It takes a village to raise a child, but did you know a community can change a life?
I’ll show you an example of how this can be done, but first I want to explain a bit about learning. Bullying and aggression are learned behaviors.
Sometimes, these behaviors are learned passively from the observed behavior of parents and role-models, as in social referencing. Other times, these behaviors are learned through positive reinforcement because they offer individuals a way to sooth their anxieties.
The good news is that bullying and aggressive behavior can be reversed using social referencing and positive reinforcement.
The following video is about an aggressive dog, named Nicholas. A community of volunteers worked together to reverse Nick’s aggression towards humans and anxiety around other dogs.
It’s thought that Nick’s issues were the result of poor socialization. In people, poor socialization skills can also result in negative behavior.
Watch Nick’s video then I’ve written several specific techniques that aided in his rehabilitation.
Deconstructing a Bully Using Nicholas as an Example
Volunteers ignored Nick's barking, snarling and lunging at the fence, and praised him the moment these aggressive behaviors stopped.
In positive reinforcement, timing and consistency are very important. The brain needs to associate praise with the behavior.
For bullies, the positive reinforcement comes from things, like making victims cry and having a crowd gather to watch. The community can rally together to remove the these reinforcements by intervening.
For positive reinforcement, the community must identify and praise a bully's efforts no matter how small to stop or walk away. Use phrases like, "Good, walk away". or "Good, you ended that well."
Extra praise and recognition should be given for greater efforts, like apologies or handshakes. If people can cheer on fights, they can surely cheer on a bully's efforts to stop bullying.
Bringing Attention to Negative Behavior
Because Nick was poorly socialized, he didn't know how to behave around other dogs and people. He would jump on his pen-mates and push them aside to lunge at humans beyond the fence.
Nick's pen-mates corrected his behavior the way dogs do. If did something they didn't like, they would snarl. If he continued his bad behavior they snapped at him.
Bullies who were poorly socialized though social referencing, often don't know they are bullying.
An example of social referencing gone bad: A parent laughs when someone trips, so their child believes laughing is an appropriate response.
Humans can use their words instead of teeth to bring attention to negative behavior. Parents and adults can do this, but enlisting peers through education is more effective.
Programs that help kids understand what constitutes bullying gives them to tools to recognize it and take action bring attention to the specific bullying behavior.
Setting Good Examples
Since Nick didn't know how dogs should behave around strange humans, he lashed out at people because they made him anxious.
As Nick progressed, he wanted the same loving attention his pen-mates received from people, but he didn't know how to get it. When Nick jumped on volunteers they ignored him. Eventually he became so frustrated he would growl and jump more. So volunteers put Nick in a "time out" holding pen, where he could only watch as people lavished attention on his pen-mates who were calmer.
As time passed he displayed more "good" behavior than "bad" behavior. Then volunteers could show him being calm meant more affection came his way.
Adults and peers can help stop bullying by example too. If more people are getting recognized and praised for helping stop bullying... bullies will want a piece of that action because it's a positive reinforcement to get recognized and praised.
Anti-bullying recognitions can come in the form of awards, praise or privilege, but recognitions should be consistent (even written down) so bullies know exactly what behavior is necessary to earn rewards.
The Natural Connection
For Nick, walks were essential for bonding and his progress. His aggression always decreased after a walk. Why?
Getting connected with the world outside of comfort zones can make a huge difference in attitude.
Setting Limits and Building Esteem
Once Nick understood being calm meant good things would happen, it was time to set limits and raise the bar. While Nick would eventually calm down on his own, he needed to learn how to be proactive in calming himself.
Volunteers would ask him to sit before he received affection, before he got leashed for walks, and before he got a treat.
In the human world this is something that comes naturally when the bully begins to see and feel changes in the way people interact with him/her.
Because of the dedication of a community of people and animals, Nick is on his way to a better life.
With the help of community it is possible to change a bullies life, and a healthy community lives better.
NOTE: Do not try rehabilitating aggressive dogs without a professional trainer. Serious bites, injury, and disfigurement may occur.