February 17, 2009

Dog owner aggression = dog aggression

Dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, will get aggression in return, U.S. researchers found.

The study, published in the current issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, also showed that using neutral training methods such as additional exercise or rewards elicited very few aggressive responses.

Nationwide, the No. 1 reason why dog owners take their pet to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior, lead author Meghan Herron of the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods -- staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them -- does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.

In a questionnaire, dog owners who sought dog behavioral service were asked how they had previously treated aggressive behavior and whether there was a positive, negative or neutral effect on the dogs' behavior.

The researchers found 43 percent hit or kick a dog, 41 percent growled at a dog, 39 percent physically force the release of an item from a dog's mouth, 31 percent alpha roll -- rolling the dog onto its back and holding it, 30 percent stare at or stare down a dog and 26 percent grab dog by jowls and shake. All of these techniques may provoke fearful or defensively aggressive behavior, Herron said.

This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates, Herron said. These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression.