Monday, December 8, 2008

AVSAB position statement on dominance in dogs

A little off topic from my usual posts, but I was excited to read this position statement on dominance by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.


• Despite the fact that advances in behavior research have modified our understanding of social hierarchies in wolves, many animal trainers continue to base their training meth­ods on outdated perceptions of dominance theory. (Refer to Myths About Dominance and Wolf Behavior as It Relates to Dogs)

• Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is estab­lished by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). Most undesirable behaviors in our pets are not related to priority access to resources; rather, they are due to accidental rewarding of the undesirable behavior.

• The AVSAB recommends that veterinar­ians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate domi­nance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it.

• Instead, the AVSAB emphasizes that ani­mal training, behavior prevention strategies, and behavior modification programs should follow the scientifically based guidelines of positive reinforcement, operant condition­ing, classical conditioning, desensitization, and counter conditioning.

• The AVSAB recommends that veterinar­ians identify and refer clients only to trainers and behavior consultants who understand the principles of learning theory and who focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors and removing the reinforcement for undesir­able behaviors.

Just like there are misconceptions and myths in regards to eating disorders, animal care has the same equivalent. It's one reason why so many animals are in shelters and/or euthanized. I hope with more awareness, education, and appropriate training, people will learn that there are better, more effective ways to have a well-mannered pet(s) and develop human-animal bonds.

In the end, all creatures, whether four-legged or two-legged deserve compassion and respect NOT domination.

Okay, and now back to regular scheduled programming....


Gaining Back My Life said...

An interesting read, Tiptoe. Especially the fact that, as with ed's, much information is outdated. It happens across the board.

Cammy said...

My dog is a breed that is commonly seen as being inherently aggressive and dominant, but that could not be farther from the truth in his case. He is a perfect example of how misguided people can be when dealing with animals. He came from a shelter, as a physical and emotional mess, and had obviously been subjected to extremely harsh attempts at training. He was fearful, anxious, pathologically unconfident. After months/years of purely positive training, though, he's an entirely different animal. He is playful, loves people and other dogs, and has more personality than any two people that I know. He's still afraid of hiking boots, newspapers, wooden spoons, and other random clues to a painful past, it really just hurts my heart to think of how some people assume you have to "break" an animal in order to make it a suitable companion.

(I know you know the G. story already, Tiptoe, I guess I wanted to mention it to participate in the public discussion)

Kara said...

I like the part about how a dog's undesirable behavior is due to accidental rewarding. I think that's totally true with EDs too. When we use negative coping strategies, we are often accidently rewarded by others with attention, among other things. I think we also accidently (or not so accidently) reward ourselves for our EDs. What do you think?

Also, check out my blog about recovery - I'd love to be blogger buddies!

Tiptoe said...

GBML, it is unfortunate this happens with a lot of topics.

Cammy, yes, I know the story of G. He is so lucky to have found you. I know I was hesitant at first with college and its stressors, but you've done such a wonderful job with him.

It is so sad that people do this type of behavior on any animal. I see it all the time and even with well intentioned clients who just don't "get" it. The repercussions of abuse and harsh training is insurmountable. It's not always easy to reverse, if ever sometimes.

Kara, I agree with you about reinforcement. Whether reinforcement is positive or negative, it is still attention in some form or other. Since most people don't see through our ED type lenses, they never realize commenting on weight loss fuels the ED more. Or even the fact of such emphasis on weight can be reinforcing as well.

As for us rewarding ourselves through ED, that can certainly happen. I've always thought an important question we should ask ourselves is what do we get out of the ED, especially when behaviors are persistent.

I'll be sure to check out your blog ;-)

Pete Campione said...

