Aggressive behavior is something no dog owner wants to deal with. Be it an incident that has scarred your pet, a traumatic past, or just something that instills fear and sets them off, aggression is not to be taken lightly. Even if your dog is small, bite injuries pose a serious threat to both the human and dog involved, resulting in injury and/or an owner potentially having to put down a beloved companion. New research from the University of Bristol is hoping to curtail this issue and help owners manage the bully boiling inside their pup.
The University of Bristol has studied the factors that influence how owners handle their dogs’ aggressive behavior. The research team concluded that above anything else animal behaviorists should be focusing on building confidence in dog owners. Pet parents need to feel that the behavior modification techniques are effective in order to use them successfully.
Animal shelters around the United States are full to the brim with perfectly healthy dogs (and cats), and many are there because their owners felt they could not handle their behavioral problems. It has been estimated that 40% of pet owners report noticeable behavioral problems in their companions. Nationwide, that equals roughly 40 million pets.
That’s a lot of unhappy fur mom and dads, and sometimes this frustration can lead to the use of outdated punishment-based methods of training. The objective of the Bristol study was to figure out what drives pet owners towards these training methods versus using positive reinforcement-based solutions.
Contrary to what’s shown on some popular dog training shows and antiquated models, punishment-based techniques can actually lead to increased aggression and is likely to be detrimental to the dog’s overall welfare. Positive reinforcement, in fact, is more humane and more effective in the treatment of aggressive behavior.
For the nay-sayers out there, the study done at the University of Bristol actually showed that it was the owners’ perception on whether or not training would work that had the greatest pull as to whether a dog responded to training tactics. Dr. Emily Blackwell, Director of Companion Animal Population Health at the Bristol Veterinary School, stated: “Our findings highlight the need for behaviorists to offer practical support to owners, to demonstrate the effectiveness of reward-based training, and to provide them with an opportunity to practice under expert guidance so that they feel confident in their ability to use the techniques before attempting to apply them independently.”
Blackwell went on to say, “The study also shows the emotional impact that attempting to manage a reactive dog can have with its associated ups and downs. It is therefore important for practitioners to consider the wellbeing of the owner as well as the dog, including the potential implications of this when helping them along their journey.”
This is really the first time research has focused on the behavior of the owner instead of solely looking at the animal itself. Applying how people respond in threatening situations to training aggressive dogs opens up whole new insights into understanding people’s interactions with their furry family members. The researchers at the University of Bristol have identified the potential impact negative emotional responses and feelings of failure experienced by owners may have on their dog.
When we get wrapped up in worrying about outsiders’ opinions about our poorly behaved pet or the shame because we blame ourselves for their disobedience, dogs feel that. Alternatively, when we throw our 100% into engaging and showing our dogs they’ve been good boys and girls, they feel that too. Now, give your dog some peanut butter and have some patience. With a little compassion, they’ll be well on their way to being a polite pup.
Borchelt, P. Accessed 11 July, 2019. Solving animal behavior problems: animal behavior and animal rights. Retrieved from https://isaronline.org/programs/dog-and-cat-overpopulation/solving-animal-behavior-problems/.
Williams, E. 28 May, 2019. Managing the risk of aggressive dog behavior: investigating the influence of owner threat and efficacy perceptions. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/risa.13336.