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Are problem behaviours in urban pet dogs related to inappropriate use of positive punishment?



Effectiveness of positive punishment (inflict something unpleasant to reduce unwanted behaviour) is subject to conditions such as timing, schedule etc. Inappropriate use may impair dog welfare and is suspect of causing problem behaviour. Our aim was to quantify owners` use of positive punishment and to explore relationships of appropriateness of positive punishment with problem behaviour and training engagement. Therefore, we surveyed Viennese petdog-owners via questionnaire sent by post in January 2007. It contained questions regarding schedule, intensity and use of a warning signal in order to categorise owners according to the appropriateness of their use of positive punishment. Altogether 1345 questionnaires (return rate=28%) were analysed using Oneway-ANOVA, Cross-Tabulations and Linear Regression. 28.9 % of the owners declared that they do not use positive punishment, 17.2% gave inconsistent answers and 43.6% constantly reported to use positive punishment. We concentrated on the latter in further analyses. Inappropriateness of positive punishment was linked with an increase in reported frequencies of aggression (F(3, 506)=5.09, p=0.002) and fear (F(3, 509)=6.18, p=0.000) in dogs. Moreover, decreased obedience (F(3, 498)=36,80, p=0.000) and a lower tolerance of close physical contact with the owner (chi2=22.91, p=0.000) was found in inappropriately punished dogs. Frequency of dog training, a possible confounder, was related to appropriateness of punishment (chi2=30.17, p=0.003) and dog behaviour: a higher frequency of dog training was associated with increased obedience (F(4, 494)=11.87, p=0.000) and decreased fear (F(4, 505)=5.12, p=0.000). Nevertheless, appropriateness of punishment showed to be the better predictor for obedience (beta=0.395, t=9.78, p=0.000) and fear (beta=-0.161, t=-3.67, p=0.000) in dogs. We conclude that inappropriate use of positive punishment has the ability to increase aggression and fear. It can lower the tolerance of close physical contact with the owner and decrease obedience. Therefore we see well-being of owners and public as well as dog welfare put at risk.
onclusions: Inappropriate positive punishment (PP)...
Are problem behaviours in urban pet dogs
related to inappropriate use of positive punishment?
Christine Arhant*, Josef Troxler*, Angela Mittmann+
*Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare, Department for Farm Animals and Veterinary Public Health, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria
e-mail rst author:
+Chair of Animal Welfare, Ethology, Animal Hygiene and Animal Housing, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany
Owners use forms of positive punishment (PP) Ü
to train their dog or to deal with unwanted behaviour.
Inappropriate use is suspected to
• be ineffective &
• cause or increase problem behaviour.
ypotheses: Ü Inappropriate PP is associated with lower obedience, a lowered dog-owner-relationship &
increased aggression and fear.
Ü Factors like visit of dog training classes enhance appropriateness of use.
ethods: • Questionnaires sent by post to 5000 Viennese dog owners in January 2007
• Questions about dog behaviour*, owner-dog interactions & dog training (* measured on 7-point-scale (1=never/7=always) to generate scores through PCA)
• Use of PP assessed through questions regarding schedule, intensity and use of a warning signal
• 1345 questionnaires - return rate: 28% - analyzed by Oneway-ANOVA (Tukey-HSD-Post-hoc-Test) & Cross-Tabulations: χ2-Test
esults: 44% of the owners constantly reported to use PP, 17% gave inconsistent answers & 29% do not use it*
(*10% at least one missing answer out of three concerning use of PP)
Ü The less conditions of PP were fullled the...
...lower the dogs` obedience: (F(3, 498)=36.8, P<0.001) ...lower the tolerance of close physical contact with the owner
without showing signs of aggression like growling or snapping:
(χ2=22.9, p<0.001)
...higher the frequency of aggressive behaviour:
(F(3, 506)=5.1, P<0.01) ...higher the frequency of fearful behaviour:
(F(3, 509)=6.2, P<0.001)
Ü What leads to enhanced appropriateness of PP?
• visit of dog training classes
• behavioural counselling/single training sessions
• to read books about dog training
• to visit courses/lectures about dog training (χ2=8.1, p<0.05)
• training the dog daily (χ2=30.2, p<0.01)
Examples of inappropriate use: That may lead to...
Schedule • target behaviour pun-
ished only occasionally is not able to predict
punishing stimulus
Intensity • too low to stop target
...increasing intensity of
punishing stimulus
Warning signal • is not established is not able to control
punishing stimulus
• ...decreases obedience.
• ...seems to increase problem behaviour,
but effects are small.
• ...worsens dog-owner-relationship: Dogs seem to
loose condence in their owners and may feel
threatened by physical contact.
Ü ...impacts on the dogs welfare
Ü ...may put well-being of owners & public at risk
Alarmingly, few factors enhance appropriateness!
