‘Dominance reduction’ training approaches may worsen dogs’ behaviours

May 22nd, 2009 - 1:24 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 22 (ANI): A Bristol University expert has debunked the age-old belief that aggressive dogs have the desire to assert their “dominance” over people and other dogs.

Dr Rachel Casey, a senior lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare, spent six months studying dogs freely interacting at a Dogs Trust rehoming centre, and reanalysing data from studies of feral dogs.

The researcher observed that individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert “dominance”.

In the study paper, Casey’s team say that dogs are not motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order of their pack, as many well-known dog trainers preach.

The academics also say that training approaches aimed at “dominance reduction” vary from being worthless in treatment to being actually dangerous and likely to make behaviours worse.

According to them, instructing owners to eat before their dog or go through doors first will not influence the dog’s overall perception of the relationship - merely teach them what to expect in these specific situations.

They warn that techniques like pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing jowls, or blasting hooters at dogs will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression.

Dr. Casey said: “The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous. It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs. It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviours.”

The researcher added: “In our referral clinic we very often see dogs which have learnt to show aggression to avoid anticipated punishment. Owners are often horrified when we explain that their dog is terrified of them, and is showing aggression because of the techniques they have used - but its not their fault when they have been advised to do so, or watched unqualified ‘behaviourists’ recommending such techniques on TV.”

Veterinary Director Chris Laurence MBE, said: “We can tell when a dog comes in to us which has been subjected to the ‘dominance reduction technique’ so beloved of TV dog trainers. They can be very fearful, which can lead to aggression towards people.”

Laurence added: “Sadly, many techniques used to teach a dog that his owner is leader of the pack is counter-productive; you won’t get a better behaved dog, but you will either end up with a dog so fearful it has suppressed all its natural behaviours and will just do nothing, or one so aggressive it’s dangerous to be around.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research. (ANI)

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