How Positive Reinforcement and Ignorance Can Make Dog Aggression WORSE
How Positive Reinforcement and Ignorance Can Make Dog Aggression WORSE
Ugh! I recently experienced the whole “doing positive reinforcement training, WRONG”.
I used to think that the only real problem that positive reinforcement could create was a fat dog, that may not understand things fully.
But recently I saw how an owner was actually creating more aggression, confusion and fear than needed to be there for the dog.
It is interesting to note that I was not performing my duties as a dog trainer when I witnessed this horrible miscommunication.
I was actually working as a vet tech.
The dog was known for having aggression issues, hence the reason I (the dog trainer) got the job of checking the dog in for his exam.
It has been common in the past for no one to be able to touch the dog, and for the dog to lunge at staff, techs and doctors.
The Owner is Oblivious.
Although the owner recognizes the dog has issues, he doesn’t completely understand the depth of aggression that is being displayed and how he in fact is making the aggression worse.
If you are looking for a better way to handle a dog like this, you should look into my Emotional Re-calibration Training Class that I teach twice a year, specifically for Fearful, Reactive and aggressive dogs.
So I want to paint a picture of the scenario for you, so that you can understand how detrimental misusing treats in an aggressive dog can be for the whole situation.
The dog doesn’t like people.
In fact, the dog is terrified of people.
So the owner totes around large bags of treats for himself, and other people to feed to the dog.
*** The idea is for other people the dog doesn’t to reward the dog with treats for being appropriate and social. The hope being that the dog then associates new people with treats and happy feelings and stops being aggressive, nervous, or fearful.***
The problem is that it often just doesn’t work.
Honestly, I think this only works really well on very young dogs and puppies.
In my opinion, adult dogs have already formed their opinions on most of these things when they were in puppy fear stages. There is a chance that a dog with little to no experience or socialization with certain things can make big changes but it is rare.
The dog, often, doesn’t want to get close enough to the human to take the food.
So the dog rushes in, ears pinned, tail tucked, eyes wild and snatches the treat out of the person’s hand.
At this point, he is feeling a lot of conflict and a bit trapped by the situation.
He is often unsure whether to back away from the person he feels intimidated by or turn tail and run.
It is at this point a very defensive dog barks, snaps and lunges at the innocent person who is simply trying to help dog and person.
Now everyone is worked up; the dog is scared, the human is scared and the dog is actually being rewarded for this behavior and feeling this way.
The next time the dog rushes in the human is much more likely to flinch and the dog is much more likely to bite.
I Met This Dog in the Exam Room that Day
I actually kept the second door open so that I would have an exit route if the dog attacked.
The owner was totally oblivious to the danger or the signals his dog was sending.
At one point I even pleaded with the owner to shorten the leash so the dog couldn’t rush my body, yet my pleas were ignored.
I told the owner I would be happy to toss the dog treats for good, appropriate and non-aggressive behavior.
You see, tossing the treats takes the fear of me (the human) out of the equation for the dog. The dog doesn’t have to get in my space or then worry about getting out of my space.
And, I was not about to reward a dog for rushing me and then barking, growling and lunging at my face.
My best guess is this dog was not a confident puppy, maybe had a bad experience or whatever may have happened but the owner is doing nothing to deal with the problem at hand.
If anything, his ignorance and lack of training are invigorating this dog’s aggression; which could probably be pretty simply controlled in most situations.
Which is why I recommend this for working on dog aggression.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Don’t misunderstand me, putting a training collar on this dog and using force and corrections IS NOT THE WAY!
But the owner should understand how this behavior is furthering the aggression in some way he is trying to avoid.
I suppose he thinks if the dog doesn’t actually attack the person they are making some kind of progress.
Instead this owner needs to totally alleviate the conflict, by insuring that no one gets near, touches or even talks to his dog; unless the dog wants interaction (at this point he doesn’t).
The owner needs to carry THE BEST treats like liver or boiled chicken breast and reward the dog for completely ignoring people and complying to obedience commands.
A basket muzzle can make the dog, the owner, and everyone else involved even more comfortable. Ironically, it will also keep noisy people from wanting to talk to or touch the dog (funny how a muzzle alone gives you 10x the space) for more on that click here: https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/love/
Muzzles are wonderful tools, and also very effective!
Dogs, such as these, need to have impeccable obedience skills! They should be well trained on leash and know basic, intermediate and advanced obedience skills.
Instead of relying on treats to override the fear or panic, the owner should be relying on a trusting relationship and positive obedience.
I Had a Dog Like This
Ironically, I had a dog that probably would have been a lot like this…
He learned, when he was a puppy, that if a human talked to him that they would then want to pet him. Or if they gave him a treat, they would then try to pet him.
He was afraid of people (he had no bad experiences and I had him and socialized him since he was 9 weeks old, we both worked in a mall at the time).
No coercing or rewarding was going to change his mind.
So, I had to stop letting people give him treats, because it was rewarding all the wrong behaviors.
I even stopped people from leaning over and talking to him.
It was MY JOB to make sure he trusted me to keep him safe.
All of his behaviors told me that he didn’t want people in his space and he didn’t want to get in anyone else’s space.
I took him at his word.
I stopped trying to change him into a “Golden Retriever”, and I accepted that he needed different ownership or parenting.
It totally changed our relationship.
He went from fearing people coming up to us (because he was so cute and they wanted to touch him) to knowing and understanding that I would protect him and keep that from happening if he listened to my commands.
I rewarded him for good behavior.
And, I taught him coping mechanisms (like you can’t panic about people walking up if you are spinning in a circle or giving me a high five).
Obedience became his solace, and mine!
And, it was sooooo much better than living in a world where his life was filled with conflict, and fear, and his bad behavior was rewarded.
He learned how to relax, and in most circumstances no one else could see his fears.
One Last Note
I do understand that a veterinary clinic is different because the dog has to be touched and it can’t always be positive.
Muzzle training and obedience would still alleviate a lot of stress for this dog.
However, this is not a behavior this dog only shows at the vet, this is this dog’s lifestyle.
Be very careful that you are not rewarding your dog’s aggression.
Or ignoring it when these behaviors need to be taken so seriously.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.