Whether obedience training provides a preventative effect in avoiding future behavior problems remains a question. Some researchers suggest “…it may not perform a preventative function (Voith et al., 1992) for aggressive behavior (Lindsay, 2001). One study, conducted by a veterinary clinic, reviewed questionnaires completed by 711 dog owners; the results were unable to show any correlation between obedience training, including “spoiling activities and anthropomorphic attitudes” and the variety of behavior problems including aggression that were presented. An additional study by Podberscek and Serpell (1996) “failed to show a linkage between obedience training and the incidence of aggression problems in English cocker spaniels (N = 596).” An additional case (Gershman et al., 1994) using a controlled group of “178 matched pairs of biting and nonbiting dogs” was unable to “detect a significant statistical relationship” with obedience training and aggressive problems according to Lindsay (Lindsay, 2001).
A more recent study conducted by Goodloe and Borchelt (1998) analyzed a large sample (N = 2018) of dog owners and “reported…a preventative relationship does…exist” when there is a “history of obedience training” and subsequent behavior problems, including aggression” (Lindsay, 2001). The study results revealed a significant lowering of aggression problems, except in intraspecific cases of strange dogs. Additionally, results showed “two complementary directions” due to obedience training: 1.) decrease in undesirable behavior and 2.) Increase in desirable behavior. According to Lindsay, “…training may help guide and refine a dog’s adaptation to domestic life” resulting in a “more successful…problem free” relationship (Lindsay, 2001). In addition, according to the authors obedience training may include benefits such as “establishing limits and control” resulting from “incidental aspects of interaction” associated with obedience training including “increased time spent…added exposure…and socialization” resulting in a “better appreciation and understanding of dog behavior (Lindsay, 2001).
According to Lindsay, Goodloe and Borchelt noted the “larger sample of respondents…provided a better statistical pool for detecting the beneficial influences of obedience training” suggesting the smaller sample used by Voith and colleagues was “too small to detect these correlations” (Lindsay, 2001). In addition, Lindsay says, Patronek (1996) reports dogs participating in obedience classes are relinquished to shelters less often.
Based on this evidence, Lindsay questions why obedience training is unable to prevent the development of aggression problems since treatment usually includes “some variant of obedience or compliance training.” Looking at this from a behavioral viewpoint, Lindsay feels “one should expect…preventative effort to be far more robust and persuasive” than efforts obtained from treatment, especially since any effect on changing behavior already learned would need a stronger influence for change to take effect. Lindsay points out, “treatment programs are founded on the behavior-modifying effects of learning” and learning doesn’t only occur when assisted by experts or known efforts by owners, but rather obtained through the environment in which the dog lives (Lindsay, 2001).
One cannot choose to either employ or ignore the empirically established rules of learning. Much like
the law of gravity, the laws of learning are always in effect. Thus, the question is not whether to use
the laws of learning, but rather how to use them effectively. (Spreat and Spreat, 1982:593)
I would agree dogs are always under the influence of learning from their environment including the owner and tend to agree with 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).
On the other hand, behavior modification is directed consciously at a specific behavior problem and usually includes proper application of learning theory, and includes the assistance of a skilled behavior consultant and an owner who has been instructed how to effectively change undesirable behavior.
It seems more reliable research is necessary if we are going to establish any efficacy between owners’ attendance at obedience classes and prevention of future behavior problems. For those conducting such classes, one might stress the importance for the continuance of training as an aid in further establishing a long-term relationship and bond that will be necessary throughout the pets life.
Lindsay, Steven R. Handbook of applied dog behavior and training. 2 Vols.
Iowa: Iowa SP. 2001. Vol. 2.
Voith VL, Wright JC, Danneman PJ, et al. (1992). Is there a relationship between canine behavior problems and spoiling
activities, anthropomorphism, and obedience training?
Appl Anim Behav Sci, 34:263-272.
Wright, John C. Is there a relationship Between Canine Behavior Problems and Spoiling Activities,
Anthropomorphism and Obedience Training?
Applied Animal Welfare Science. Vol. 34, (1992)
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Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC Professional Trainer
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