How dogs learn to show aggression to the owner
Ekaterina Kastritskaya, psychologist, specialist in animal therapy, consultant on animal behavior and well-being
Many still explain the dog’s aggressive behavior by trying “dominate". However, more and more scientists are now concluding thataggression dogs in relation to humans are in no way associated with dominance. Moreover, they conclude that it is useful to look at dog aggression in terms of training. How do dogs learn to show aggression towards people, in particular, to owners, and how to avoid such a development of events?
How a person teaches a dog to be aggressive
Imagine a very common situation: a person does something unpleasant for a dog without prior training and ignores discomfort signals. In the end, a frightened dog, desperate to “reach out” through peaceful negotiations, bites the owner.
What does a man do? Two options are possible:
- Stop giving the dog discomfort. For a dog, this is negative reinforcement. It’s not scary if this happened once, while the person made conclusions and began to work on teaching the dog to unpleasant procedures (for example, cleaning his ears or cutting his claws), combining this with the right management of the situation. But if the situation repeats, a person teaches a dog that by biting it can avoid discomfort. And it is logical that the dog begins to float his teeth more often. Such behavior is not connected with dominance, it is a matter of learning.
- The owner believes that the dog "dominates" and punishes her. In this case, the dog has two options for response:
- It demonstrates submission signals (for example, humps and tightens the tail). But the problem is that not all people can read the dog’s body language or do not consider it necessary to respond to the dog’s signals. And if a person at this moment does not stop, but continues to punish, the reaction “fight or die” is turned on at the completely frightened and cornered dog, and she again bites the owner. Continuing the punishment causes even greater fear of the dog, and she bites even more desperately. This is a vicious circle that only a person can break, but not a dog. And certainly the dog’s behavior in this case is not connected with attempts to “dominate”. It is such a scenario that leads to the fact that dogs are passed from hand to hand or put to sleep, because behavior deteriorates more and more and more insignificant incentives cause. This is very convincingly proved by the results of the study. If a person, in response to signals of submission, stops punishing the dog, it will most likely begin to show these signals, but not the fact that it will become more tolerant of unpleasant procedures. So, it is likely that she will continue to bite, and then demonstrate submission, in order to avoid the continuation of aggression on the part of man.
- Dog immediately includes the script “fight or die” and bites the owner in response to punishment. A study (Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner, 2008) showed that minimum 25% of dogs immediately respond with aggression to the owner’s attempts to “establish a hierarchy”. It was studied not only the beating of dogs, but also other methods that propagate adherents of the "theory of dominance", for example, alpha-coups, etc. And then everything happens as in the previous scheme, in a vicious circle escalation of aggression. That is, violence is a so-so way.
How not to teach a dog to show aggression?
Of course, the dog should not bite the owner. But what if violent methods lead to deterioration of behavior? The answer is obvious: use other methods.
- Organize situation management, that is, create conditions in which the dog cannot bite. For example, in an emergency, if you urgently need to carry out some unpleasant procedure, but there is no time for training, you can put a muzzle on the dog. However, some do this all their lives, and in the end the dog either gets used to enduring, knowing that he can’t do anything anyway, and sooner or later the discomfort will end, or he will begin to avoid unpleasant procedures, and, seeing, for example, a claw cutter, hides, then you have to catch it first, and in this situation the dog can also begin to defend itself. That is, this option is acceptable in an emergencybut in the long run bodes a ton of additional problems.
- The best option, in my opinion, is accustom the dog to unpleasant procedures. This can be done using positive reinforcements, gradually increasing the intensity of the stimulus. As a result, the dog allows even unpleasant manipulations with itself, but it does not show aggression, but suffers in anticipation of encouragement. This is a more reliable method, as it changes the dog’s motivation and attitude. Yes, you will have to spend some time at the beginning of training, but then you can enjoy the result all your life and will not fight with a dog.