Growling at Your Dog Won't Work

A new study found growling at an aggressive dog failed 41 percent of the time in curbing aggressive canine behavior. Go figure. Image (Image credit: Dreamstime)

While it may sound obvious, growling at your dog is not likely to improve its aggressive behavioral problems, a new study suggests. Hitting it is probably worse.

Researchers say dog owners who kick, hit or otherwise confront aggressive dogs with punitive training methods are doomed to have, well, aggressive pets.

"Nationwide, the No. 1 reason why dog owners take their pet to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior," said University of Pennsylvania researcher Meghan E. Herron, lead author of the study. "Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them or intimidating them with physical manipulation does little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses."

Herron and colleagues, from the university's School of Veterinary Medicine, surveyed dog owners who made behavioral service appointments at Penn Vet.

The following techniques elicited an aggressive response from the percentage of dogs indicated:

  • hit or kick dog: 43 percent,
  • growl at dog: 41 percent,
  • physically force the release of an item from a dog's mouth: 39 percent,
  • alpha roll — physically rolling the dog onto its back and holding it: 31 percent,
  • stare at or stare down: 30 percent,
  • dominance down — physically forcing the dog down onto its side: 29 percent
  • grab dog by jowls and shake: 26 percent.

The study, published in the current issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, also showed that using non-aversive or neutral training methods such as additional exercise or rewards elicited very few aggressive responses. In addition, dogs brought to the hospital for aggressive behavior towards familiar people were more likely to respond aggressively to some confrontational techniques than dogs brought in for other behavioral reasons.

"This study highlights the risk of dominance-based training, which has been made popular by TV, books and punishment-based training advocates," Herron said. "These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression."

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