Unfortunately there are still many trainers using aversive methods to train dogs. Adverse methods are focused on the end behavior and ignore the emotional state of the dog.
Not only is it unnecessary, the emotional state of the dog should always come first. But when it comes to trying to deal with or treat aggression in dogs methods that cause additional stress can be dangerous.
If your dog has a behavior problem here are a few practices you should steer clear of:
Punishment or force-based techniques include leash “pops”, or leash “corrections” (sudden jerks to the leash), hitting, shaking, pushing, shouting or scolding. From a behavioural perspective, studies have demonstrated that aggression scores and behavior problems were significantly higher in those dogs who’s owners used punishment. (1) (2) (14)
Confrontational techniques are based on creating fear in your dog so that your dog will avoid causing the punishment to occur again. But aggression is usually believed to stem from an anxiety or fear, and that far greater than the fear of punishment.
From a pure physical point of view leash pops or leash corrections using collars such as choke chains, prong collars and even flat collars can cause damage to the larynx, oesophagus, thyroid, trachea, brain and increased intraocular pressure (3)
2. Electonic shock collars
Electonic shock collars, are also known as a “training collar”, “e-collar”, “e-touch”, “stimulation”, “stim”, “tap”, or even “clicker” (which should not be confused with an actual clicker which is simple a small mechanical box that simply makes a clicking sound).
These collars are highly controversial, with some swearing by them for the right situation and others abhorring them. The science literature however, indicates many problems with using them which included the potential to creating a more defensive and dangerous animal to presenting a risk to the well-being of dogs. (4) (5) (6) (7)
“Such tools ‘work’ by engendering fear, pain, and distrust, and in doing so they cause long-term damage that make dogs more reactive, less trusting, and less able to reach their full potential in their partnership with humans, no matter what form that partnership takes.” (2) – Dr Karen Overall MA, VMD, PhD, Diplomate ACVB, ABS Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Anecdotal evidence of some veterinary behaviorists indicate that many of the aggressive dogs trained with them are eventually destroyed. Shock collars are already banned outright in Wales, Denmark, Germany and in the province of Quebec in Canada. Amazon.co.uk has banned them from their product listings.
3. Dominance methods
Dominance methods include such as actions such as alpha rolls (forcing the dog on his back), staring the dog down, pushing or shoving the dog, scruff shaking or any other methods using force. These methods are based on antiquated methods that were developed when people believed that dogs were primarily concerned with achieving leader status. Misinterpreted studies on wolves appeared to support these theories.
However, these early studies were conducted on wolves in captivity, not wolves behaving naturally in the wild. Subsequently, new research on wild wolves obtained which lead to a greater understanding of hierarchies. In the wild wolves, the so-called “alphas” are the breeding pair. In other words, not unlike in human families, it is the parents that guide the pack. (8)
It is exceedingly rare that aggression is ever used to maintain status. The hierarchy in animals is not maintained by dominance. Instead hierarchies are context specific and fluid. Animals chose to defer to those who behave most appropriately given the context. (9)
4. Excessive isolation
Excessive isolation or prolonged “time-outs” can be harmful. While you might use a crate to remove a dog from a situation where he might behave aggressively, excessive and prolonged isolation can make problems worse (10). Social isolation has not only been proven to be stressful on dogs (11) (12) isolation has been used to induce stress in dogs in order to study it.
Dogs, like us are by nature social animals that need to interaction in order to maintain psychological health. A dog that already is inappropriately reactive will not improve with the stress of social isolation. A better choice would be to make your dog’s life more interesting by providing environmental enrichment. There is more on how environmental enrichment can help aggression the e-book sold on the site
Flooding is a psychological term to describe exposing a dog (or person) to whatever he or she is afraid of until the dog no longer responds to it (also called Exposure or Implosion therapy). Imagine if you were afraid of spiders or snakes, and someone put you in a room full of them until you were no longer afraid. That is the essential concept behind flooding. It operates on the idea that the fear is irrational and eventually the dog will have to calm down.
Unfortunately, the procedure is rarely safe or effective (13). Here are some of the issues:
- For it to be effective, it must be continued for as long as it takes for the dog to be calm or the problem will become much worse. Unfortunately this can take hours, and it is simply not practical.
- Given that no animal would willing subject themselves to excessive fear, the process would require restraint against the animal’s. Therefore it is not clear if the fear is reduced or has simply learned helplessness.
- It is not considered a humane form of treatment.
- The stress that both the dog and the owner feel can damage the human-animal bond.
- It can result in the dog harming him or herself.
- It can result in bites to people around.
- It can result in bites or damage to the environment.
Desensitization is a technique discussed and often misunderstood.
What a dog owner thinks is desensitization (or habituation) may be in fact flooding. The essential key in desensitization is that the dog is exposed to the trigger of his or her aggression at a distance and/or for a duration that does not induce very much stress. This requires the dog handler to understand the signs of stress in dogs. The absence of aggression is not a sign that a dog is calm.
What works to treat dog aggression?
There are many safe and effective methods that are known to improve dog aggression that have been explored and studied objectively by the scientific community involved in treating the most serious aggression cases. Humane behavior modification techniques are where most people start. But it is only one part of the picture. There are other areas to focus on to improve aggression in dogs:
- Recognizing and acting on signs of stress in your dog that will help you prevent aggression from occurring in the first place.
- Changing your dog’s environment to not only improve your dog’s life, but reduce aggressive tendencies at the same time (and maybe even have some fun while you are at it!)
- Relationship building so that your dog pays attention to you when you need them to.
- Simple exercises design to develop your dog’s brain processing so that they have better control over their emotions.
- Exercises designed to teach your dog what it means to relax and how to relax when you ask them to.
- Creating a behavior modification plan that is aimed at avoiding acute stress.
- Knowing what difficulties arise in advance and what problems to avoid that hold most people back from helping their dogs reach their true potential.
It is well known that if a treatment plan is really challenging then most people will eventually give up. But there are a number of other things that you can do to make it all easier and more successful that are easy to implement in your life. The “blueprint” plan in the research-driven The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs e-book not only looks at behavior modification (and the pitfalls associated with it) and how to apply it, but also also other elements that that can be passively done to make process both easier or more effective.
Other articles you might be interested in:
(1) Blackwell EJ., Twells, C., Seawright A., Casey RA., The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2008) 3, 207-217
(2) Hiby, E.F. , Rooney, N.J., Bradshaw, J.W.S. Dog training methods: Their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare, Anthrozoology Institute, Dept. of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DT, United Kingdom
(7)Cooper J., Cracknell N., Hardiman J., Wright H., Mills D., The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training, PLOS ONE | www.plosone.org, September 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 9 | e102722
(14) Herron ME., Shofer FS., Reisner IR., Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117 (2009) 47–54