The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

The Dog I've Always Wanted header image 2

Rehearsed Aggression and Other Thoughts on Training

November 24th, 2009 · · Musings

172_011

It is a fact that the purists among the positive reinforcement trainers make the claim that any ” aggressive “action towards the dog on the part of the owner will certainly cause the dog to respond in kind. If this is the case any pinning (which could be termed aggressive but which I believe is actually assertive) would provoke aggressive behaviour in the dog. Improperly administered corrections, by that I mean corrections delivered in an aggressive manner, can and will open up the possibility of an aggressive response on the dog’s part. Animal trainers speak of “rehearsed aggression” ; I think it was a lion tamer who actually coined this term. Rehearsed aggression refers to aggression that is elicited in an animal by means of, or in response to a training method. Accepting as a genuine concern that undesirable aggression can be the result of training, it is crucial to note that it is improper training that can bring about this type of outcome.

When a human gets together with an animal, in this case I am referring primarily to dogs, in a training situation there are a number of variables which come into play.  A primary factor is the knowledge and experience of the trainer. This factor will govern expectations and direct actions. At least as important is the state of mind and intentions of the person doing the training.  As far as the dog is concerned there are also variables. The dog may be nervous, even fearful. He may well have a store of experiences and learned responses about which the trainer can only make educated guesses based on the dog’s body language and responses. Make no mistake about it; this is a complex and subtle business. Therefore, if the trainer is ill-informed, undesired and unintentional results are unfortunately all too common.

Consistency, a word frequently used in discussions of training, is key. The basis upon which consistency is built, regardless of the method or approach employed, has primarily to do with communicating to the dog consistent messages about exactly who is in charge.  A dog who is confused about the issue of leadership can be unstable. For example, one imagines that he is charge yet the dog lies in doorways and is reluctant to move and even resists being moved, or a dog charges past one on the stairs, or guards a position on the sofa with a bit of a growl; in all these cases the dog certainly thinks that he is charge. Dogs who have no manners, dogs whose rude behaviour is the object of human amusement, dogs who gain attention for bad behaviour are all getting the message that they are in charge.

A dog needs, and in the vast majority of cases wants,  firm consistent leadership. Believing himself to be in a leadership position can be extremely stressful for a dog. He cannot possibly control all the things that a leader needs to manage and therefore the dog becomes stressed. Take the example of a dog with separation anxiety. Imagine how it feels from the dog’s point of view to have his human, who is perhaps his whole pack, disappear out the door and leave him behind. It is similar to the way a human would feel if they were locked inside and their two year old child wandered off.  Frantic, that just about covers it. So the dog chews things because that is always a good stress reliever. Or he barks which is another good way to ease his anxiety. In extreme cases a dog will try to chew his way through the door, in order to be reunited with his missing pack because he believes that he is supposed to be in charge of them.  It is little wonder that a dog with his strong pack instinct is so distressed by this situation. He cannot do his job.

Obviously, the solution to the above type of problem is to communicate to the dog that pack leader is not part of his job description; he doesn’t need to worry about that. By consistently assuming a position of leadership one can be assured that the dog will be receiving a clear message. Body language, tone of voice and even one’s state of mind are all readily perceived by a dog. The training, which ought to be a continuous process integrated into every mundane situation, is the job that one gives a dog. At the same time it is very important to note that hectoring, bullying or any overt violence towards the dog should absolutely be avoided; it isn’t desirable or necessary. The owner, as pack leader, is always on. Dogs are quite brilliant at detecting subtle shifts in mood. One wants to project positive energy. A good leader is calm and confident and these are the qualities one would have the dog mirror. It isn’t hard to imagine then that  a dog would return aggressive and negative energy in kind.

Tags:

Share |

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 gpz // Jan 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I really should work on my dog not barking at people who come to the door.. although I kind of like having a watch dog. [I'd prefer a guard dog]

Leave a Comment