Managing the Risk of Aggressive Dog Behavior: Investigating the Influence of Owner Threat and Efficacy Perceptions

Risk Anal. 2019 Nov;39(11):2528-2542. doi: 10.1111/risa.13336. Epub 2019 May 28.


Aggressive behavior in pet dogs is a serious problem for dog owners across the globe, with bite injuries representing a serious risk to both people and other dogs. The effective management of aggressive behavior in dogs represents a challenging and controversial issue. Although positive reinforcement training methods are now considered to be the most effective and humane technique to manage the risk of aggression, punishment-based methods continue to be used. Unfortunately, there has been little scientific study into the various factors influencing whether dog owners choose to use positive reinforcement techniques to manage aggression in their dogs. As such, current understanding of how best to encourage and support dog owners to use these methods remains extremely limited. This article uses a survey methodology based on protection motivation theory (PMT) to investigate the factors that influence owner use of positive reinforcement methods to manage aggressive behavior, in an attempt to understand potential barriers and drivers of use. In addition, the article provides an initial exploration of the potential role of wider psychological factors, including owner emotional state, social influence, and cognitive bias. Findings show that the perceived efficacy of positive reinforcement methods and the perceived ability of owners to effectively implement the technique are both key factors predicting future intentions and current reported use. Future interventions should focus on enhancing owner confidence in the effective use of positive reinforcement techniques across multiple scenarios, as well as helping owners manage their own emotional responses when they encounter challenging situations and setbacks.

Keywords: Dog aggression; human-animal interaction; positive reinforcement; risk management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Ownership*
  • Risk Assessment*