Can You Cure Aggression with All Positive Methods? (VIDEO) January 2017
Yes you can. I believe it is actually the only safe way to control and modify aggression in dogs. In fact if you use aversive methods with an aggressive dog you could be, as Dr. Ian Dunbar calls it “removing the ticker from the time bomb."
What is Aggression?
Aggression is used to create distance from someone (animal or human) who the dog deems as unsafe. Aggression is adaptive in animals and a normal form of self defense when they feel afraid. It is a tool they use to warn others that they are feeling threatened and may resort to using force (biting) if they do not get space.
My definition of a cured dog would be one that now feels safe and comfortable around the trigger that once elicited the aggression. If a dog acts aggressive because they are uncomfortable and afraid, how can trainers possibly help them feel safe and comfortable using forceful training methods such as yelling, leash jerking, alpha rolling, choking and/or shock?
“But It worked for me!”
I think that many people fall for the idea that force has worked since it is possible to punish the symptoms of aggression, the behaviours the dog performs such as growling, snarling, lunging and snapping. If successfully punished out this can lead to a dog who looks calm and well behaved but is actually still aggressive. For example a dog can learn that growling at strangers causes him to receive an unpleasant shock (or sharp leash correction etc.), and so he stops growling at them to avoid the shocks. However, the dog still doesn’t have any reason to feel safer around them, or better yet like them. In fact the presence of strangers is now being inadvertently paired with un-pleasant shocks. Overtime the dog is more likely to become even more uncomfortable around their triggers. On top of all of that, the dog's warning system that tells strangers to keep their distance has now been removed. Meaning the dog looks friendly, and the likelihood of being approached by a stranger is higher, but the risk of them getting bitten is still there.
What are “all positive” methods?
“Positive,” “Force-free” or “Reward based” dog training means using motivators that the dog likes and avoiding the use of anything the dog finds scary or painful. For a dog with stranger aggression the training involves pairing strangers with something the dog loves, like chicken, over and over again in tandem with working at a distance the dog considers safe. This is known as Counterconditioning and Desensitization and gets down to the root cause of the aggressive behaviour, the dog's underlying emotional state. The goal is to show the dog that strangers are not only safe, but they are good news too. When the dog feels safe they have no need to act aggressively and the behaviour goes away. You also have the added security of a dog who feels free to express themselves when they are threatened. Personally I want my dog’s aggression to be loud and clear so I am aware of his feelings, and so I can help find a way to make him feel safe again. It also alerts any human and animal around to keep their distance!
In my professional opinion it is impossible to cure dog aggression WITHOUT using only 100% positive training methods!
If you're dog is showing signs of aggressive behaviour find a qualified professional to help here or here.
To see an example of counter-conditioning in action check out this 2 minute video below of Dr. Sophia Yin working with an aggressive Jack Russel Terrier.
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