Can Dog Training Cause Dog Aggression?

Dog owners beware! There is evidence to show that some dog training methods can actually make your dog aggressive.


A study (Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs) showing undesired behaviors was conducted by the Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects and risks of historically used methods to deal with behavior issues.


This study was conducted over a one-year period via questionnaires from 140 clients referred for behavioral services. Results showed that 25 percent of the time adversive or confrontational methods previously used elicited a defensive aggressive response from the dogs. These were dogs that had not acted aggressively prior to using the training methods in question. Those that had shown some owner aggression prior to training were even more likely to respond to the training methods aggressively, especially when using “alpha rolls” and “yelling NO.” In other words, the dogs fought back!


The aversive dog training methods that the dog owners were encouraged to use by other sources were as follows:

  • Hit or kick dog (43 percent)
  • Growl at dog (41 percent)
  • Physically force the release of an item from a dog’s mouth (39 percent)
  • Alpha roll (31 percent)
  • Stare at or stare dog down (30 percent)
  • Dominance down (making the dog submit by holding him down) (29 percent)
  • Grab dog by jowls and shake (26 percent)

Though a bit saddened, I am not surprised by these statistics.


A large percentage of my clients confess that they have attempted one or more of the above methods to control unwanted behaviors in their dogs before calling me. But it is the source of recommendation for using these dog training methods that all dog owners should be alerted to.


According to this same study the two most common sources were “self” and “[dog] trainers”.


The “self” source is easy to explain. All you have to do is watch television to explain this source. But the “dog trainers” source is a different story. These are (so called) professionals who charge for their services, which include recommending dog training methods that are known to promote an aggressive response in your pet at least 1/4 of the time. Why is this happening?


Drawing on my own experience, most trainers I have known who use confrontational dog training methods are in denial.


They are focused on the 75 percent of the time that their methods do not cause harm rather than the 25 percent of cases where it does. When things go bad they tend to think that the reason is because of the dog or the owner rather than themselves or the methods they are using. They (dog trainers) justify their actions by falling back on historical use of the same methods, such as procedures used to train military or law enforcement working dogs. This is impressive to dog owners. After all, if someone can train a working dog, they should be qualified to train your pet! OR, MAYBE NOT!!!


While few studies have examined training methods used on working dogs there is a recent study (Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team’s performances) completed by the Laboratory of Anatomy and Ethology of Domestic Animals at the University of Namur in Belgium which examined 303 Belgian military handlers’ use of harsh training methods on military working dogs. The study concluded that the dog/handler team’s performance was influenced by the training method. Low performance dogs received more aversive stimuli than high-performance dogs. The study reported the usefulness of setting a new training system that would rely on the use of more positive training methods. In addition, they suggested the elaboration of a course on training principles for the handlers.


What does this all mean?


It appears that the evidence is mounting in favor of using positive dog training methods and non-confrontational techniques to deal with dog behavior issues, unless you like the odds presented by the scientific studies. I don’t! My pets are precious to me. If I knew that there was a 1 in 4 chance that the methods a dog trainer was using to solve my dog’s behavior problems might cause them to become aggressive and therefore unsafe to live in anyone’s home, I would pass on their services.

Think of it this way: if your veterinarian prescribed medication for your dog and told you that there was a 75 percent chance it would cure your dog but a 25 percent chance it would kill them, would you take the chance?

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