TV dog behaviour programmes 'useless and dangerous'
Television dog trainers use “ridiculous” techniques that can do more harm than good, according to
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 8:45PM BST 21 May 2009
Researchers found that methods to
assert dominance over pets, used by
the late Barbara Woodhouse, could
increase aggression in animals.
They claimed that each series “puts
back animal behaviour by 10 years”
because they are built on the false
assumption that dogs are constantly
trying to dominate the pack – whether
that be other animals or humans – and
must be put in their place.
Experts at the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences said it was far more effective to train
dogs through reward rather than punishment. Behaving aggressively only made dogs scared and confused and more
likely to lash out, they said.
“The problem is that some trainers are not qualified,” said Dr Rachel Casey, a senior lecturer in companion animal
behaviour and welfare.
“They are just hired to look good. There are huge welfare implications in having this stuff on television.”
Dr Casey and her team spent six months studying dogs at a Dogs Trust rehoming centre, and reanalysing data from
studies of feral dogs. They found that rather than fighting to be head of the pack, dogs were much more co-operative
and tended to treat others like they were treated themselves. The researchers concluded that training aimed at
“dominance reduction” was therefore worthless and being aggressive only made dogs more likely to copy such
Dr Casey, who published the findings in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research, said
that methods such as instructing owners to eat before their dog or go through doors first would not influence a dog’s
perception of its relationship with its owner.
Techniques such as pinning dogs to the floor, grabbing jowls, blasting hooters or using an electric collar made them
anxious about their owner and potentially more aggressive, she claimed. “The blanket assumption that every dog is
motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous,” said Dr Casey.
“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
recommending such techniques on TV. Being consistent and rewarding good behaviour is so much better than
punishment.” Chris Laurence, a veterinary director at the Dogs Trust, said: “We can tell when a dog comes in to us
which has been subjected to the 'dominance reduction technique’ so beloved of TV dog trainers. Sadly, many
techniques used to teach a dog that his owner is leader of the pack is counter-productive — you won’t get a better
behaved dog, but you will either end up with a dog so fearful it has suppressed all its natural behaviours, or one so
aggressive it’s dangerous to be around.”
A spokesman for Victoria Stilwell said: “Victoria has been a vocal opponent of dog trainers on TV and in private
practice that continue to promote outdated dominance-based philosophies.
“As a passionate advocate of positive reinforcement training methods, Victoria is firmly against and has never
advocated practices such as going through the door before the dog, pinning dogs to the floor, grabbing jowls or using
electric shock collars (against which she has campaigned for years). She remains committed to debunking myths
surrounding outdated, scientifically-flawed, dominance-based philosophies.”
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