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Experts release behavior modification guidelines

Article

San Francisco - 12/12/07 - The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) released a position statement and guidelines last month titled "Use of punishment for dealing with behavior problems in animals."

San Francisco - 12/12/07 - The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) released a position statement and guidelines last month titled "Use of punishment for dealing with behavior problems in animals."

The group's objective: to shed light on the controversial dominance-based training featured on programs such as "Dog Whisperer." According to DVM behaviorists, the show has led to a resurgence of punishment-based training techniques condemned by the Humane Society of the United States and San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Punishment is a temporary fix that does not necessarily modify the underlying cause of the behavior problem. As a result, it can have a negative long-term effect on animals, AVSAB President Dr. John Ciribassi explains.

Punishment also can interfere with the animal-owner bond. "We can have a problem with the pet not trusting the owner because it is unable to consistently anticipate what the owner is going to do in any given situation," Ciribassi says.

Owners tend to punish inconsistently and punishment often is a consequence of anger, which leads to its use well after the bad behavior has occurred, AVSAB leaders add.

Other punishment-based training pitfalls include:

- It is difficult to time punishment correctly.

- Punishment can strengthen the undesirable behavior.

- Punishment must be intense to be effective, which can lead to physical harm.

- Regardless of the strength, punishment can cause some animals to become fearful, and this fear can generalize to other contexts.

- Punishment can facilitate or cause aggressive behavior.

- Punishment can suppress behaviors, including those that warn of aggression.

- Punishment can teach the animal to associate the owners, other animals and specific contexts or environments with bad experiences.

- Punishment often does not address the underlying cause or teach alternate behaviors.

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