Teaching Your Dog Behavior Techniques Is 'Worthless'

British scientists find aggressive behavior training techniques a waste of time.

ByABC News
May 22, 2009, 9:41 AM

LONDON, May 22, 2009 — -- Trying to make your dog less aggressive by showing them you are the boss is a waste of time, researchers in a new British study say, especially when using popular new training techniques that urge owners to use physical force to make their dogs more compliant.

According to the study, physical control methods usually shown on TV or touted by celebrity pet trainers like "The Dog Whisperer," Cesar Millan are "ridiculous" and could do more harm than good by making aggressive behavior in dogs worse.

Researchers from the University of Bristol's department of clinical veterinary sciences studied dogs for six months They compared their observations to existing studies of wild dogs, like wolves, and concluded that generations of dog lovers have misunderstood "aggressive canines."

The study asserts that, contrary to popular belief, dogs are not trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human "pack" and aren't motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order.

ABC News spoke to Rachel Casey, one of the scientists behind the study. She said that the blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people or other dogs is "frankly ridiculous."

Casey explained that methods such as instructing owners to eat before their dogs or go through doors first will not influence a dog's perception of the relationship but only teach them what to expect in certain situations.

Many animal scientists also argue that it's far more productive to train dogs using rewards rather than punishment, such as pinning a dog to a floor, grabbing jowls or blasting hooters, all popular new techniques touted on TV and magazines.

Casey added, "we very often see dogs which have learned to show aggression to avoid anticipated punishment. Owners are often horrified when we explain that their dog is terrified of them, and is showing aggression because of the techniques they have used but it's not their fault when they have been advised to do so, or watched unqualified 'behaviorists' recommending such techniques on TV."

One particular dog trainer whose behavior methods have come under fire is Cesar Millan, whose use of dominance-based techniques has sparked fierce debate in the animal world. His show "The Dog Whisperer'" appears on the National Geographic Channel.

Millan defends his methods, which include pinning your dog to the floor to show them you are the dominate one in the relationship, because, he claims, it's the only language dogs understand.

"If what you do is say, "I'm sorry, baby, [your dog] Mommy has to go, blah, blah, blah," the dog doesn't understand what you are saying. He only understands that you are in a soft state and he is dominating you," Millan told the New York Times in 2006.

Casey told ABC News that "punishing techniques" like Millan's are counterproductive. "We feel techniques like these compromises the dog's welfare and could make a dog's behavior worse by increasing fear and anxiety. We really wanted to get the message out there: please don't use these sorts of techniques on your dog."