As a professional dog trainer/behaviorist/author I found this “statement” by the AVSAB to be very interesting. The opening sentence I found….uh…unusual. Am I to believe that we are actually advocating a SINGULAR method to be used on ALL animals???. The so-called re-emergence of the dominance/submission movement is simply a reaction to the failure of the purely positive posse and the clicker nazis to achieve quantitative results. Every dog is a unique entity and to assume that all fit into any one method denies the animal its right to uniquesness and individuality ( ie, past trauma, abuse, anxiety or soundness). I would be embarrassed to present my students and their dogs with only one way to train. It would be inept and completely lacking in effectiveness. The problem is not with any method but with BAD TRAINERS using them. Our profession is now inundated with one trick ponies who think that if they have treats and a leash, that makes them trainers. This statement perpetuates the “myth of method”. I do behavior work with dogs AND parrots and the assumption of this article is that I train both the same. This would mean suspending all thoughts on dog or parrot culture and ritual. And to advocate any one approach as the only approach is offensive to those of us who have studied and worked for years. About 40% of my time goes to working with rescue and shelter dogs. My job with them and all dogs is to create stable, sound, well, mannered members of the community. We invited dogs into our world and it is unsafe to not teach them the rules. I have seen some of the most horribly abused animals on earth and to lump them in with dogs brought up in stable loving homes is as close to abuse as you can come. By treating each dog as a special entity, many of these dogs are now working certified Therapy dogs in the community. This did not happen by homogenizing them. Purely positive has its place with certain dogs, but it is only ONE method. The AVSAB would naively have you believe that Teaching=Dominance and Leadership=Force/Aggression, and they may in the hands of BAD TRAINERS.
But both teaching and leadership are essentials for desensitization and counter-conditioning. Training is about teaching the animal “choice” and which is the RIGHT choice. The method lies with the animal. The answer here lies in teaching the teachers to strive for a more overall education in animal culture and rituals……not espousing a singular purely positive method to get them out there training faster. We want them training better. I want to elevate the dogs I train to achieve….not limit and wait for happenstance results.
If this statement were to be taken at its words (including all species) that would mean that if you are driving 75mph in a 60mph zone, when the police stop you they should advise “therapy” to find out why you “need to speed” instead of giving you a ticket (force/aggression). And all road signs should not issue speed warnings (coercion) , but suggest incentives to go slower.
The point being, our universe is filled with diversity and a good trainer can acknowledge that and treat it appropriately and according to the needs of the individual to produce effective sound results.

Tiptoe said...

Pete, I appreciate your comment, however, I disagree with you. I do not think the ASVAB is saying that purely positive is the only way. If you look at operant conditioning, it is not "purely" positive, and it is an incredibly effective way of training which does not harm the animal.

All the ASVAB is saying in this position statement is that there isn't a place for "Dominance" in training animals, that there are clearly better, more scientific, compassionate ways of training animals. And yes, there are studies out there that prove training with less harsh methods produce quality, better learned, and more well adjusted animals.

You are right in that there is no one way of training and ALL trainers should decide on an individual basis what works best for their clients. However, the use of positive punishment and dominance theory is clearly not needed to establish a "leadership" role nor as a way to train animals.

More and more trainers these days are reaching this conclusion as well. They are not "one trick ponies" as you call them, but rather have seen the effectiveness of using more positive techniques on their animals.

As the word spreads that using more positive techniques works, hopefully, there will be less behavior cases stemming from both the general public and other professionals who choose to continue using archaic, harsh methods to train animals.

Pete Campione said...

I guess we will agree to disagree. My biggest problem is the misinformationin the purely positive "handbook", most quote from. "Leadership" by definition is the dominant member of a group. Good leaders are dominant AND benevolent. The spin thats thrown to the public....using word like "punishment", "harsh", "archaic" is simply redefining methods not to your liking to confuse and scare the public. This way of thinking is creating more and more inept trainers, who due to the purely positive movement, are out there thinking they can be trainers in 6 weeks or less. This is dangerous.

And leadership training is in fact GAINING as it is apparant that statements like that made by the AVSAB continue to anthropomorphsize animals. Dogs are a spectacular species and hard as may try to make them fuzzy little people, they deserve the respect of their culture. They also deserve to trained using methods to elevate their learning ability and spirit. This involves an open mind by those doing the training. Not people with agendas suited to their abilities or lack of.