Wednesday, July 27, 2011

more great resources on "aggression" and reactivity

Two more things I came across on the subject of fear- and sensitivity-based apparent aggression say essentially the same thing: don't worry about reinforcing these behaviors by rewarding a dog when he's acting out. The treats, far from reinforcing the behavior, will work to countercondition the emotion that precipitates the behavior. 

Dr. Sophia Yin, whose website is full of practical, clear training and behavior tips and instruction, shows us in this video that treating a dog when he growls out of fear and sensitivity diminishes the growling, rather than reinforcing it--and prevents a full-blown reaction from ever occurring. 

And on the Fearfuldogs blog, there is a great post on a very progressive shelter that invites visitors to treat dogs even when they're barking. Yes, contrary to the usual exhortation to only treat when dogs are calm, treat them when they're barking and don't worry that you'll teach them to bark even more.

Why? Here's how I would explain it. Dogs in shelters are freaked out, stressed, and probably much of the time over threshold. Many of them are way too stressed to ever give a sit or a calm behavior when they see strange people walking past their kennels, and at that degree of stress they are not in a state where learning is possible. Give them treats and you'll start to change the emotions they feel when they see strange people. Once the emotions change, the behaviors will follow. 


  1. That video from Dr Yin is amazing! Makes me want to rush home and figure out a behavior I can work on with my dogs in that way!

  2. I definitely agree! This was the very first advice our trainer gave us and it worked perfectly. Within a couple months we were passing people on the street with minimal problems. It is the best first place to start, I think. Worry more about what you want to reinforce later.

    Thanks for the great links!

  3. Dr. Yin is so great--I love how she is so practical, friendly, and accessible.

    Kristine, well said! You found a good trainer. Seems like a lot of them still don't get this.

  4. Great post. I agree as well. When we are trying to change a dog's mind about a stimulus we need to step away from thinking only in operant conditioning terms.


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