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Studies Show Improper Training Causes Aggressive Canine Behavior

Veterinary research and real-life stories may prove that there are no dangerous breeds, only bad dog owners.

The debate over dangerous dogs and breed restrictions rages on. Some say there are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners. Others call for dangerous breed bans, claiming that some species are, by nature, aggressive and no amount of training can change it. For years the hot debate has been mainly a matter of opinion, but recent studies and cases may shed some light on the controversy.

University of Cordoba Study

According to a study carried out at the University of Cordoba in Spain, the owner, rather than the coincidence of breed, has more influence over the dog.

During the UCO study, veterinarian Joaquín Pérez-Guisado led researchers in observing 711 adult dogs, both male and female, purebred and crossed bred, including some breeds considered aggressive such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, and Rottweiler, as well as breeds considered gentler such as the Labrador Retriever, Dalmatian, and Irish Setter.

The researchers found that certain breeds, smaller males between ages 5 and 7, showed more significant tendencies toward aggression but found sufficient evidence to conclude that proper handling and training are more influential.

According to the study, factors associated with aggressiveness in dogs were:

  • First-time dog ownership
  • Lack of obedience training
  • Pampering
  • Spayed females
  • Constant supply of food
  • Lack of attention
  • Lack of appropriate physical punishment
  • Dogs bought on impulse
  • Dogs given as presents
  • Dogs for guard work

However, according to Pérez-Guisado, outside of medical causes, ”dogs that are adequately trained do generally not retain aggressive dominance behavior.”

University of Pennsylvania Study

Another recent veterinary study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that most aggressive pets trained by confrontational or aversive methods continue to be bold.

In the University of Pennsylvania study, the veterinary team authored a 30 item survey for dog owners seeking help with their pet’s aggressiveness problems. Questions included queries such as who trained the dog, what methods were used, and their results.

Many dog enthusiasts believe that canine aggression comes from the dog’s drive for a pack position. As a result, they promote some popular confrontational or aversion training methods such as shaking, jerking, staring down, growling at, or alpha rolling. In the study, these methods were reported to have been unsuccessful in changing the dog’s behavior and may have caused more aggressiveness. However, the veterinary team also observed that using neutral or positive methods like exercise and rewards curb aggressiveness.

Aggressive Dogs Rehabilitated

Well-known dog behavior specialist, Cesar Millan, has rehabilitated many aggressive dogs. He claims that he rehabilitates dogs with his whisperer methods and then trains dog owners. He believes the best formula for humans to establish the pack leader role in their dog’s eyes is exercise, discipline, and affection. Rather than conditioning the dog to commands, Millan teaches the owner how to give a dog boundaries and limitations using calm, assertive energy. He says that anger, aggressiveness, and abuse will not establish the owner as a pack leader.

The staff veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Dr. Frank McMillan, designed a unique rehabilitation curriculum for the “worst of the worst” Michael Vick pit bulls. As a result, the dogs, which many said could never be rehabilitated and should be put down, made tremendous progress, and many are now doing well in adoptive homes.

These studies and cases show strong evidence that the owner, rather than the breed, is more influential over the dog’s behavior. Therefore, perhaps breed bans would not solve the problem of dog aggressiveness but only bring about the erroneous training of other breeds.

Francis Battista, the co-founder of Best Friends, sums it up, “…you don’t ban cars because of reckless drivers.”