Study: Dogs React to Aggression With Aggression

University of Pennsylvania researchers conduct year-long study on dog training methods.

Posted: February 26, 2009, 5 a.m. EST

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Staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation to tame aggression doesn’t work, University of Pennsylvania researchers found. A new, year-long survey of dog owners who use such confrontational training methods also showed that most of these animals reciprocate aggression.

According to the study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, dogs elicited very few aggressive responses when training techniques are modified to include non-aversive or neutral methods, such as additional exercise or rewards. The study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, said Meghan Herron, lead author.

“These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression,” she said.

The survey consisted of a 30-item questionnaire that asked dog owners how they treated aggressive behavior, whether there was a positive, negative, or neutral effect on the dog’s behavior, and whether aggressive responses resulted from the method they used. A total of 140 surveys were completed.

The responses revealed that 43 percent “hit or kick dog for undesirable behavior,” 41 percent indicated they “growl at dog,” 39 percent “physically force the release of an item” from a dog’s mouth, 31 percent "alpha roll" – rolling the dog onto his back and holding him, 30 percent "stare at or stare down" a dog, and 26 percent “grab dog by jowls and shake.”

Herron said these methods of training dogs – all of which may provoke fearful or defensively aggressive reactions – have been made popular by TV, books, and punishment-based training advocates.

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Jamesw2   Harpersville, AL

2/26/2009 3:06:06 PM

History lesson: C.W. Meisterfeld published this information in 1989 in his book Jelly Bean versus Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It's welcome news that Meghan Herron has figured, a way, to figure out that using physical pain to train in counterproductive. Where have you been with this information?? I will inform the veterinarians that i worked for, that kicked dogs, of this important information

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Roberta   Wikieup, AZ

2/26/2009 2:46:10 PM

All of my dogs are treated with respect. Though they have to be trained to go by rules that are the first basics, Sit, down, come and heel. With aggresion, that takes professionals. You hit, then expect to get hit back.

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Michele   Freeport, IL

2/26/2009 10:09:43 AM

Always leave the training to the professionals.Interesting to see how many people still use physical punishment to discipline a dog

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Anna   Maple Grove, MN

2/26/2009 8:03:39 AM

Interesting. I agree though! Hitting, kicking, glaring, ect dogs don't teach them much besides being fearful.

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