Dogs owned by people who use confrontational or aversive methods to train their violent pets will continue to remain aggressive, unless training techniques are modified, according to a new survey.
Researchers at University of Pennsylvania conducted a year-long survey of dog owners, which also showed that using non-aversive or 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 behaviour. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them with physical manipulation does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses," said Meghan E. Herron, lead author of the study.
Researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine at Penn said that primary-care veterinarians needed to advise owners of the risks associated with such training methods, and provide guidance and resources for safe management of behaviour problems.
The team produced a 30-item survey for dog owners who made behavioural service appointments at Penn Vet.
The questionnaire asked dog owners about how they had previously treated aggressive behaviour, whether there was a positive, negative or neutral effect on the dogs' behaviour and whether aggressive responses resulted from the method they used.
Owners were also asked from where did they learn the training technique they employed.
Out of the 140 surveys completed, the most frequently listed recommendation sources were "self" and "trainers".
Many confrontational methods like "hit or kick dog for undesirable behaviour" (43 percent), "growl at dog" (41 percent), "physically force the release of an item from a dog's mouth" (39 percent), "alpha roll" physically-rolling the dog onto its back and holding it (31 percent), "stare at or stare down" (30 percent), "dominance down"-physically forcing the dog down onto its side (29 percent) and "grab dog by jowls and shake" (26 percent) elicited an aggressive response from at least 25 percent of the dogs on which they were attempted.
Also, dogs brought to the hospital for aggressive behaviour towards familiar people were more likely to respond aggressively to some confrontational techniques than dogs brought in for other behavioural reasons.
"This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates. These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression," said Herron.
The study was aimed at assessing the behavioural effects and safety risks of techniques used historically by owners of dogs with behaviour problems.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.