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“Alpha” Training Can Backfire
Updated. New study shows aggressive techniques yield aggressive dogs.

[3/2/09 update: In a recent blog post, Susan Leisure, the director of AARF (Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends, Inc.), reacted to the latest study on aggression and dog training much like we did (below). But Leisure also recommended a Bark story, Choosing A Trainer, as "critical" reading before hiring a pro. We agree there, too.]

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania confirms what so many trainers already know to be true: Confrontational, aversive training techniques with aggressive dogs only make the aggression worse. The results of the year-long survey, published in the current issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, provide important perspective on dominance-based training popularized on television and in books.

“Behaviorists and trainers should all familiarize themselves with this study so that when speaking with clients, they can inform them of the dangers of using forceful and violent techniques with their dogs,” says Karen London, PhD., an Applied Animal Behaviorist and Bark columnist. “This study shows that kinder, gentler training methods pose less risk when working with aggressive dogs.”

This is no small issue since, according to the study authors, aggressive behavior is the number one reason people seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist.

“This research indicates that when professionals advise clients to use confrontational or aggressive methods when working with dogs, that they are putting the people who trust them, as well as the dogs they love, at great risk,” London adds,  “and it’s not right.”

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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