Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bad Dog Aggression Study: "It's the Training, not the Breed". Attention Parents!

In the battle for a dog's behavior, a new study says you have more to say than the dog's genes.

According to Joaquín Pérez-Guisado, the main author of the study and a researcher from the UCO, some of the factors that cause aggressiveness in dogs are: first-time dog ownership; failure to subject the dog to basic obedience training; spoiling or pampering the dog; not using physical punishment when it is required; buying a dog as a present, as a guard dog or on impulse; spaying female dogs; leaving the dog with a constant supply of food, or spending very little time with the dog in general and on its walks.

"Failure to observe all of these modifiable factors will encourage this type of aggressiveness and would conform to what we would colloquially call 'giving our dog a bad education'", Pérez-Guisado explains to SINC.

The study, which has recently been published in the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, is based on the following fact: approximately 40% of dominance aggression in dogs is associated with a lack of authority on the part of the owners who have never performed basic obedience training with their pets or who have only carried out the bare minimum of training.

Pity more parents don't follow similar guidelines. Aside from the spaying, every one of those factors could be applied to the raising of children. I especially like the phrase "physical punishment when it is required", as opposed to the knee-jerk reaction some have with regard to human children that such connotes some inherent barbarism. We, like the dogs, are social physical beings, and like every other such species, we will sometimes discipline each other effectively with violence. Our lingual abilities are to be used liberally no doubt. But still, sometimes words just won't achieve the understanding of your authority, or the necessary urgency of getting out of the street. Nothing on the order of an inquisition is needed, but technically violence nonetheless, if nothing more than a quick, painless slap on the hand. It's a pity that corporal punishment is so often depicted as a form of abuse carried out by sadists. Used properly and in a structured way, it helps prevent situations like that from ever coming to fruition. That was my experience as a difficult child, as well as an adult who's dealt with my share.

But back to the dogs.

According to Pérez-Guisado, certain breeds, male sex, a small size, or an age of between 5-7 years old are "the dog-dependent factors associated with greater dominance aggression". Nevertheless, these factors have "minimal effect" on whether the dog behaves aggressively. Factors linked to the owner's actions are more influential.

So it isn't just my imagination that those little yappy things pretending to be dogs are indeed annoying. Who decided it was useful to have a 5 pound dog in the first place? Hell, I've never had a 5 pound cat. If my cat can kill and eat it, it's not a dog.

And if it misbehaves? Gee, this sounds familiar:

To correct the animal's behaviour, the owner should handle it appropriately and "re-establish dominance over the dog", the researcher adds. In terms of physical punishment, Pérez-Guisado points out that "this method cannot be used with all dogs given the danger involved, although it could be used to re-establish dominance over puppies or small and easy-to-control dogs". However, "it should never be used as justification for treating a dog brutally, since physical punishment should be used more as a way to frighten and demonstrate the dominance we have over the dog than to inflict great suffering on the animal", the vet states.

Human version: Pop a three year old once in a while, don't spank your teens. If it's coming to that, you've already lost control of the situation. Your pop psychology for the day.


Luke said...

While I agree completely with your approach to child rearing, a canine behavioral study applies to dogs, not humans. You made the connection because it validates your belief, and has some anecdotal support. I'm sure there has been a good deal of published research on the subject as it applies to human children, so I don't see the point of citing a veterinary study.

ScienceAvenger said...

I just found the similarities striking, and never like to pass on an opportunity to jab those who's worldview implicitly assumes that that which applies to the animal kingdom doesn't apply to us.

memphisto said...

Once again, spot on target! This study might not be explicitly about humans, but the similarities are striking and germane. Nature is the great teacher, and nature uses pain to teach. I've seen parents use the word "hot" in place of the word "no" to try to keep their toddlers in line. All I can infer from this is that the parent is an idiot who has ceded control and is instead making a desperate attempt to regain control through whatever means possible. The outcome is obvious. They are teaching their children to not believe what they tell them because eventually that child will touch something labeled as "hot" (a lesson that takes only one or two examples to teach since it is based in unalterable consequence) and find out that their parents cannot be trusted. So one bad parenting decision is augmented by another. If you think that the worst thing in the world is to administer a spanking to a child you have never noticed the outcome of having never spanked a child, which is far worse.

And it doesn't save the child from harm, instead it makes the harm far greater. Life will spank them, eventually. And far harder and more severely than you ever could have. All you've done is be a coward and proved that you weren't capable of being a parent in the first place.

(and the same goes for dog owners)

Doppelganger said...

Re: children

My wife and I discussed how we would discipline our children before we had them. She was of the 'it is never OK to strike a child' set, I was of the 'if the kid is running toward the road and doesn't stop when I say to, a crack on the can will get their attention' set. The wife fairly quickly came to see the 'wisdom' in my position, and she ended up spanking more than I did (don't get me wrong, anything physical was ALWAYS the last resort, and it was NEVER more than a single smack on the arse of a slap to the hand).
Sometiumes, talking and time out simply do not work.
Years ago, we had an acquaintance who was a nanny for a pair of psychiatrists. Their instructions were never to even tell the child "no" when she was doing something wrong - didn't want to damage the poor thing's self image and all that. The kid was, as you might expect, the biggest fucking brat you'd ever seen and last I'd heard was in trouble with the law.

No insightful commentary, just a couple of anecdotes.

Renee said...

I'd like to see factual support that spaying a female dog leads to aggression: working in the dog rescue field, I am pretty sensitive to the general public owning intact animals...
My parents spanked me on occasion when I was a kid and I only remember enough to know that it happened, but certainly don't have any kind of emotional trauma from it. I completely agree that people are much too shy about physical communication: especially with dogs, that is how they communicate! you have to teach them what a word means before you can communicate with them, and to teach them, you use physical actions like placing their butt on the floor and saying "sit". my only beef with this article is using physical punishment as a threat. not giving warning about impending punishment is much more effective, i feel. it also teaches your dog or child not to fear you or feel apprehensive: there is no point in time where they think "they're going to do this to me!" it just happens when they fail to obey a command that they have previously demonstrated that they fully understand, to ensure you are being 100% fair to the dog (or child) as you can't punish them when you aren't sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that they completely understand what you're asking.