I recently watched the show Dogs Decoded made by Nova. It discussed a couple very interesting studies. The first study selectively breed foxes for non aggressive traits. Over time, these animals became more and more social and interestingly enough, as their aggression faded through the generations, their physical characteristics also began to change including different colors, curled tails and even floppy ears. It’s interesting to think of where our dogs evolved from, with so many different physical and behavioral characteristics. While doing this experiment they also tried putting pups from aggressive mothers with non-aggressive mothers. The results showed that even though these pups were raised with non aggressive mothers, as they grew, they still became aggressive. Another study showed scientist raising wolf cubs as they would a puppy and interestingly enough they found that the cubs still developed more wolf like tendencies including increased aggression and decreased trainability. This brings up the whole nature vs. nurture debate.
Can we change a dog who is genetically predisposed for aggressive or other behavioral traits? As a dog trainer, I’d like to think so, however there are certain situations in which a behavior is very much ingrained and in those situations, management is likely the key to successfully living with a dog with certain genetic traits. Can you train a dog to do something other than what comes natural to them in any given situation? Sure, you can often teach the dog that it is more worth his/her while to go lay down and get tasty food rewards than it is to bark and lunge at your guests. Does this mean you have fixed the behavior? No, and it is dangerous to think so. You have simply made it more rewarding to do something else, but if you take away that reward or put the dog in the wrong situation, those aggressive behaviors are likely to return which is why management is a crucial part of training an aggressive dog.
Below is the video on Youtube.