversive training means learning what positive reward-based training is all about from the many experts on the subject available on local book shelves. This takes away all the confusion about training methods and creates a pathway of instruction the dog doesn’t need to use aggression to obtain or escape an unpleasant trigger.