Rebound Aggression:

61Iw-+dSv5L._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of the big bugaboos of the modern, ‘positive’ training ideology is the generally promoted concept that if you punish aggression you will trigger “rebound aggression.” Most of the people who say this pretend to be “scientific” in their perspective and claim scientific validation of their opinion. Bunk. Their fascination with rebound aggression simply displays their ignorance of a full reading of the literature and their unwillingness to look at the world around them. For starters, here’s a quote from The Effects of Punishment on Human Behavior by Axelrod and Apsche. They are referring to a foundational study that is never cited by ‘positive’ ideologues. In the study, monkeys were shocked into attacking other monkeys. (Ulrich, Wolfe & Dulaney, JEAB, 1969, Punishment of Shock Induced Aggression) This was called ‘elicited attacks.’ They caused the monkey to attack with electric shock – and then stopped that aggression with electric shock. They used electric shock because of the ability to tightly control the conditions of the experiment.

“It is interesting to note that punishment suppressed elicited attacks in these studies even though the non-contingent shocks continued to be delivered at a frequent and regular rate. However, when punishment is employed, the rate of the punished response should rapidly decline, leading to a marked reduction in the delivery of the punisher. (Think about that for a second. Punishment reduces the behavior and therefore reduces the punishment. Once the behavior is eliminated punishment vanishes – like the crescent wrench you used to fix the leak under your sink. – GW) Hence, the opportunity for elicited aggression should rapidly decline after punishment is first introduced. However, even the lower level of aggression that could be associated with punishment can be easily reduced by punishing these acts as well as the punished response. It is interesting to note that most socialized individuals have already learned not to attack those who may use punishment legitimately, because they have been punished for such attacks in the past. Indeed, if such socialization was not the rule but rather the exception, we might expect that every person given a speeding ticket would kick, punch, or bite the police officer or that an employee docked for tardiness would attack his or her supervisor. Indeed, such attacks are fortunately rare. Similarly, most children do not attack parents when they are punished for some wrongdoing. We can speculate that those who do, have probably never been effectively punished for such behavior. ”

So, no, the pseudo-scientific conclusion about punishing aggression does not imply that it triggers rebound aggression. That is a canard.The real scientific evidence is to the contrary. (And hundreds of thousands of years of collective human knowledge. Consider that bullies could not exist if punishment didn’t suppress “rebound aggression) To claim that punishment causes aggression really means two things. First, the speaker doesn’t know how to use punishment effectively and second, punishment for aggression is a necessary component in social development that prevents natural unchecked aggression in the future. The broader conclusion is simple – withhold punishment at your own risk, especially with puppies. That is because all aggression is natural. Every dog that was ever born has the capacity to attack other creatures or humans. If you do not intentionally inhibit behaviors when the animal is an infant you will likely chant the famous last words after a perfectly peaceful dogs rips a slice into someone’s leg or kills a Chihuahua – “I’m totally shocked. He’s never done that before.” (Look up Patricia Krenwinkle in Google) Of course he never did that before. The trigger for the aggression didn’t happen before. Think about this one more time. Aggression is a necessary component for living on planet Earth. It comes pre-packaged and ready to use from day one. When running my first shelter I saw puppies fight viciously on a regular basis. Our only solution was to put the incorrigible pup down. People do not adopt snarling, bloody, biting pups. If I had been a compassionate trainer I would have been able to punish the behavior as described by Axerod and Apsche – to prevent it from becoming a possibility in the future. What would you do in the same place? Would you punish a puppy to “vaccinate” it against mature aggression? Would you let the puppies fight? Would you isolate the offending pup and therefore leave it as a ticking time bomb for an unsuspecting adopter. (A common practice in shelters.) All the scientific behavior experts claim that would cause the puppy to attack you. Meaning they deny that aggression can be inhibited. I would refer them to Ulrich, Wolfe and Dulaney and tell them to go to their nearest shelter and learn how life and death really work.

As a side note, I’ve been using punishment to stop behaviors for more than 25 years with literally thousands of dogs. I have seen “rebound” aggression three times. It is incredibly rare – if you know what you are doing. Here is an example of punishment for aggression and the rapid transformation that comes of doing it correctly. Turn down you volume for the first part. Then turn it back up as we let the dog in the house – otherwise you will miss the growl he threw at me. The punishing object was a loose piece of terry cloth approximately 25X14″. This dog had bitten five people. He was getting good at it.


4 thoughts on “Rebound Aggression:

  1. can you give us a fair assessment of when you see punishments are being incorrectly applied and the trainer is causing more harm than good versus when they are humanly training the dog and the existence of negative effects is not their or bad? to better understand your version of bad and good uses of punishments when training dogs.

  2. John M, If you look at the rest of the blog you will find what you are looking for. I have a six-part series on aversive control that starts at the most basic level – an evolutionary perspective. You may then look at my YouTube channel and see video evidence. (wilkesgm1). The first thing to acknowledge is that the prime consideration is to benefit the animal and owner. This is the mirror of the medical ethic of providing treatment known to be effective. Modern ‘scientific’ training is primarily ideological. It does not give the animal what it needs, it gives the animal something that is pleasant for the trainer. My “version” of punishment is based on objective observation of how to change behavior in a manner that would improve its life. That means that I am opposed to all abuse – including the widespread damage caused by positive reinforcement in the absence of contingent punishment for dangerous or anti-social behavior. My post on the problems with positive reinforcement may interest you. You may have not considered a symmetrical examination of positive reinforcement. In the long run, my work tells you how to use the tool correctly, humanely and safely. Without that knowledge, “abuse” cannot be defined.

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