There is a growing number of requests for training puppies and dogs that pet parents are referring to as “aggressive.” Yes, as expected, some are large or x-large breeds that have been adopted as adults but not all.  Most of the dogs in need of training are showing signs of aggression toward people or other dogs, guarding resources, overprotective of new pet parents, protective of immediate property, and aggressive toward guests entering their home; human or canine.

However, there is also a huge number of concerned pet parents requesting a professional dog trainer to modify aggressive behavior in young puppies as well as toy breeds and breeds known as “family dogs and dogs that are well suited for families with children” such as Golden Retrievers, Labs, Aussies and working-class dogs like Bernese Mountain Dogs.

So, with all that in mind, I have to ask myself two questions. One, is this a truly aggressive dog, or is it just being a puppy? Two, and here’s my main concern, is there an increase of aggressive behavior running parallel with the incorrect use of Positive Reinforcement Training?  I tend to believe that both of these are true.

Let’s talk about the puppy. A puppy is not bad, he’s just hard-wired to act like a puppy and he is learning his way around, communicating, making himself known, and dealing with his new environment the only way he came programmed to do so. It’s the pet parent’s job to teach him how to be an acceptable member of the household through love, patience, teaching, and time-tested methods of behavior modification. Mouthing for example is a normal puppy behavior that can be modified, minimized, and eliminated within a short time.

Without proper training, the unwanted behavior will be perceived by the puppy, as acceptable behavior. The more the puppy grows and matures, the more aggressive or severe unwanted behaviors can become. Distraction with reward, and ignoring negative behavior until the puppy gets bored and stops on his own followed by a reward, are methods that give off mixed messages, confusing puppy and pet parent alike. If you ignore your puppy’s unwanted negative behavior, you are in actuality, showing your dog that you are OK with it or VALIDATING it.

So, the question remains; if a biting dog is distracted by, and then rewarded with, a treat, was the dog given positive reinforcement for negative behavior?   Did you teach the dog that if he bites someone, he will get a treat?  Is this new trend of ignoring unwanted negative behavior or using a treat to distract a dog demonstrated unwanted behavior,  producing more aggressive behavior?  Shouldn’t positive reinforcement be used to reinforce good behavior?  I think so. It works well on people too. Let me know what you think.

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