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Ask a Vet: Is Dominance Training Outdated?

Photo by traveler7001 via Flickr 

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments. 

Q: I recently heard that some rather famous dog trainers are using dominance as a method of training, and that approach is out of vogue. Is that true? What is the alternative?
 
A: Some trainers continue to use dominance and punishment as training techniques. But since we've learned more about animal behavior, these techniques seem increasingly outdated. Recently, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior officially recommended that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers who use confrontational or coercive training techniques. In the long run these techniques can cause anxiety and behavioral problems, and actually create more issues than they solve. Not all canine misbehavior is dominance aggression, and to treat it as such is misguided. Just because your dog isn't responding to a command doesn't mean that he's trying to dominate. And if negative reinforcement has an effect, that effect is likely to be temporary. These techniques often lead to negative and antagonistic relationships between pets and their guardians. Your dog can remain fearful and anxious long after you've done administering punishment, and that can lead to other serious behavioral problems. At the SF SPCA, we advocate for positive reinforcement. These techniques strengthen your bond with your dog, rather than cause fear and anxiety. They're better both for your relationship with your dog, and long-term behavior modification.