This morning, I visited amazon online. Naturally, amazon suggests things I might like to purchase. Usually I breeze past them. Elegant gold women’s watch? Not my style. Cat tree? Hmm. I’m pretty sure my invisible cat is happy enough without one. What did catch my eye was a book about dog aggression. This book promised, right in the title, to eliminate the problem… in just seven days!
Now, I haven’t read the book, and this rant…er, post…is directed in general at the idea of “curing” aggression immediately. In short, it’s ridiculous. Oh, I suppose you could do something so painful or scary to a dog whenever he shows aggressive behavior that he stops right away. I mean, come on, if you hit me over the head with a mallet every time I bit my nails, I’d stop doing it. And it would look as though the problem was fixed. But although the punishment stopped the behavior at that moment, it didn’t remove the underlying cause. What if I were biting my nails at the time because I’m nervous around horses, and we were near one? Did the mallet whack cause me to become less afraid of horses? No, but it probably made me more afraid of you. It also gave me another bad association with horses. See where this is going?
Humane, scientifically sound methods for handling dog aggression are not flashy. They don’t come with wild promises, bells or whistles. Proper behavior modification can take time and patience. What it doesn’t do is scare the dog, break the trust between dog and owner, or make the problem worse. The dog learns over time that whatever was causing him to be afraid and therefore reactive (the vast majority of dog aggression is fear-based) is really nothing to be afraid of. Once the underlying reason for the aggression is gone, so is the behavior. Rather than slapping a Band-aid on the symptom, there is a real, long-lasting cure.
Well, I’d best get back to amazon and try to remember what I was there for in the first place. Maybe I’ll find a book on fixing my memory in 7 days.
You can find my books, seminar DVDs and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com
This comment is not on this post specifically, but on your blog generally. I love reading it and have learned so much from it and your books! Years ago, before you adopted Bodhi, you posted about only dogs vs. multi-dog households and wondered whether dogs really benefit from the companionship of other dogs in the home. I wondered if you would consider reflecting on that topic again and in retrospect if you feel that Sierra has benefited from having Bodhi. I would love to hear what you think!
I personally have always had multiple dogs and think they have enjoyed each other’s company. I owned one dog who probably would have been just as happy to have been any only dog, but I think that at the end of her life she did take a quiet comfort in the devotion of the other dog, who adored her, and she was glad to have him there.
You are always right on target. Thanks for another awesome post.
Succinct and right on the mark!
Just wow! My dog, Ranger has been living with me for coming up on 2 years now. I knew he’d had some rough times before he came home, but it wasn’t until he began to truly trust me earlier this year that he allowed me to see the things that he was afraid of. Dogs are so complex. And marvelous!! This is another great post!!
And worst, this book is only 19 pages, like it’s some kinda quick fix and everything is all solved. I just wrote an essay for my course on principles of behavior and was writing about the problematic secondary effects of aversive stimulation. And I’m guessing this book focuses on positive punishment techniques. So many long term problems can arise using aversives. You’re only temporary suppressing a behavior rather than eliminating it. A lot of people don’t want to take the time anymore and would rather do whatever is the quickest so I’m sure this book will be appealing to those. They’re in for a world of troubles. And in the end, it’s the dogs who suffer.
the fixes that really work aren’t flashy and don’t satisfy the desire to have the “problem go away”. if only it were so easy as the book and CM promises. i’ve spent 2.5 years working to “cure” my dog’s anxiety in a moving car. and you know what? we’ve largely succeeded. for which i’m very happy and proud that i stuck to it. makes me cry to see her relaxed when riding in a car.
Great post! Positive reinforcement training rules!