Ü Point out the importance of appropriate use
Ü Encourage the use of alternative methods
Ü As most owners will use PP teach the appropriate use thoroughly
always =
never =
always =
never =
always =
never =
... In addition, some other factors such as age or experience of the owner were found to be related to inconsistency. Nevertheless, further studies are needed to better understand causes of inconsistent behaviour in dog owners, especially since inconsistent use of punishment may have detrimental effects on the dog's welfare and behaviour (Schalke et al. 2007, Arhant et al. 2008). In particular, play activities are highly influenced by age of the dog (Westgarth et al. 2008). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The owner’s behaviour towards the dog, for example use of training methods or shared activities, is regarded to be causal to dog behaviour. However, no study has investigated whether owner behaviour may depend on characteristics of the owner or its dog. The aim of our study was to identify characteristics of the owner or its dog which are able to predict owner behaviour and to explore relationships between different owner behaviours. For this purpose a questionnaire-based survey via postal mailing was conducted in an urban and suburban population of pet dog owners (response-rate 28%). A total of 1345 questionnaires were analyzed using person correlations and linear regression. The best predictors of less frequent use of positive punishment were the owner rating himself as gentle (p<0.001) and the owner being older (p<0.001). The owner’s perception of the dog being wild during play in the first 4 weeks after acquisition (p<0.001) and if the owner felt strained because of dog ownership (p<0.001) related to a more frequent use of punishment (R2: 0.21, F(13, 776)=15.4, p<0.001). A more frequent use of rewards was best predicted by younger age of the owner (p<0.001) and the dog (p=0.017) and dog training facilities as a source of information (p<0.001) (R2: 0.17, F(13, 962)=15.1, p<0.001). Additionally, a frequent use of rewards was associated with increased training and play activities (r=0.3, p<0.001). A higher frequency of training and play activities related to more consistent behaviour of the owner towards the dog (r=-0.3, p<0.001), whereas owners engaging frequently in other social activities reported higher inconsistency (r=0.3, p<0.001). Owner behaviour seems to depend on both, characteristics of the owner but also the dog. Further studies investigating owner attitudes and their subsequent behaviour towards the dog seem to be required as changing owner behaviour is fundamental to veterinary behavioural medicine.
... Also, owners of smaller dogs are more inconsistent than owners of larger dogs in the sense that they reward some behaviors in some cases but not always (Arhant et al., 2010). Because the stress response is influenced by the predictability and controllability of events (Weiss, 1970; Beerda et al., 1998; Schalke et al., 2007) and there is a clear link between stress and aggression (Kruk et al., 2004), inconsistent handling could be related to increased aggressive behavior (Arhant et al., 2008). Therefore, it would be helpful to investigate whether the owners of ECSs are more inconsistent and use punishment training methods more frequently than the owners of other breeds. ...
Aggression is one of the most common behavioral problems in dogs and may have important negative effects on public health, human–animal bond, and animal welfare. There is ample evidence showing a negative correlation between serum serotonin concentration and aggressive behavior in a variety of species, including the domestic dogs. This negative correlation is particularly pronounced in dogs that show impulsive aggression. Data obtained in some previous studies suggest that the English cocker spaniel (ECS) is more likely to show impulsive aggression than other breeds. Therefore, the aim of this study was to analyze possible differences in serum serotonin levels between aggressive ECS and aggressive dogs of other breeds. Nineteen ECSs presented for aggression at the Animal Behavior Service (School of Veterinary Science, Barcelona, Spain) were evaluated and compared with 20 aggressive dogs of other breeds attended at the same center. Serum serotonin levels were measured using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay method. Statistical analysis was done using the SPSS 15.0 for Windows. Aggressive ECSs had significantly (P < 0.001) lower levels of serum serotonin than aggressive dogs of other breeds (318.6 ± 67.1 and 852.77 ± 100.58 ng/mL, respectively). Variances were not significantly different between ECSs and other breeds (standard deviation = 449.84 ng/mL vs. 292.47 ng/mL, P > 0.05). This finding may explain why ECSs are more likely to show impulsive aggression than other breeds, and suggests that the ECS could be a good model to study the neurophysiologic mechanisms underlying impulsive aggression.
... The stress response to an aversive event is influenced by its predictability and controllability (Beerda et al., 1998; Schalke et al., 2007). Accordingly, we found in a separately analysed part of this survey that inappropriate use of positive punishment in regard to schedule, i.e. unpredictable use, and use of a warning signal, i.e. uncontrollable use, was related to increased fearful as well as aggressive behaviour (Arhant et al., 2008). In addition, the inappropriate punishment seemed to lead to a lowered tolerance of close physical contact with the owner and a higher incidence of signs of aggressive behaviour such as growling or snapping at the owner during these contacts. ...
El objetivo de este artículo fue verificar la influencia del temperamento de perrosrescatados en el aprendizaje de comandos básicos y tasas de adopción. Se evaluaron30 perros. Los datos de temperamento se recopilaron utilizando el método demuestreo focal de animales en tres entornos diferentes. También se aplicó unaselección de 7 elementos de comando de entrenamiento a las tareas básicas deobediencia y recuperación para mejorar el rendimiento individual general de los perroscon el tiempo. Se utilizó el análisis de componentes principales seguido del coeficientede correlación de Spearman para analizar las puntuaciones de temperamento de losperros en cuanto a la tasa de adopción y el tiempo que les tomó a los perros aprendercada comando de entrenamiento. Acostarse se correlacionó positivamente con lapermanencia (r=0,4, p<0,02), patear (r=0,5, p<0,002) y gatear (r=0,4, p<0,009). Latasa de adopción se correlacionó negativamente con acostarse (r=-0,54, p<0,02),quedarse quieto (r=-0,8, p<0,03) y gatear (r=-0,8 p<0,05). El tiempo que les tomó alos perros aprender comandos de entrenamiento específicos fue un indicadorimportante que reflejaba su temperamento e influía en la tasa de adopción.
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