New Study: If You’re Aggressive, Dogs Will Be Too

by Mary Haight on March 6, 2009

English Springer Spaniel from Norway
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“If  You’re Aggressive, Your Dog Will Be Too” was the headline that caught my eye over at Science Daily.  I had to laugh.  I mean, I know there’s a lot more behind the study than the headline, and often the headline is not really an accurate description of what follows.  But it seems so obvious!  I’ve seen so many dog situations where people prove themselves to be the cause of being threatened or bitten by dogs.  Especially children.

Kids like to yell and flail their arms about when playing and that looks like a threat to many dogs, because it’s “crazy” behavior and confuses the dog.  That’s what happened when a friend brought his kids over for a visit.  The youngest son started acting silly, as kids do, and at first I thought nothing of it.  Then I saw the hair on the back of my Springer Spaniel’s neck stand up and his shoulders visibly lowered, his neck extended forward, while his gaze was absolutely focused on the boy.  That was the point at which I said “Dickens, come!” and I could see his focus change, but only slightly, as his body relaxed somewhat.  It had all happened so fast.  I took hold of his collar and we walked into the bedroom where I turned on the TV and settled him in, shutting the door on my way out.  That was close!

The Science Daily article, as it turns out, was not really “as advertised” in the headline.  The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine  study reports that aggressive dogs cannot have the aggression trained out of them by using harsh training methods.  When positive training practices were used, like extra walks or treats, very few aggressive behaviors were reported.  Starring a dog down or taking threatening stances [and yelling] resulted in aggression, and dominance-based training methodologies coupled with punitive-based training techniques create a fear-based relationship that can turn into owner-directed aggression.

Summer is coming soon, and that’s prime time for dog bite incidents.  You can check Best Friends and ASPCA web sites and search for prevention information and basic lessons to teach your family about interacting with dogs.

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Wow, that's great! Kids can be so frenetic, if they could just stand s t i l l ! Thanks for the reminder on the Dog Bite Prevention Week! I'd love to announce your program and hear how it went when the dust settles! You can reach me at And I hear from Eric, we'll be seeing you soon=)

Joan Orr
Joan Orr

Hi Mary, Thanks for highlighting the issue of dog bite prevention. I wanted to let you know that non-profit Doggone Safe has be announced the International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge. We are challenging our Be a Tree presenters to educate as many children as possible during the third week of May (Dog Bite Prevention Week). The Be a Tree program teaches children to read dog body language and have empathy for dogs. It also teaches them how to be safe around dogs and to stand still like a tree if a strange dog comes near or any dog is bothering them. Our goal for the challenge is to educate 50,000 children during Dog Bite Prevention Week (third week in May).

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