Spoiling dogs, is it really good for them?

There is a lot written about spoiling dogs and how it makes us feel and how harmful sometimes it is for dogs, but the media skirts around writing or talking about the negative consequences, it creates for both owner and dog.  Why, I think the media and dog-related industry, feel they may be hurt if too much were said about real issues concerning dog welfare, and it simply wouldn’t fill in, for those happy moments needed for news airtime.  I believe, if this is the case, it is a misnomer, actually more dogs would benefit if their owners understood how they influence their dog’s behavior, and it does not have anything to do with training or spoiling necessarily!

It appears on the surface owners are getting a message, but what exactly the message is, I am not sure.  Owners tell me, I am not helping them train their dog I am training them.  Where and how did this idea originate, that I would be training them and exactly what am I training them to do?  This might be a good question to ask dog trainers, because if it is training the owner, how to physically manipulate and/or train, the dog to sit, down, stay and recall, this is only mechanics. I refer to this as, the mechanics of training; it is the artsy part of the process, dog training is an art, and those of us skilled in training dogs, can make it look like art. However, this has nothing to do, with explaining the physiological and behavioral effects that actually form the bond or relationship; you will actually have with your pet.

The average dog owner gets a dog for companionship; and often equates their relationship, with unconditional love. However, to say a dog’s love is unconditional is a misstatement.  All animals have conditions and these conditions determine the choices they make.  You may ask, the question, when dog owners “spoil” their dogs what does this often indicate.  That it is their responsibility to take care of you!

So, now you ask, what is wrong with relying on dogs to take care of us? Liability!  The idea for this blog came from an article in Science Daily called “Dogs Are Aggressive If They are Trained Badly,” and provided to me, by Dr. Myrna Milani. As was Dr. Milani, it did not surprise us the study was done, outside the US in Spain.

According to the article “breed has little to do with a dog’s aggressive behavior compared to all the owner-dependent factors.”  Considering, how hot “Breed Specific Legislation” is tossed around, here and elsewhere, as the solution to dog bites; the actual study suggests something completely new and not commonly heard even from the most skilled and knowledgeable dog training professionals. According to Science Daily’s article they said, “approximately 40% of dominance aggression in dogs is associated with a lack of authority on the part of the owners” suggesting lack of obedience training entirely or minimal training as contributing factors.

In reviewing the actual study, “Factors Linked to Territorial Aggression in Dogs,” it may be a clerical or source error in the Science Daily article when they used the quote “approximately 40% of dominance aggression in dogs is associated with lack of authority…”  Nowhere in the study is these percentages reflected or do the authors use “dominance aggression” to describe the aggressive behaviors, reviewed contextually in their study.

Now granted, labeling aggression is different depending on whom you read.  However, aggression, referred technically, as agonistic behavior, is simply one side of an animal’s signaling repertoire. The other side is appeasement responses.  I do not think Science Daily was correct in using “dominance aggression” because the actual study focused on “territorial aggression” and those factors where this type of aggression take place, as well as other factors contributing to the dog’s state of mind, and they are not necessarily linked. They did however, get it right, when they quoted saying, “owner-dependent factors” were more important in contributing to dog aggression!

Scientific studies conducted, on spoiling activities, anthropomorphism and obedience training, sometimes with mixed conclusions, including some in the US do draw correlations, between some behavior problems, and owner spoiling activities. Spoiling activities can contribute in a myriad of ways.  Its importance in contributing to your dog actively engaging in territorial responses does say something about the relationship you have with your dog. That is why those treating behavior problems, need to get an accurate history, when engaged in helping owners, resolve dog behavior problems.

The authors concluded, “territorial aggression depends on modifiable factors connected to the owner” these include any environmental factors, that influence the individual dogs responses, under those conditions defined as contributing to the overall problem.  Lastly, they suggest consideration given to non-modifiable factors connected to the dog.

Lastly, there are breeds of dogs that tend to be more territorial, but all dogs need to feel safe and secure, spoiling dogs does not necessarily meet this need, it often contributes to dog’s reactivity.  I meet dog owners all the time who like and depend on their dog to bark, we have actually selected dogs to do this very thing, however, when your dog attacks a friend or stranger, or barks at every stimulus passing through their territory, creating a nuisance for neighbors, owners then become concerned.

The problem with this is we are now reacting to a problem. Instead, we need to spend more time thinking about what dog breed or rescue dog will fit our lifestyle, what dog best fits your environment, how much time do you have for training.  Even the littlest pocket size dogs need training, socialization and the opportunity to be a dog, not an accessory to draw attention to you.

A brief review The Role of Integrated Compliance and Obedience Training In preventing and treating behavior problems on compliance training, and owner influence and spoiling activities is available on my website. I agree with Steven Lindsay who says, “…it is difficult to imagine how such things as obedience training, spoiling activities, and anthropomorphic attitudes would not have a significant effect on behavioral adaptation and the incidence of behavior problems” (Lindsay, 2001).

References:  Dogs Are Aggressive If They Are Trained Badly

Journal Reference:

  1. Pérez-Guisado, Joaquín; Muñoz-Serrano, Andrés. Factors Linked to Dominance Aggression in Dogs. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 2009; 8 (2): 336-342


Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Responsible Dog and Cat

Training and Behavior Solutions, LLC

Certified Dog and Cat Behavior Consultant

Copyright Joyce Kesling 2005-2017